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Congress Working Committee meets to discuss LS rout

The Congress Working Committee (CWC) met in New Delhi on Saturday to discuss the reasons for the party's abysmal performance across the country in the 2019 general elections.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other party leaders at a meeting of the Congress Working Committee in New Delhi on May 25, 2019.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other party leaders at a meeting of the Congress Working Committee in New Delhi on May 25, 2019.
The Congress Working Committee (CWC) met here on Saturday to discuss the reasons for the party's abysmal performance across the country in the 2019 general elections.
 
Foremost on the table is the challenge to keep the flock together in states like Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, where efforts were on to destabilise the government.
 
The party is also likely to discuss the coming Assembly elections in Haryana, Jharkhand and Maharashtra, a source said.
 
Out of the 23 CWC members, only four won in the just concluded elections -- party chief Rahul Gandhi, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Gaurav Gogoi and A. Chella Kumar.
 
The 12 other CWC members, who lost the polls, include heavyweights like Mallikarjun Kharge, former Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat, former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Raghuveer Singh Meena, Jitin Prasada, Deepender Hooda, Sushmita Dev, K.H. Muniyappa and Arun Yadav.
 
Seven CWC members did not participate in the Lok Sabha elections this year.
 
The party has also called the Chief Ministers of five Congress-ruled states and Union Territories to the CWC. 
 
Heads have already started rolling after the party managed to win only 52 seats in the lower house, only eight more than 2014. Congress Uttar Pradesh in-charge Raj Babbar resigned from the post on Friday, along with campaign committee chief H. K. Patil, Odisha party chief Niranjan Patnaik and Amethi District Congress President Yogendra Misra.
 
In Uttar Pradesh, the party failed to even retain the Gandhi bastion of Amethi, where Rahul Gandhi lost to Union Minister and BJP candidate Smriti Irani by a margin of over 55,000 votes.
 
In Karnataka, the party won only one seat with senior party leader Mallikarjun Kharge losing by a huge margin.
 
According to sources, a few other senior leaders and party in-charges from states where the party drew a blank, are expected to offer to step down. The final call will be taken at the CWC, the party's highest decision-making body.
 
Congress won only 3 seats in three states -- Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh -- where it formed governments in December 2018.
 
"The chief ministers and party incharges from these three states will answer for the debacle and issues that needs to be prioritised in their respective states," the source added.
 
IANS
 

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BJP-led NDA appears set to sweep Lok Sabha polls for second term in power

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance appeared set to retain power for a second consecutive term as it surged ahead in 329 of the 542 Lok Sabha constituencies where elections were held between April 11 and May 19.
BJP workers burst fire crackers as they celebrate after the counting trends for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections show that the party appeared set to retain power at the Centre, in New Delhi, on May 23, 2019. (Photo: IANS)
BJP workers burst fire crackers as they celebrate after the counting trends for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections show that the party appeared set to retain power at the Centre, in New Delhi, on May 23, 2019. (Photo: IANS)
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) appeared set to retain power for a second consecutive term as it surged ahead in 329 of the 542 Lok Sabha constituencies where elections were held between April 11 and May 19.
 
Counting of votes in the elections began at 0800 hours and early trends indicated that the BJP was leading in 290 constituencies, while its main rival Congress was ahead in 50.
 
Among its allies, the Shiv Sena was leading in 19, the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) in 15, the Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJP) in six, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in two, the Asom Gana Parishad in two, the AIADMK in one, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) in one and the AJSU in one.
 
Among the Congress allies, the DMK was leading in 22 seats, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in five, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) in three, the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) in two, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in one, the National Conference in one and the Kerala Congress (Mani) in one.
 
Among other parties, the Trinamool Congress was leading in 25 seats, the YSRCP in 24, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)-Samajwadi Party (SP) combine in 20, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in 12,  the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in 1, the Naga People's Party in one, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in two, and the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) in two and the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen in one.
 
The BJP appeared to be doing well in most parts of the Hindi heartland, including in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh as well as in states like Gujarat.
 
Congress President Rahul Gandhi was involved in a tight contest with Union Minister Smriti Irani of the BJP in Amethi in Uttar Pradesh but he was far ahead of his Left rival in Wayanad in Kerala. His mother and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi was ahead in Rae Bareli.
 
BJP leaders who were ahead included Union Ministers Rajnath Singh and Maneka Gandhi.
 
Votes are also being counted in the Legislative Assembly elections which were held in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim along with the Lok Sabha polls.
 
Polling for 542 of the 545 seats in the Lok Sabha was held in seven phases on April 11, April 18, April 23,  April 29, May 6, May 12 and May 19. The poll in one constituency, Vellore in Tamil Nadu, has been rescinded by the Election Commission of India (ECI). Two seats in the House of the People are filled up by nomination from the Anglo-Indian community.
 
This time, the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) slips will be counted from five randomly chosen polling stations in each Assembly segment in each Lok Sabha constituency, after the counting of the votes polled in electronic voting machines (EVMs), and this is expected to delay the final results by a few hours, sources said.
 
More than 8000 candidates were in the fray for the 542 seats, while 67.11 percent of the 90.99 crore electors exercised their franchise -- the highest ever turnout in Indian elections.
 
The Opposition parties had urged the Election Commission to tally the VVPAT slips with the EVM count in the five randomly chosen polling stations in each assembly segment first before counting the votes polled in the EVMs.
 
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The Election Commission said on Wednesday it had deliberated on the issue in detail and found that the suggestion was neither possible nor feasible to accede to in the overall context and especially in view of a judgement of the Supreme Court on April 8 which directed that the random selection of VVPATs shall be subjected to the process of slip verification as per the guidelines of 16.6 of the EVM Manual in force.
 
The Commission assured the Opposition parties and all the electors of the country that the entire counting, especially guarding the strong rooms and counting centres, was already being done in an absolutely fair and transparent manner.
 
The Commission has also set up a 24-hour EVM Control Room at its headquarters here to monitor complaints relating to polled EVMs. Complaints related to storage issues at strongrooms, the security of strongrooms, permissions to candidates to post their agents at strongrooms, CCTV monitoring, movement of any EVMs and any complaints during counting related to EVMs can be registered at the Control Room. The Control Room contact number is 011-23052123.
 
Meanwhile, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has alerted the Chief Secretaries and Directors General of Police of all States about the possibility of violence during the counting of votes.
 
It has asked the States and UTs  to  maintain  law  and order and peace  and   public tranquility. States and UTs have been further asked to take adequate measures for the security of strongrooms and venues  of counting of votes. 
 
"This is in the wake of calls given and statements made  in various quarters for inciting violence and causing disruption on the day of counting of votes," an official press release said.
 
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Modi, Shah to hold dinner meet with NDA leaders

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah will hold a dinner meeting on Tuesday with leaders of the National Democratic Alliance.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah at a press conference in New Delhi on May 17, 2019.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah at a press conference in New Delhi on May 17, 2019.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah will hold a dinner meeting on Tuesday with leaders of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
 
The meeting, which comes two days ahead of the counting of votes of the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections, is likely to chalk out a strategy for the post poll scenario.
 
Senior BJP leaders are also likely to meet at the party headquarters prior to the dinner meeting.
 
Party sources said Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal-United President Nitish Kumar and Lok Janshakti Party President Ram Vilas Paswan will attend the meeting.
 
Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and Shiromani Akali Dal leader Sukhbir Singh Badal might give it a miss and are likely to send their representatives.
 
IANS
 
 
 
 

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62% polling for 59 seats in final phase of LS elections

More than 62 per cent of the voters turned out to exercise their franchise in 59 constituencies that went to the polls today in the seventh and final phase of polling in the crucial elections to choose 543 members of the new Lok Sabha.
Voters waiting in a queue outside a polling station in Madhya Pradesh, in the final phase of voting in the Lok Sabha elections, on May 19, 2019.
Voters waiting in a queue outside a polling station in Madhya Pradesh, in the final phase of voting in the Lok Sabha elections, on May 19, 2019.
More than 62 per cent of the voters turned out to exercise their franchise in 59 constituencies that went to the polls today in the seventh and final phase of polling in the crucial elections to choose 543 members of the new Lok Sabha.
 
The highest polling percentage, at 73.51%, was reported in West Bengal where stray incidents of violence marred voting in nine constituencies.
 
According to the Election Commission (EC) data at 8 p.m., Jharkhand registered 71.11 per cent voting, followed by Madhya Pradesh 70.33 per cent, Himachal Pradesh 68.46 per cent, Chandigarh 63.57 per cent, Punjab 61.81 per cent, Uttar Pradesh 57.30 per cent and Bihar 53.36 per cent.
 
Voting began at 7 am and ended at 6 pm in all 59 constituencies.
 
The 59 seats that went to the polls on Sunday were spread across seven states and a Union Territory. They had a total of 10.01 crore voters, who decided the fate of 918 candidates in the fray.
 
Prominent candidates in this phase included Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is seeking a second term from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh and Union Ministers - Manoj Sinha, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Hardeep Singh Puri. 
 
Others in the fray included actors-turned-politicians Shatrughan Sinha, Sunny Deol, Kirron Kher and Ravi Kishan as well as other leaders such as Sukhbir Badal of the SAD, Meira Kumar of the Congress and Shibu Soren of the JMM.
 
The ECI had set up more than 1.12 lakh polling stations and made elaborate security and other arrangements to ensure the smooth conduct of polls.
 
The first six phases of polling were held on April 11, April 18, April 23,  April 29, May 6 and May 12, covering 483 of the 543 constituencies. The poll in one constituency, Vellore in Tamil Nadu, has been rescinded by the Election Commission of India (ECI).
 
The final phase of polling covered 13 seats in Uttar Pradesh; all 13 in Punjab; nine in West Bengal; eight each in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh; all four constituencies in Himachal Pradesh; three in Jharkhand and the lone seat of Chandigarh.
 
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Counting of votes will be taken up on May 23 and most of the results are expected to be in by late that evening or the next day.
 
Two seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha are filled by nomination from the Anglo-Indian community.
 
In this phase, the BJP was defending 30 seats -- 11 of the 12 it won in Uttar Pradesh in 2014 (it later lost Gorakhpur in a bye-election), seven in Madhya Pradesh, all four in Himachal Pradesh, five in Bihar, one each in Punjab, Jharkhand and Chandigarh.
 
Allies Apna Dal won one in Uttar Pradesh and the Akali Dal four in Punjab, while then ally Rashtriya Lok Samta Party of Upendra Kushwaha had won two in Bihar. The Janata Dal-United, which is now an ally, won one seat in Bihar. 
 
The Congress had won five seats -- one in Madhya Pradesh and four in Punjab. 
 
Four seats were won by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab and two by the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) in Jharkhand. One seat is currently held by the Samajwadi Party.
 
In West Bengal, all nine seats were won by the Trinamool Congress.
 
Re-polling was also held today in several booths in parliamentary constitutencies in six states and in Assembly constituencies in two. These seats include Kerala's Kannur and Kasargod, Tamil Nadu's Dharmapuri, Theni, Thiruvallur, Cuddalore and Erode, Haryana's Faridabad, Uttar Pradesh's Azamgarh, West Bengal's Bankura, Andhra Pradesh's Chittoor parliamentary and Chandgiri Assembly constituencies and 34 Assembly segments in 10 Odisha districts.
 
