Polls announced for Himachal, Gujarat

Vidya Subrahmaniam
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Congress and BJP set to fight to the finish

Takes on BJP:Congress president Sonia Gandhi has accused the Modi government of corruption. Here, she addresses an election rally in Rajkoton Wednesday.— Photo: PTI
Takes on BJP:Congress president Sonia Gandhi has accused the Modi government of corruption. Here, she addresses an election rally in Rajkoton Wednesday.— Photo: PTI

An air of anticipation descended on the national capital on Wednesday with the Election Commission announcing elections to the Assemblies of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. With the ruling BJP in a keen fight with the Congress in both States, the results are thought to have a decisive bearing on how politics unfolds in the country over the coming months.

Himachal Pradesh will go to the polls in a single phase on November 4 while Gujarat will follow suit with two phases on December 13 and 17. Counting of votes for both States will be held on December 20.

With Narendra Modi and Sonia Gandhi already locked in combat, the stage seems to have been set in Gujarat for a bitter, no-holds barred race between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Indeed, Wednesday saw the two parties furiously go for each other’s jugular: Addressing a rally in Rajkot, Ms. Gandhi valiantly defended the United Progressive Alliance government even as she lit into Mr. Modi, accusing his government of corruption and questioning its development record.

In Delhi, the BJP kept up the pressure on Mr. Modi’s charge that Ms. Gandhi had run up bills amounting to crores of rupees 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 in this regard with various ministries and adjuncts of the government, including the Prime Minister’s Office and the National Advisory Council. “An RTI has been filed. So you give your reply.”

Ms. Gandhi herself chose not to address this charge, only saying that 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.”

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

Keshubhai’s poser

The Congress was also helped in its cause by the former Gujarat Chief Minister and BJP rebel, Keshubhai Patel, who posed his own questions to Mr. Modi. “Modi should first inform the public the money spent from the State exchequer on his foreign trips. Then he has a right to question others.”

  • RTI Act is an achievement that government is proud of, says Sonia

  • Levelling wild allegations has become the brand of Modi’s campaign: Chacko

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