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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
 

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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
 

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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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Congress ready for debate on Rafale, Centre rejects allegations

The Congress, which has been demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe on the Rafale fighter jet deal since the beginning of the Winter Session of Parliament, on Monday said that it was ready for a debate on Wednesday over the controversial deal.
Mallikarjun Kharge. (File Photo: IANS)
Mallikarjun Kharge. (File Photo: IANS)
The Congress, which has been demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe on the Rafale fighter jet deal since the beginning of the Winter Session of Parliament, on Monday said that it was ready for a debate on Wednesday over the controversial deal.
 
"Jaitley ji has thrown a challenge ... we accept it... we are ready for a debate on January 2. Please decide a time," Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said in the Lok Sabha just as it was about to adjourn for the day.
 
He was responding to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who said that the Congress should begin the discussion on the issue immediately.
 
The minister had alleged that the Congress was "running away" from a discussion and was spreading "lies" over the deal.
 
"If you have the courage, begin the debate immediately," Jaitley said soon after the House voted the Supplementary Demands for Grants amid din and slogan shouting by the Congress demanding a JPC probe on the Rafale deal.
 
During the debate, BJP's Nishikant Dubey too accused the Congress of making a hue and cry over the issue and charged that the Congress was running away from a discussion.
 
As Speaker Sumitra Mahahjan was about to adjourn the House for the day, Kharge reminded her about Jaitley's challenge and asked her to fix the time for a discussion on January 2.
 
"I am not saying no...why should I say no...In fact the House was prepared for a debate but something happened and you (Congress) started demanding JPC probe...you keep your challenges to yourself... don't challenge me. When the debate will take place, I will decide...you will decide," Mahajan remarked and then adjourned the House for the day. 
 
The government has been saying that it was ready for a discussion on the issue.
 
Earlier in the day, Home Minister Rajnath Singh rejected allegations of corruption in the Rafale deal while asserting that a lie repeated again and again will not become a truth.
 
"The Congress should understand that a lie spoken many a time cannot turn into truth. We have been ready for a discussion from the very first day. But why is the opposition party running away (from a discussion)," Singh said.
 
He was responding to Kharge's accusations on the issue during Zero Hour amid protests and slogan-shouting by opposition members including those of Congress, AIADMK and the TDP on different issues.
 
Raising the issue, Kharge reiterated his party's demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the deal alleging that it was one of the biggest "scams" of the country.
 
"We are demanding a JPC probe for three weeks. Allow it," he said, questioning the government for not disclosing the price of the aircraft.
 
He claimed that the Rafale fighter jets have been purchased at a price three times higher than the UPA government's deal.
 
"Why the government is not disclosing the prices even as the French President has said it can be disclosed," he said.
 
Not satisfied with the government's response, the Congress members continued with their protest.
 
IANS
 

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Calcutta HC gives conditional nod to BJP's rath yatra in Bengal

The Calcutta High Court on Thursday gave conditional permission to the Bharatiya Janata Party's Rath Yatra rallies, saying the organisers will be liable for any untoward incident or damage to public property.
Calcutta High Court (File photo: IANS)
Calcutta High Court (File photo: IANS)
The Calcutta High Court on Thursday gave conditional permission to the Bharatiya Janata Party's Rath Yatra rallies, saying the organisers will be liable for any untoward incident or damage to public property.
 
The state government had last week rejected BJP's plea to hold the 'Rath Yatra', touted as the 'save democracy rally', saying there was "grave apprehension of major breach of peace and communal violence during and in the aftermath" of the programme.
 
The BJP had moved a single bench of the Calcutta High Court on December 17 after the Bengal government's decision and proposed December 22, 24 and 26 as fresh dates for the three Rath Yatra rallies.
 
Acting on a fresh plea filed by the saffron party, Justice Tapobrata Chakraborty allowed the rallies to be taken out, but said the organisers have to inform the police superintendent of the district concerned 12 hours before taking out the yatra.
 
He said the organisers would be liable for any untoward incident or damage to public property during the rallies and directed the state police to deploy adequate force to ensure that there is no breach of law and order.
 
The court has also asked the organisers to make sure that rallies do not affect the vehicular traffic on the state highways and arterial roads.
 
