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Gandhinagar

Ahmed Patel of Congress, Amit Shah, Smriti Irani of BJP win RS seats from Gujarat

Ahmed Patel, the hugely influential Political Secretary to Congress President Sonia Gandhi, won a fifth straight term in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday in one of the most fiercely contested elections to the Upper House of Parliament, outwitting the ruling BJP, which pulled out all the stops to try and prevent his re-election.

Ahmed Patel
Ahmed Patel
Ahmed Patel, the hugely influential Political Secretary to Congress President Sonia Gandhi, won a fifth straight term in the Rajya Sabha today in one of the most fiercely contested elections to the Upper House of Parliament, outwitting the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which pulled out all the stops to try and prevent his re-election.
 
BJP President Amit Shah and Union Minister Smriti Irani won their seats comfortably, while the party's third candidate Balwant Singh Rajput, who had switched over from the Congress on July 27, failed to make the cut at the end of high political drama.
 
In one of the closest electoral battles that he has ever faced in a long political career, Mr. Patel, 67, who has also served three terms as a member of the Lok Sabha from Bharuch in Gujarat, literally scraped through with 44 votes, the minimum required to win on first preferences votes to pick up the third of the three seats up for grabs.
 
For Mr. Shah, 52, this is his first term as a Member of Parliament while Ms. Irani, 41, has secured a second consecutive term in the Rajya Sabha.
 
In the normal course, Mr. Patel should have sailed through the election, but a series of dramatic developments over the past few weeks made it a contest that literally went to the wire.
 
Polling began in Gandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat, at 9 am on Tuesday and ended at 4 pm and counting of votes was scheduled to be taken up at 5 pm, but the process was held up after the Congress complained about the two MLAs.
 
Counting of votes was delayed by more than eight hours, beginning only around 1 am on Wednesday morning after the Election Commission directed the Returning Officer to reject the votes cast by two rebel Congress MLAs who had voted against the party's Mr. Patel.
 
In its order on a petition by the Congress, the Commission said this could be done at the time of counting of votes by segregating the ballot papers concerned. 
 
"Such segregation can be done at the time of counting with reference to the serial numbers of the ballot papers issued to the electors concerned as per the record maintained on the counter foils of ballot papers under Rule 38A.
 
"For this purpose, before commencement of counting, the ballot papers in question shall be segregated by verifying the serial numbers printed on teh reverse side of the ballot papers. While so segregating, the ballot papers shall be kept by the Returning Officer upside down because the serial numbers of the ballot papers are printed on the reverse side of the ballot papers. After so segregating the said two ballot papers, the Returning Officer shall proceed with the counting as per the law," the order, signed by Chief Election Commissioner A. K. Joti and Election Commissioner O. P. Rawat, said.
 
The objections raised by the Congress on the votes cast by the two rebel Congress MLAs, Raghavji Patel and Bholabhai Gohil, delayed the counting of votes in the election, which has turned out to be the most fiercely contest ever for a Rajya Sabha seat.
 
The two MLAs were accused by the Congress of having shown their ballot papers to BJP President Amit Shah and Union Minister Smriti Irani before putting it in the ballot box. The rules clearly say that the MLA must show the ballot paper to his or her party's authorised agent but not to anyone else. Doing so would lead to cancellation of the votes.
 
A Congress delegation consisting of Mr. Randeep Singh Surjewala and Mr. R. P. N. Singh, among others, first approached the Election Commission of India (ECI) in Delhi in this regard. 
 
In its memorandum, the Congress said the two Congress MLAs had shown their ballot papers to persons other than the authorised Congress agent and thus violated the provisions of Rule 39 of Conduct of Election Rules, 1961. Therefore, it said the votes cast by the two MLAs should be cancelled for the reason of "voting procedure violated".
 
The memorandum said the Congress had protested about this to the Returning Officer and had urged him to cancel the votes of the two MLAs. "The videography of the entire process is available with the Returning Officer and he may be immediately directed to follow the law in letter and spirit," it said.
 
"In view of the above, we request your good offices to kindly forthwith issue directions to the concerned RO to cancel the votes cast by the aforesaid MLAs," it added.
 
Shortly after that, a high-level BJP delegation, led by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and including Union Ministers Ravi Shankar Prasad, Piyush Goyal, Nirmala Sitharaman and Dharmendra Pradhan, met the Election Commission and urged it to reject the Congress plea and start the process of counting of votes immediately.
 
Mr. Prasad, the Law Minister, told newspersons that the Congress had not raised any objections throughout the day and had raked up the issue only when it realised that Mr. Patel was losing. According to him, the Congress had also not raised the issue when the Returning Officer issued the Form 6 detailing the number of votes cast in the election and such other details.
 
In Ahmedabad, Mr. Patel said they had, in fact, complained to the Returning Officer about the votes of the two MLAs but no action had been taken. About the delegation of Ministers meeting the Election Commission, he said it was a sign of the panic within the ruling party.
 
The two MLAs against whom the Congress has complained belong to the Shankarsinh Vaghela group, which has dissociated itself from the Congress on July 21 but had not resigned their seats in the State Legislative Assembly.
 
"They had voted for the BJP. After showing their ballot to me, they also flashed their ballot to the side where Amit Shah was sitting, and there is a video of this," Gujarat Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil said.
 
Shortly after the BJP delegation left, a delegation of top Congress leaders, including Mr. P. Chidambaram, Mr. Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mr. Ashok Gehlot and others, met the Chief Election Commissioner.
 
Mr. Chidambaram told newspersons later that the Conduct of Election Rules, read with circulars issued by the Election Commission, clearly require the Commission to cancel the two votes. He cited the precedents of the June 11, 2016 Rajya Sabha elections in Haryana, when a vote was cancelled for a similar reason, and another in 2000 in Rajasthan.
 
"There is ample evidence that the votes of the two MLAs were seen by two or three persons other than the authorised person. Those two ballot papers, which were in favour of the BJP, must be rejected. The Election Commission cannot folow anything except its own precedents in this matter," he asserted.
 
Mr. Chidambaram said the delegation had also impressed upon the Commission that it was the only Constitutional authority in the matter and it must decide the issue. He said the Returning Officer was an appointee of the Commission tasked with the conduct of the elections on the ground. "It must reject the two votes as it did in Haryana," he said.
 
About the BJP's argument that the Congress had raised the issue only when it feared it would lose the election, he said it was completely irrelevant. The question is whether the votes are liable to be rejected or not, he stressed. He also said the matter had been reported to the Returning Officer and the matter was taken to the Election Commission only when he did not act on their complaint.
 
Mr. Surjewala said the Commission had assured that it would look into the matter and uphold the Constitution and the secrecy of the ballot. He said the BJP, by sending a team of senior Ministers, was trying to put pressure on the Commission.
 
Mr. Jaitley and his colleagues in the BJP delegation returned to the Commission for another meeting with Mr. Joti and his colleagues. Mr. Prasad said they had once again impressed upon the Commission that the election process was over and counting of votes cannot be stalled in this manner. He also said the Congress allegations were baseless.
 
Both parties came back to the Commission a third time, as each side presented more documents to support their arguments.
 
The Commission said in its order that, as per the report of the Returning Officer after completion of poll, which was received by it at about 5.19 pm, during the course of poll, the election agent of the Congress candidate Shailesh Bhai Parmar submitted two written applications of votes tendered by the two voters, Bholabhai Gohil and Raghavji Patel, for violation of the procedure laid down by the Rules, besides authorised representatives of the Congress, even to others.
 
He said that he had examined the complaints and the video recording of the polling process and rejected the objection raised. He had accordingly sought permission of the Commission to commence the counting of votes
 
Amit Shah
Amit Shah
The order went on to refer to its meetings with the delegations of the Congress and the BJP in this regard. The Congress contended that the Returning Officer had improperly rejected its objection. Mr. Patel also sent an email to the Commission with the same request for cancellation of the two votes.
 
The BJP delegation contended that the Returning Officer was the statutory authority to conduct the polling and counting process and to decide the validity or otherwise of a ballot paper.
 
The Commission said it obtained and viewed the video recording of the polling process to ascertain the facts.
 
The order pointed out that an elector at the Rajya Sabha election has to show his marked ballot paper to the authorised representative of the political party to which he belongs, before inserting it into the ballot box. It also said the rule is very clear that the elector has to show his ballot paper only to the authorised representaive of his party and to no one else.
 
"Consequently, if a marked ballot paper by an elector is shown to or be seen by anyone other than the said Representative, which may violate the secrecy of vote has to be rejected by the Returning Officer...," it said.
 
"The Commission has viewed the video recording of the votes cast by the said two MLAs and it has been observed therefrom that the said two electors violated the voting procedure and secrecy of the ballot papers cast by them when they exercised their right to vote," the order added.
 
The cancellation of the two votes meant that the minimum number of votes required by a candidate for a win fell further to 44 first preference votes 
 
The Congress said Mr. Patel had secured the votes of 43 of the 44 MLAs the party had taken to a resort to Bengaluru in Karnataka for about two weeks and for one day ahead of today's voting to a resort in Anand, about 80 km from Ahmedabad, to prevent alleged poaching attempts by the BJP.
 
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It was not clear which of the other MLAs had voted for Mr. Patel, with one legislator from the Janata Dal (United), one of the two Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) representatives and another member claiming they have voted for him.
 
"Satyameva Jayate", Mr. Patel said on micro-blogging site Twitter as counting of votes ended. 
 
"This is not just my victory. It is a defeat of the most blatant use of money power,muscle power and abuse of state machinery.
 
"I want to thank each & every MLA who voted for me despite unprecedented intimidation & pressure from BJP. They voted for an inclusive India," he added.
 
The run-up to the election was marked by high political drama as the BJP pulled out all stops in a determined bid to deny Mr. Patel another term in the Rajya Sabha.
 
Given its 121 seats in the Assembly, the BJP was certain to win two seats, but it decided to field a third candidate in an effort to try and lure away some votes away from Mr. Patel and prevent his re-election.
 
Mr. Rajput was the Congress' chief whip in the state legislative assembly until recently and is one of the six Congress MLAs who had resigned from the party on July 27 and 28. Mr. Rajput and two others had joined the BJP on July 27 itself and was named as the BJP's nominee for the third seat the same evening.
 
With the resignation of the six MLAs, the effective strength of the House has come down to 176. The strength of the Congress in the Assembly has come down to 51. 
 
The resignations of the six MLAs had come only a few days after Mr. Shankarsinh Vaghela, one of the seniormost Congress leaders in the state, who was leader of the Opposition in the Assembly and is a former Chief Minister and Union Minister, parted ways with the Congress on July 21.
 
Soon after casting his vote today, Mr. Vaghela told journalists that he did not vote for Mr. Patel. "I have to say that I did not vote for my friend Ahmedbhai, and I regret that. But when it is clear that Mr. Patel that will not win, there was no point in wasting my vote on him," he said.
 
However, he did not indicate who he had voted for or whether he had exercised the "None of the above" (NOTA) option. "You will come to know that in the evening," he said. Along with Mr. Vaghela, six of his supporters are also understood to have not voted for Mr. Patel.
  
Mr. Vaghela's move had come just a day after the results of the Presidential election, which indicated that about 11 of the 57 Congress MLAs in the state then had voted for NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind and against the Opposition nominee Meira Kumar.
 
Amidst fears of alleged poaching attempts by the BJP, the Congress had moved 44 of its MLAs on July 29 to a resort near Bengaluru in Karnataka, a state ruled by the party.
 
The MLAs returned to Gujarat yesterday morning and were taken to a resort near Anand. They travelled together in a bus to Gandhinagar to cast their votes.
 
The Congress had accused the BJP of using "money and muscle power" to engineer defections of its MLAs and complained to the Election Commission about the events in Gujarat.
 
The MLAs' stay in the Eagleton resort was not without drama. On the one hand, the BJP mounted strong criticisim of their travel outside the state when it was reeling under heavy  floods. On the other hand, Karnataka Energy Minister D. K. Shivakumar, who tasked by the Congress to look after the MLAs, found himself being raided by Income Tax officials. The Congress protested, saying the raids were politically motivated, while the Income Tax Department insisted they were part of an ongoing investigation against Mr. Shivakumar.
 
The latest developments have acome only a few months ahead of the elections to the State Assembly, expected to be held late this year. The Congress has been out of power in the state for more than two decades.
 
The biennial elections were necessitated by the expiry of the terms later this month of Mr. Patel, Ms. Irani and a third sitting member from Gujarat, Mr. Dilip Pandya.
 
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Gujarat RS poll: ECI orders cancellation of votes cast by two rebel Congress MLAs

In a significant move, the Election Commission on Tuesday night directed the Returning Officer for the elections to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat to reject the votes cast by two Congress MLAs who had voted against the party's candidate Ahmed Patel, the hugely influential Political Secretary to Congress President Sonia Gandhi.

Ahmed Patel
Ahmed Patel
In a significant move, the Election Commission today directed the Returning Officer for the biennial elections for three seats to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat to reject the votes cast by two Congress MLAs who had voted against the party's candidate Ahmed Patel, the hugely influential Political Secretary to Congress President Sonia Gandhi.
 
In its order on a petition by the Congress, the Commission said this could be done at the time of counting of votes by segregating the ballot papers concerned after it found that the MLAs had violated the procedures by showing the ballot papers to persons other than their party's authorised agent.
 
