Standing by his questions, Modi said he had not asked about Sonia’s illness but about her foreign tours from 2004 (when the UPA came to power) to August 15, 2012. “Soniaji’s illness came into the picture recently. But the questions (under RTI) were asked for three years. And they were only about her travel expenses. One should not make it an emotional issue. I myself tell the PM that the country should bear whatever expenses are needed for Soniaji’s treatment, it’s a human cause. But when a youth has filed an RTI and you take pride over the introduction of RTI, then please give a reply.”
The BJP offensive coincides with Sonia’s arrival in Gujarat on Wednesday to launch the Congress campaign for the Assembly elections. The BJP appeared to have decided that offence was its best defence after the newspaper based on whose report Modi had quoted the figure attributed it to a news agency, which too disowned it. Even the RTI petitioner who was said to have received the figure in reply to his application, Haryana-based Ramesh Verma, said he was yet to get a response from the Centre.
“We condemn the Congress party’s approach in diverting and adding issues which have not been raised by Narendra Modi. He has very 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,” BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said.
“If it was not Rs 1,880 crore, then what was it, just say. If money was not spent from public exchequer, say so... We also give good wishes for the health of Sonia Gandhi but if expenses were paid from the public treasury, please clarify.”
Modi said he had only raised the issue because newspapers mentioned it. “I read in the newspaper that she (Sonia) spent Rs 1,880 crore for foreign tours, means nearly Rs 2,000 crore... If you want to shut my mouth, then please give the details on the total number of Sonia’s foreign tours since 2004 to 15th August, 2012 — where did she stay, whether the cost was borne by the government of India etc. I have been threatened that if I seek the accounts, I will face the worst kind of allegations... I again say, I am not asking Soniaji, but to the Prime Minister that the nation wants to know. How much money was spent from GoI public exchequer?”
The CM also said that if the item published was wrong, why hadn’t the Congress issued a clarification or sought legal action.
Modi had a counter-question on the RTI activist’s denial of the Rs 1,880 crore figure too. “They should provide information in a prescribed period of three months as per the law. But here, even after three years, they have not given a reply... When they hide the details, questions are bound to arise,” the CM said.
The news item quoted by Modi was published by Gujarati daily Jaihind on July 12, 2012. Editor Yashwant Shah told The Indian Express that the item had been sourced from a local agency, ‘Hindustan Samachar’. Hindustan Samachar bureau chief Bhupat Parikh, however, said the item “was not my story at all”, and pointed out it wasn’t credited to the agency.
From the Congress side, general secretary Digvijaya Singh took on Modi, saying he had been “trained well” by the RSS in disinformation campaign. “The Sangh trains its cadre in disinformation campaign, obviously Modi has been trained well! The Sangh has modelled itself on the Nazi tradition... Jhoot bolo, zor se bolo, aur baar baar bolo (Lie, lie loudly, and lie again and again). Doesn’t it remind you of Hitler’s Goebbels?” Singh stated in two separate tweets on the micro-blogging site. “They want to politicise even on an issue like health,” he said.
AICC spokesperson Manish Tewari mentioned a Congress report talking of “17 scams” in Gujarat during the BJP’s 11-year rule, causing “a loss to the extent of Rs 1 lakh crore”. “If the Gujarat Chief Minister has the courage to face the truth, he should submit himself to a court-monitored investigation,” he said.