CIC says Sonia has not sought reimbursement of medical bills

An air of anticipation descended on Delhi on Wednesday with the Election Commission announcing elections to the Assemblies of Gujarat (December 13 and 17) and Himachal Pradesh (November 4). Since the fight in both States is between the ruling BJP and the Opposition Congress, political circles see it as a given that the results will spill over into national politics, impacting its course in the coming months.

In Gujarat, where Narendra Modi and Sonia Gandhi are already sparring over each other’s alleged misdemeanours, the formal declaration of elections pointed to a worsening of mud-slinging and tossing of allegations between the rival sides.

Indeed, Wednesday saw the Congress and the BJP furiously go for each other’s jugular. Addressing a rally in Rajkot, Ms. Gandhi valiantly defended the reforms package unveiled by the United Progressive Alliance government even as she lit into Mr. Modi, accusing his government of corruption and questioning its development record. “On corruption, the double standard of the BJP in thoughts and deeds is clearly visible.” She also wanted to know why Gujarat was yet to appoint a Lokayukta.

In the national capital, the BJP kept up the pressure on Mr. Modi’s charge that Ms. Gandhi had run up bills amounting to crores on her foreign travels, including those undertaken for her medical treatment. The Gujarat Chief Minister had referred to an “unanswered” Right to Information application pending with various ministries and adjuncts of the government, among them the Prime Minister’s Office and the National Advisory Council: “An RTI [plea] has been filed. So you give your reply.”

Ms. Gandhi herself sidestepped the charge, only saying the RTI Act was an achievement that the government was proud of. However, the Congress felt vindicated by a May 3, 2012 order of Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra, in which he disclosed that the Congress chief had not sought any official reimbursement of her medical bills. Mr. Mishra said it was clear from the submissions made by the respondents (ministries, etc) that no such expenditure had been claimed by Ms. Gandhi: “In other words, till now the government has incurred no expenditure in this regard.”

Seizing on this, Congress spokesman P.C. Chacko said: “Levelling wild allegations has become the brand of Narendra Modi’s campaign.” Asked if the Congress would demand an apology from him in view of the CIC’s explanation, Mr. Chacko said an apology would serve no purpose since Mr. Modi had uttered a “blatant lie.”

The Congress was also helped in its cause by civil society activists and the former Gujarat Chief Minister and BJP rebel, Keshubhai Patel. Posing a set of counter questions, Mr. Patel said: “Modi should first inform the public [of] the money spent from the State exchequer on his foreign trips. Then he has a right to question others.” Social activist Trupti Shah wanted the Gujarat government to disclose the travel expenses incurred by Mr. Modi and other Ministers in the course of attending a string of “Women Empowerment sammelans” in 2007. She said her complaint in this regard was still pending with the Chief Information Commissioner of Gujarat.

Unfazed, the BJP hit back at Ms. Gandhi, saying she had no “moral right” to raise the issue of corruption when her government was at the receiving end of scams valued at lakhs of crores of rupees. “Who is talking of corruption? A party which has a track record of corruption,” asked BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad, who went on to list the scams and the amounts allegedly siphoned off.

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