Welcoming the verdict, the state BJP leadership termed it as a victory of democracy and said they would hold discussion with the party's senior leadership in Delhi before officially announcing the dates.
 
"We welcome the verdict. It is a victory of democracy and the democracy-loving people of the state. We will follow the court's directives to conduct the rallies. The court has not mentioned any dates in its verdict. As of now our dates are as announced earlier. But we will discuss the matter and take the final call," said state BJP leader Jay Prakash Majumder after the verdict.
 
"We ask the Trinamool Congress activists not to impede us from conveying our message to the common people. Let the people decide whether they would accept us or not. That is how a democracy should function. So Trinamool should not create any obstruction in our programmes," he added.
 
When asked if the party is ready to fight the state government which may move a division bench in the High Court to seek a stay on the current order, the BJP leader said, "They have the right to do so. But we have said before that no one would be able to stop BJP's 'save democracy' rallies. We have full faith in court and the constitution."
 
The BJP was originally scheduled to hold three Rath Yatra rallies from north Bengal's Cooch Behar, South 24 Parganas district's Gangasagar and Birbhum district's temple town of Tarapith, flagged off by party president Amit Shah on 7, 9 and 14 respectively. These rallies were meant to touch all 42 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state before converging at Kolkata in January.
 
IANS
 

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Sajjan gets life term in 1984 riots, HC calls it 'crime against humanity'

The Delhi High Court on Monday convicted Congress leader Sajjan Kumar in an anti-Sikh riot case of 1984 and sentenced him to imprisonment for the remainder of his natural life, holding that the violence was a "crime against humanity" engineered by politicians with assistance from police.
Sajjan Kumar (File photo: IANS)
Sajjan Kumar (File photo: IANS)
Thirty-four years after the gruesome killings, the Delhi High Court on Monday convicted Congress leader Sajjan Kumar in an anti-Sikh riot case of 1984 here and sentenced him to imprisonment for the remainder of his natural life, holding that the violence was a "crime against humanity" engineered by politicians with assistance from police.
 
Setting aside the acquittal of Sajjan Kumar and five others by a trial court, the court convicted them saying that the "criminals" had escaped prosecution and punishment for over two decades. 
 
"This court is of the view that the mass killings of Sikhs in Delhi and elsewhere in November 1984 were in fact 'crimes against humanity'. They will continue to shock the collective conscience of society for a long time to come," a bench of Justice S. Muralidhar and Justice Vinod Goel said. 
 
"The mass killings of Sikhs between 1st and 4th November, 1984 in Delhi and the rest of the country, engineered by political actors with the assistance of the law enforcement agencies, answer the description of 'crimes against humanity' that was acknowledged for the first time in a joint declaration by the governments of Britain, Russia and France on May 28, 1915 against the government of Turkey following the large-scale killing of Armenians by the Kurds and Turks with the assistance and connivance of the Ottoman administration," the court said. 
 
Recalling the summer of 1947, the court said that "during partition, this country witnessed horrific mass crimes where several lakhs of civilians, including Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus, were massacred". 
 
Thirty-seven years later, the country was again witness to another enormous human tragedy. Following the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, on October 31 1984 by two of her Sikh bodyguards, a communal frenzy was unleashed, the court observed. 
 
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For four days all over Delhi, 2,733 Sikhs were brutally murdered, their houses were destroyed. In the rest of the country too thousands of Sikhs were killed, the court noted. 
 
"A majority of the perpetrators of these horrific mass crimes enjoyed political patronage and were aided by an indifferent law enforcement agency. The criminals escaped prosecution and punishment for over two decades," the court said. 
 
The case against Sajjan Kumar and others was registered in 2005 on a recommendation by the Justice G.T. Nanavati Commission.
 
"While it is undeniable that it has taken over three decades to bring the accused in this case to justice, and that our criminal justice system stands severely tested in that process, it is essential in a democracy governed by the rule of law to be able to call out those responsible for such mass crimes. 
 
"It is important to assure those countless victims waiting patiently that despite the challenges, truth will prevail and justice will be done."
 
Sajjan Kumar and five others were tried in the case involving the killing of five Sikhs -- Kehar Singh, Gurpreet Singh, Raghuvender Singh, Narender Pal Singh and Kuldeep Singh, who were from the same family -- by a mob in Delhi Cantonment's Raj Nagar area. The trial court had acquitted him. 
 