"Such segregation can be done at the time of counting with reference to the serial numbers of the ballot papers issued to the electors concerned as per the record maintained on the counter foils of ballot papers under Rule 38A.
 
"For this purpose, before commencement of counting, the ballot papers in question shall be segregated by verifying the serial numbers printed on teh reverse side of the ballot papers. While so segregating, the ballot papers shall be kept by the Returning Officer upside down because the serial numbers of the ballot papers are printed on the reverse side of the ballot papers. After so segregating the said two ballot papers, the Returning Officer shall proceed with the counting as per the law," the order, signed by Chief Election Commissioner A. K. Joti and Election Commissioner O. P. Rawat, said.
 
The objections raised by the Congress on the votes cast by the two rebel Congress MLAs, Raghavji Patel and Bholabhai Gohil, delayed the counting of votes in the election, which has turned out to be the most fiercely contest ever for a Rajya Sabha seat.
 
The two MLAs were accused by the Congress of having shown their ballot papers to BJP President Amit Shah and Union Minister Smriti Irani before putting it in the ballot box. The rules clearly say that the MLA must show the ballot paper to his or her party's authorised agent but not to anyone else. Doing so would lead to cancellation of the votes.
 
Mr. Patel, 67, is seeking a fifth consecutive term in the Rajya Sabha, but a series of dramatic developments over the past few weeks made it a contest that literally went to the wire.
 
The BJP has fielded Mr. Shah, Ms. Irani and former Congress MLA Balwant Singh Rajput for the three seats, for which polling was held today.
 
Polling began at 9 am and ended at 4 pm and counting of votes was scheduled to be taken up at 5 pm, but the process was held up after the Congress complained about the two MLAs.
 
A Congress delegation consisting of Mr. Randeep Singh Surjewala and Mr. R. P. N. Singh, among others, first approached the Election Commission of India (ECI) in Delhi in this regard. 
 
In its memorandum, the Congress said the two Congress MLAs had shown their ballot papers to persons other than the authorised Congress agent and thus violated the provisions of Rule 39 of Conduct of Election Rules, 1961. Therefore, it said the votes cast by the two MLAs should be cancelled for the reason of "voting procedure violated".
 
The memorandum said the Congress had protested about this to the Returning Officer and had urged him to cancel the votes of the two MLAs. "The videography of the entire process is available with the Returning Officer and he may be immediately directed to follow the law in letter and spirit," it said.
 
"In view of the above, we request your good offices to kindly forthwith issue directions to the concerned RO to cancel the votes cast by the aforesaid MLAs," it added.
 
Congress approaches EC, demands quashing of two MLAs' votes
Shortly after that, a high-level BJP delegation, led by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and including Union Ministers Ravi Shankar Prasad, Piyush Goyal, Nirmala Sitharaman and Dharmendra Pradhan, met the Election Commission and urged it to reject the Congress plea and start the process of counting of votes immediately.
 
Mr. Prasad, the Law Minister, told newspersons that the Congress had not raised any objections throughout the day and had raked up the issue only when it realised that Mr. Patel was losing. According to him, the Congress had also not raised the issue when the Returning Officer issued the Form 6 detailing the number of votes cast in the election and such other details.
 
In Ahmedabad, Mr. Patel said they had, in fact, complained to the Returning Officer about the votes of the two MLAs but no action had been taken. About the delegation of Ministers meeting the Election Commission, he said it was a sign of the panic within the ruling party.
 
The two MLAs against whom the Congress has complained belong to the Shankarsinh Vaghela group, which has dissociated itself from the Congress on July 21 but had not resigned their seats in the State Legislative Assembly.
 
"They had voted for the BJP. After showing their ballot to me, they also flashed their ballot to the side where Amit Shah was sitting, and there is a video of this," Gujarat Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil said.
 
Shortly after the BJP delegation left, a delegation of top Congress leaders, including Mr. P. Chidambaram, Mr. Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mr. Ashok Gehlot and others, met the Chief Election Commissioner.
 
Mr. Chidambaram told newspersons later that the Conduct of Election Rules, read with circulars issued by the Election Commission, clearly require the Commission to cancel the two votes. He cited the precedents of the June 11, 2016 Rajya Sabha elections in Haryana, when a vote was cancelled for a similar reason, and another in 2000 in Rajasthan.
 
"There is ample evidence that the votes of the two MLAs were seen by two or three persons other than the authorised person. Those two ballot papers, which were in favour of the BJP, must be rejected. The Election Commission cannot folow anything except its own precedents in this matter," he asserted.
 
Mr. Chidambaram said the delegation had also impressed upon the Commission that it was the only Constitutional authority in the matter and it must decide the issue. He said the Returning Officer was an appointee of the Commission tasked with the conduct of the elections on the ground. "It must reject the two votes as it did in Haryana," he said.
 
About the BJP's argument that the Congress had raised the issue only when it feared it would lose the election, he said it was completely irrelevant. The question is whether the votes are liable to be rejected or not, he stressed. He also said the matter had been reported to the Returning Officer and the matter was taken to the Election Commission only when he did not act on their complaint.
 
Mr. Surjewala said the Commission had assured that it would look into the matter and uphold the Constitution and the secrecy of the ballot. He said the BJP, by sending a team of senior Ministers, was trying to put pressure on the Commission.
 
Mr. Jaitley and his colleagues in the BJP delegation returned to the Commission for another meeting with Mr. Joti and his colleagues. Mr. Prasad said they had once again impressed upon the Commission that the election process was over and counting of votes cannot be stalled in this manner. He also said the Congress allegations were baseless.
 
Both parties came back to the Commission a third time, as each side presented more documents to support their arguments.
 
The Commission said in its order that, as per the report of the Returning Officer after completion of poll, which was received by it at about 5.19 pm, during the course of poll, the election agent of the Congress candidate Shailesh Bhai Parmar submitted two written applications of votes tendered by the two voters, Bholabhai Gohil and Raghavji Patel, for violation of the procedure laid down by the Rules, besides authorised representatives of the Congress, even to others.
 
He said that he had examined the complaints and the video recording of the polling process and rejected the objection raised. He had accordingly sought permission of the Commission to commence the counting of votes
 
The order went on to refer to its meetings with the delegations of the Congress and the BJP in this regard. The Congress contended that the Returning Officer had improperly rejected its objection. Mr. Patel also sent an email to the Commission with the same request for cancellation of the two votes.
 
The BJP delegation contended that the Returning Officer was the statutory authority to conduct the polling and counting process and to decide the validity or otherwise of a ballot paper.
 
The Commission said it obtained and viewed the video recording of the polling process to ascertain the facts.
 
The order pointed out that an elector at the Rajya Sabha election has to show his marked ballot paper to the authorised representative of the political party to which he belongs, before inserting it into the ballot box. It also said the rule is very clear that the elector has to show his ballot paper only to the authorised representaive of his party and to no one else.
 
"Consequently, if a marked ballot paper by an elector is shown to or be seen by anyone other than the said Representative, which may violate the secrecy of vote has to be rejected by the Returning Officer...," it said.
 
"The Commission has viewed the video recording of the votes cast by the said two MLAs and it has been observed therefrom that the said two electors violated the voting procedure and secrecy of the ballot papers cast by them when they exercised their right to vote," the order added.
 
Meanwhile, the Congress claimed that Mr. Patel, the hugely influential Political Secretary to Congress President Sonia Gandhi, had got enough votes to retain his seat. The BJP, on the other hand, claimed that all its candidates would win.
 
In one of the closest electoral battles that he has ever faced in a long political career, Mr Patel, like the other candidates, needed 45 first preference votes to get through.
 
If Mr. Patel wins, it will be his fifth consecutive term in the Upper House of Parliament after earlier serving three terms as a Member of the Lok Sabha from Bharuch in Gujarat.
 
For Mr. Shah, it will be his first time as a Member of Parliament while it will be her second consecutive term for Ms. Irani.
 
The Congress claimed Mr. Patel had secured the votes of 43 of the 44 MLAs the party had taken to a resort to Bengaluru in Karnataka for about two weeks and for one day ahead of today's voting to a resort in Anand, about 80 km from Ahmedabad, to prevent alleged poaching attempts by the BJP.
 
The party said he had got the vote of the lone Janata Dal (United) MLA Chhotubhai Vasava and one of the two Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) representatives in the Assembly. The other NCP MLA Kandhal Jadeja had said that he would vote for the BJP.
 
The run-up to the election was marked by high political drama as the BJP pulled out all stops in a determined bid to deny Mr. Patel another term in the Rajya Sabha.
 
Given its 121 seats in the Assembly, the BJP was certain to win two seats, but it decided to field a third candidate in an effort to try and lure away some votes away from Mr. Patel and prevent his re-election.
 
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Mr. Rajput was the Congress' chief whip in the state legislative assembly until recently and is one of the six Congress MLAs who had resigned from the party on July 27 and 28. Mr. Rajput and two others had joined the BJP on July 27 itself and was named as the BJP's nominee for the third seat the same evening.
 
With the resignation of the six MLAs, the effective strength of the House has come down to 176. The strength of the Congress in the Assembly has come down to 51. A candidate required one-fourth of the total votes plus one to get elected -- 45 votes at that stage.
 
With the cancellation of the two votes, the minimum number required for winning has come down to 44, something that would benefit Mr. Patel.
 
The resignations of the six MLAs had come only a few days after Mr. Shankarsinh Vaghela, one of the seniormost Congress leaders in the state, who was leader of the Opposition in the Assembly and is a former Chief Minister and Union Minister, parted ways with the Congress on July 21.
 
Soon after casting his vote today, Mr. Vaghela told journalists that he did not vote for Mr. Patel. "I have to say that I did not vote for my friend Ahmedbhai, and I regret that. But when it is clear that Mr. Patel that will not win, there was no point in wasting my vote on him," he said.
 
However, he did not indicate who he had voted for or whether he had exercised the "None of the above" (NOTA) option. "You will come to know that in the evening," he said.
 
Along with Mr. Vaghela, six of his supporters are also understood to have not voted for Mr. Patel.
 
While dissociating himself from the Congress at a function to celebrate his 77th birthday in Gandhinagar, the state capital near here, Mr. Vaghela had made it clear that he was not joining the BJP. He claimed the Congress had actually expelled him the previous day, something which the party denied.
 
Mr. Vaghela, who had turned a rebel within the BJP nearly two decades ago, had floated his own outfit, the Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP), which he finally merged with the Congress 17 years ago. 
 
The Congress said Mr. Vaghela had wanted to be appointed as the Gujarat Congress chief, a demand that the party could not accept. 
 
Mr. Vaghela's move had come just a day after the results of the Presidential election, which indicated that about 11 of the 57 Congress MLAs in the state then had voted for NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind and against the Opposition nominee Meira Kumar.
 
Amidst fears of alleged poaching attempts by the BJP, the Congress had moved 44 of its MLAs on July 29 to a resort near Bengaluru in Karnataka, a state ruled by the party.
 
The MLAs returned to Gujarat yesterday morning and were taken to a resort near Anand. They travelled together in a bus to Gandhinagar to cast their votes.
 
The Congress had accused the BJP of using "money and muscle power" to engineer defections of its MLAs and complained to the Election Commission about the events in Gujarat.
 
The MLAs' stay in the Eagleton resort was not without drama. On the one hand, the BJP mounted strong criticisim of their travel outside the state when it was reeling under heavy  floods. On the other hand, Karnataka Energy Minister D. K. Shivakumar, who tasked by the Congress to look after the MLAs, found himself being raided by Income Tax officials. The Congress protested, saying the raids were politically motivated, while the Income Tax Department insisted they were part of an ongoing investigation against Mr. Shivakumar.
 
The latest developments have acome only a few months ahead of the elections to the State Assembly, expected to be held late this year. The Congress has been out of power in the state for more than two decades.
 
The biennial elections were necessitated by the expiry of the terms later this month of Mr. Patel, Ms. Irani and a third sitting member from Gujarat, Mr. Dilip Pandya.
 
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Polling begins for three RS seats from Gujarat; Ahmed Patel faces close contest

Polling began on Tuesday morning in the crucial biennial elections for three Rajya Sabha seats from Gujarat in which senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel is facing one of his toughest electoral battles against the ruling BJP, which is determined to deny him a fifth consecutive term in the Upper House of Parliament.

Ahmed Patel
Ahmed Patel
Polling began here this morning in the crucial biennial elections for three Rajya Sabha seats from Gujarat in which senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel is facing one of his toughest electoral battles against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is determined to deny him a fifth consecutive term in the Upper House of Parliament.
 
Voting, which  began at 9 am, will end at 4 pm. Counting of votes will be taken up at 5 pm and the results are expected shortly thereafter.
 
The run-up to the elections has been marked by high political drama and all indications are that today's exercise will see a nail-biting finish.
 
The BJP is contesting all three seats up for grabs and has fielded its president Amit Shah, Union Minister Smriti Irani and Mr. Balwant Singh Rajput as its candidates. Mr. Rajput was the Congress' chief whip in the state legislative assembly until recently and is one of the six Congress MLAs who had resigned from the party on July 27 and 28. Mr. Rajput and two others had joined the BJP on July 27 and was named as the BJP's nominee for the third seat the same evening.
 
With the resignation of the six MLAs, the effective strength of the House has come down to 176. The strength of the Congress in the Assembly has come down to 51. A candidate requires one-fourth of the total votes plus one to get elected -- 45 votes in the present situation.
 