Voting was also held in bye-elections to four Assembly seats in Tamil Nadu, two in Karnataka and the Panaji Assembly seat, which fell vacant after the death of Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar. 
 
According to election officials, angry voters ransacked the polling booth in Nalanda in Bihar and held the Block Development Officer hostage. The officer was freed after police intervention. No voting took place at the booth. 
 
Glitches in electronic voting machines (EVMs) were also reported from the eight constituencies, leading to delay in the poll process in a few booths.
 
West Bengal reported a few incidents of sporadic violence and reports of EVM failures in several booths leading to either delay or stalling of the poll process.
 
Anupam Hazra, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate from West Bengal's Jadavpur seat, and a party leader accompanying him were attacked and the latter's car damaged after the two visited a booth on receiving reports of rigging.
 
Hazra alleged that he was pushed and shoved and accused the TMC of rigging all 52 polling booths under the Kolkata Municipal Corporation ward number 109 in Jadavpur.
 
"The BJP Mandal President was hit and one of his tooth was broken. A CISF officer posted at the booth was also injured in the attack by the Trinamool," Hazra told the media.
 
The Trinamool, however, denied the allegations. 
 
Modi is re-contesting from Varanasi seat in Uttar Pradesh. Besides Modi, 25 other candidates are in fray from Varanasi. Modi's main challengers are Congress' Ajay Rai and SP-BSP's joint candidate Shalini Yadav.
 
(With inputs from IANS)
 
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SC extends term of mediation panel on Ayodhya dispute till August 15

The Supreme Court on Friday extended the term of the mediation committee on the Ayodhya dispute till August 15.
The Supreme Court on Friday extended the term of the mediation committee on the Ayodhya dispute till August 15.
 
The court said the members of the committee were not experiencing any difficulty in the mediation process. 
 
It observed that the Chairman of the committee, former Supreme Court judge F. M. I. Kalifulla, had indicated progress in mediation so far and sought extension of time to complete the task. 
 
The court refused to divulge the details on the mediation efforts. 
 
"We will not tell you the progress made, that is confidential," replied the court to a counsel's query regarding the mediation. The court observed that the mediation process can be also extended, if required. 
 
The court's observation came after a report was submitted on the mediation efforts. 
 
Senior counsel Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for one of the Muslim litigants, told the court that they have no objection to the mediation process taking time. 
 
Iqbal Ansari, the son of Muslim litigant Hashim Ansari in the Ayodhya case, said: "This matter is very old and the issue cannot be resolved in two months."
 
Iqbal Ansari said that an eventual decision should be such that brings peace in the country
 
Swami Satyendra Das, the main priest at the Ram temple in Ayodhya, said the mediation team had submitted its report in the Supreme Court which will decide on the matter.
 
Das told IANS: "The meditation team has spoken to all the parties and come to a conclusion and given it to the court. Now the court will decide on the matter." 
 
The top court had on March 8 set up a three-member committee headed by Kalifulla to mediate to find a possible settlement of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid Ayodhya title dispute.
 
The Kalifulla panel has Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and senior advocate Shriram Panchu as its other members.
 
The mediating is taking place at Faizabad, close to Ayodhya. 
 
While ordering mediation, a five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi had said: "We have considered the nature of the dispute arising. Notwithstanding the lack of consensus between the parties in the matter we are of the view that an attempt should be made to settle the dispute by mediation."
 
The other judges on the bench are Justice S.A. Bobde, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice S. Abdul Nazeer.
 
While those representing the litigants for the temple had resisted the move, the Muslim litigants agreed to mediation as it was not at the expanse of the regular hearing on the batch of petition challenging the 2010 Allahabad High Court judgment.
 
While ordering mediation, the court barred both the print and visual media from reporting on the mediation proceedings.
 
IANS
 

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SC rejects plea on Rahul Gandhi citizenship

The Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed a plea on Congress President Rahul Gandhi's citizenship.
Rahul Gandhi.
Rahul Gandhi
The Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed a plea on Congress President Rahul Gandhi's citizenship.
 
A bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna rejected the petition.
 
"Some company in some form has mentioned Rahul Gandhi as a British citizen, so does he become a British citizen? Dismissed," CJI Gogoi said.
 
The court was hearing the petition moved by two activists seeking direction to the Home Ministry to decide on the matter and it also sought the disqualification of Gandhi from contesting the Lok Sabha polls.
 
The Home Ministry issued a notice to Gandhi on April 29 to clarify his nationality within a fortnight after Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Subramanian Swamy alleged that he was a British national.
 
Swamy in his representation to the Home Ministry alleged that Gandhi served as one of the Directors and Secretary of the British firm Backops Ltd, which is registered in the UK since 2003, with address 51 Southgate Street, Winchester, Hampshire.
 
IANS
 

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Extremely severe cyclone Fani to hit Odisha coast on Friday afternoon

The extremely severe cyclonic storm, Fani, over westcentral Bay of Bengal, was very likely to cross the Odisha coast between Gopalpur and Chandbali, around Puri, on Friday afternoon, the India Meteorological Department said on Thursday.
The extremely severe cyclonic storm, Fani, over westcentral Bay of Bengal, was very likely to cross the Odisha coast between Gopalpur and Chandbali, around Puri, tomorrow afternoon, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said here today.
 
The IMD has already issued a cyclone warning for the coastal areas of Odisha and West Bengal and Srikakulam, Vijayanagaram and Visakhapatnam districts of Andhra Pradesh.
 
In a bulletin issued at 1230 hours today, the IMD said Fani had moved further north-northeastwards with a speed of about 16 kmph in the previous six hours and lay centred at 1130 hours IST near latitude 16.7°N and longitude 84.8°E, about 360 km south-southwest of Puri (Odisha), 190 km south-southeast of Vishakhapatnam (Andhra Pradesh) and 550 km south-southwest of Digha (West Bengal). 
 
"It is very likely to move north-northeastwards and cross Odisha Coast between Gopalpur and Chandbali, around Puri by the afternoon of 3rd May with maximum sustained wind speed of 170-180 kmph gusting to 200 kmph," the bulletin said.
 
The cyclone is being tracked by Doppler Weather Radars Vishakhapatnam & Machilipatnam.
 
The bulletin said light to moderate rainfall would occur over most places in North Andhra Pradesh with isolated heavy to very heavy falls over Visakhapatnam and Vijayanagaram districts and isolated heavy to extremely heavy falls (>20 cm) over Srikakulam district today.
 
There could be heavy to very heavy rainfall at isolated places over Srikakulam district tomorrow, it said.
 
In  south coastal and adjoining interior Odisha, the IMD said there could be light to moderate rainfall at most places today, with heavy to very heavy rainfall and extremely heavy falls over Ganjam & Gajapati districts at isolated places.
 
"It is likely to increase with moderate rainfall at most places and heavy to very heavy rainfall at a few places and extremely heavy falls at isolated places over coastal Odisha and adjoining districts of interior Odisha on 3rd. Light to moderate rainfall at most places with heavy to very heavy falls at isolated places over Balasore, Mayurbhanj districts of north Odisha on 4th May," it said.
 
The bulletin also forecast light to light to moderate rainfall at most places with heavy to very heavy rainfall at a few places and extremely heavy falls at isolated places very likely over coastal and adjoining districts of West Bengal tomorrow; and heavy to very falls at isolated places over Gangetic West Bengal on May 4.
 
"Light to moderate rainfall at most places with heavy falls at isolated places over sub-Himalayan West Bengal and Sikkim on 4th May," it said.
 
The bulletin said Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Meghalaya would experience light to moderate rainfall at most places, with isolated heavy to very heavy falls on May 4 and 5. There could be isolated extremely heavy falls over Assam and Meghalaya on May 4.
 
There could also light to moderate rainfall at many places over Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura on May 4, with isolated heavy falls.
 
The bulletin said gale winds, with speed reaching 180-190 kmph, gusting to 210 kmph, were very likely to prevail over westcentral Bay of Bengal around the system centre during the next 24 hours and decrease thereafter.
 
It said squally winds, with speed reaching 40-50 kmph, gusting to 60 kmph, were very likely to prevail along and off north Andhra Pradesh and Odisha Coasts and become gale wind, speed reaching 60-70 kmph gusting to 85 kmph, from tonight. It is very likely to become 170-180 kmph, gusting to 200 kmph, along and off south Odisha and adjoining north Andhra Pradesh (Srikakulam district) coasts; and 90-100 kmph gusting to 115 kmph along and off remaining districts of coastal Odisha and north Andhra Pradesh (Visakhapatnam and Vijayanagaram Districts) by tomorrow forenoon for the subsequent 12 hours and decrease thereafter.
 
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"Squally wind speed reaching 40-50 kmph gusting to 60 kmph is very likely along & off West Bengal coast from 2nd May evening. It is very likely become gale wind speed reaching 60-70 kmph gusting to 85 kmph from 3rd May afternoon and become 90-100 kmph gusting to 115 kmph from 4th May early morning for subsequent 12 hours and decrease thereafter," it said.
 
The sea condition will be phenomenal over westcentral Bay of Bengal, off north Andhra Pradesh coasts, till tomorrow and over northwest Bay of Bengal off Odisha and West Bengal till May 4.
 
Sea conditions are very likely to be very rough to high off north Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, along and off south Andhra Pradesh coasts till May 3.
 
The bulletin warned that storm surge of 1.5 metre height above astronomical tide was very likely to inundate low-lying areas of Ganjam, Khurda, Puri and Jagatsinghpur districts of Odisha at the time of landfall.
 
Fishermen were advised not to venture into deep sea areas and those out in deep sea in the above aeas were advised to return to the coasts.
 
The bulletin said the cyclone could cause extensive damage to kutcha houses and old pucca and badly managed pucca structures in Ganjam, Gajapati, Khurda, Puri and Jagatsinghpur districts of Odisha.
 
It said there could be extensive uprooting of communication and  power poles. There could also be disruption of rail and road links and extensive damage to standing crops, plantations and orchards. Large boats and ships may get torn from their moorings.
 
The IMD suggested total suspension of fishing operations, extensive evacuation of people from coastal areas, and diversion or suspension of rail and road traffic. People in affected areas have been advised to remain indoors.
 
The cyclone could also cause damage, on a lesser scale, in Kendrapara, Bhadrak, Jajpur, Balasore districts of Odisha and east and west Medinipur, south and north 24 Parganas, Howrah, Hoogli, Kolkata districts of West Bengal and Srikakulam, Visakhapatnam and Vijayanagaram districts of Andhra Pradesh, the bulletin added.
 
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Mayawati, Akhilesh, Ajit denounce BJP, Congress

Addressing their first joint rally in Uttar Pradesh, BSP supremo Mayawati, Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav and RLD chief Ajit Singh on Sunday declared war on both the BJP and the Congress saying they were two sides of the same coin.
BSP supremo Mayawati, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav and RLD leader Ajit Singh during the first joint BSP-SP-RLD rally in Uttar Pradesh's Deoband, on April 7, 2019. (Photo: IANS)
BSP supremo Mayawati, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav and RLD leader Ajit Singh during the first joint BSP-SP-RLD rally in Uttar Pradesh's Deoband, on April 7, 2019. (Photo: IANS)
Addressing their first joint rally in Uttar Pradesh, BSP supremo Mayawati, Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav and RLD chief Ajit Singh on Sunday declared war on both the BJP and the Congress saying they were two sides of the same coin.
 
Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, who shared a common public platform for the first time in years, particularly warned Muslims against supporting the Congress, alleging that the grand old party would only end up splitting anti-BJP votes in the Lok Sabha elections.
 
Speaking first at the Jamiya Tobbiya Medical College ground, former Chief Minister Mayawati was at her aggressive best as she said that removing Prime Minister Narendra Modi alone would not do and that Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath must also go.
 
"Our gathbandhan is winning and the BJP is going, provided they don't tamper with the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs)," Mayawati said, adding that the voters would end the "drama of chowkidari". 
 
Modi had not fulfilled even one fourth of the promises he made in the 2014 Lok Sabha battle that brought him to power, she said. 
 
The Prime Minister had also failed to protect the borders, she added, citing increasing instances of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. 
 
Mayawati did not spare the Congress either, calling its election manifesto 'hawa-hawai'.
 
Akhilesh Yadav said that both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress pursued the same policies.
 
"Not a single vote should be divided. Both these parties are same. There is not much difference between them."
 
Speaking on the alliance, which has emerged as the most potent challenger to the BJP, he said: "This coalition is to provide a new Prime Minister."
 
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Yadav slammed the Congress, saying the party does not want change.
 
The SP chief raised questions about the promises made by the Modi government in the last Lok Sabha battle and accused the Prime Minister of speaking lies.
 
"In the last Lok Sabha elections he (Narendra Modi) was a chaiwala and now he is a chowkidar."
 
Rashtriya Lok Dal's Ajit Singh called the BJP "anti-farmer" and alleged that it had come to power by creating communal tensions. 
 
"The BJP has done nothing in the last five years. Today even the farmers are saying that their crops are being gobbled up by Modi and Yogi. But the situation is changing and the ouster of the BJP is a certainty now."
 
BSP's Fazlur Rahman is contesting the election from the Saharanpur Lok Sabha constituency, which will go to the polls in the first phase on April 11.
 
The BJP swept the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in Uttar Pradesh, winning a staggering 71 of the 80 seats. An ally won another two. The Congress won two seats and the Samajwadi Party five. The BSP won no seat.
 
IANS
 

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Congress says will deliver on Nyay, jobs, farmers welfare, education and healthcare

Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday released his party's manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections with five main themes -- Nyay, a minimum income guarantee scheme, jobs and an expanded MGNREGA, steps to address the farm crisis, education and healthcare.
Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, A K Antony and P Chidambaram unveiling the party's manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, in New Delhi on April 2, 2019. (Photo: IANS)
Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, A K Antony and P Chidambaram unveiling the party's manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, in New Delhi on April 2, 2019. (Photo: IANS)
Congress President Rahul Gandhi today released his party's manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections with five main themes -- Nyay, a minimum income guarantee scheme, jobs and an expanded MGNREGA, steps to address the farm crisis, education and healthcare.
 
The manifesto, titled "Congress will Deliver" in English and "Hum Nibhayenege" in Hindi,was unveiled by Gandhi, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and senior Congress leaders A. K. Antony and P. Chidambaram at a function at the party's headquarters here this morning.
 
Gandhi told the gathering, including journalists, that he had urged Antony, Chidambaram and other leaders such as Rajeev Gowda, who had worked on the manifesto, that it must reflect the voice of the people across the country and not contain even one lie or false promise.
 
He said Manmohan Singh had assessed and vetted the manifesto and given his expertise to the drafting committee, while Sonia Gandhi had also provided her inputs.
 
Gandhi said that, under Nyay (Nyunatam Aay Yojana), the Congress, if voted to power at the Centre in the April-May elections, would guarantee a minimum income of Rs. 6,000 every month (Rs. 72,000 each year and Rs. 3,60,000 during the next five years) to the 20 percent poorest families in the country.
 
He said that the amounts, which will be directly transferred to the bank accounts of the beneficiaries, would create increased demand for goods and services, especially in the rural areas, and help kickstart the stalled economy.
 
Gandhi said the Congress, if voted to power, would fill up the 22 lakh vacancies in government jobs and also provide jobs to 10 lakh people through the gram panchayats across the country.
 
He also said that no permissions from government would be required for new businesses for three years, a move aimed at giving a boost to entrepreneurs.
 
He announced that the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme (MGNREGA), which now guarantees 100 days of employment in a year for those who seek work in rural areas, would be expanded to guarantee 150 days of employment.
 
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Gandhi said the Congress, if it forms the next government, would introduce a separate "Kisan Budget" so that farmers would have a clear idea about the allocations made for various schemes aimed at their welfare.
 
He also said that non-repayment of loans by farmers would not be treated as criminal offences, as at presence, but only as civil offences. He said that while rich industrialists fled the country after defaulting on bank loans worth thousands of crores of rupees, poor farmers were jailed for defaulting on small loans.
 
Gandhi said the Congress would allocate 6 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for education in an effort to make quality education in institutions such as IITs, IIMs and other such institutions accessible to all.
 
In the area of healthcare, he said the Congress would upgrade and modernise government  hospitals and other institutions across the country to make the best medical facilities available to the poorest people.
 
He said the Congress did not have much faith in healthcare schemes based on private sector health insurance providers which, he said, was the case in the  Ayushman programme launched by the Narendra Modi government.
 
Gandhi also said that the Congress would accord the highest priority to national and internal security, stating that the party's record in this regard was known to all. He said the BJP-led NDA government was dividing the people and spreading hatred and pointed out that the consequences could be seen in Jammu and Kashmir.
 
"We will unite the people and bring the nation together," he said.
 
Responding to questions from the media, Gandhi said the lack of jobs and the farm crisis were the main issues in the coming elections and argued that all surveys and polls had pointed to this.
 
He said that people across the country felt the economy had stalled as a result of demonetisation and the hasty implementation of the Goods and Service Tax (GST) and declared that his party would take steps to revive the economy.
 
Gandhi said the Nyay scheme, GST, corruption, the Rafale fighter jet deal, the "lies" of Prime Minister Modi and the BJP's "false promises were among the issues uppermost in people's minds across the country.
 
In reply to a question, he said MGNREGA had contributed in a major way to India's dramatic growth in the ten years of the Congress-led UPA government and had helped to kickstart the economy.
 
On Modi's attempts to keep the focus on issues such as nationalism, national security and so on, Gandhi said the Prime Minister was in a state of shock after the Congress unveiled Nyay and other such schemes and was now trying to hide behind "some issue or the other".
 
He said the truth was that there was a lack of enough jobs, farmers were committing suicide, the promised "Achhe Din" (good days) had not come and that the "Chowkidar" (watchman), as Modi describes himself, had "facilitated thefts".
 
"The  chowkidar can hide, but he cannot escape," he said.
 
To a question, Gandhi said the Congress, if voted to power, would reform the "Gabbar Singh Tax" and introduce a single tax at the lowest possible rate, instead of the multiple tax slabs at present, and simplify forms and all other compliance requirements.
 
Asked about the BJP's criticism that the Nyay and such other schemes were not doable, he said, "It is not doable for the BJP, but for the  Congress it is doable. Trust us, I don't make false promises."
 
Gandhi said the Congress would reach out to millions of people, especially those in the lower strata, with schemes like Nyay, MGNREGA and those in education, healthcare, employment and other such segments.
 
About his decision to contest from a second constituency, Wayanad in Kerala, apart from Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, from where he has been elected for three consecutive terms, Gandhi said there was a "feeling in South India that they are not being carried by the current government and that there is hostility from Narendra Modi."
 
"There is a feeling that they are not included in decision-making in the country. We want to send a message to them that we are with you," he said.
 
To another question about a possible electoral alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi, Gandhi said the Congress had tied up electoral alliances in many states and was open to such arrangements in general. "We are open to alliances," he said, without going into the specifics of Delhi.
 
Asked about Modi's attacks on the Congress on issues such as nationalism, Gandhi challenged the Prime Minister to have a one-to-one debate with him on national security, foreign policy, corruption or such issues.
 
He said Modi was running away from facing questions on such issues and that is why he had not addressed a single press conference. He wondered why Modi was scared of facing journalists. He said the media grilled him on all kinds of issues at every opportunity but was afraid of posing any question to the Prime Minister.
 
The Lok Sabha elections will be held in seven phases between April 11 and May 19.
 
NNN
 

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Extremely severe cyclonic storm Fani likely to cross Odisha coast on May 3

The extremely severe cyclonic storm Fani, over westcentral and adjoining southwest Bay of Bengal is very likely to intensify further and cross the Odisha coast between Gopalpur and Chandbali, to the south of Puri, around May 3, the India Meteorological Department said.
 
The extremely severe cyclonic storm Fani, over westcentral and adjoining southwest Bay of Bengal is very likely to intensify further and cross the Odisha coast between Gopalpur and Chandbali, to the south of Puri, around May 3, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said.
 
In a bulletin issued at 2230 hours today, the IMD issued a cyclone alert for the coastal areas of Odisha and West Bengal and the districts of Srikakulam, Vijayanagaram and Visakhapatnam districts of Andhra Pradesh.
 
The bulletin said Fani, pronounced as Foni, had moved west-northwestwards with a speed of about 16 kmph in the previous six hours and lay centred at 2030 hrs IST of today near latitude 13.4°N and longitude 84.5°E, about 720 km southsouthwest of Puri (Odisha) and 490 km south-southeast of Vishakhapatnam (Andhra Pradesh). 
 
"It is very likely to intensify further and move northwestwards till 01st May noon and thereafter recurve north-northeastwards and cross Odisha Coast between Gopalpur and Chandbali, to the south of Puri around 3rd May afternoon with maximum sustained wind of speed 175-185 kmph gusting to 205 kmph," it said.
 
The bulletin said light to moderate rainfall was very likely at many places over north coastal Andhra Pradesh (Srikakulam, Visakhapatnam and Vijayanagaram districts) on May 2, with heavy to very heavy rainfall at isolated places.
 
Rainfall was likely at most places in the area on May 3, with heavy to very heavy rainfall at a few places.
 
In Odisha, light to moderate rainfall was very likely at many places over south coastal Odisha on May 2, with heavy to very heavy rainfall at isolated places.
 
"It is likely to increase with rainfall at most places and heavy to very heavy rainfall at a few places with extremely heavy falls (>20 cm) at isolated places over coastal Odisha and its adjoining districts of interior Odisha on 3rd and over north Odisha on 4th May," it said.
 
In West Bengal, light to moderate rainfall was very like at most places in  the coastal districts, with heavy falls at isolated places, on May 3 and  heavy to very heavy rainfall at a few places with extremely heavy falls at isolated places over Gangetic West Bengal on May 4.
 
The bulletin said gale winds, with speed reaching 170-180 kmph, gusting to 200 kmph, were prevailing over westcentral and adjoining southwest Bay of Bengal. 
 
"It is very likely to increase gradually becoming 180-190 kmph gusting to 210 kmph over westcentral and adjoining southwest Bay of Bengal off north Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and south Andhra Pradesh coast from 1st May evening onwards.
 
