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Sonia sounds poll bugle in Modi-turf Gujarat


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Ahmedabad, Oct 3 (IANS) Sounding the rallying cry for a new Gujarat, Congress president Sonia Gandhi Wednesday defended the central government’s decisions on the economy and said the state’s ruling BJP was not against corruption but only against her party.

Addressing a rally in Rajkot, about 200 km from here, Gandhi took on Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who has demanded that the government make public the money spent on her medical treatment last year.

"Yeh log brashtachar ke khilaf nahin, sirf hamare khilaf hain. (These people are not against corruption, just against us)," Gandhi said.

"Ek naya Gujarat banana hai aur banayenge (We have to make a new Gujarat and we will)," she said, sounding the war cry ahead of elections to the Gujarat assembly, the dates of which would be announced by the Election Commission Wednesday.

Gandhi also vigorously defended the government’s decision to increase diesel prices and permit foreign investment in multi-brand retail.

Congress sources said this was a pre-poll rally and she would address three or four more rallies after the poll dates were announced.

Party sources said Rajkot, in Saurashtra region, was chosen as the site for the launch of the Congress campaign as farmers there had been facing problems.

Challenging the Bharatiya Janata Party’s version of development in Gujarat, Gandhi said the waters of Narmada had still not reached parched Saurashtra.

"The farmers here are suffering due to lack of water. I want to ask why the water of Narmada has not reached the farmers of Saurashtra in the past 10 years," she said.

She said the Sardar Sarovar dam project was started by the Congress government in the name of the famous Congress leader from Gujarat, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.

Noting that parts of the state had suffered due to drought this year and some farmers had committed suicide, Gandhi urged the state to survey the regions and send a report to New Delhi, so farmers of the region could be provided help at the earliest.

Taking a dig at the development plank of Modi, Gandhi claimed that no other party had done as much development work in Gujarat as the Congress, but some people claimed credit for every achievement.

"The people of Saurashtra region earned fame due to their hard work," she said.

A day after the 143rd birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, who was born in Gujarat, the Congress president invoked his legacy and said the party continued to draw strength from the leader of the freedom struggle.

"We have come a long way on the path shown by Mahatma Gandhi, but we have miles to go," she said.

Exhorting the people to go along with the Congress, she said voters were sensible and understood everything. Development and peace in Gujarat had to take along all sections of society.

On Tuesday, the Congress had demanded an apology from Modi for his allegation that the central government spent Rs.1,880 crore on Gandhi’s foreign visits and medical treatment abroad.

However, the BJP strongman stuck to his guns, saying the Congress should reveal answers to the RTI queries on Gandhi’s travel and treatment expenses.

"Modi should apologise to the nation and to the Gandhi family now that it is proved that his allegations on Soniaji’s foreign visits and her treatment abroad were wrong," Congress leader Rajeev Shukla said.

Modi had criticised the central government Monday for questioning the Gujarat government for spending money on festivities and celebrations.

He claimed that the state should not be questioned, when the central government had itself spent Rs.1,880 crore for Gandhi’s foreign trips and "treatment abroad" over three years.

Gandhi went abroad Sep 1 for a routine medical check-up and returned after a week. She went to the US for a surgery related to an undisclosed ailment last year.