IANS
 

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Kamal Nath to be new Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh

Congress leader Kamal Nath was on Thursday chosen as the leader of the state Congress legislature party, paving the way for his swearing-in as the new Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, after party President Rahul Gandhi decided on his name over the other aspirant Jyotiraditya Scindia.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi with Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia after their meeting during which a decision on the new Chief  Minister of Madhya Pradesh was taken, in New Delhi on December 13, 2018.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi with Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia after their meeting during which a decision on the new Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh was taken, in New Delhi on December 13, 2018.
Congress leader Kamal Nath was on Thursday chosen as the leader of the state Congress legislature party, paving the way for his swearing-in as the new Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh after party President Rahul Gandhi decided on his name over the other aspirant Jyotiraditya Scindia.
 
Heralding Congress rule in the state after 15 years, Kamal Nath, who flew in here from Delhi, was formally elected the leader of the legislature party at a late night meeting here.
 
"Rahul Gandhi has chosen Kamal Nath as the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister," party observer A.K. Antony said at the legislature party meeting.
 
Kamal Nath told the gathering that he would fulfil all the promises made in the party's manifesto.
 
"I assure every voter of Madhya Pradesh that we will fulfil our promises. The people have stood with the truth," he said. 
 
He thanked the party workers for effectively taking the message to people in the Assembly elections. 
 
Later, talking to reporters, Kamal Nath said he would meet the state Governor Anandiben Patel on Friday morning to decide on the day and time of his swearing-in.
 
"I shall strive to be true to the trust that the people of Madhya Pradesh have reposed in me," he said. 
 
Kamal Nath was accompanied at the meeting by Scindia. Both Kamal Nath and Scindia flew to Bhopal late in the evening after four-hour-long consultations with Gandhi. 
 
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An apparent reason for Congress President Rahul Gandhi choosing Kamal Nath over Scindia as Chief Minster is the nature of verdict in the state where the party is short of majority by two seats.
 
The Congress won 114 seats, two seats short of majority, in a tight contest, while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) finished a close second with 109 seats in the 230-member House. 
 
The party is dependent on the Independents to cross the half-way mark even as the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party have extended the support of their three MLAs. Kamal Nath is seen as someone who can deftly manage allies and supporting parties. 
 
The decision came two days after the election results were declared in Madhya Pradesh. 
 
Kamal Nath, a former Union Minister, was appointed Madhya Pradesh Congress chief only seven months back and immersed himself in preparations for the Assembly polls in the state where the BJP had been in power for 15 years. 
 
He is the senior-most member of the Lok Sabha, having won nine elections.
 
Although the Congress is also poised to form governments in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, no decision has yet been taken on the Chief Ministers in the two states. 
 
IANS

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Congress pips BJP in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, MP; TRS retains Telangana

Delivering a severe blow to the BJP in the Hindi heartland months ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress on Tuesday dislodged it from power in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan and was just two seats short of majority in Madhya Pradesh as counting of votes progressed in Assembly elections in five states.
Celebrations at the Congress headquarters in New Delhi as results of the Assembly elections in five states come in, on December 11, 2018. (Photo: IANS)
Celebrations at the Congress headquarters in New Delhi as results of the Assembly elections in five states come in, on December 11, 2018. (Photo: IANS)
Delivering a severe blow to the BJP in the Hindi heartland just months  ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress on Tuesday dislodged it from power in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan and was just two seats short of majority in Madhya Pradesh as counting of votes progressed in Assembly elections in five states held between November 12 and December 7.
 
In a bid to outsmart the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after its experience in Goa and Manipur, the Congress moved in late on Tuesday writing to Madhya Pradesh Governor Anandiben Patel seeking an appointment to stake claim to form the next government. State Congress Chief Kamal Nath wrote to Patel claiming the Congress has emerged as the single-largest party with "majority support".
 
In Telangana, the ruling Telangana Rashtriya Samithi's (TRS) gamble of early elections paid off with the party scoring a landslide 4win getting 88 seats out of 119 at stake, thrashing the Congress-led People's Front. 
 
The Congress also lost its last bastion in the Northeast -- Mizoram -- when it was defeated convincingly by the Mizo National Front (MNF) ending the party's decade-long hold over power in the state.
 