"Strong wind speed reaching 30-40 kmph gusting to 50 kmph very likely along and off Tamilnadu coast, Comorin area, Gulf of Mannar and Kerala during next 12 hours.
 
"Squally wind speed reaching 40-50 kmph gusting to 60 kmph is very likely to commence along and off north Andhra Pradesh and Odisha coasts from 2nd May and very likely to become gale wind speed reaching 60-70 kmph gusting to 85 kmph from 3rd May morning and become 175-185 kmph gusting 205 kmph over Odisha Coast and 90-100 kmph gusting to 115 kmph over adjoining districts of north Andhra Pradesh (Srikakulam, Visakhapatnam and Vijayanagaram districts) by 3rd May evening," it said.
 
"Squally wind speed reaching 40-50 kmph gusting to 60 kmph is very likely along and off West Bengal coast on 2nd May. It would become gale wind speed reaching 60-70 kmph gusting to 85 kmph from 3rd May evening and become 90-100 kmph gusting to 115 kmph from 4th May morning," it said.
 
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The bulletin  said the sea condition is phenomenal over southwest Bay and adjoining southeast and westcentral Bay of Bengal, off north Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and south Andhra Pradesh coasts. It is very likely to be phenomenal over westcentral Bay of Bengal during May 1-3 and over northwest Bay of Bengal during May 2-4.
 
The bulletin said sea conditions were very likely to be very rough to high along and off north Andhra Pradesh coasts during May 1-3 and high to phenomenal along and off Odisha and West Bengal coasts during May 2-4.
 
The bulletin said storm surge of about 1.5 metre height above astronomical tide was very likely to inundate low-lying areas of Ganjam, Khurda, Puri and Jagatsinghpur districts of Odisha at the time of landfall.
 
Fishermen were advised not to venture into deep sea areas of southwest and adjoining southeast Bay of Bengal during the next 12 hours; southwest and adjoining westcentral Bay of Bengal, along and off Puducherry, north Tamil Nadu and south Andhra Pradesh coasts till May 1; westcentral Bay of Bengal, along and off north Andhra Pradesh coast during May 1-3.
 
Those, who are out in deep sea above areas are advised to return to the coasts.
 
The bulletin said the cyclone could cause extensive damage to kutcha houses and old pucca and badly managed pucca structures in Ganjam, Gajapati, Khurda, Puri and Jagatsinghpur districts of Odisha.
 
It said there could be extensive uprooting of communication and  power poles. There could also be disruption of rail and road links and extensive damage to standing crops, plantations and orchards. Large boats and ships may get torn from their moorings.
 
The IMD suggested total suspension of fishing operations, extensive evacuation of people from coastal areas, and diversion or suspension of rail and road traffic. People in affected areas have been advised to remain indoors.
 
The cyclone could also cause damage, on a lesser scale, in Kendrapara, Bhadrak, Jajpur, Balasore districts of Odisha and east and west Medinipur, south and north 24 Parganas, Howrah, Hoogli, Kolkata districts of West Bengal and Srikakulam, Visakhapatnam and Vijayanagaram districts of Andhra Pradesh, the bulletin added.
 

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Rahul promises Rs 72K minimum income to 25 crore poor

Congress President Rahul Gandhi said on Monday that nearly 25 crore poor people in the country will get financial assistance of Rs 72,000 per annum if the party is voted to power under the ambitious minimum income guarantee scheme which the party has named "Nyay".
Congress President Rahul Gandhi addressing a press conference in New Delhi, on March 25, 2019
Congress President Rahul Gandhi addressing a press conference in New Delhi, on March 25, 2019
Congress President Rahul Gandhi said on Monday that nearly 25 crore poor people in the country will get financial assistance of Rs 72,000 per annum if the party is voted to power under the ambitious minimum income guarantee scheme which the party has named "Nyay".
 
Announcing the details of the party's promised scheme at a media briefing here, Gandhi said the Congress will provide Rs 72,000 per annum to 20 per cent of the poorest families in the country. The scheme will benefit 5 crore families and 25 crore individuals directly, according to Gandhi. 
 
He said the scheme was "unprecedented in the world". "Nyay" (the minimum income scheme) will be the Congress' major poll promise ahead of the Lok Sabha elections and Gandhi termed it as "a final assault on poverty". 
 
He said the "minimum income line" is Rs 12,000 per annum and the scheme will benefit individuals earning less than that. 
 
"Congress guarantees that 20 per cent of the most poor families will be given Rs 72,000 crore every year. The amount will be transferred directly to the accounts of 20 per cent of the poorest families," Gandhi said at the beginning of his press conference. 
 
However, he subsequently clarified that the scheme will supplement the income of the poor if it is less than Rs 12,000 per month. 
 
"The minimum income line is Rs 12,000 per month. Whatever the difference -- say the income is Rs 6,000 -- we will top it up. Those who earn less than Rs 12,000, we will take their earnings to Rs 12,000," Gandhi said.
 
Gandhi said the scheme will be implemented in phases and there will be a pilot project. 
 
He said the scheme was "fiscally perfectly possible" and the entire calculations have been already done. The Congress also held detailed analysis with leading economists on the matter.
 
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"It is doable and we are going to do it," the Congress President said. 
 
Gandhi also targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the PM-KISAN scheme launched last month, saying that it hardly provides any assistance to the farmers. 
 
"You are being misled. If Modi can provide money to the rich, the Congress can give it to the most poor. Our pockets are being cut daily," he said. 
 
"We have kept our promise of farm loan waiver in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh," he added.
 
Gandhi also referred to the MGNREGA, the rural employment guarantee scheme introduced by the UPA government, and said that it had taken 14 crore people out of poverty in its first phase.
 
"This is the second and final operation. We will bring 25 crore people out of poverty. This ground-breaking idea is the final assault on poverty," he said. 
 
Gandhi, who addressed the media after a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), refused to take questions on other political issues.
 
Sources in the Congress said that party General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was among the leaders who had suggested giving a Hindi name to the ambitious scheme to have better connect with the voters.
 
IANS
 

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Yeddyurappa paid Rs 1,800 crore to BJP leaders: Report

Former Karnataka Chief Minister B. S. Yeddyurappa made payouts of Rs 1,800 crore to senior leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, judges and lawyers, reported The Caravan on Friday.

File photo of B S Yeddyurappa (Photo: IANS)
File photo of B S Yeddyurappa (Photo: IANS)
Former Karnataka Chief Minister B. S. Yeddyurappa made payouts of Rs 1,800 crore to senior leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, judges and lawyers, reported The Caravan on Friday.
 
The report said the news magazine accessed copies of diary entries in the handwriting of Yeddyurappa that note payoffs amounting to over Rs 1,800 crore to the BJP leaders such as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, the BJP stalwart L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, among others. 
 
"The copies of the diary pages note that Yeddyurappa paid the BJP Central Committee Rs 1,000 crore; that he paid the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and the Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari Rs 150 crore each; that he gave the Home Minister Rajnath Singh Rs 100 crore; and that he paid the BJP stalwart LK Advani and the senior party leader Murli Manohar Joshi Rs 50 crore each," reads the report.
 
"Besides this, the entry notes, Yeddyurappa paid Rs 10 crore for 'Gadkari's son's marriage'. The diary entries also state that Yeddyurappa paid Rs 250 crore to 'judges'; and Rs 50 crore to 'advocates (fee paid for cases)', but does not mention any names."
 
The alleged payouts were recorded by Yeddyurappa in a Karnataka state assembly legislator's 2009 diary, in Kannada, in his own hand, the report said.
 
Copies of these entries have been with the Income Tax Department since 2017. 
 
The entries regarding payments to the BJP leaders, judges and advocates were written against rows dated January 17, 2009, while the entry regarding the BJP central committee was written against rows dated January 18, 2009, said the report, adding it was unclear whether the entries were made on these dates or written in the diary on a later date.
 
Yeddyurappa served as the Chief Minister in Karnataka from May 2008 to July 2011. 
 
IANS
 

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Modi to fight from Varanasi again, Shah from Gandhinagar

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will fight to retain his Varanasi seat while BJP President Amit Shah will contest his first Lok Sabha polls from Gandhinagar in the 2019 polls, BJP leader J.P. Nadda announced on Thursday.
File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will fight to retain his Varanasi seat while BJP President Amit Shah will contest his first Lok Sabha polls from Gandhinagar in the 2019 polls, BJP leader J.P. Nadda announced on Thursday.
 
Among the prominent leaders announced in BJP's first list, which had 182 names, were Union Ministers Rajnath Singh, who will contest again from Lucknow, Nitin Gadkari from Nagpur, Gen. V. K. Singh (retd) from Ghaziabad, Satyapal Singh (Baghpat), Sakshi Maharaj (Unnao) and Kiren Rijiju (Arunanchal East). All are sitting MPs.
 
Union Minister Smriti Irani will again contest against Congress President Rahul Gandhi in Amethi. 
 
Film actress-turned politician Hema Malini will again contest from her Mathura seat.
 
IANS
 
 
 
 

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Parrikar cremated with full military, state honours

The last rites of Goa Chief Minister and former Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, who died on Sunday after suffering from pancreatic cancer for over a year, were held with full military and state honours at the Miramar beach here on Monday evening.
Manohar Parrikar
Manohar Parrikar
The last rites of Goa Chief Minister and former Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, who died on Sunday after suffering from pancreatic cancer for over a year, were held with full military and state honours at the Miramar beach here on Monday evening.
 
Thousands of supporters and BJP workers accompanied the funeral cortege from the Kala Academy Arts and Cultural Centre, where the remains had been kept throughout the day for the public to pay last respects to the nearby Miramar beach.
 
The mortal remains of Parrikar, wrapped in the national tri-colour, were placed on a pyre amid a 21 gun salute at the beach and his elder son Utpal Parrikar consigned it to flames.
 
Parrikar, 63, is survived by two sons, two daughters in-law and a grandson.
 
Top BJP leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP President Amit Shah, Union Ministers Nirmala Sitharaman, Nitin Gadkari, Smriti Irani, Suresh Prabhu and Ramdas Athawale offered floral tributes to Parrikar.
 
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis also paid his last respects.
 
Parrikar was Chief Minister of Goa on four separate occasions, but could not complete a single term in office. He served as Defence Minister in the Narendra Modi cabinet from 2014-17 before returning to state politics.
 
IANS
 

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Goa CM Manohar Parrikar passes away after long battle with cancer

Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar passed away at his private residence in Panaji on Sunday evening after a prolonged battle with pancreatic cancer.
Manohar Parrikar
Manohar Parrikar
Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar passed away at his private residence here on Sunday evening after a prolonged battle with pancreatic cancer. 
 
He was 63.
 
The condition of Parrikar, diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer in February last year and in and out of hospitals in Goa, Mumbai, Delhi and New York since then, had turned "extremely critical" on Sunday, the Chief Minister's Office tweeted earlier in the day.
 
President Ram Nath Kovind expressed his grief.
 
"Extremely sorry to hear of the passing of Shri Manohar Parrikar, Chief Minister of Goa, after an illness borne with fortitude and dignity. An epitome of integrity and dedication in public life, his service to the people of Goa and of India will not be forgotten," he said in a tweet.
 
Other leaders, cutting across party lines, mourned his death.
 