These developments came only a few days after Mr. Shankarsinh Vaghela, one of the seniormost Congress leaders in the state, who was leader of the Opposition in the Assembly and is a former Chief Minister and Union Minister, parted ways with the Congress on July 21.
 
Soon after casting his vote today, Mr. Vaghela told journalists that he did not vote for Mr. Patel. "I have to say that I did not vote for my friend Ahmedbhai, and I regret that. But when it is clear that Mr. Patel that will not win, there was no point in wasting my vote on him," he said.
 
However, he did not indicate who he had voted for or whether he had exercised the "None of the above" (NOTA) option. "You will come to know that in the evening," he said.
 
While dissociating himself from the Congress at a function to celebrate his 77th birthday here on July 21, Mr. Vaghela had made it clear that he was not joining the BJP. He claimed the Congress had actually expelled him the previous day, something which the party denied.
 
"They expelled me 24 hours ago because they were not sure about what I would say here today...Vinashkale vipareet budhdhi," he had said on that day. 
 
"I am freeing myself from the Congress. I have resigned as the Leader of the Opposition. I will resign as Congress MLA after the (August 8) Rajya Sabha elections," he told the cheering crowd.
 
He said he had assured Congress President Sonia Gandhi that he would not betray her trust. He said he had told her that he would not join the BJP.
 
Mr. Vaghela, who had turned a rebel within the BJP nearly two decades ago, had floated his own outfit, the Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP), which he finally merged with the Congress 17 years ago. 
 
The Congress said Mr. Vaghela had wanted to be appointed as the Gujarat Congress chief, a demand that the party could not accept. 
 
 
Voting underway for Gujarat Rajya Sabha elections
Mr. Vaghela's move had come just a day after the results of the Presidential election, which indicated that about 11 of the 57 Congress MLAs in the state then had voted for NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind and against the Opposition nominee Meira Kumar.
 
By fielding Mr. Rajput, a relative of Mr. Vaghela, as its third candidate for the Rajya Sabha, the BJP is hoping to attract some votes from the Congress MLAs and try and prevent the re-election of Mr. Patel.
 
Mr. Patel, however, was confident that he would win. Apart from the Congress MLAs, he is counting on the support of two NCP MLAs and one of the Janata Dal (United). 
 
Amidst fears of alleged poaching attempts by the BJP, the Congress had moved 44 of its MLAs on July 29 to a resort near Bengaluru in Karnataka, a state ruled by the party.
 
The MLAs returned to Gujarat yesterday morning and were taken to a resort near Anand, about 80 km from here. They travelled to Gandhinagar today to cast their votes.
 
Apart from his four terms in the Rajya Sabha, Mr. Patel has also served three terms as a member of the Lok Sabha from Bharuch constituency in Gujarat.
 
Mr. Shah is seeking entry into Parliament for the first time, while Ms. Irani is looking for a second consecutive term in the Upper House. 
 
Given the numbers in the Assembly, the BJP can easily get two of its candidates elected. Similarly, if there is no cross-voting, the Congress can also get one candidate elected.
 
The Congress has accused the BJP of using "money and muscle power" to engineer defections of its MLAs and complained to the Election Commission about the events in Gujarat.
 
The MLAs' stay in the Eagleton resort was not without drama. On the one hand, the BJP mounted strong criticisim of their travel outside the state when it was reeling under heavy  floods. On the other hand, Karnataka Energy Minister D. K. Shivakumar, who tasked by the Congress to look after the MLAs, found himself being raided by Income Tax officials. The Congress protested, saying the raids were politically motivated, while the Income Tax Department insisted they were part of an ongoing investigation against Mr. Shivakumar.
 
The latest developments have acome only a few months ahead of the elections to the State Assembly, expected to be held late this year. The Congress has been out of power in the state for more than two decades.
 
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Polling today for three RS seats from Gujarat; Ahmed Patel faces close contest

Polling will be held in Gandhinar on Tuesday in the biennial elections for three Rajya Sabha seats from Gujarat in which senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel is facing one of his toughest electoral battles against the ruling BJP, which is determined to deny him a fifth consecutive term in the Upper House of Parliament.

Ahmed Patel
Ahmed Patel
Polling will be held in Gandhinagar near here today in the biennial elections for three Rajya Sabha seats from Gujarat in which senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel is facing one of his toughest electoral battles against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is determined to deny him a fifth consecutive term in the Upper House of Parliament.
 
The run-up to the elections have been marked by high political drama and all indications are that today's exercise will see a nail-biting finish.
 
The BJP is contesting all three seats up for grabs and has fielded its president Amit Shah, Union Minister Smriti Irani and Mr. Balwant Singh Rajput as its candidates. Mr. Rajput was the Congress' chief whip in the state legislative assembly until recently and is one of the six Congress MLAs who had resigned from the party on July 27 and 28. Mr. Rajput and two others had joined the BJP on July 27 and was named as the BJP's nominee for the third seat the same evening.
 
With the resignation of the six MLAs, the effective strength of the House has come down to 176. The strength of the Congress in the Assembly has come down to 51. A candidate requires one-fourth of the total votes plus one to get elected -- 45 votes in the present situation.
 
These developments came only a few days after Mr. Shankarsinh Vaghela, one of the seniormost Congress leaders in the state, who was leader of the Opposition in the Assembly and is a former Chief Minister and Union Minister, parted ways with the Congress on July 21.
 
While dissociating himself from the Congress at a function to celebrate his 77th birthday in Gandhinagar, the state capital, Mr. Vaghela had made it clear that he was not joining the BJP. He claimed the Congress had actually expelled him the previous day, something which the party denied.
 
"They expelled me 24 hours ago because they were not sure about what I would say here today...Vinashkale vipareet budhdhi," he had said on that day. 
 
"I am freeing myself from the Congress. I have resigned as the Leader of the Opposition. I will resign as Congress MLA after the (August 8) Rajya Sabha elections," he told the cheering crowd.
 
The former Chief Minister said he had assured Congress President Sonia Gandhi that he would not betray her trust. He said he had told her that he would not join the BJP.
 
Mr. Vaghela, who had turned a rebel within the BJP nearly two decades ago, had floated his own outfit, the Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP), which he finally merged with the Congress 17 years ago. 
 
The Congress said Mr. Vaghela had wanted to be appointed as the Gujarat Congress chief, a demand that the party could not accept. 
 
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Mr. Vaghela's move had come just a day after the results of the Presidential election, which indicated that about 11 of the 57 Congress MLAs in the state then had voted for NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind and against the Opposition nominee Meira Kumar.
 
By fielding Mr. Rajput, a relative of Mr. Vaghela, as its third candidate for the Rajya Sabha, the BJP is hoping to attract some votes from the Congress MLAs and try and prevent the re-election of Mr. Patel.
 
Mr. Patel is, however, confident that all the Congress MLAs, including Mr. Vaghela and his supporters, will vote for him. He is also counting on the support of two NCP MLAs and one of the Janata Dal (United). But there are doubts about which the two parties would vote this time. There are media reports that the NCP has asked its MLAs to vote for the BJP. The JD (U), on the other hand, has only recently ended its alliance with the Congress and the RJD in Bihar and get back to the NDA fold.
 
Amidst fears of alleged poaching attempts by the BJP, the Congress had moved 44 of its MLAs on July 29 to a resort near Bengaluru in Karnataka, a state ruled by the party.
 
The MLAs returned to Gujarat yesterday morning and were taken to a resort near Anand, about 80 km from here. They will travel to Gandhinagar later today to cast their votes.
 
Apart from his four terms in the Upper House, Mr. Patel has also served three terms as a member of the Lok Sabha.
 
Mr. Shah is seeking entry into Parliament for the first time, while Ms. Irani is looking for a second consecutive term in the Upper House. 
 
Given the numbers in the Assembly, the BJP can easily get two of its candidates elected. Similarly, if there is no cross-voting, the Congress can also get one candidate elected.
 
The Congress has accused the BJP of using "money and muscle power" to engineer defections of its MLAs and complained to the Election Commission about the events in Gujarat.
 
The MLAs' stay in the Eagleton resort was not without drama. On the one hand, the BJP mounted strong criticisim of their travel outside the state when it was reeling under heavy  floods. On the other hand, Karnataka Energy Minister D. K. Shivakumar, who tasked by the Congress to look after the MLAs, found himself being raided by Income Tax officials. The Congress protested, saying the raids were politically motivated, while the Income Tax Department insisted they were part of an ongoing investigation against Mr. Shivakumar.
 
The latest developments have acome only a few months ahead of the elections to the State Assembly, expected to be held late this year. The Congress has been out of power in the state for more than two decades.
 
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Modi says India is amongst most attractive global investment destinations

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Friday that India, which was being described as a bright spot in the global economy, had emerged as one of the most attractive global investment destinations, thanks to a series of sustained policy initiatives by the Government.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi visiting the Textiles India 2017 Exhibition, in Gandhinagar, Gujarat on June 30, 2017.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi visiting the Textiles India 2017 Exhibition, in Gandhinagar, Gujarat on June 30, 2017.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said India, which was being described as a bright spot in the global economy, had emerged as one of the most attractive global investment destinations, thanks to a series of sustained policy initiatives by the Government.
 
"More than seven thousand reforms have been implemented to improve the ease of doing business. Processes have been simplified and made transparent. Government has repealed over twelve hundred outdated laws. These are just a few examples," he told a gathering at Mahatma Mandir here after inaugurating Textiles India 2017, the country's first ever mega textiles trade fair.
 
Urging industrialists and businessmen from around the world to invest in the textiles sector in India, he said India had moved up by 32 places in the last two years in the Global Competitiveness Index of the World Economic Forum, the highest for any country. 
 
"India moved up 19 places on the World Bank Logistics Performance Index of 2016. We have also moved up 16 places on the Global Innovation Index of the World Intellectual Property Organisation in 2016. We are third among the top ten FDI destinations listed by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development," he said.
 
Mr. Modi said that, based on the Make in India initiative, the organized textile industry was being infused with the mantras of ‘skill, scale, speed’ and ‘zero-defect, zero-effect’ for scaling up employment, production and exports. 
 
"We have one of the most liberal investment policies for foreign investment in the textile and apparel sector. We allow 100 percent FDI through automatic route in textile and apparel sector," he said.
 
He said the textiles industry had a pivotal position in the Indian economy. 
 
"It is strong and competitive across the value chain. India has an abundant supply of raw material, like cotton, wool, silk, jute, and man-made fibre. In fact, it is the world’s largest producer of cotton and jute, and second largest producer of silk and man-made fibre. This provides us the distinct advantage of backward integration, which many other countries may not have. In addition, India has strong spinning, weaving, knitting and apparel manufacturing capacities. Young, skilled labour is available at a reasonable cost," he said.
 
"Our high economic growth has resulted in higher disposable income. The resulting higher demand for products offers a huge domestic market. Ours is a nation of aspirational youth, who wish to spend on textiles, apparel, and handcrafted lifestyle products. The domestic market for apparel and lifestyle products, currently estimated at US dollars 85 billion, is expected to reach US dollars 160 billion by 2025. This growth will be driven by the rising middle class," he said.
 
Mr. Modi said there was also a high global demand for textiles and apparel manufactured in the country.
 
He said India is the world’s second largest exporter of textiles, commanding a global share of around five percent. Indian textiles, including traditional handloom and handicraft products, are exported to more than a hundred countries. 
 
He said the textiles sector offered significant employment opportunities, being the second largest employer after agriculture. Over 45 million people are employed directly in the sector, and over 60 million people are employed in allied activities. 
 
Mr. Modi said an integrated skill development scheme was also being implemented to address the critical gap of skilled manpower, through industry-oriented training programs. 
 
"Our strengths in manufacturing and export are backed up by our ability to develop world-class training and research institutes. The National Institute of Fashion Technology has a network of sixteen professionally managed campuses. It has been playing a crucial role in benchmarking performance and processes in the areas of fashion education, research and development, training and consultancy. 
 
"In the last few years we have witnessed a very healthy competition amongst States to attract investment and industries in their respective States. As a result, there have been some major reforms that have taken place in States. Each State in its own way has tried to facilitate the establishment of new industries including textiles. I think, the time has now come for us to concentrate on textile exports in a big way. 
 
"India is a country with diverse culture, fashion and traditions. This diversity is clearly reflected in the clothing present in different regions. We should catalogue and map our clothing diversity and clearly earmark strengths and specialties of each state or region. Each State should appoint nodal officers dedicated to a few well-known products, who would facilitate producers and traders across the value chain. The intervention should start from production to export of garments. It should meet the specific requirements of domestic as well as export markets," he said.
 
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The Prime Minister underlined the need to formulate an action plan to study and map the requirements of people in large global markets and monitor new trends in fashion and textiles in these areas on a real time basis. "Government Councils and Industry Bodies should rise to the occasion, in a spirit of cooperation. This would enable us to channelize our energies in meeting those requirements and give a boost to our exports," he said.
 
"Innovation and research are new mantras for growth and wealth generation. The textile industry will have to constantly innovate and research for growth and to tap new markets. For example, physiques may be larger in some parts of the world. This may require clothing of greater width than the normal size used in our country. For this, you may need to increase the width of the loom. Elsewhere, requirements may be different. Such attention to detail is necessary to attain leadership in export markets. 
 
"Today, there is a demand for products with zero carbon footprint. Holistic lifestyle has become a buzzword. The market for Organic Dyes, clothes and fabrics made of organic products is growing. Our effort should be to innovate in organic products. 
 
