Rajkot: Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday sounded the poll bugle in Gujarat that is already witnessing personal attacks on the leaders, claiming that only her party has the capability to provide a government which can take the state on the path of inclusive development. Sonia, who addressed an election rally in Rajkot, avoided taking on Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi who has alleged that the government spent hundreds of crores on her foreign trips and medical treatment abroad.
Keeping her speech confined to the issues in the state and the recent economic reforms measures, Sonia claimed that FDI in retail would benefit farmers and launched a full-fledged attack on Modi and his party, the BJP. She reassured the farmers about the entry of FDI, and promised that the FDI will help farmers get a playing-level field for their produce.
"Congress believes that progress of the country is possible only when the pace of development in villages is the same as that in the cities. Should the farmers not get the right amount for their produce? This is where FDI will play a crucial role, to give the farmers the right cost for their produce," she said while launching Congress's poll campaign in Gujarat while skipping any reference to Modi's attacks on her demanding details of expenses on her foreign travels.
"Whenever we have taken steps in the interest of the nation, there have been all kinds of attacks against us... Neither have we bothered earlier, nor will we worry about them in future. Our opposition is making baseless charges and as a result, important issues and good points are being left unnoticed," Sonia said, perhaps keen to avoid indulging in a personal war of words with Modi, who had deftly used her "Maut ka Saudagar" remark during the 2007 Gujarat Assembly election to steamroll the Congress.
The UPA Chairperson hit out at Modi for trying to divert attention from real issues of farmer suicide by raking up the cost of her treatments abroad. Terming it as baseless charges, she lashed out at Modi for not using Central funds to the optimum. Taking a swipe at the law and order, she said that the Dalits remained to be oppressed in Mahatma Gandhi's state.
"It is being hidden from you that the UPA government has sent 50 per cent more funds than the BJP government. BJP speaks in double voice on corruption. Corruption is rampant in all BJP states. BJP did not let the Lokpal Bill pass in Parliament. BJP is not against corruption, it is only against us," she alleged, trying to blunt to the Opposition's charge that the UPA government was a corrupt regime.
Sonia claimed that Gujarat's development was much more rapid under the Congress government. "Who has laid the foundation for the growth of Gujarat? It is the Congress. We have taken up projects for the benefit of the farmers, but it is not reaching the farmers of Gujarat. Canals have been built by the Central Government, but water is not reaching the farmers," she said referring to Narmada waters not reaching Saurashtra.
Meanwhile, the Central Information Commission (CIC) said that the government has incurred no expenditure in Sonia's treatment. In an order dated May 3, Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra said, "There's no record of any expenditure incurred by the government on Sonia Gandhi's treatment in August-September 2011 when she had travelled abroad."
CIC has also added that Sonia has not claimed any reimbursement from government for her treatment. The order, however, covers the period between August-September 2011 and not the last three years. "The expenditure made by any individual on her treatment, in India or abroad, is a private information and cannot be the subject matter of an RTI application," CIC said in a reply to a Right to Information (RTI) query by one Naveen Kumar of Moradabad (Uttar Pradesh).
"From the submissions made by the Respondents, it was quite clear that neither any reimbursement for any such expenditure had been claimed by the individual concerned from these public authorities nor any expenditure made in this regard. In other words, till now, the government has incurred no expenditure in this regard," Mishra said in his reply.
Kumar's RTI plea requesting details of the expenditure on Sonia Gandhi's treatment in the USA during August-September 2011 was forwarded to the Prime Minister's office, Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Parliament Affairs, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, National Advisory Council and the Lok Sabha Secretariat. The CIC replied after hearing Kumar and the government representatives.
"In any case, the expenditure made by any individual on her treatment, in India or abroad, is a private information and cannot be the subject matter of an RTI application," Mishra said.
Modi had claimed during his election campaign that the government had spent Rs 1,880 crore on her foreign trips and treatments. However, RTI activist Ramesh Verma of Hisar had questioned Modi's claim that as much as Rs 1880 crore was spent by the UPA chairperson during her treatment abroad. The RTI activist went on to say that his plea was just about foreign visits of the Congress president and not her treatment.