"Shri Manohar Parrikar is no more. A sincere, honest & sensitive political activist. Was simple and down to earth, I learnt a lot from Shri.Parrikar. As Raksha Mantri his contribution to making the armed forces a modernised, lean & mean fighting machine will remain unparalleled, tweeted Defence Minister Nirmala Sithraman.
 
"Extremely saddened by the untimely demise of my good friend Manohar Parrikar ji. An epitome of impeccable integrity, a down to earth personality, the first IITian to become CM of a state, great son of India gone too soon... RIP my dear friend...," Union Minister Suresh Prabhu said in a tweet.
 
"I am deeply saddened by the news of the passing of Goa CM, Shri Manohar Parrikar Ji, who bravely battled a debilitating illness for over a year. Respected and admired across party lines, he was one of Goa's favourite sons. My condolences to his family in this time of grief," tweeted Congress President Rahul Gandhi.
 
Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi tweeted, "My condolences to the bereaved family of Shri. Manohar Parrikar. I met him only once, when he graciously visited my mother at the hospital two years ago. May his soul rest in peace."
 
The first Bharatiya Janata Party leader to be Goa Chief Minister, Parrikar headed the state from 2000-05 and 2012-14, before joining the Narendra Modi government as Defence Minister from 2014.
 
The country's first Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) alumnus to serve as Chief Minister of a state, he assumed the mantle on four occasions from 2000, but could not complete a single full term in office.
 
He returned to state politics in 2017 to lead a coalition government headed by the BJP and continued in office despite his protracted illness and amid criticism from the Opposition and civil society, which had repeatedly demanded his resignation on health grounds.
 
A widower, Parrikar is survived by his two sons, Utpal and Abhijat, their wives and a grandson.
 
IANS
 

Modi says focus on social and physical infrastructure to shape future of gen-next

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Saturday the engine of growth for his government was running on two parallel tracks -- one providing social infrastructure to all and the other providing physical infrastructure for all and particularly for generation-next to shape their future as per their dreams.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking at The Economic Times Global Business Summit in New Delhi on February 24, 2019.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking at The Economic Times Global Business Summit in New Delhi on February 24, 2019.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said the engine of growth for his government was running on two parallel tracks -- one providing social infrastructure to all particularly for those who were left out and the other providing physical infrastructure for all and particularly for generation-next to shape their future as per their dreams.
 
"What happened in the past is not in our hands, but what will happen in the future is firmly in our hands," he said in his inaugural address at The Economic Times Global Business Summit.
 
"We often lament at missing the industrial revolutions in the past, but today it is a matter of pride that India is an active contributor to the fourth Industrial Revolution. The extent and magnitude of our contribution will surprise the world.
 
"I am also confident that India may have missed the bus during the first three industrial revolutions, but this time, it is a bus India has not only boarded but will also drive. Innovation and Technology will form the bed-rock of this resurgence," he said.
 
Modi began by speaking about the challenges facing the country during the second half of 2013 and early 2015 on parameteres such as inflation, current account deficit and fiscal deficit which, according to him, were threatening the macro-economic stability of the country and indicating a gloomy future.
 
"The country was facing total policy paralysis. This was preventing the economy from reaching the level which it was worthy of; the global fraternity was worried about the health of this member of fragile five club. There was a perception of surrender to existing circumstances," he said.
 
"It was in this background that our government came to serve the people and today change is clearly visible," he said.
 
"After 2014, hesitations have been replaced by hope. Obstacles have been replaced by optimism. And issues have been replaced by initiatives.
 
"Since 2014, India has made significant improvements in almost all international rankings and indices. This not only shows how India is changing but also represents how the world’s perception about India is changing," he said.
 
He went on to speak about the improvement in India's rankings in the Ease of Doing Business and World Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index and the Global Innovation Index.
 
"The change is due to a new style of governance and is often visible in interesting ways.
 
"We are now witnessing various forms of competition. A competition between ministries, a competition between states, a competition on development, a competition on achieving targets.
 
"Today, there is a competition as to whether India will get 100% sanitation first or 100% electrification first. There is competition as to whether all habitations will be connected by road first or all homes will get gas connection first. There is competition as to which state will attract more investment. There is competition as to which states will build houses  for the poor fastest. There is competition as to which aspirational district will progress fastest.
 
"Before 2014 also, we heard of about a competition, although of a different kind. A competition between ministries, a competition between individuals, a competition on corruption, a competition on delays.
 
"There was competition on who can do maximum corruption, there was competition on who can do fastest corruption, there was competition on who can do most innovation in corruption.
 
"There was competition as to whether coal will get more money or spectrum. There was competition as to whether CWG would get more money or defence deals. We all saw that and we also know who were the main players involved in this competition. I will leave it to you to decide which form of competition you would prefer," he said.
 
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Modi said that, for decades, a narrative was made that certain thiiings were just impossible in India. "The progress our nation has achieved since 2014 gives me confidence that nothing is impossible for 130 crore Indians," he said.
 
He went on to list the government's achievements in areas such as sanitation, fighting corruption, use of technology and  removing discretion and arbitrariness in policy making.
 
"It was said that economic  reforms in India were impossible, but people of India are making it possible. It was said that governments cannot be pro-growth and pro-poor at the same time, but people of India are making it possible. I have also been told, that there is a perception or theory that a developing economy cannot grow at higher rate for a longer period, without facing the problem of inflation.
 
"Post liberalisation, that is after 1991, almost all governments formed in our country had to face this problem – what many experts call 'over-heating' of economy after a short period of growth. As a result of this we never had sustainable higher rate of growth. You may recall, that we had a government, between 1991 and 1996  where the average growth was about five percent, but the average inflation was more than ten percent.
 
"The government just before us between 2009 to 2014 had an average growth of about six and half percent with an average inflation again in double digit. During 2014 to 2019, the country would register average growth of seven point four percent and the average inflation would be less than four and half percent. Post liberalisation of Indian economy, this will be the highest rate of average growth and lowest rate of average inflation witnessed during the period of any government," he said. 
 
Modi said that, with these changes and reforms, transformation is happening in the way the economy has moved. He said not just domestic investors but also investors from all across the world were showing confidence in the Indian economy.
 
"In the last four years, the amount of Foreign Direct Investment received in the country was almost equal to what was received in seven years before 2014. 
 
"To achieve all this, India needed reforms to transform. And by having the Bankruptcy Code, GST, Real Estate Act to name a few, – a solid foundation for decades of higher growth has been laid," he said.
 
"Four years ago, who would have believed that rupees three lakh crore or about forty billion dollars would be returned by defaulting borrowers to financial and operational creditors. This is the impact of Bankruptcy and Insolvency Code. This  will help the country in allocating financial resources more efficiently," he said.
 
The Prime Minister said all these reforms were implemented without halting work for the well-being of the larger sections of society.
 
"India is a country of 130 crore aspirations and there can never be a singular vision for development and progress. Our vision of new India caters to all sections of the society, irrespective of their economic profile, their caste, creed, language and religion. We are working hard to create a New India which fulfils the aspirations and dreams of 130 crore Indians.
 
"Our vision of new India includes addressing the challenges of the future while also solving problems of the past," he said.
 
"So today, while India has made its fastest train, it has also eliminated all un-manned railway crossings. Today, while India is building IITs & AIIMS at a rapid pace, it has also built toilets in all schools across the country. Today, while India is building a 100 smart cities across the country, it is also ensuring rapid progress in over 100 aspirational districts.
 
"Today, while India has become a net exporter of electricity, it has also ensured that crores of households which were in darkness since independence have got electricity. Today, while India aims to land on Mars, it is also ensuring that every Indian has a roof over his head. Today, while India is the fastest growing world economy, it is also removing poverty at the fastest speed," he said.
 
"We are reaching out to twelve crore small and marginal farmers by providing them a comfort of rupees six thousand every year. This will transfer 7.5 lakh crore rupees or about one hundred billion dollars to our farmers over the next ten years.
 
"We are rolling out a pension scheme for crores of our informal sector workers. The outcomes of our focus on Digital India, Start-up India, Make In India and Innovate India are converging and reaping rich dividends," he said.
 
"You would be happy to know that today 44 percent of the startups registered in India are from tier 2 and tier3 cities. A network of hundreds of Atal Tinkering Labs is coming up across the country and helping foster an atmosphere of innovation. This will give a solid foundation for our students to help them become innovators of tomorrow.
 
"It is equally heartening to see how youth in villages are leveraging Wi-Fi and digital tools to help in clearing competitive exams. It is technology which is bridging the gap between the haves and have-nots in our country.
 
"With the support and partnership of the people, India has made rapid strides since 2014. This could not have been possible without Jan Bhagidaari. It is this experience that gives us confidence that our country can provide adequate opportunities to all its citizens, to grow, prosper and excel. 
 
"We look forward to making India a ten trillion dollar economy. We look forward to making India the third largest economy. We want to make an India of countless startups. We want to lead the global drive towards renewable sources of energy. We want to give our people energy security. We want to cut down on import dependence.
 
We want to make India a world leader in electric vehicles and energy storage devices. 
 
"With these goals in mind, let us re-dedicate ourselves to create a New India of our dreams," he added.
 
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40 killed in terror attack on CRPF convoy in Pulwama district of J&K

At least 40 CRPF personnel were killed and an equal number suffered injuries when terrorists attacked a convoy of vehicles carrying security forces with a car bomb at Awantipora in Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday.
 
40 CRPF men killed in blast in J&K
At least 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed and an equal number suffered injuries when terrorists attacked a convoy of vehicles carrying security forces with a car bomb at Awantipora in Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday.
 
According to initial reports, it appeared to be a suicide attack in which a Mahindra Scorpio sports utility vehicle (SUV) with about 350 kg of explosives rammed into the convoy of about 78 vehicles transporting about 2500 CRPF personnel from Jammu to Srinagar.
 
About 13 of the injured CRPF men were said to be in a critical condition and were rushed to the Army hospital in Srinagar, official sources said.
 
Officials said the exact number of those killed and injured as well as other details of the incident would take some time to ascertain. However, a senior official told a news agency that at least 40 CRPF men had died.
 
Reports reaching here said terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed had claimed responsibility for the attack. 
 
Official sources said terrorists triggered the explosion around 3.30 pm when the convoy, which had left Jammu in the early hours of today, was passing through the Goripora area on the Jammu-Srinagar highway, about 30 km short of Srinagar.
 
Television pictures from the scene showed that one of the buses, which bore the brunt of the explosion, was completely destroyed in the massive explosion.
 
According to preliminary information, the explosives-laden car was driven by a local youth. But officials said they were trying to verify this and other details, including the manner in which the attack was carried out. Senior officials of the Jammu and Kashmir Police and the CRPF had reached the scene and were carrying out investigations into all these aspects.
 
"Attack on CRPF personnel in Pulwama is despicable. I strongly condemn this dastardly attack. The sacrifices of our brave security personnel shall not go in vain. The entire nation stands shoulder to shoulder with the families of the brave martyrs. May the injured recover quickly," Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on micro-blogging site Twitter.
 
"Spoke to Home Minister Rajnath Singh Ji and other top officials regarding the situation in the wake of the attack in Pulwama," he added.
 
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Rajnath Singh said the "dastardly attack" was extremely painful and disturbing.
 