"Apart from cotton and jute, we already have fabrics made of banana and bamboo fibres. There is a niche market for such products. Thus, there is a need for further research by our institutions like National Institute of Fashion Technology and Scientific and Industrial Research institutes to develop fabrics from other sources," he said.
 
"Our integrated textile clusters are compliant to global standards of environment and health safety. Textile producing States also have pro-industry policies in place, to facilitate the required infrastructure for investments in textiles," he said. 
 
Textiles Minister Smriti Irani said participants from 106 countries, 15,000 Indian buyes and sellers, 2,500 international buyers, artistans and weavers are participating in the exhibition.
 
Those present on the occasion included Gujarat Governor O. P. Kohli, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, and Ministers and senior officials from several states.
 
Also present were US Polo Association President David Cummings, UK-India Business Council CEO Richard Heald, Arvind Mills Managing Director Sanjay Lalbhai, Raymond Managing Director Gautam Hari Singhania, Aditya Birla Group Chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla and Korea Federation of Textile Industries Chairman Kihak Sung.
 
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Modi assures African nations that India will always stand with them

Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking at the inaugural ceremony of the 52nd African Development Bank Annual Meetings, in Gandhinagar, Gujarat on May 23, 2017.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking at the inaugural ceremony of the 52nd African Development Bank Annual Meetings, in Gandhinagar, Gujarat on May 23, 2017.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today assured African nations that India would always stand with  them, shoulder to shoulder, supporting them in the long and difficult race for a better future.
 
"India’s partnership with Africa is based on a model of cooperation which is responsive to the needs of African countries. It is demand-driven and free of conditions," he said at the inauguration of the Annual Meeting of the African Development Bank (AfDB) here.
 
He said that, as one plank of this cooperation, India extends lines of credit through India’s Exim Bank and as many as 152 credits have been extended to 44 countries for a total amount of nearly $ 8 billion so far.
 
He recalled that, during the Third India-Africa Forum Summit, India had offered $ 10 billion for development projects over the next five years. It had also offered grant assistance of $ 600 million.
 
Mr. Modi spoke about the strong ties between India and Africa over the centuries. "Historically, communities from western India, especially Gujarat, and the eastern coast of Africa have settled in each other's lands. The Siddhis of India are said to have come from East Africa. The Bohra communities in coastal Kenya date back to the twelfth century. Vasco da Gama is said to have reached Calicut with the help of a Gujarati sailor from Malindi. The dhows of Gujarat took merchandise in both directions. Ancient links between societies have also enriched our cultures. The rich Swahili language includes many Hindi words," he said.
 
He mentioned the thousands of Indians who went to Kenya to build the iconic Mombasa-Uganda railway and stayed back to start small businesses. During the colonial years, merchants, artisans and later officials, teachers, doctors and other professionals went to East and West Africa creating a vibrant community which combines the best of India and Africa, he said.
 
Mr. Modi also spoke about Mahatma Gandhi, another Gujarati, who perfected his tools of non-violent struggle in South Africa.
 
"Over decades, our ties have become stronger. After assuming office in 2014, I have made Africa a top priority for India’s foreign and economic policy. The year 2015 was a watershed. The third India Africa Summit held that year was attended by all fifty-four African countries having diplomatic relations with India. A record forty-one African countries participated at the level of Heads of State or Government," he said.
 
The Prime Minister said that, since 2015, he had visited six African countries:  South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Mauritius and Seychelles. India's President has visited three countries -- Namibia, Ghana and Ivory Coast -- and the Vice-President visited seven countries -- Morocco, Tunisia, Nigeria, Mali, Algeria, Rwanda and Uganda. "I am proud to say that there is no country in Africa that has not been visited by an Indian Minister in the last three years," he sai
 
"From a time when we mainly had mercantile and maritime links between Mombasa and Mumbai, we have today this Annual meeting which connects Abidjan and Ahmedabad; business links between Bamako and Bangalore; cricketing links between Chennai and Cape Town; development links between Delhi and Dakar," he said.
 
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Mr. Modi said India was proud of its educational and technical ties with Africa. Thirteen current or former Presidents, Prime Ministers and Vice-Presidents in Africa have attended educational or training institutions in India. Six current or former chiefs of armed forces in Africa trained in India’s military institutions. Two current Ministers of the Interior have attended Indian institutions. Under the popular India Technical and Economic Cooperation Programme, more than thirty three thousand scholarships have been offered to officials from African countries since 2007, he said.
 
He also mentioned the training of “solar mamas”, as part of which every year eighty African women are trained in India to work on solar panels and circuits. "After their training they go back and literally electrify their communities. Each woman is responsible for electrifying 50 houses in her community on return. A necessary condition for the women to be selected is that they be illiterate or semi-literate. They also learn several other skills, like basket making, bee keeping, and kitchen gardening during their stay," he said.
 
"We have successfully completed the Pan Africa e-network project for tele-medicine and tele-network covering 48 African countries. Five leading universities in India offered certificate, under graduate and post graduate programmes. Twelve super-speciality hospitals offered consultations and Continuous Medical Education. Around seven thousand students have concluded their studies. We will soon launch the next phase. 
 
"We will soon successfully complete the Cotton Technical Assistance Programme for African Countries launched in 2012. The project was implemented in Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Malawi, Nigeria and Uganda," he said.
 
Mr. Modi said Africa-India trade has multiplied in the last 15 years. It has doubled in the last five years to reach nearly $ 72 billion in 2014-15. India’s commodity trade with Africa in 2015-16 was higher than its commodity trade with the United States of America, he said.
 
"India is also working with United States and Japan to support development in Africa. I gladly recall my detailed conversation with Prime Minister Abe during my visit to Tokyo. We discussed our commitment for enhancing growth prospects for all. In our joint declaration, we mentioned an Asia Africa Growth Corridor and proposed further conversations with our brothers and sisters from Africa. 
 
"Indian and Japanese research institutions have come up with a Vision Document. I congratulate RIS, ERIA and IDE-JETRO for their efforts in putting it together. This was done in consultation with think tanks from Africa. I understand the Vision Document would be presented at the Board meeting later. The idea is that India and Japan, with other willing partners, would explore joint initiatives in skills, health, infrastructure, manufacturing and connectivity," he said.
 
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Mr. Modi said their partnership was not confined to Governments alone and India's private sector was at the forefront of driving this impetus.
 
"From 1996 to 2016, Africa accounted for nearly one-fifth of Indian overseas direct investments. India is the fifth largest country investing in the continent, with investments over the past twenty years amounting to fifty four billion dollars, creating jobs for Africans. We are encouraged by the response of African countries to the International Solar Alliance initiative, which was launched at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in November 2015. The Alliance is conceived as a coalition of countries rich in solar resources, to address their special energy needs. I am happy to note that many African countries have extended their support to this initiative," he said.
 
He said that as a founder of the New Development Bank, popularly called the “BRICS Bank”, India has consistently supported establishment of a Regional Centre in South Africa. This will provide a platform to promote collaboration between NDB and other development partners including the African Development Bank, he said.
 
He recalled that India joined the African Development Fund in 1982 and the African Development Bank in 1983. India has contributed to all of the Bank’s General Capital Increases. For the most recent African Development Fund replenishment, India pledged $ 29 million. It has contributed to the Highly Indebted Poor Countries and Multilateral Debt Reduction Initiatives.
 
Mr. Modi said that, on the sidelines of the annual meetings, the Government of India is organising a Conference and Dialogue in partnership with the Confederation of Indian Industry. There is also an exhibition in association with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry. The focus areas range from Agriculture to Innovation and start-ups and other themes. 
 
The theme of this event is “Transforming Agriculture for wealth creation in Africa”. This is an area where India and the Bank can fruitfully join hands, he said, mentioning in particular the Cotton Technical Assistance Programme. 
 
"Here in India, I have launched an initiative to double farmers’ incomes by 2022. It will require concerted steps, ranging from improved seeds and optimal inputs, to reduced crop losses and better marketing infrastructure. India is keen to learn from your experiences as we proceed on this initiative. 
 
"Many of the challenges we face are the same: uplifting our farmers and the poor, empowering women, ensuring our rural communities have access to finance, building infrastructure. We have to do these within financial constraints. We have to maintain macro-economic stability so that inflation is controlled and our balance of payments is stable. There is much for us to gain by sharing our experiences on all these fronts. For example, in our push to a less-cash economy, we have learnt from the great strides that African countries like Kenya have made in the area of mobile banking. 
 
"I am happy to share that India has, in the last three years, improved on all macro-economic indicators. The fiscal deficit, balance of payments deficit, and inflation are down. The GDP growth rate, foreign exchange reserves and public capital investment are up. At the same time, we have made big strides in development," he said.
 
"Mr. President of the African Development Bank, it is reported that you have described our recent steps as text book chapters for other developing nations and called us a development beacon. While thanking you for these kind words, I am also glad to know that you have spent quite some time training in Hyderabad earlier. However, I must say that I remain focused on the many challenges ahead. In that context, I thought I could share with you some of the strategies we have used in the last 3 years. 
 
"By paying subsidies directly to the poor rather than indirectly through price concessions, we have achieved large fiscal savings. In cooking gas alone we have saved over 4 billion dollars in three years. In addition, I appealed to well-off citizens to voluntarily give up their gas subsidy. Under the ‘Give it up’ campaign, we promised the saving would be used to provide a connection to a poor family. You will be surprised to know that over 10 million Indians volunteered to do so. Thanks to the savings, we have launched a programme to provide gas connections to 50 million poor families. More than 15 million connections have already been provided. This transforms the lives of rural women. It frees them from the health hazards of cooking with firewood. It also protects the environment and reduces pollution. This is an example of what I call ‘reform to transform’: a concerted set of actions which transform lives. 
 
"Some of the subsidised urea fertiliser intended for farmers used to get illegally diverted to non-agricultural uses, like production of chemicals. We introduced universal neem-coating of urea. This makes the fertiliser unsuitable for diversion. Not only have we got substantial financial savings but in addition, studies have shown that neem coating has improved the effectiveness of the fertiliser. 
 
"We are also providing our farmers with soil health cards which tell them the exact nature of their soil, and advise on the best mix of inputs. This promotes optimal use of inputs, and increases crop yield. 
 
"We have made unprecedented increases in capital investment in infrastructure, covering railways, highways, power, and gas pipelines. By next year, no village in India will be without electricity. Our Clean Ganga, Renewable Energy, Digital India, Smart Cities, Housing for All and Skill India missions are preparing us for a cleaner, more prosperous, faster growing and modern new India. Our aim is that India must be an engine of growth as well as an example in climate friendly development in the years to come. 
 
"There are two crucial factors which have helped us. The first set of changes is in the banking system. In the last three years, we have achieved universal banking. We launched the Jan Dhan Yojana or People’s Money campaign under which over two hundred and eighty million bank accounts have been opened for the poor in urban and rural areas. Thanks to that initiative, virtually every Indian family has a bank account. Normally banks are associated with helping businesses and the rich. We have enlisted them for helping the poor in their quest for development. We have strengthened our state-owned banks by freeing them from political decisions and appointing professional chief executives on merit through a transparent selection process. 
 
"Our universal biometric identification system called Aadhaar has been the second crucial element. It prevents claiming of benefits by those who are not eligible. It enables us to ensure that those who deserve government aid receive it with ease, while excluding non-genuine claims," he added.
 
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Five African nations join International Solar Alliance

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Four African nations -- Djibouti, Cote d’Ivoire, Somalia and Ghana -- signed the ISA framework agreement to join the International Solar Alliance here today while Comoros is expected to sign and submit its ratification instrument tomorrow. 
 
Nauru also submitted its instrument of ratification, a press release from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said.
 
An ISA event was held on the sidelines of the African Development Bank (AfDB) Annual Meeting in Gandhinagar. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was present at the signing and ratification ceremony organised by MEA.
 
A total of 30 countries (Bangladesh, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Fiji, France, Guinea Bissau, India, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Nauru, Niger, Republic of Guinea, Senegal, Seychelles, Sudan, Tanzania, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu) signed the ISA Framework Agreement in Marrakech on 15 November 2016 (within 41 days of finalizing the text of the agreement, a record in itself). 
 
Rwanda signed the Framework Agreement on 9 January 2017, taking the total number of signatories to 25 countries, the release said.
 
Within seven months of the opening of the Framework Agreement for signature in November 2016, the total number of signatories to the ISA framework agreement has reached 31, with six countries ratifying the agreement, a record in itself. The ISA as a legal entity will come into existence once 15 countries ratify and deposit the framework agreement.
 
India and France were the first two countries to ratify the Framework Agreement. Fiji has also completed the ratification process and will deposit its instrument with the MEA in the next few weeks, the release said.
 
The ISA initiative was launched at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris on 30 November 2015 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Francois Hollande. It is conceived as a coalition of solar resource rich countries to address their special energy needs and will provide a platform to collaborate on addressing the identified gaps through a common, agreed approach. 
 
The Prime Minister of India and the President of France jointly laid the foundation stone of the IDS Headquarters and inaugurated the interim Secretariat of the ISA in National Institute of Solar Energy (NISE), Gurugram, Haryana on 25th January, 2016. 
 
Launching the Secretariat, Mr. Modi had stated that the ISA as a potent tool for cooperation among the member countries for mutual gains through enhanced solar energy utilization.
 
