Questions raised by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi on the amount of government money spent on the medical treatment and foreign travels of Congress president Sonia Gandhi has triggered a verbal duel between the BJP and the Congress.

On Monday, Mr. Modi claimed that documents obtained by a Right to Information activist showed that Rs. 1,880 crore had been spent by the Centre on Ms. Gandhi’s medical treatment and foreign travel related to it.

“I read in a newspaper that Rs.1,880 crore was spent on Soniaji’s foreign trips... nearly Rs. 2,000 crore. If you have to shut Modi’s mouth, then make public the details of Sonia Gandhi’s foreign tours, from the time the Manmohan Singh’s government came to power in 2004, till now,” Mr. Modi reiterated on Tuesday.

The Congress said it is regrettable that Mr. Modi has resorted to “blatant lies.” Party spokesman Manish Tewari said Mr. Modi stands exposed after the disclosure by RTI activist Ramesh Verma that he is still awaiting a response to his query. Hindustan Times quoted Mr. Verma as saying the “cost to the exchequer is Rs. 82.84 lakh and not Rs.1,880 crore as claimed by Narendra Modi.” The activist said that though the PMO never responded to his RTI request, he was able to calculate the figure based on responses from Indian embassies abroad.

Unfazed by Mr. Verma’s statement, the BJP on Tuesday jumped into the fray with spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman demanding that the government come clear on the issue. “We condemn the Congress’s approach in diverting and adding issues which have not been raised by... Narendra Modi. He has... clearly quoted media sources and raised a question. If you are genuinely interested in answering the question, you would say what was the amount spent.”

She sought to know why the RTI activist has not been given a reply though more than two years have passed since he filed a request.

But even that demand runs the risk of rebounding, with a social activist in Gujarat reminding Mr. Modi that he had yet to make public his travelling expenses and those of his Ministers during the ‘Women Empowerment Sammelans’ of 2007. In a letter to Mr. Modi, Trupti Shah contended that an RTI application she filed in July 2007 for the information is still pending before the Chief Information Commissioner of Gujarat.

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