"I bow to each and every CRPF jawan who has sacrificed his life in service to the nation. I pray for the speedy recovery of the injured.
 
Mr. Rajnath Singh spoke to Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik, the Director General of CRPF and the Home Secretary about the attack. They have apprised him of the situation.
 
The Home Minister has cancelled a scheduled visit to Bihar tomorrow. The Ministry of Home Affairs is closely monitoring the situation, official sources said.
 
National Security Adviser Ajit Doval is understood to have briefed the Prime Minister about the incident.
 
Mr. Rajnath Singh and Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba, who cut short an official visit to Bhutan, will fly to Srinagar tomorrow, the sources said.
 
A team from the National Investigation Agency (NIA) team with forensic experts is being sent to Srinagar to assist the Jammu and Kashmir Police in evaluation of the scene of the crime.
 
The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) is likely to meet here tomorrow morning to discuss the situation.
 
"I’m deeply disturbed by the cowardly attack on a #CRPF convoy in J&K in which many of our brave CRPF men have been martyred and a large number wounded, some critically. My condolences to the families of our martyrs. I pray for the speedy recovery of the injured," Congress President Rahul Gandhi said on Twitter.
 
Today's terror strike is said to be the one of the worst on security personnel in Jammu and Kashmir and much worse than the September 18, 2016 incident in which 18 soldiers were killed when a group of four heavily armed terrorists attacked an army administrative base at Uri in Baramulla district near the Line of Control.
 
Ten days later, the Indian Army responded with "surgical strikes" at launch pads across the LoC to prevent Pakistani terrorists positioned there from crossing over into the country and striking at targets in Jammu & Kashmir and other places. While details were not given out, the Army said it had inflicted "significant number of casualties" on the terrorists and those who were trying to support them.
 
For the CRPF, it was the biggest loss of men after the April 6, 2010 attack in which 75 personnel were killed in an ambush on their vehicle by left-wing extremists in the Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh.
 
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Rahul, Priyanka, Scindia roll out Mission UP with mega roadshow in Lucknow

Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Monday made her formal debut in active politics with a massive road show in Lucknow, accompanied by Congress President Rahul Gandhi and Jyotiraditya Scindia, enthusing party workers ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi and General Secretaries Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Jyotiraditya Scindia waving to the crowds that lined up the streets during their roadshow in Lucknow on February 11, 2019.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi and General Secretaries Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Jyotiraditya Scindia waving to the crowds that lined up the streets during their roadshow in Lucknow on February 11, 2019.
Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra made her formal debut in active politics with a massive road show in Lucknow, accompanied by her brother and Congress President Rahul Gandhi and fellow General Secretary Jyotiraditya Scindia, enthusing party workers ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
 
The Congress President had, on January 23, appointed Ms. Vadra as the party's General Secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh East and Mr. Scindia as the General Secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh West. The two young leaders will oversee the party's efforts in the coming Lok Sabha elections in their respective areas, and will, therefore, be each responsible for roughly half of the 80 seats from the state.
 
The Gandhi siblings and Scindia were accompanied on the roadshow by UP Congress chief Raj Babbar and other senior party leaders. They were greeted all along the four-hour, 25 km drive from the airport to the party's office in Lucknow with rose petals, garlands, bouquets, banners and so on by huge cheering crowds on both sides of the road.
 
Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi and Scindia waved and smiled at the people throughout.
 
Congress volunteers distributed food packets, tea and water to people and patriotic songs were played on loudspeakers.
 
For Priyanka, on whom much of the hopes of the Congress workers in Uttar Pradesh now rests, this was the first time that she was campaigning outside the Lok Sabha constituencies of Amethi and Rae Bareli, held by Rahul Gandhi and their mother and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, respectively.
 
Speaking at the end of the roadshow, the Congress President said his party was committed to playing on the front foot, without any hesitation and without fear, in Uttar Pradesh and the rest of the country in the coming Lok Sabha elections, expected to be held in April-May.
 
He said Ms Vadra and Mr. Scindia would work to better the party's performance in the Lok Sabha polls, but, more importantly, they had been entrusted with the task of ensuring that the party was voted to power in the next Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.
 
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"We will not rest until we establish a Congress government in Uttar Pradesh," he declared.
 
"This is an ideological battle. On the one  hand,  there is the Congress ideology of brotherhood, love and harmony. On the other, there is the ideology of the BJP, the RSS and of (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi of dividing the people, speading hatred and weakening the nation," he said.
 
He said the people had seen the record of Modi in the past four and a half years. He said the Modi government had failed to provide jobs to the youth as promised, had written off loans worth lakhs of crores of rupees of industrialists but had refused to waive farm loans, and had worked for the benefit of a few industrialists. "This is the reality of the man who had said he wanted to be the nation's 'chowkidar' and not Prime Minister," he said.
 
Mr. Gandhi said he had decided to send Ms. Vadra and Ms. Scindia to help revive the party in the Uttar Pradesh. "The Congress began in Uttar Pradesh and cannot remain weak in this state," he said.
 
He told Ms. Vadra, Mr. Scindia, Mr. Babbar and the several other state Congress leaders present that it was their collective responsibility to work for the revival of the party in Uttar Pradesh. The party had managed to win only two of the 80 seats from the state in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
 
He said the party would work for the youth, women, farmers, workers and the poor. According to him, the people had tried all other parties and now wanted a progressive government. He said the people realised that the Congress was their only option now.
 
He said the party must make every effort to bring to the fore leadership from the grassroots, making it clear that leaders who parachuted into the state could not produce the desired results.
 
Mr. Gandhi spoke briefly about the latest revelations about the Rafale fighter jets deal which, according to him, strengthened the allegations about corruption at the highest levels.
 
About the BSP-SP alliance in UP, which had kept the Congress out, Mr. Gandhi said he had the greatest respect for BSP supremo Mayawati and SP chief Akhilesh Yadav. "But the Congress will fight with all its might for its ideology and for bringing about change in Uttar Pradesh," he added.
 
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Modi attacks Congress on corruption at NRI, PIO convention

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday attacked the Congress for allegedly doing little to curb corruption during its long years in power and claimed that his government had plugged the leaks and ensured that the fruits of development programmes reached the intended beneficiaries.
 
Modi inaugurates 15th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas at Varanasi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today attacked the Congress for allegedly doing little to curb corruption during its long years in power and claimed that his government had plugged the leaks through the use of technology and ensured that the fruits of various development programmes reached the intended beneficiaries.
 
Inaugurating the 15th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD), the high-profile convention of Non-Resident Indians and Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) here, Mr. Modi referred to the famous remark by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1985 in which he said that only 15 paise of every rupee meant for the welfare of the downtrodden actually reached them.
 
Without naming Mr. Gandhi, the Prime Minister said the Congress government had identified the problem but did not do anything to plug the leakage of funds.
 
"At the peak of his party’s power, a former PM said that for every rupee, only 15 paise reaches the poor. Which was the hand that was siphoning off all funds?" he asked.
 
"For so many years, the party that ruled the country accepted this," he said.
 
He went on to say that the paradigm shift in governance brought about by the BJP-led NDA government had ensured that the fruits of development reached the intended beneficiaries.
 
"We have given about Rs. 5,80,000 crore to people, transferred amounts to their bank accounts through various schemes. Imagine, if the country was being run on the older system? Then Rs. 4,50,000 crore would have vanished," he said.
 
He said as many as seven crore fake names had been struck off the list of beneficiaries, which is almost equal to the population of Britain, France and, Italy.
 
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Mr. Modi called upon the NRIs and PIOs to join hands for building a New India.
 
He said that it was the love and affection of the diaspora for the land of their forefathers which had brought them to India.
 
He lauded the role of the Indian diaspora in keeping alive the tradition of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (the world is one family). The NRIs are not only the Brand Ambassadors of India but also represent its strength, capabilities and characteristics. He urged the diaspora to participate in building a New India, especially in research and innovation.
 
“India is on course to become a global economic powerhouse. It has one of the largest start-up ecosystems and the world's largest healthcare scheme to its credit. We have moved on with great strides in ‘Make in India’. A bumper harvest production has been our major achievement.
 
“With its rapid progress, India is being seen on a high pedestal across the world and is in a position to lead the global community. International Solar Alliance is one such example. Local solution and global application is our mantra. The International Solar Alliance is a step in the direction of One World, One Sun, One Grid,” he added.
 
While the diaspora was equally important in the Government’s resolve for a new India,  their safety was also its concern. In this context, he referred to the challenge of evacuating more than 2 lakh Indians stranded in conflict zones.
 
Speaking about the welfare of Indians overseas, Mr Modi said the passport and visa rules have been simplified and e-visa had made it much easier for them to travel. All Pravasi Bharatiya are now being linked to Passport Sewa and efforts are on to issue chip-based E-passport. A Pravasi Teerth DarshanYojana was being taken up. 
 
He urged overseas Indian to invite five non-Indian families to visit the country. He also requested them to spread the values of Gandhiji and Guru Nanak Dev and become a part of their anniversary celebrations. “We feel proud that the global community has joined us in the compilation of Bapu’s favourite bhajan, Vaishnava Jan," he said.
 
Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth, the chief guest on the occasion, Uttar Pradesh Governor Ram Naik, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat were amongst those present on the occasion.
 
Mr Jugnauth invoked the memories of the Indian diaspora and their connection with the land of their forefathers. Speaking in Hindi and English, he said such gatherings reinforce the identity of overseas Indians as the members of one family with a shared history and culture. 
 
If India is unique, Indianness is universal. An educated and self-reliant diaspora can play a major role in nation building and the Diaspora connect can help multilateralism, he added.
 
While enthralling the crowd with his Bhojpuri dialect, he announced that Mauritius will organise the first International Bhojpuri Festival.
 
In her welcome address, Ms Swaraj said India today feels proud under the dynamic leadership of Mr Modi. She thanked the Indian diaspora for their linkages with the motherland. 
 
The Prime Minister also felicitated the winners of ‘Bharat ko Janiye’ (Know India) quiz competition for the young Indian diaspora.
 
The closing ceremony of PBD will be held tomorrow when President Ram Nath Kovind will confer Pravasi Bharatiya Samman to select overseas Indians for their contributions in various fields.
 
On January 24, the delegates will visit Prayagraj for Kumbh Mela. They will then proceed to New Delhi the next day to watch the Republic Day Parade at Rajpath on January 26.
 
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Modi to inaugurate 15th Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas Convention in Varanasi on Tuesday

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the 15th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) convention, the high-profile gathering of non-resident Indians (NRIs) and persons of Indian origin (PIOs) -- in Varanasi on Tuesday.
File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the 15th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) convention, the high-profile gathering of non-resident Indians (NRIs) and persons of Indian origin (PIOs) -- here tomorrow.
 
The Prime Minister of Mauritius, Mr. Pravind Jugnauth, will be the chief guest on the occasion, an official press release said.
 
Mr. Himanshu Gulati, Member of Parliament of Norway, will be the Special Guest while Mr. Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi, Member of Parliament of New Zealand will be the Guest of Honour.
 
The theme of PBD 2019 is "Role of Indian Diaspora in Building New India". This is the first time that the convention, which got off to a start today with the Youth PBD, is being organized in Varanasi.
 