The total Government of India support including the normative cost of the land will be about Rs. 400 crore (US$ 62 million). Of this, Rs. 175 crore (US $ 27 million) will be utilized for creating building infrastructure and recurring expenditure. The recurring expenditure on ISA will be met from voluntary contributions from member countries, bilateral and multilateral agencies; other appropriate institutions; and from interest earned from the augmented corpus to be built up. In addition to contribution for creating ISA corpus fund, Government of India has offered training support for ISA member countries at National Institute for Solar Energy (NISE) and also support for demonstration projects for solar home lighting, solar pumps for farmers and for other solar applications. 
 
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The Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA) and Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) also announced contribution of US $ 1 million each to the ISA corpus fund. 
 
The International Steering Committee of the ISA, open to all 121 prospective member countries of the ISA (those falling between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn) held its meetings in Paris (1 December 2015), Abu Dhabi (18 January 2016), and New York (22 April 2016). The ISC held its 4th meeting on 5 October 2016 in New Delhi.
 
At the 4th ISC meeting in New Delhi, the draft Framework Agreement on establishment of the ISA was circulated among the prospective member countries. Prospective ISA countries were requested to convey their acceptance, suggest comments (if any) or seek clarifications (if required) on the Draft Framework Agreement of the ISA by 17 October 2016. The finalized ISA Framework Agreement, which seeks to establish ISA as a treaty-based organization was opened for signature at the 22nd Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-22) in Marrakech, Morocco from 7-18 November 2016. MEA's Economic Diplomacy Division has been spearheading the process of getting the prospective countries to sign up and ratify the framework agreement. 
 
The Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India has set aside US$2 billion for solar projects in Africa out of Government of India's US$10 billion concessional Line of Credit for Africa. The LOC will be extended to all those African countries that have signed and ratified the International Solar Alliance Framework Agreement, the release added.
 
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Modi on two-day visit to Gujarat, to attend AfDB Annual Meetings in Gandhinagar on Tuesday

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be on a two-day visit to Gujarat, during which he will inaugurate and lay foundation stones for various development projects in Kutch on Monday.

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will  be on a two-day visit to Gujarat, during which he will inaugurate and lay foundation stones for various development projects in Kutch today.
 
Tomorrow, Mr. Modi will participate in the opening ceremony of the African Development Bank (AfDB) Annual Meetings in Gandhinagar.
 
“Tomorrow I will begin a two day Gujarat visit, during which I will join programmes in Kutch and Gandhinagar," he said on micro-blogging site Twitter.
 
"I shall inaugurate & lay the foundation stone for various projects of the Kandla Port and address a public meeting at Gandhidham. In Bhachau, a pumping station would be inaugurated & I shall join a public meeting. Watch it on your mobile.
 
"Kutch has a very special place in my heart. It is blessed with wonderful people and a remarkable spirit of resilience. From suffering unimaginable destruction due to the 2001 quake, Kutch is today known as one of India’s fastest growing districts.
 
"On Tuesday, I will be in Gandhinagar to participate in the opening ceremony of the meetings of the @AfDB_Group. #AfDBAM2017
 
"The Annual Meetings of @AfDB_Group have chosen the very relevant theme of ‘Transforming Agriculture for Wealth Creation in Africa.’
 
On the sidelines of @AfDB_Group Annual Meetings, I shall meet some of the distinguished delegates who will be taking part in #AfDBAM2017,” Mr. Modi added.
 
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Naidu launches 352 housing projects in 53 cities to build more than 200,000 houses

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Aiming to build more than 200,000 houses with an investment of over Rs. 38,000 crore, Union Minister for Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation M. Venkaiah Naidu launched 352 housing projects in 53 cities in 17 States across the country here yesterday.
 
These housing projects to be taken up by the members of Confederation of Real Estate Developers’ Associations of India (CREDAI) across the country is the first major private investments initiative in affordable housing. These projects were launched in the Gujarat capital.
 
As per the details furnished by CREDAI, the cost of construction will be in the range of Rs. 15 lakh to Rs. 30 lakh with average cost of construction coming to Rs. 18 lakh per house.
 
The event was held in the backdrop of several initiatives by the Union Government to promote affordable housing for Economically Weaker Sections, Low and Middle Income Groups including sanction of ‘infrastructure status’ for the housing sector.
 
Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel, Gujarat Minister of Urban Development Shankar Chaudhary, outgoing President of CREDAI Gitambar Anand and more than 3000 delegates from across the country were present at the function.
 
Mr. Naidu complimented CREDAI and its members for coming forward to invest in affordable housing projects and assured them that his Ministry and Central nodal agencies like the National Housing Bank and HUDCO will extend full cooperation in reaching the benefits prescribed under PMAY (Urban) to the beneficiaries.
 
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Foundation stone laid for first training centre for para athletes

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As the first step towards setting up the first ever training centre of excellence dedicated for para athletes in the country, Union Minister for Youth Affairs & Sports Vijay Goel has laid the foundation stone of the boundary wall for the centre here.
 
Para athletes had won four medals at the Rio Olympics and Prime Minister Narendra Modi after meeting gold medallist Devender Jhajharia expressed the desire to open a world class para athletic centre. Accordingly, the Sports Minister approved a Centre of Excellence for Differently Abled Sportspersons at Sports Authority of India, Gandhinagar, an official press release said.
 
Speaking on the occasion here yesterday, Mr Goel said a Talent Search Portal would be launched soon to spot budding sportspersons in the country. 
 
He said the centre would help para ahtletes to showcase their skills and talent further at national and international levels.
 
The centre is proposed to be built at an estimated budget of over Rs. 50 crore. It will have world class facilities where para athletes will be trained for various international competitions.
 
It will also host seminars, educational programmes and workshops throughout the year with the help of International Paralympic Committee.
 
The centre will have a fully air-conditioned indoor hall, 100-bed elite hostel, VIP accommodation for foreign guests and open land for warm-ups.
 
The entire project will be completed by the CPWD in coordination with the various experts and consultants.
 
Earlier in the day, Mr Goel inaugurated SAI Training Centre (Para) at SAI NSWC Gandhinagar. This centre will provide facilities for training boys and girls in the in the age group of 14 – 20 years in athletics, swimming and power lifting.
 
With a total strength of 50 (Boys & Girls), the annual budget for this scheme is Rs. 50 lakh.  All the selected para athletes will be accommodated in Elite Hostel.
 
Synthetic Athletic Track, International Standard Swimming Pool and modern fitness centre with world class equipment will be available at the centre along with qualified coaches in each discipline.
 
Facilities like Lodging / Boarding, Sports Kits, Competition exposure, Medical Insurance will be provided under the STC Scheme.
 
Selection trials were conducted on February 3 and 4 and the selected probables will be joining the centre after the completion of their examination.
 
The dignitaries, players and coaches at the foundation laying ceremony included Devender Jhajharia, Vijay Muneshwar, Arjuna awardee, Power-Lifting, R. D. Singh, Dronacharya Awardee (Athletics) and senior officials of Department of Sports and SAI.
 
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Tough decisions like demonetization difficult but needed for clean-up: Jaitley

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Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley today said tough decisions initially pass through difficult phases resulting in temporary pain, in an apparent reference to the Government's November 8 announcement on demonetization of Rs. 1000 and Rs. 500 notes.
 
India needed such bold decisions as it was time now to clean up the table, he said at a seminor on "GST: The Game Changer for Indian Economy" on the second day of the Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors Summit at Mahatma Mandir here.
 
"Demonetization will have an impact over the course of our present and future lives," he said.
 
Mr. Jaitley said most of the issues regarding implementation of the Goods & Service Tax (GST) had been resolved. A few critical ones are left which will be resolved in the next few weeks. The GST Council is deliberative democracy in action and the impact of both GST and demonetization will be felt this year, he said.
 
He said that when GST merges all the taxes and makes India into one entity, it would be an advantage to the asessee. Once the GST is implemented, the combination of a more digitized economy along with a more efficient tax system will make India better, he said.
 
Since people want transparency, government is emphasizing on bringing transparency and elimination of discretion. Indian economy has opened up significantly in the last two years, he added.
 
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India offers unprecedented opportunities for investors: Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Tuesday that India's development agendra was ambitious and it was taking a leap towards next generation infrastructure in both core and social sectors, in rural and urban areas, offering unprecedented opportunities for investors.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit 2017, at Mahatma Mandir, in Gandhinagar, Gujarat on January 10, 2017.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit 2017, at Mahatma Mandir, in Gandhinagar, Gujarat on January 10, 2017.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said India's development agendra was ambitious and it was taking a leap towards next generation infrastructure in both core and social sectors, in rural and urban areas, offering unprecedented opportunities for investors.
 
"Most of you can work with us in a number of areas which include: from hardware to software; from soft skills to scientific temper; from defence systems to cyber security; and from medicine to tourism," he said 
 
"I daresay, that India alone offers the opportunities that could rival those of an entire continent. It offers today, the possibilities of a full century. And we want to do all this in a cleaner, greener and sustainable way. We are committed to protect the environment and uphold our responsibility towards Nature. Ultimately, this is what India has stood for since ages," he said.
 
Mr. Modi said India's strength lay in the three Ds: Democracy, Demography and Demand.
 
"Our biggest strength is the depth of our Democracy. Some people say that democracy cannot deliver effective and fast track governance. But we have seen in the last two and a half years that it is possible to deliver quick results in a democratic set up as well. Over the last two and a half years, we have also evolved a culture of healthy competition among states. States are being rated on parameters of Good Governance. The World Bank is helping us in this process.
 
"Coming to Demography, ours is a nation of vibrant youth.  The disciplined, dedicated, and talented youth of India offers a globally unmatched work-force. We are the second largest English-speaking country. Our youth are not merely looking for jobs. They have begun taking risks and often prefer to become entrepreneurs.
 
"On the Demand front, our rising middle class offers a huge domestic market. The seas that surround the Indian peninsula, connect us to some of the world’s biggest markets, including Africa, the Middle East and Europe.
 
"Nature has been kind to us. Our three crop seasons enable us to grow food, vegetables and fruits in abundance. The diversity in our flora and fauna is unparalleled. The richness of our culture and its living symbols is unique. Our Institutions and scholars are recognised the world over. India is now an emerging R&D hub. We produce the world’s second largest number of scientists and engineers.
 
"Our entertainment industry is making waves worldwide. All this helps ensure a good quality of life, at relatively low cost," he said.
 
The Prime Minister said his Government was elected first and foremost on the promise to provide clean governance and end the "prevailing regime of corruption and nepotism".
 
"It is our vision and mission to bring a paradigm shift in the ways of our polity and economy. We have taken a series of decisions and steps in this direction. To give you some examples, we are bringing a shift: from relation based governance to system based governance; from discretionary administration to policy based administration; from random interference to technological intervention; from favouritism to level playing field; from Informal economy to formal economy," he said.
 
"In doing this, digital technology has played a key role. I have often said that e-governance is easy and effective governance. I have also emphasized the need for policy driven governance. Online processes help bring speed and openness in decision making. Towards this end, we are working to adopt and absorb newer technologies, to bring about transparency, and to end discretion. Believe me, we are on the threshold of becoming the world’s most digitised economy. Most of you wanted this change in India. I am proud to say that it is happening before you," he said.
 
Mr. Modi said that, over the last two and a half years, the government had worked relentlessly to realise India’s potential, and to set right the economy. He said the results had been very encouraging and there had been substantial improvement in key macro-economic indicators like GDP growth, inflation, fiscal deficit, current account deficit as well as foreign investments.
 
"India has become the fastest growing major economy in the world. Despite the global slowdown, we have registered excellent growth.Today, India is a bright spot in the global economy. We are seen as the engine of global growth.
 
"World Bank, IMF and other institutions have projected even better growth in the coming days. In 2014-15, India contributed 12.5 per cent of global growth. Its contribution to global growth is sixty eight per cent higher, than its share of the world economy.
 
"Creating an enabling environment for business, and attracting investments, is my top priority. We have to do this in order to create opportunities for our youth. With that spirit, we are moving towards implementation of some historic initiatives. This includes the Goods and Services Tax.
 
"The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, the National Company Law Tribunal, a new arbitration framework and a new IPR regime are all in place. New commercial courts have also been set up.  These are just a few examples of the direction in which we are going. My government is strongly committed to continue the reform of the Indian economy," he said.
 
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Mr. Modi said the Government had placed the highest emphasis on Ease of Doing Business. He said it had taken decisive steps to ease licensing processes, and rationalize provisions and procedures relating to clearances, returns, and inspections. 
 
"We are monitoring implementation of hundreds of action points across various sectors, aimed at improving the regulatory framework. This is part of our promise of Good Governance.
 
"The outcomes of our efforts are visible in India’s global rankings on various indicators. A number of global reports and assessments over the last two years have shown that India has improved its policies, practices and hence its economic profile.
 
"India’s rank has improved considerably, in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report. India is ranked third in the list of top prospective host economies for 2016-18 in the World Investment Report 2016 released by UNCTAD. Our rank also improved by thirty two positions in World Economic Forum’s ‘Global Competitiveness Report 2015-16 and 2016-17'," he said.
 
Mr. Modi said India had moved up 16 ranks in the ‘Global Innovation Index 2016’ brought out by WIPO and other institutions. It had moved up 19 positions in the World Bank’s ‘Logistics Performance Index of 2016'.
 
"You can see that we are moving closer to global best practices. Day by day we are getting more and more integrated with the world. Our confidence has been boosted by the positive impact of our policies and practices. This also gives us the motivation to further simplify our processes to become the easiest place to do business.
 
