GUJARAT Chief Minister Narendra Modi has discombobulated the Congress party by raising the issue of the expenditure on the foreign travels of party president and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. It was an issue on which the Congress party was touchy and adopted a policy of don’t ask don’t tell. The entire media — both print and electronic — kept quiet over the repeated, and almost monthly trips abroad of Sonia Gandhi. Not just that, she did not take commercial flights, nor did she go through any checking. She drove into the tarmac to board private planes and returned the same way. She is among some twenty-odd people who are exempt from customs checking. This list includes three other members of her family — her son, daughter and son-in-law.
An RTI had been filed earlier seeking these details. Organiser reported the matter in its issue dated 23 September 2012. Now, when the whole issue has become a major embarrassment, the government claims that it has not spent any money on her foreign trips. In the RTI each of the agency had claimed ignorance. A distinction has to be drawn now and the statement clarified. Has the government not spent or has it not kept account of this expenditure, obfuscating it in myriad other heads?
The amount involved is not the only issue. It may be Rs 1,800 crore or ten times less. There is the larger question of transparency and accountability. If the government says that it has not spent any money on Sonia Gandhi’s travels abroad, then it becomes more grave. For, then the expenditure was borne by either the Congress party or a third private source. Then it is imperative to know who funded these trips and why.
The Organiser report highlighted the fact that RTI queries on this matter had met with stonewalls in the government with one department pushing it to another. Sonia Gandhi has multiple roles under the UPA. Not only is she an MP, she is the president of the Congress party, the chairperson of UPA, Chairperson of the NAC and holds positions in several institutions. She influences the government, in fact runs it by remote control. Hence, it is obligatory that the source of her funding is revealed.
The megaphones of Sonia Gandhi are expressing moral indignation at Modi’s statement on her foreign travels. They have unsuccessfully tried to convert the issue into one involving only her health trips of the recent past. But the focus has to be on the frequent travels abroad of not only her but her family, extending to her son-in-law.
Government spending on VIP’s health is not major news. The number of days and months Murasoli Maran was abroad on life support at exchequer’s expense is not too far in the past. Same is the case with Priyaranjan Dasmunshi. He was not even removed from the ministry for a long time. Hence the attempts of the Congress’ spokespersons inside and outside the party to paint Modi wrong for trying to pry into a personal matter of a political opponent is futile. It is high time the government and the Congress party and Sonia Gandhi came clean on the matter. Skirting it and launching a counter-attack on the person who raised the question is not going to help improve image of Sonia Gandhi which they are trying to protect.