The convention dates have been chosen in such a way as to enable delegatess to visit the Kumbh Mela at Prayag Raj and then travel to Delhi for the Republic Day celebrations.
 
The valedictory session will be held on January 23, when President Ram Nath Kovind will present the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Awards to selected NRIs and PIOs for their contribution to various fields both in India and abroad.
 
The 1st PBD was celebrated on 9th January, 2003 in New Delhi. January 9 was chosen as the day to celebrate PBD as it was on this day in 1915 that Mahatma Gandhi, had returned to India from South Africa.
 
PBD, now held once in every two years, provides a platform to the overseas Indian community to engage with the government and reconnect with their roots.  
 
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Opposition slams Modi government at Mamata rally, calls for BJP ouster

Leaders of more than 20 opposition parties attended a massive rally in Kolkata organised by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and joined her in giving a clarion call for the ouster of the BJP government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Centre in the coming elections.
 
TMC rally: Opposition unites in a show of strength
Leaders of more than 20 opposition parties attended a massive rally in Kolkata organised by West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) Chairperson Mamata Banerjee and joined her in giving a clarion call for the ouster of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Centre in the coming elections.
 
All the leaders who were present at the "United India Rally", which attracted thousands of people, spoke of the problems being faced by the poor and vulnerable sections across the country because of the present regime's policies and measures and urged the people to vote it out in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
 
Ms. Banerjee also said the question about the Prime Ministerial candidate could be decided later, stressing the immediate task was for all of them to come together and oust the BJP from power.
 
Congress President Rahul Gandhi and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) did not attend the rally but sent their representatives. Mr. Gandhi also sent a message in which he extended his support to "Mamata Di" on the show of unity and hoped that they send a powerful message of a united India together.
 
"Across India, there are powerful forces afoot. Forces that are fanned by the anger and disappointment of hundreds of millions of Indians who have seen through the false promises and lies peddled by the Modi government," he said in the message.
 
"These forces are moved by the hope of a new tomorrow; a tomorrow filled with the idea of an India in which  the voice of every man, woman and child will be heard and respected no matter what their religion, economic status or region.
 
"The entire opposition is united in our belief that true nationalism and development can only be defended on the tested pillars of democracy, social justice and secularism, ideas that the BJP and Mr. Modi are intent on destroying.
 
"We commend the great people of Bengal who have historically been at the forefront of defending our ideas," he said.
 
Those present at the rally included former Prime Minister and Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) chief H D Deve Gowda, Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Abhishek Singhvi, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and Telugu Desam Party chief N. Chandrababu Naidu, Karnataka Chief Minister and JD-S leader H D Kumaraswamy, Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmy Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal, former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav,  former Union Minister and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Ministers and National Conference leaders Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah and former Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Gegong Apang.
 
Others present included Loktantrik Janata Dal (LJD) chief Sharad Yadav, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) chief M K Stalin,  Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejashwi Yadav, former Jharkhand Chief Minister Babulal Marandi, senior BSP leader Satish Chandra Mishra, former BJP Ministers Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and Ram Jethmalani, dissident BJP MP and actor Shatrughna Sinha, Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) leader Jayant Chaudhary, Patidar leader Hardik Patel, Dalit activist Jignesh Mevani and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) leader Hemant Soren.
 
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"A new dawn is coming. We have taken the pledge to work together," Ms. Banerjee told the huge crowd.
 
"Some people are trying to destroy the country. As Arvind Kejriwal said, what Pakistan could not do in 70 years, the Government at Centre managed to do in just five years. They have managed to drive a wedge between communities. They have destroyed all the institutions. They have started politics of hate. They have destroyed the country’s economy," she said.
 
"Jan Dhan, NPA, Rafale, insurance are big scams. There are other big scams as well. Those who are dishonest are preaching about integrity. They are talking about honesty? How much money did they have five years ago and how did their wealth increase? I don’t want to make personal comments but they initiated it. I believe in politics of courtesy but they do not care about it. They crossed the Lakxman Rekha. They tried to implicate Sonia ji, Lalu ji, Akhilesh, Mayawati ji and even me. Why will they expect to be spared?" she asked.
 
"People are asking who will be the leader. There is no dearth of leaders here. Their party is leaderless, so there is just one Prime Minister. In our gathbandhan, we all are leaders, we all are workers, we all are the subjects and we all are the kings. This is democracy. We will later finalise who will be the Prime Minister. The time has not yet come," she said.
 
"Enough of Achhe Din, it is time to bid goodbye to BJP. It is time for change at Centre. For the sake of youths, farmers, labourers, and people of the country, we have to defeat the BJP," shhe said.
 
"We are against divisive politics. We are against hate. We do not want bloodlust. We are against discrimination. We want constructive politics, not destructive agenda.
 
"Hindu stands for sacrifice, Muslims represent integrity. Christians stand for love and Sikhs represent validaan. This is our country. A person who can work for all, without discrimination, will be the leader of the nation," she said.
 
Addressing the rally, Congress leader Kharge appealed to all parties to unite to save the Constitution and democracy. He said the BJP had promised two crore jobs every year, but has only helped its corporate friends.
 
"A rainbow of 22 parties is replacing dark clouds hovering over the country," Mr. Abhishek Singhvi said.
 
Mr. Chandrababu Naidu said Mr. Modi and BJP president Amit Shah had betrayed the nation. He said the public mandate that brought them to power also had the strength to overthrow them.
 
"If BJP tries to victimize our leaders and harass the public, it will pay a heavy price. We will fight fearlessly to save democracy," he said.
 
"All the leaders forming the Mahagathbandhan have one ambition, ‘Save India, Save Democracy'. Since coming to power, the BJP govt has used every strategy to divide the people. We have united India and a new Prime Minister will rise out of this union," he said.
 
Mr. Kumaraswamy said the government at the Centre was headed by "undemocratic persons". He said demonetisation had hit the poor in the country hard, especially in the rural areas. He said it was sad that the Union Government had turned a deaf ear to the needs and woes of the people.
 
Mr. Stalin said the 2019 Lok Sabha elections would be the second war of independence. He said Mr. Modi was sure that he would not get a second term as Prime Minister and that is way he was fiercely attacking the Opposition at every opportunity.
 
"He is afraid of our unity. We must come together to protect India," he said.
 
Dr. Farooq Abdullah said there was a need to save India from the BJP, which  was dividing people on religious lines. He said the parties present must fight the elections together, pointing out that the question of who should become the Prime Minister could be decided later.
 
Mr. Tejashwi Yadav said the opposition parties were united in their diversity and would not be scared by the government's intimidation tactics.
 
Mr. Arun Shourie said no Government had said so many lies or undermined institutions as the Modi regime had done. "We all should have one aim, of removing BJP from the Centre," he said. He said the Opposition must ensure a single candidate against the BJP in all constitutuencies and urged them to hold rallies in every corner of the country.
 
Mr. Yashwant Sinha said it was not about removing one man from power but about coming together to defeat an ideology.
 
Shatrughan Sinha said people kept asking him why he spoke against the BJP when he was still in the party. "The mood of the nation is for 'parivartan' (change). People want a new leader," he said.
 
"If speaking truth is rebellion then you should consider me a rebel. Along with truth, I also don't compromise with principles," he said.
 
Mr. Jayant Chaudhary said Ms. Banerjee had united the Opposition and said it was imperative to get rid of Mr. Modi from the Centre.
 
Hardik Patel, who was invited to be the first speaker, said, "Subhas Chandra Bose had given a slogan to fight against ‘goro’ (Britishers), we are fighting against ‘choro’ (thieves),” he said.
 
Mr. Jignesh Mevani said the country was facing an unprecedented crisis with the exploitation of the poor, minorities and Dalits under the present regime.
 
Mr. Pu Lalduhoma of Zoram Nationalist Party of Mizoram said minorities felt unsafe under the BJP-led NDA government.
 
Mr. Hemant Soren said the BJP must be uprooted from not just the Centre but the States, too.
 
Thousands of people turned up for the rally. The TMC put up flexes and posters with photographs of the visiting leaders on roads leading to the venue of the rally from the airport.
 
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Delhi Police file chargesheet against Kanhaiya Kumar, others in 2016 sedition case

The Delhi Police filed a chargesheet on Monday against former Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union president Kanhaiya Kumar and others in a 2016 sedition case for allegedly raising anti-India slogans during an event on the campus.
Kanhaiya Kumar
Kanhaiya Kumar
The Delhi Police filed a chargesheet on Monday against former Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) president Kanhaiya Kumar and others in a 2016 sedition case for allegedly raising anti-India slogans during an event on the campus.
 
The event was held on February 9, 2016 to commemorate the hanging of Afzal Guru, the mastermind of the December 13, 2001 terror attack on Parliament.
 
Others chargesheeted in the case include former JNU students Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya and Kashmiri students Aquib Hussain, Mujeeb Hussain, Muneeb Hussain, Umar Gul, Rayeea Rassol, Bashir Bhat and Basharat.
 
Thirty-six others, including then JNUSU vice-president Shehla Rashid,  Aprajita, daughter of veteran Communist Party of India (CPI) leader D Raja, Rama Naga, Ashutosh Kumar and Banojyotsna Lahiri have been mentioned in column 12 of the chargesheet due to insufficient evidence against them.
 
The chargesheet was put up by Metropolitan Magistrate Sumit Anand for consideration before a competent court on Tuesday.
 
The accused have been charged with offences under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including 124A (sedition), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 465 (forgery), 471 (using as genuine a forged document or electronic record), 149 (being a member of an unlawful assembly), 147 (rioting) and 120B (criminal conspiracy).
 
The police have also attached CCTV footage, mobile video footage and other documentary evidence.
 
According to the police, Kanhaiya Kumar had incited the mob to raise anti-India slogans.
 
The police had, on February 11, 2016, filed a case under Sections 124 A (sedition) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the IPC against "unknown persons" at Vasant Kunj (North) police station here on the basis of complaints made by BJP MP Maheish Girri and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the students wing of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
 
Kanhaiya Kumar said the case was "politically motivated" and wondered why the chargesheet, which should have been filed within 90 days, was being filed now, just three months ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
 
He, however, welcomed the move, saying it would provide a chance for the truth to come out and hoped the trial would be conducted in an expeditious manner.
 
In a statement, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya took a dig at the Delhi Police, the Home Ministry and the Government for "waking up from their deep slumber three years after 9 February 2016 and barely three months before the general elections 2019 and filing a charge sheet against us."
 
"We are yet to see the chargesheet, but if what is being reported in the media is true, then we want to say categorically that we reject the charges and will contest them legally. In a way, it is good that the matter will finally move to the actual court room after almost three years of media trials. We are convinced about our innocence, and have full faith in the court," the statement said.
 
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Cabinet approves 10 per cent quota for economically backward upper castes

With an eye on the upper caste vote in the coming Lok Sabha elections, the Union Cabinet on Monday approved 10 per cent reservation for economically backward people in general category in jobs and educational institutions.
File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
With an eye on the upper caste vote in the coming Lok Sabha elections, the Union Cabinet on Monday approved 10 per cent reservation for economically backward people in general category in jobs and educational institutions.
 
The Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, took the decision to provide for 10 per cent quota for people belonging to "unreserved categories", including Christians and Muslims, in jobs and education with an annual income limit of Rs 8 lakh and land holding ceiling of about five acres, highly-placed sources said.
 