"Every day, we are further rationalising our policies and procedures, to make it simple for businesses to establish and grow. We have liberalised our FDI regime in many sectors and in various ways. India is today among the most open economies. This change in environment has been recognized by both domestic and foreign investors.
 
"An encouraging Start-up eco-system is now taking shape in the country. This unleashing of the youth power is heartening.
 
"The total FDI inflows in the last two and a half years have touched US $ 130 billion. The FDI equity inflow in the last two financial years was 60 per cent higher as compared to previous two financial years. In fact, the total FDI inflows received during the last year have been the highest ever," he said.
 
The Prime Minister said the number of countries from where FDI is coming in and the sectors in which they are being routed have also diversified in the last two years. India is now the leading recipient of capital investment in the Asia-Pacific. It also continues to be among the top ten countries globally in terms of FDI inflows.
 
"But the story does not end here. India has left every other country behind in terms of providing return on investment. In 2015, India has risen to first position in the Baseline Profitability Index," he said.
 
Mr. Modi said Make in India had become the biggest brand that India has ever had. It is directed towards making India a global hub for manufacturing, design and innovation, he said.
 
"I am delighted to share that we have become the sixth largest manufacturing country in the world, up from ninth largest previously. Our Gross Value Added in manufacturing has recorded a growth of nine per cent in 2015-16. This is much higher than the five to six per cent growth in the previous three years. All this is helping us expand the job market and raise the purchasing power of our people. But the real potential is even higher.
 
"To give you a few examples: India’s Food Processing Industry is expected to increase almost five fold in the next ten years. Similarly, India's low vehicle penetration makes it one of the world's most attractive auto markets.
 
"At the Government level, we have to ensure that our growth process is inclusive and embraces both rural and urban communities. We are committed to an India with: better job opportunities; better income; better purchasing power; better quality of life; and better living standards," he said.
 
"Our development needs are huge. Our development agenda is ambitious. For instance: we want to provide a roof over every head; we want to provide jobs to every hand; we want to produce energy that is cleaner; we want to build roads and railways faster; we want mineral exploration to become greener; we want to build urban amenities that are sturdier; we want to see our quality of life getting better and better," he said.
 
"We are taking a leap towards next generation infrastructure: in both core and social sectors; in both rural and urban areas. This includes Freight Corridors, Industrial Corridors, High Speed and Metro Rail projects, Logistics Parks, Smart Cities, Coastal Zones, regional airports, water, sanitation and energy initiatives. Our per capita electricity consumption must rise. Even as we do so, we are committed to promoting renewable energy.
 
"We are keen to promote tourism in a big way and this needs tourism infrastructure. The targets for construction of roads and laying of railways have been increased manifold. India is going to emerge as one of the world’s largest construction markets as it adds millions of homes. 
 
"Welcome to India: the land of tradition and tranquillity; the land of empathy and excitement; the land of experiment and enterprise. The land of openings and opportunities.
 
"Once again, I welcome you and invite you to be part of - India of Today; and India of Tomorrow. I assure you that I will be available to hold your hands whenever required," he added.
 
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India to be made a great destination for science, says Modi

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi has stated that the Government's vision in science and technology was to make India a great destination for science where the youth could be well trained and prepared for the future to make them employable in the best places.
 
Inaugurating the Nobel Exhibition at Science City here yesterday, Mr Modi said, “My Government has a clear vision of where we want India to be in the next 15 years. Science and Technology is the pivot on which that vision will translate into strategy and action."
 
“Our vision in Science and Technology is to make sure that opportunity is available to all our youth. That training and future preparedness should make our youth employable in the best places. That India should be a great science destination. That we should take major inspirational challenges such as deep sea exploration and cyber systems,” he added.
 
The five-week exhibition is organised by the Department of Biotechnology, Government of Gujarat and Nobel Media.
 
“We have a plan that will take this vision through action. Our scientists have been asked to develop programmes on science teaching in our schools across the country. This will also involve training teachers,” Mr. Modi said.
 
“At the next level they have been asked to create new programmes both in skilling and high-tech training," he said.
 
“These programmes will make you employable in the new knowledge economy and make you effective entrepreneurs and thinking scientists. You will be able to compete for positions and jobs here and anywhere in the world,” he added.
 
“Next, our scientists will link our laboratories in cities. You can share ideas, seminars and resources and equipment. This will allow us to do more and better collaborative science,” the Prime Minister said.
 
“Our science agencies will expand science-driven entrepreneurship and commercialisation in a big way in each state according to local needs. Your start-ups and industry can then compete globally,” he added.
 
He urged the youth to take advantage of the opportunity India offers by way of “an enabling and unique opportunity of a large demographic dividend and the best teachers.”
 
Referring to the challenge of overcoming poverty, Mr Modi said scientists had a role to play in this regard, along with the task of environment protection.
 
“The maturity of our science will also be judged by a responsible treatment of our planet by the wise use of science and technology,” he said.
 
“Globally, science and technology has emerged as one of the major drivers of socio-economic development. In the fast growing Indian economy, there are increasing expectations for scientific interventions,” he added.
 
The Prime Minister said there were three outcomes he wanted to see from the Nobel Prize series.
 
First, follow up with students and their teachers. The students and teachers here have come through a national ‘Ideathon’ competition and hail from all over the country. Do not lose track of them, he said.
 
During the exhibition period, sessions could be held for school teachers from all over Gujarat.
 
Secondly, entrepreneurship could be stimulated locally as there is a great entrepreneurial zeal among the youth. “Our science ministries have incubators here in Gujarat. In the next five weeks, you should have a workshop on how cutting edge science and technology-driven start-ups can be boosted,” he said.
 
“Prize winning Physics can both save electricity bills and the planet. The 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics was for the blue LED. This came from basic research by three Japanese scientists Akasaki, Amano and Nakamura. When combined with the previously known red and green LED, white light devices can be made that last a hundred thousand hours. There are many such exciting discoveries being made that we can apply through enterprise,” he said.
 
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Thirdly, many Nobel Prize winning discoveries have had a huge impact on the society through health and agriculture. “For example, precision medicine using the tools of gene-technologies is now a reality. We must use this tool to study cancer, diabetes and infectious diseases,” Mr Modi said.
 
“India is already a generics and bio-similar leader, with a major hub in Gujarat, but we must now strive to become a leader in new bio-tech discoveries as well,” he added.
 
Expressing happiness that the exhibition has been planned at the Science City which connects community to science, Mr Modi said,” It is an ideal platform to engage citizens to learn about solutions to global challenges we face.
 
“We will strive to make this Science City a truly attractive, world-class place for young students and science teachers from all over the country and the world to come and be inspired by the exhibits. Centre and State should collaborate and take up this challenge this year,” he added.
 
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Modi inaugurates India's first international stock exchange

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated India's first international stock exchange -- the India International Exchange -- at GIFT City in Gandhinagar on Monday and described it as a momentous occasion for India's financial sector.

 
Modi inaugurates India International Exchange at GIFT City
Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated India's first international stock exchange -- the India International Exchange -- at GIFT City here today and described it as a momentous occasion for India's financial sector.
 
The excange is part of the International Financial Services Centre, - IFSC - at Gift City.
 
"The concept of an International Financial Services Centre is simple but powerful. It aims to provide onshore talent with an offshore technological and regulatory framework. This is to enable Indian firms to compete on an equal footing with offshore financial centres. Gift City IFSC will be able to provide facilities and regulations comparable to any other leading international finance centres in the world," he said.
 
Mr. Modi said it was not easy to create an offshore-like environment in a large country like India with a huge domestic market.
 
"India cannot be compared to small city states. Such countries have very small local markets and hence can afford to have specially favourable tax and regulatory regimes. Large countries cannot do the same. Creating an offshore-like centre within a large country like India, therefore did pose regulatory challenges. I am glad that the Ministry of Finance, the Reserve Bank and SEBI have found solutions to the regulatory issues," he said.
 
The Prime Minister said there had been criticism for long that a lot of trading, even in Indian financial instruments, was currently taking place abroad. 
 
"It is said that India has stopped becoming the price setter for even some Indian financial instruments. Gift City will be able to mitigate many of these criticisms. But my vision for Gift City is larger. My  vision is that in ten years from now, Gift City should become the price setter for at least a few of the largest traded instruments in the world, whether in commodities, currencies, equities, interest rates or any other financial instrument," he said.
 
Mr. Modi also said India needed to create 30 crore new jobs over the next 20 years.
 
"It is a huge endeavour. Skilled and well-paying jobs in the service sector will have to be part of this job revolution. Indian youth can do it.  The international exposure which our youth will be able to get from Gift City will ensure that more and more of them will be able to join this important field. I urge Indian companies, exchanges and regulators, to help create a pool of experienced and world beating finance professionals. They can work out of this great new city and provide services to the entire world. Over next ten years, I expect this city to generate several lakh jobs," he said
 
Mr. Modi recalled that the Gift City project took shape in  2007, when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat.
 
"The vision was to create a world class Finance and IT zone for India, to provide services not only to India but the entire world.
 
"In those days, as now, wherever I went, I would meet some of the top financial brains of those countries. Whether in New York, London, Singapore, Hong Kong or Abu Dhabi, I would find many of them to be of Indian origin. I was impressed by their understanding of the financial world, and also their contributions to their adopted countries.
 
"I used to think, 'How can we bring this talent back and at the same time, provide leadership to the entire financial world?'
 
"When the Gift city was conceptualised, I was Chief Minister of Gujarat. Technological progress had accelerated manifold. We had world class talent of Indian origin working in India and abroad. India had a leadership position in Information Technology. Finance was being increasingly married to technology. It was becoming very clear to us that finance combined with technology, or 'fintech' as it is sometimes called, would be an important part of India’s future development.
 
"I deliberated a lot with experts about how to make India, a thought leader, in the field of Finance. It was clear that we would need to have the best facilities and the ability to transact in all markets in the world. Gift city was born out of this vision. Our aim was to provide world class facilities to India’s world class talent in finance and technology. Today, with the inauguration of this exchange, we have reached an important landmark in achieving that vision," he said.
 
Mr. Modi recalled that he had, in June 2013, invited the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) to set up a world beating International Stock Exchange. In 2015, during the Vibrant Gujarat event, they signed an MoU with Government of Gujarat. "Today, I am delighted to be here to inaugurate the new India International Exchange. It is an important milestone not just for Gift City but for India, in creating 21st century infrastructure," he said.
 
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"I am told this exchange will trade in equity, commodities, currencies and interest rate derivatives in the first phase. Later, it will trade equity instruments of Indian and foreign companies. I am told Masala bonds will also be available for trading here. Many more companies from Asia, Africa and Europe should be able to raise funds from this important International Finance Centre. This exchange is set to be among the fastest exchanges in the world with most modern trading, clearing and settlement systems. India is in an excellent time-zone between West and East. It can provide financial services through the day and night to the entire world. The exchange, I am told, will work 22 hours a day, starting when the Japanese markets start, and closing when US markets close. I am sure, this exchange will set new standards for quality of service and speed of transactions across time zones.
 
"You are aware of the importance I attach to the development of smart cities. Gift City is the first ground up truly smart city in the country. All the 100 smart cities will do well to understand how Gift City has been able to create its underground infrastructure which can compete with the best in the world. I have said before that India can become a developed country in one generation. New cities will be important in creating the new India of our dreams: a confident India; a prosperous India; an inclusive India; our India," he added.
 
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Rwanda President Paul Kagame to visit India from January 9-12

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Rwanda President Paul Kagame will be on a working visit to India from January 9-12 at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
 
The two leaders will hold official talks on January 9 in Gandhinagar, a press release from the Ministry of External Affairs said.
 
Mr. Kagame, who will be accompanied by a business delegation, will attend the Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit in Gandhinagar and address a National Business Seminar on Rwanda. 
 
Rwanda will also be participating in the Global Trade Show 2017, the release added.
 
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Vijay Rupani sworn in as new Chief Minister of Gujarat

Senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Vijay Rupani was sworn in as the new Chief Minister of Gujarat at a ceremony in Gandhinagar on Sunday.

 
Vijay Rupani sworn in as new Gujarat Chief Minister
Senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Vijay Rupani was sworn in as the new Chief Minister of Gujarat at a ceremony here today.
 
Mr. Nitin Patel, who was the Health Minister in the previous government headed by Ms. Anandiben Patel and who was considered the front-runner for the top job, was sworn in as the Deputy Chief Minister.
 
Mr. Rupani, Mr. Patel and 23 other members of the new Council of Ministers were administered the oaths of office and secrecy by Gujarat Governor O. P. Kohli.
 
The new Ministers include seven of Cabinet rank and 16 Ministers of State. The Cabinet Ministers sworn in today are Mr. Bhupendrasingh Manubha Chudasama, Mr. Ganpatbhai Vestabhai Vasava, Mr. Chimanbhai Dharamshibhai Sapariya, Mr. Babubhai Bhimabhai Bokhriya, Mr. Atmarambhai Makanbhai Parmar, Mr. Dilipkumar Viraji Thakor, and Mr. Jayeshkumar Viththalbhai Radadiya.
 
