New Delhi: The poll bugle has been sounded by the Election Commission of India for the states of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. While the polling will be done in Himachal Pradesh in a single phase, Gujarat will witness a two-phase assembly election.
According to the dates announced by the Election Commission, Himachal Pradesh will vote on November 4 and Gujarat will go to polls on December 13 and December 17. However, the counting in both the states has been scheduled for December 20.
The announcement of the election dates have come amidst a bitter war of words between two of the most powerful political leaders of the country – Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. And this time, the rivalry is over the expense of the Congress president during her treatment abroad.
The controversy started with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader alleging that as much as Rs 1880 crore were spent by the government from the public money on the treatment of Sonia Gandhi abroad. In an excusive interview to CNN-IBN, Modi had made the allegations, claiming it to be on the basis of an RTI plea.
However, just hours after the claim by the Gujarat strongman, RTI activist Ramesh Verma from Hisar questioned Modi's claims saying he never got any information about such amount of money spent on the treatment and even said that he was never contacted over the issue by the Gujarat Chief Minister. The RTI activist went on to say that his plea was just about foreign visits of the Congress president and not her treatment.
"I never got any information from the RTI that I filed…I don't know where Narendra Modi got this information from," said Verma. Speaking to CNN-IBN, the activist further claimed that he was never contacted by Modi.
"I can say for sure that I never got any information of Rs 1880 crore…I only asked for details of foreign trips of Sonia." said the activist, adding that the only information he got was about the expenditure of Rs 80-85 lakh.
Following the statement from the RTI activist, the Gujarat Chief Minister said that he was ready to apologise if the claims were wrong, adding that whatever he said was on the basis of a newspaper article.
This, however, did not deter his party from keeping up the attack, as the BJP continued to attack the UPA government and its chairperson saying the country had the right to know about her expenditures abroad.
But the attack did not deter Congress president Sonia Gandhi from hitting back. In fact, she launched her counter-attack in Gujarat itself, accusing the Opposition of ‘making baseless allegations' against her.
Though she did not name Modi, but still targeted him and his party saying, "Our opposition is making baseless charges and as a result, important issues and good points are being left unnoticed."
Raising the pitch against Modi ahead of the Assembly elections, Sonia also said that even as the Congress had taken up projects for farmers, their benefits weren't reaching the farmers in Gujarat. "We have taken up projects for the benefit of the farmers, but it is not reaching the farmers of Gujarat. A canal has been built by the central government, but water is not reaching the farmers," Sonia said.
Also, the Chief Information Commissioner came to her rescue as its report dated May 3 said that no such expenses were incurred by the government. It effectively put to rest Modi's questions and speculation as to who paid for Sonia's foreign travel and medical bills.
The CIC in its order stated, "From the submissions made by the respondents it was quite clear that neither any reimbursements for any such expenditure had been claimed by the individual concerned from these public authorities nor any expenditure made in this regard."
Meanwhile, in more trouble for the Gujarat Chief Minister, a social activist in Vadodara accused Modi's office of failing to share information for more than five years on his travel expenses for women sammelans. Activist Trupti Shah had filed the RTI application in 2007.
The government gave her information on the total expenses incurred on events in 27 districts but didn't specify how much was spent on Modi's travel alone. Trupti Shah has sent a letter to Modi saying information about his and his Ministers' travel-related expenses during 'women empowerment sammelans' had not been provided till date.
Shah alleged she was denied the information even after repeated reminders. She said the state's General Administrative Department (GAD), in a letter dated November 1, 2007, provided the list of 27 places visited by Modi from March 10, 2007 to September 20, 2007. But regarding the travelling expenses, the letter stated "the office of the Chief Minister did not mention the travelling expenses and so the CM's travelling expenses may be considered nil."