A Constitution amendment bill for the purpose is likely to be introduced in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday.
 
The sources said the proposed move will not disturb the existing 50 per cent reservation for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes.
 
"The quota will include sections not falling under any provision of reservation such as Brahmins, Banias, Thakurs, Jats, Gujjars, Muslims and Christians," a source privy to the decision told IANS. 
 
He said that rules will be framed in due course to implement the Cabinet decision. 
 
The decision comes four months before the Lok Sabha polls and after the reverses suffered by BJP in the Assembly polls in the Hindi heartland states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. 
 
The BJP was said to have faced the wrath of the upper castes, especially in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, over the amendment brought by the Central government to nullify the Supreme Court judgement in the SC-ST Act last year.
 
Reacting to the decision, BJP MP Udit Raj said it was a "bold" decision. 
 
However, former Union Minister Yashwant Sinha said the proposal was "nothing more than a jumla" which bristles with legal complications and there was no time for getting it passed in both the Houses of Parliament.
 
IANS
 

(Our News Desk can be contacted at desk@netindian.in)

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Modi attacks Congress, says law won't spare those who toyed with national security

Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a sharp attack on Congress leaders Rahul and Sonia Gandhi on Saturday saying the law will not spare anyone who "toyed" with national security and suggested links between them and Christian Michel, the alleged middleman in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal.
 
Better roadways, trains & cheaper airline fares boost ease of living: Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a sharp attack on Congress leaders Rahul and Sonia Gandhi on Saturday saying the law will not spare anyone who "toyed" with national security between 2004 and 2014 and suggested links between them and arrested British national Christian Michel, the alleged middleman in the Rs 3,600-crore AgustaWestland VVIP chopper case.
 
Addressing a public rally here, he said the "society of thieves" was ganging up to remove the country's 'chowkidar' who was out to expose and catch them. 
 
Without taking the names of the either the party or its leaders, Modi said the Congress conspired to weaken the country's defence forces when it was in power between 2004 and 2014. He also congratulated "India's first woman Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman for exposing those who misled the nation and played with the nation's security for their own entertainment."
 
"Between 2004 and 2014, they conspired to weaken the country's defence forces. The nation is now understanding that. And when our government is bringing the defence forces of the country out of their web of conspiracy, they are feeling pricked," he said.
 
Modi said the truth was hurting the Congress and its leadership because they were being exposed. 
 
"One letter of the middleman of helicopter scam and the 'raazdar' (holder) of Congress' secrets Christian Michel -- who has been extradited -- has exposed that he had deep friendship with top Congress leaders. He was well aware of every file movement (on chopper deal) in the Prime Minister's office. 
 
"Possibly, the middlemen knew more than even the Prime Minister at that time. He even got all information of meetings of the Cabinet Committee on Security which he used to send abroad," he said.
 
"I fail to understand if the Congress ran the government or Michel 'mama's darbar' (uncle's court). I want to clearly state today that investigation will take place against all those who worked for the interest of the middlemen instead of national interest," he added.
 
Modi said his government was taking strong decisions for the nation's security. "I assure you that those who did injustice to the nation's defence forces will be brought to justice. I assure you that law won't spare anyone."
 
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The Prime Minister started his speech with 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' and 'Vande Mataram' chants and said it was necessitated because "some people in our country have problem with these slogans as well".
 
In a reference to Rahul Gandhi, he said the leader of the country's oldest party asks why Modi greets people with 'Bharat Ma Ki Jai' slogans. 
 
"In Madhya Pradesh, a new government has been formed -- which has not even won a complete majority. And look at that government's priority -- the first thing the hung Assembly led by the Congress did was to attack 'Vande Mataram'," Modi said, referring to the Madhya Pradesh's order suspending singing of Vande Mataram on the first working day of every month in the Secretariat.
 
"It (the order) kicked up a storm and now they are trying to find a way out," he said. 
 
"Second thing they did was to try and stop the pension of those who fought against the Emergency to defend India's democracy. But due to efforts of the BJP workers, they had to take back their order on 'Vande Mataram', and now they would also have to reinstate the pension of those who fought against Emergency," the Prime Minister said.
 
He also attacked the Odisha government for not doing enough for women and said the Central government's efforts for women empowerment were not reaching the women of Odisha as "the state government is not serious about women welfare". 
 
He said Odisha was lagging behind on parameters related to women health and well-being.
 
IANS
 

(Our News Desk can be contacted at desk@netindian.in)

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Rafale will bring Modi back to power: Nirmala Sitharaman

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday dismissed all allegations of corruption in the Rafale fighter jet deal and said it was "far better on every count" on pricing, processes and other factors and hit back at the Congress saying that, while the Bofors deal was a scam, the Rafale deal would bring Narendra Modi back to power in the coming elections.
Rafale fighter jet: Photo: Dassault Aviation
Rafale fighter jet: Photo: Dassault Aviation
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday dismissed all allegations of corruption in the Rafale fighter jet deal and said it was "far better on every count" on pricing, processes and other factors and hit back at the Congress saying while the Bofors deal was a scam, the Rafale deal would bring Narendra Modi back to power in the coming elections.
 
In a spirited two-and-half hour reply in the Lok Saba to a debate on the deal in which she gave as much as she received from the opposition, she said Congress dilly-dallied on the deal and did not conclude it for over 10 years, putting national security to jeopardy while the BJP government finalised the deal in 14 months.
 
The reply came on a day when Congress claimed "fresh revelations" that Modi increased the benchmark price from euro 5.2 billion to euro 8.2 billion, which Sitharaman rejected as false. 
 
Getting emotional over Congress President Rahul Gandhi's attack on her and the Prime Minister, she said he had called them liars. 
 
"I come from a middle-class family and have my honour intact and the Prime Minister comes from a poor background and has come up the hard way. Being 'naamdar' does not give the right to make baseless allegations. Family name does not give right to call anyone a 'chor' (thief). 
 
"It is not a prerogative of 'khaandan' (family) to protect themselves," she asked, referring to Gandhi's demand that he needed a chance to protect himself. My honour, PM's honour have been insulted. Have you apologised? Nobody has the right to call this. Who gives him the right to call us like that?" she said. 
 
"Bofors was a scam but Rafale is a decision taken in national interest. Congress lost its government due to Bofors. The Rafale deal will bring back Modi to have a new India, transforming India and to remove corruption" the minister said in a reply to a debate on the deal that was acrimonious and marked often by interruptions from the Opposition benches.
 
After the Defence Minister's reply, Gandhi said he did not accuse her of being involved in the deal. "I had only accused the Prime Minister of direct involvement in the Rafale deal." He also wanted to know a "'yes or no' to his question whether defence ministry had said that the PM should not be bypassing the defence establishment".
 
Attacking the Congress for its failure to clinch the deal, she said there was a difference between defence dealings and dealing in defence, in veiled jibe at the Opposition party, suggesting it was looking for kickbacks. 
 
"There was a reason that the previous UPA government did not do anything required for the deal between 2006 and 2014. They (UPA) were dealing for 18 flyaway aircrafts. Why there was no agreement? You did not even buy a single aircraft. They did not intend buying. There is a difference between defence dealings and dealing in defence. We deal in defence as national security with priority," she said.
 
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Targeting UPA's Defence Minister A. K. Antony, Sitharaman said he had stated in Februray, 2014 that there was "no money" to go ahead with the deal for buying Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) under which 18 were to be procured in a flyaway condition from Dassault Aviation and the rest 108 to be manufactured by public sector undertaking HAL under transfer of technology.
 
She said the commercial bid of MMRCA "non-deal" was opened in 2011 and Dassault Aviation, which manufactures Rafale, became L1 but Antony directed independent monitoring to examine how the lowest bidder emerged. 
 
She said the independent monitor cleared the process but they did not buy the aircraft even after that and an order was passed to re-examine the approach and methodology of the contract negotiating committee. 
 
"This is the kind of 'khilwad' (tampering). This was interference because somebody did not receive something from somewhere. The deal did not suit you. It did not give money. Their 'treasury security' was important not the national security," she said.
 
Sitharaman said the first Rafale fighter jet will be delivered in September this year and the last aircraft will be delivered by 2022.
 
"We did not run for 10 years like you and we did it in 14 months," she said.
 
Sitharaman also accused the Congress of shedding crocodile tears for HAL and accused the UPA for not doing anything to empower the public sector undertaking.
 
"Congress government gave 53 waivers to HAL while we have given contracts worth Rs 1 lakh crore," she said referring to parliamentary standing committee reports on HAL which had criticised the company for non-performence.
 
Responding to the opposition questions on why only 36 aircrafts was finalised and not 126 as was proposed by the UPA govenment, the Minister said that the government followed the traditions of buying two squadrons aS it was urgently required given the fragile security environment. 
 
"In emergency purchases, the IAF normally advises for two squadrons," she said adding that in 1982, 1985 and 1987 when defence deals were done with France and Russia, two squadrons each were purchased.
 
She said that the entire campaign on Rafale by the Congress has been based on falsehood and the grand old party was repeatedly lying and misleading the people.
 
"Even unparliamentary words were used against the Prime Minister. Lies were spoken about foreign heads of governments," she said apparently referring to the jibe at the Prime Minister by Congress President Rahul Gandhi that "Chowkidar chor hai".
 
She said India wants peace but that cannot be at the cost of operational preparedness of the armed forces. She said India's western and northern borders were highly sensitive and it was important to purchase the ammunition and platforms required. 
 
She said between 2004 and 2015, China added 400 aircraft, including fourth generation J-10, J-11, J-16, SU-27 and even stealth fifth generation fighters. Pakistan, she said, had doubled the number of its main fighter aircraft.
 
The minister said that between 2002 and 2015, India's squadron strength had gone down from 42 to 33, while that of the neighbour increased during most of the UPA government's period and India kept moving at a snail's pace. 
 
She said that even in 2014, a "deadlock situation was created" over the MMRCA deal. "You leave the government without anything bought. There was no sense of urgency."
 
Repeatedly terming the deal negotiated by the UPA government as a "non-deal", she said it was not concluded. "I want to ask you why there was no deal. Today you are asking what was sense of urgency?"
 
"I allege, challenge they did not intend buying. National security was a wish list, it did not matter. For every AA, there is RV, there is Q also. Abbreviations may be easy, it is a double-edged sword. RV is not damad of PM, he is damad of the country, Q is somebody in whose lap none of us grew, somebody else grew."
 
She accused Rahul Gandhi of shedding crocodile tears for Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, asking if he had visited HAL facility in his Amethi constituency. 
 
She said the contract to procure 126 aircraft could not be concluded as Dassault was not giving guarantee for the aircraft to be made by HAL and it required more time to produce them. 
 
She said there was no confirmation about Rs 526 crore, often cited by Rahul Gandhi, in official documents and asked "where they are getting it from". She said it existed as a quote in a 2007 document. 
 
The minister said Rs 670 crore was the basic price and even taking Rs 526 crore as base price, the deal done by NDA was 9 per cent cheaper than that by UPA government as the price under unfulfilled MMRCA deal would come to Rs 737 crore taking into account inflation and currency exchange fluctuation. 
 
IANS
 

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