The Ministers of State include Mr. Shankarbhai Lagdhirbhai Chaudhary, Mr. Pradipsinh Bhagvatsinh Jadeja, Mr. Jayantibhai Ramjibhai Kavadiya, Mr. Nanubhai Bhagvanbhai Valani, Mr. Purushottam Odhavji Solanki, Mr. Jashabhai Bhanabhai Barad, Mr. Bachubhai Maganbhai Khabad, Mr. Rajendra Suryaprasad Trivedi, Mr. Keshaji Shivaji Chauhan, Mr. Rohitbhai Patel, Mr. Vallabhbhai Vashrambhai Vaghashiya, Dr. Nirmalaben Sunilbhai Vadhwani, and Mr. Shabdsharan Bhailalbhai Tadvi.
 
Mr. Shah, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and former Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani were amongst those present at the ceremony. Others who attended the ceremony included Ms. Patel, Union Ministers Purushottambhai Rupala, Mansukhbhai Mandaviya and Jashvantsinh Bhabhor and Chief Ministers Devendra Fadnavis of Maharashtra, Manoharlal Khattar of Haryana and Raghuveer Das of Jharkhand.
 
Mr. Rupani, 60, who was the State BJP President, was chosen as the new leader of the BJP Legislature Party at a meeting on Friday. He was the Minister for  Transport, Water Supply, Labour and Employment in the previous Cabinet.
 
He had later met the Governor and staked his claim to form the new government, following which he had resigned as president of the state BJP unit.
 
Ms. Patel had, on August 1, written to BJP President Amit Shah, offering to resign from the Chief Minister's position, citing the BJP's "tradition" of leaders quitting their posts when they attain the age of 75. The BJP Parliamentary Board met in Delhi on August 3 and accepted her offer to quit.
 
Mr. Rupani is a prominent Jain leader and is considered to be close to both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mr. Shah. He will have a tenure of less than 18 months before the state goes in for elections to choose a new legislative assembly in late 2017. He represents the Rajkot West constituency in the state legislative assembly.
 
Born on August 2, 1956, Mr. Rupani started his political career as a student activist and later joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Jana Sangh, the precursor of the BJP, in 1971.
 
He has served as a municipal corporator in Rajkot and as mayor of the city. He also served one term as member of the Rajya Sabha from 2006 to 2012. He was elected to Gujarat Assembly in August 2014 in a bye-election. He was inducted as a Minister by Ms. Patel when she expanded her Cabinet.
 
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Mr. Rupani has a B.A. and an LL. B. from the Saurashtra University.
 
Ms. Patel had, in her letter to Mr. Shah, said that she would complete 75 years of age in November but, given the fact that Assembly elections are due to be held in the state towards the end of 2017 and it was also slated to host the next edition of the Vibrant Gujarat Summit in January 2017, she felt she should step aside right away so that the new Chief Minister would have time to prepare for these events.
 
She had succeeded Mr. Modi as Chief Minister after he became Prime Minister in 2014 after more than 12 years at the helm of the state. In the process, she became the first woman to hold the position of Chief Minister in Gujarat.
 
Her resignation ended months of speculation about whether she would be able to complete her term, especially in the wake of criticism of the way her Government had handled the agitation by members of the influential Patidar community in the state for reservation in jobs and educational institutions as well the more recent protests by Dalits against atrocities against members of the community.
 
Even as the reservation issue raised by the Patidars remains very much alive, more than 30 Dalit organisations organised a huge rally in Ahmedabad last week to protest atrocities against the community in Gujarat.
 
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Kotak Bank opens IFSC Banking Unit at International Financial Services Centre at GIFT

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Kotak Mahindra Bank Limited has become the fourth bank to open its IFSC Banking Unit (IBU) at India’s first and only International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) at Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (GIFT) in Gandhinagar.
 
With over $ 250 million worth of business transactions done at the IFSC in the past six months, GIFT is attracting a lot of interest from the Banking, Financial services and Insurance (BFSI) sector in India, especially from banks, insurance companies and other financial services players who want to tap the global markets, a press release from GIFT said.
 
IFSC Banking Unit (IBU) allows an Indian bank to deliver a complete range of products to its clients with foreign currency funding requirements. IBU can actively offer products such as external commercial borrowings to its customers, an area where it had limited capabilities hitherto. IBU will also be able to meet the funding requirements of overseas entities which may be joint ventures or subsidiaries of its domestic clients or part of the value chain of its existing customers
 
Mr. Ajay Pandey, MD & Group CEO of GIFT Company Ltd. said, “We are happy to have Kotak Mahindra Bank at GIFT IFSC. It’s an important addition for us to have one of India’s leading private sector bank set up base at India’s first IFSC. Setting up of IFSC in India has been the vision of the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, as this would be a major game changer for the financial services sector in India. The major tax incentives announced in the last Union Budget have made the IFSC at GIFT a globally competitive player and many more BFSI players are swarming to this new global financial hub.”
 
Kotak Mahindra Bank is one of India's leading banking and financial services group, offering a wide range of financial services that encompass every sphere of life. It offers transaction banking, operates lending verticals, manages IPOs and provides working capital loans.
 
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Mr.K. V. S. Manian, President – Corporate, Institutional and Investment Banking, Kotak Mahindra Bank, said, “Indian corporates have expanded business operations across geographies, which in turn has led to increased requirement for financial products and services in overseas markets. Our IBU in GIFT City will cater to this growing demand. We will offer a host of products and services including External Commercial Borrowings (ECB), buyers’ credit for imports, and factoring / forfaiting of export receivables for Indian corporates in international markets.”
 
The release said development of completed unique infrastructure, project single window clearance and conducive regulatory environment has made GIFT City a favoured destination for various players to be a part of the city’s development. GIFT City has made allotment of more than 15 million square feet of built up area (BUA) in the SEZ and Non-SEZ area for development of office towers, residential apartments and social facilities to be developed at an estimated total investment of over Rs 10,000 crore.  
 
It is estimated that GIFT would provide 5 lakh direct and an equal number of indirect jobs which would require 62 million square feet of commercial, residential and social facilities with total investment of about Rs. 78,000 crore over next 10 years.
 
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IndusInd Bank gets nod for IFSC Banking Unit in Gujarat International Finance Tec City

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Private sector bank IndusInd Bank today said it had received approvals to set up an International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) in Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (GIFT City) at Gandhingar.
 
A press release from the bank said its International Banking Unit (IBU) will provide the bank access to international financial markets and will allow IndusInd to deliver a complete range of products to its clients with foreign currency funding requirements. 
 
"The bank will now be able to actively offer products such as external commercial borrowings to its customers, an area where it had limited capabilities hitherto," it said.
 
The bank will also be able to meet the funding requirements of overseas entities which may be joint ventures or subsidiaries of its domestic clients or part of the value chain of its existing customers, it said.
 
Mr. Suhail Chander, Head, Corporate & Commercial Banking, IndusInd Bank said, “The opening of IBU in GIFT city will be yet another milestone in our growth trajectory. This development will benefit us in servicing foreign currency funding requirements which would help us in meeting our objective of being a complete banking partner to our customers with global aspirations.”
 
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Kerry: US, India could help end extreme poverty through sustainable economic growth

US Secretary of State John Kerry speaking at the Vibrant Gujarat Summit in Gandhinagar on January 11, 2015.
US Secretary of State John Kerry speaking at the Vibrant Gujarat Summit in Gandhinagar on January 11, 2015.
United States Secretary of State John Kerry today said the US and India could turn sustainable economic growth opportunities into a rich prosperity they have never seen before and help end extreme poverty in their lifetimes.
 
"If we work together, with partners who are here and some who are not here today, I am convinced that the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest democracy can help to forge a new era of shared possibility and security for hundreds of millions of people in India, but indeed, across Asia, and across the world," he said at the Vibrant Gujarat Summit that began here earlier in the day.
 
"We can do more together, and we must do more together, and we have to do it faster. That’s why I’m here this week, because I want to ensure that our economic relationship grows stronger in every respect," he said.
 
Mr Kerry said the US shared Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s goal of increasing the two countries’ annual trade fivefold in the years ahead, and it wanted to expand their commercial ties and change the way their businesses talked with one another so that they could take these relationships to the new heights that they envisioned.
 
Mr Kerry said US President Barack Obama was "very excited and particularly pleased" with the fact that he would be the first US president to be honored as Chief Guest on India's Republic Day later this month and that he would be the first sitting US president to visit India twice while in office.
 
"Let me make it clear: We believe that that purposefully says something important about the value that both countries place on our critically important relationship," he said.
 
Mr Kerry spoke about both the US and India being the lands of diversities and opportunities. He said that, in his many visits to Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore over the years, he was overwhelmed by "the sense of possibility, by the promise, by the entrepreneurial passion".
 
"And I believe very strongly that today the moment has literally never been more ripe to deliver on the incredible possibilities of relationships between all of our countries," he said.
 
He said the bilateral economic partnership had grown nearly five-fold since 2000. "Bilateral foreign direct investment now stands at nearly $30 billion. And our trade and investment supports hundreds of thousands of jobs in both of our countries and in other countries that are partnering here. The fruits of this kind of partnership are extraordinary, and the supply chain for goods and services now stretches not just one country to another but between many different countries," he said.
 
He said the US did not see this as a zero-sum game. "When you consider ...  the number of people living in extreme poverty around the world today, the numbers of schools that need to be built, the number of hospitals that need to be built, the roads that need to be built, the energy grids that need to be changed, the unbelievable opportunity to tourism, ... we are building an endless set of possibilities, and it through this kind of meeting that we will harness the energy to make the most of those possibilities," he said.
 
He said global climate change was a major challenge which required leaders to act responsibly through a sustainabl enrgy policy, which would benefit all countries.
 
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"The world we’re looking at today, the energy market, is a $6 trillion market with four to five billion users today, potentially, and up to 9 billion users by the year 2050, if population meets the current trends. My friends, that’s the greatest market human beings have ever known. And if we seize it properly, our ability to bring modern resources to the task is unlimited," he said.
 
"Together, we can create an environment where all of our companies play leading roles in bringing cutting-edge technologies, equipment, capital, and know-how not just to India but to countless countries that need this growth and development now. That’s how we will turn Prime Minister Modi’s 'Make in India' initiative a win-win opportunity for the planet as a whole," he said.
 
"I can’t think of a moment in the years I’ve been in public life when our destinies are converging as significantly as they are today. India and the United States I think have a common responsibility, together with our other country partners, a common opportunity to prove that democracies can deliver for their citizens, and frankly, that by doing so that is when we are at our strongest. It is also when we’re at our most secure. And that’s how we will capitalize on the full potential inherent in this partnership now and for generations to come," he added.
 
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Modi discusses security cooperation with Bhutan PM Tshering Tobgay

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Bhutan Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay on the sidelines of the Vibrant Gujarat Summit here today and discussed security cooperation between the two countries in the light of the recent incidents of violence in Assam.
 
Mr Modi appreciated the efforts made by Bhutan for intensive vigilance in the border areas and real-time sharing of information.
 
The two leaders also discussed cooperation in the hydro-electric sector. A total of ten Indian-assistd hydropower projects in Bhutan will have a combined capacity of over 6400 MW by 2022-23.
 
Mr Modi also met Lord Ian Livingstone, the Minister of Trade and Investment, United Kingdom, and appreciated the extensive cooperation extended by the UK as a partner country for the Vibrant Gujarat Summit. 
 
Both sides expressed keenness to deepen cooperation in areas such as education, science and technology. Mr invited investment from UK, especially in sectors such as telecom, defence, railways and other manufacturing. Counter-terror cooperation was also discussed, particularly in light of the recent attacks in Paris. 
 
Trade and counter-terror cooperation were the main topics of discussion at his meeting with Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb and New South Wales Premier Mike Baird. The Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) also came up for discussion. 
 
In his meeting with Mr. S Iswaran, Second Minister for Trade and Industry, Singapore, the Prime Minister expressed happiness at Singapore's participation in Vibrant Gujarat as a partner country. The Prime Minister said he looked forward to Singapore President Tony Tan's visit to India next month. Both sides discussed cooperation in sectors such as smart cities, urban planning, water management and skill development. 
 
Mr Modi welcomed the Deputy Prime Minister of Poland, Mr. Janusz Piechocinski, on his first visit to India. Both sides discussed cooperation in the mining sector, and cooperation in defence manufacturing as part of the Make in India vision. 
 
He also met Mr. Yosuke Takagi, Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan. Both sides agreed to quickly implement the agreement between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Mr Modi on doubling Japanese investment in India.
 
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PM holds bilateral meetings on the sidelines of Pravasi Bharatiya Divas

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi held bilateral meetings with Guyana President Donald Ramotar and other leaders on the sidelines of the 13th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD), the annual gathering of the Indian diaspora, here today.
 
At his meeting with Mr Ramotar, Mr Modi recalled his interaction with South American leaders on the sidelines of the BRICS Summit last year and said India would set up its first IT Centre of Excellence in South America in Guyana.
 
India has approved a new Line of Credit of $ 50 million for the East Bank Demerara-East Coast Road Link Project. India has also agreed to concessional credit to supply a passenger ferry to help Guyana overcome transportation problems in the northern region. 
 
During his meeting with the Vice Prime Minister of Mauritius, Mr Showkatally Soodhun, Mr Modi congratulated the Prime Minister of Mauritius, Sir Anerood Jugnauth on his recent election victory and renewed an invitation to him to visit India. Sir Anerood has also invited Prime Minister Narendra Modi to visit Mauritius. Both sides expressed keenness to enhance cooperation in infrastructure projects and matters related to ocean economy. 
 
During his meeting with Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Foreign Minister of South Africa, recalled that today was the Founding Day of the African National Congress. He also recalled the common heritage of the two countries, including struggle against colonial rule. Both sides are keen to deepen cooperation in sectors such as infrastructure and defence manufacturing; and to strengthen partnerships in multilateral fora, an official press release added.
 
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Modi releases commemorative stamps on 100 years of Gandhi's return

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi released a set of two commemorative postage stamps to mark 100 years of the return of Mahatma Gandhi from South Africa to India at a function here today during the 13th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD), an annual gathering of the Indian diaspora.
 
Mahatma Gandhi had gone to South Africa at the age of 24 years as the legal counsel of Indian traders based in the city of Pretoria. He spent more than two decades in South Africa, where he developed the concept of Satyagraha while fighting against the injustice, discrimination and racism prevailing there. 
 
He returned to India with a formidable reputation to lead the Indian masses struggling for freedom from colonial domination through civil disobedience and non-violence, which proved to be a highly effective moral weapon in  India’s struggle for independence from British rule.
 
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Modi urges Indian diaspora to unite as a positive force for the benefit of humanity

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday called upon the Indian diaspora across the world to unite as a positive global force for the benefit of humanity and told them that there were opportunities waiting for them in India, which is rising with great strength.

 
Modi: India more capable now, offers better opportunities
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today called upon the Indian diaspora across the world to unite as a positive global force for the benefit of humanity and told them that there were opportunities waiting for them in India, which is rising with great strength.
 
Inaugurating the 13th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, the annual gathering of overseas Indians -- persons of Indian origin (PIOs) and non-resident Indians (NRIs) -- here, he recalled that, exactly 100 years ago, an NRI, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, had returned to India to serve the people.
 
Today, he said, he was welcoming NRIs from across the world as a "non-resident Gujarati".
 
Noting that NRIs were present in more than 200 countries across the world, he said, "India is global because of you."
 
He said that, in the past, Indians had travelled across the world in search of opportunity, or to gain knowledge and exposure. "Today, opportunities beckon you in India," he asserted.
 
"Today, the world looks at India with hope. The times are changing quickly, and India is rising with great strength," he said.
 
Mr Modi urged the diaspora to contribute to India's development in any way possible, including through their knowledge, expertise or skills. He mentioned in particular the Namaami Gange project to clean river Ganga and to make it a source of economic empowerment for 40 per cent of India's population. He said he was sure all NRIs would be inspired to contribute to this cause.
 
He welcomed the dignitaries from Guyana, South Africa and Mauritius. He recalled how Indian festivals such as Holi and Diwali are enthusiastically celebrated in Guyana. He recalled that today - January 8 - was the founding day of the African National Congress in South Africa. He mentioned that Mahatma Gandhi's birth anniversary - October 2 - is observed in Mauritius with even greater vigour than it is observed in India. 
 
He called upon NRIs across the world to forge and take pride in a common identity and heritage, and to use this strength collectively. He said even if a solitary NRI is present anywhere in the world, India is alive and present in that corner of the world through him. 
 
Mr Modi said he had met representatives of 50 countries since assuming office in May last year, and could say with confidence that rich or poor, all nations across the world, today felt that their goals and objectives could be met in partnership with India. He said this was a rare opportunity, and it was now upto everyone to use this opportunity for the benefit of humanity, and for India's benefit. 
 
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He said the world was showering affection on India, as seen from the fact that a record 177 nations out of 193, had co-sponsored India's resolution on International Day of Yoga at the United Nations. 
 
He said he firmly believed that NRIs were a big source of strength for India and the country could make a global impact by reaching out to them. 
 
He also said he was happy to announce that he had fulfilled all promises he had made to overseas Indians, such as lifelong visas for PIO cardholders, merging of PIO and Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) schemes, visa on arrival for 43 countries and electronic travel authorisation.
 
In her welcome address, External Affairs and Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said the 25 million-strong Indian diaspora had become a unique force in world culture.
 
Stating that the government was keen on working closely with the Indian diaspora, she invited investors and professionals to partner with India. “I promise, it will be a mutually rewarding experience," she said.
 
Recalling India’s close ties with nations having significant population of people of Indian origin, Ms Swaraj said Mauritius calls itself a ‘chhota Bharat’ and celebrates its national day on March 8, the day when Mahatma Gandhi began his historic Dandi March. 
 
She said the government is setting up a monument of arrival of indentured labour in Guyana. She also mentioned about India’s close bilateral relations with South Africa, the other ‘karm-bhoomi’ of Gandhiji, which is also the partner country at the Vibrant Gujarat summit. 
 
Guyana President Donald Ramotar, the chief guest at the event, and South African Foreign Minister Nkona Mashabane also spoke on the occasion.
 
Mr Ramotar recalled the influence the Indian independence movement had in shaping political and economic destinies of other colonial countries. Referring to India’s growing economic clout, he urged India to provide leadership to other developing countries, who have no voice, to realize their potential. 
 
Stressing upon the need for reforming the UN system,  Mr Ramotar said “the global struggle for equality continues”.  
 
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Ms.Mashabane claimed Mahatma Gandhi to be the national hero of South Africa, as much he is of India. She expressed South Africa’s keenness to deepen ties with India in the fields of information and communication technology, healthcare and clean energy.
 
Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel said her state was elated to be the partner state of Pravasi Bharatiya Divas on the centenary of Mahatma Gandhi's return to India.
 
Earlier, Mr Modi inaugurated the ‘Dandi Kutir’ museum located opposite the Mahatma Mandir, the venue of the event. 
 
The three-storey exhibition, housed in a dome shaped structure, traces the life and times of Mahatma Gandhi through various phases – as barrister, his struggles in South Africa, return to India and successfully leading the freedom struggle.  Depiction of Gandhiji breaking the salt law after the Dandi March  is  a major draw.  Key concepts of Gandhian thoughts like Satyagraha, non-violence, self reliance and gram swaraj are elaborately explained through a number of exhibits.  There is also an audio-visual presentation of milestone incidents of the freedom movement. The contents of the museum are expressed through a combination of traditional and contemporary media.
 
Nearly 4,000 delagates from 44 countries are attending the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2015.  A mega exhibition spread over 1.1 million sq ft has also been organized as part of the programme.
 
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Swaraj urges young overseas Indians to connect with motherland, contribute to its development

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External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj today urged young overseas Indians to connect with their motherland, celebrate its history and civilizational heritage, which is their cultural inheritance, and contribute to the development of the country.
 
Inaugurating the Youth Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, on the sidelines of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) that will be held here for two days from tomorrow, she said the event was about discovering their roots and learning and appreciating their heritage through the three Cs -- connect, celebrate and contribute.
 
She said an estimated 25 million persons of Indian origin (PIOs) and non-resident Indians (NRIs) today live and work outside India and the PBD was essentially a platform to connect the Indian diaspora with the motherland.
 
She recalled that then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had started the initiative in 2003 to develop consciousness of the concept of the global Indian family, define India’s new approach towards the diaspora, provide a forum to discuss issues and concerns of people of the diaspora and to involve them in the development and advancement of India. 
 
"With this PBD we have come full circle. Not only are we doing this event in Gujarat, we are also holding it at a time when we mark 100 years of the return of the greatest ‘Pravasi Bharatiya’, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who arrived back in India from South Africa on January 9, 1915," she pointed out.
 
"Friends, the India of 2015 is very different from the India that Mahatma Gandhi returned to in 1915. No longer does the world consider it as a country mired in poverty and underdevelopment. Today, India is seen as a rising power, and appreciated across the world for the way it has converged strong democratic institutions with rapid development," she said.
 
Ms Swaraj, who also handles the portfolio of Overseas Indian Affairs, said the biggest asset of this new India was its youth, with more than 50 per cent of its population under the age of 25, which means that soon one-fifth of the world's working age population would be in India.
 
"This is also the platform for you to connect with the new generation of Indians who are confident, aspirational and transcending the old boundaries of caste and class," she said.
 
She said the government wanted the young overseas Indians to take pride in the history and civilizational heritage of India and know about their roots.
 
She said the first session of the youth PBD was called "Bharat ko Jano" to know more about India, its traditions and its art and culture.
 
"‘Bharat ko Jano’ will tell you that zero and the decimal system were India’s gift to the world. The value of ‘Pi’ was first calculated by Budhayana in the sixth century. The world’s first university was established in Takshila in 700 BC. The earliest school of medicine known to humans was Ayurveda which was consolidated by Charaka, the father of medicine, some 2,500 years ago. 
 
"Of even greater importance are the ideas and ideals that India has bequeathed to the world. Ideas such as non-violence, tolerance and respect for diversity and difference. These are enshrined in our way of life and have shown the world the way to live with peace and harmony. That is why India is today hailed as the world’s largest democracy where 1.25 billion people are reaching for their destiny through the medium of pluralist politics. Just last month the people of Jammu and Kashmir voted overwhelmingly for peaceful change by braving the bullets of the separatists to register the highest voter turnout in 25 years," she said.
 
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Ms Swaraj said the second session called "Bharat ko Mano", which will tell them about the remarkable strides that modern India had taken, especially in the fields of science and technology.
 
"The nation which gave the world the concept of zero, has also mastered the nuclear cycle, sent expeditions to Antarctica and even unmanned missions to the moon and Mars," she said.
 
She said India's soft power had also been spreading around the world. "Whether you have Californians doing yoga, Britishers taking to chicken tikka masala, Brazilians hooked to a TV serial set in India, or Egyptians dancing to Hindi film songs, they have all contributed to the image of the new India," she said.
 
Ms Swaraj said the intensity of India’s international engagement had also increased manifold. She said this could be seen from the calendar of high level visits both to and from India. "Prime Minister Modi’s out-of-the-box initiatives and whirlwind tours have raised India’s global profile. In a few days from now  (United States) President (Barack) Obama will grace our Republic Day parade as the Chief Guest," she said.
 
"What excites the world most about India today is the Indian economy which is now the third largest in terms of purchasing power parity and is showing new dynamism under the NDA government. Our government was elected on the platform of pro-people good governance. And though we have been in office for less than eight months, we have been able to effect a complete transformation in the business sentiment vis-à-vis India. 
 
"We have addressed both policy and regulatory issues, which have resonated well with global rating agencies and major financial institutions which are projecting increased economic growth in India after two years of depressed growth. Those of you who want proof need not step out of this city. Because just three days from now the Vibrant Gujarat Summit is being held with an attendance by more than 10,000 delegates, including global political and business leaders," she said.
 
Ms Swaraj said that, to enhance ease of doing business, the Government had taken multiple steps to simplify procedures, rationalize rules and increase use of technology for efficient and effective governance. "Efforts are on to identify obsolete laws and regulations which need to be repealed. Skilling our people, particularly the young, is also a priority," she said.
 
"There is also a clear focus on infrastructure. Several steps have been taken to enhance financing of infrastructure, and we have moved towards a more transparent policy on natural resources. Given the enormous requirements for infrastructure development over the next few years, foreign investment is going to be extremely important," she said.
 
Ms Swaraj urged the overseas Indians to contribute to the development of India and participate in the vision that Mr Modi had for the country's future.
 
"We have launched several programmes that have the potential to transform India. The Jan Dhan Yojana, the world’s largest programme of financial inclusion, has just crossed the 100 million mark and 98.4 per cent of households in India now have bank accounts. The Swachh Bharat campaign for cleanliness has become a mass movement. This is an issue that affects not only people’s health but is also an attack on social ills like untouchability and manual scavenging," she said.
 
In this context, she also spoke about the Make in India, the Digital India and Smart Cities programmes.
 
"There are tremendous opportunities today for you to join us, especially in the fields of manufacturing, infrastructure development, education, health, skills development, science and technology, research and innovation, knowledge economy and youth development as part of our effort to realise India’s full potential," she said.
 
"Through your work abroad as software gurus, tech wizards, eminent academics and trail blazing businesspersons, a clear and powerful message of India’s capabilities has been conveyed to the world. Your honest work-ethic, law abiding and hard working nature have contributed to the global image of India and Indians.
 
"Most important of all, you have retained a bit of India in your hearts. Even though situated thousands of miles away, you have kept the spirit of Bharat alive. For some of you this may be the very first visit to the land of your fathers or forefathers. For some others it may be yet another link in the voyage of discovery that you have embarked upon. But for all of you, I am sure, it is an occasion to reflect upon your heritage, and to touch base with a country which will always consider you as one of its own, regardless of the colour of your passport or the land of your citizenship.
 
"So Global Indians come, Connect, Celebrate, Contribute and become a part of the momentous transformation taking place in the country to build Ek Bharat Shrestha Bharat," she added.
 
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Guyana President Donald Rabindranauth Ramotar to be chief guest at Pravasi Bharatiya Divas

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Guyana President Donald Rabindranauth Ramotar will pay an official visit to India from January 7-12, during which he will be the chief guest at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas being held in Gandhinagar, Gujarat on January 8-9.
 
Pravasi Bharatiya Divas is the annual gathering of overseas Indians, including non-resident Indians (NRIs) and persons of Indian origin (PIOs) to help forge links between them and India.
 
While in India, he will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and other senior leaders.
 
A press release from the Ministry of External Affairs said that relations between India and Guyana are embedded in historical, cultural and traditional links. The presence of a large Indian diaspora in Guyana adds to the close relationship between the two countries, it said.
 
"The visit will contribute to further strengthening and deepening the close bilateral relations between India and Guyana," it added.
 
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