As the BJP suffered its worst defeat since coming to power at the Centre in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi -- the main campaigner for the party -- tweeted late in the night that he accepted the verdict with humility and would work with greater vigour for the people. 
 
The highlight of the day was the ding-dong battle between the ruling BJP and the Congress in Madhya Pradesh where leads alternated between the two sides, with Congress getting a slight edge by winning 87 seats and leading in 26 in the 230-member House. The Congress was ahead in 113 including those won and the BJP in 109 which included 83 wins.
 
The Congress had won 58 seats in the last election. A nearly 3 per cent swing in votes against BJP hit the party hard in the elections where agrarian unrest, unemployment and the ill effects of demonetisation dominated the campaign.
 
The Congress, which may be falling short of the magic figure of 116, could look to get backing from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which is leading in 2 seats, and the Samajwadi Party (SP), which has won one seat, besides Independents, most of whom are Congress rebels and have won three seats while leading in one. The SP said it will back the Congress, and the BSP may follow suit.
 
Facing a stiff anti-incumbency, the BJP under Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, which had won 165 seats in 2013, was pushed down to 109 seats with 82 wins and leading in 28 seats. The party has been in power for the last 15 years in the state. 
 
In the neighbouring Chhattisgarh, where also the BJP had been in power for three terms, the Congress took a sweet revenge by sweeping back to power with a three-fourths majority of 68 seats out of 90. The BJP won 15 seats. The alliance of former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi-led Janta Congress Chhattisgarh and Mayawati-led BSP fared poorly winning six and was leading in one seat. 
 
In the 2013 elections, the BJP had won 49 seats against the Congress' 39. The saffron party saw a huge negative swing of 8 per cent from 41 per cent it had secured in the last elections, while Congress' fortunes improved drastically when it got 3 per cent more votes at 42 per cent.
 
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Rajasthan proved true to the 20-year-old tradition of voting out the ruling party. The battle was won by the Congress which has bagged 99 seats, while the ruling BJP won 73 seats. The Congress, which is just short of the halfway mark of 100 of the 199 seats where election was held, saw its ally Rashtriya Lok Dal winning one seat. The BSP won six seats and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) won 2 seats. The two parties had fought against both Congress and BJP. 
 
In the final analysis, the BJP put up a better-than-expected fight as opinion polls had written off the party even before the contest had started.
 
The Bharatiya Tribal Party won two seats and the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party bagged 3. Independents, comprising mostly Congress and BJP rebels, had a field day when 12 of them won and another was leading.
 
The Congress, which had a disastrous performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and suffered successive defeats in various Assembly elections, smiled for the first time defeating the BJP in a direct contest in three crucial states in north India. 
 
Party president Rahul Gandhi, who campaigned vigorously, said the Assembly election results were a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's non-performance on issues of unemployment, agrarian distress, corruption and negating the ill effects of demonetisation. 
 
This was countered by Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who said issues in state elections are entirely different. The BJP won Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in 2003 but lost the Lok sabha elections the next year, he said. 
 
The general elections in 2019 would be fought around the performance of Modi where people will vote for the tried and tested leadership against a non-ideological opposition coalition, which is bound to collapse sooner than later, he added.
 
Riding a pro-incumbency wave, the TRS headed by Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao, scored a scintilating victory in Telangana making mincemeat of the Congress-led "Praja Kutami" that included the TDP, CPI and the Telangana Jana Samithi. The inclusion of the TDP apparently backfired as the TRS made a bogey of the presence of "outsider" from Andhra Pradesh in Telangana politics. 
 
In the 119-member Assembly, the TRS won 88 seats while the Congress managed to win only 19. TRS ally AIMIM led by Asaduddin Owaisi won seven of eight seats it contested. The TDP secured two seats, while the All India Forward Bloc bagged one. An Independent managed to win a seat, while TJS and CPI -- part of the Congress alliance -- drew a blank. 
 
In the Northeast, the Congress lost its last state Mizoram where the MNF decimated the ruling party winning 26 of the 40 seats at stake. The Congress won five, while Independents won in 8 seats. The BJP, which is in power in six of the northeastern states either directly or through allies, opened its account in the Christian-dominated Mizoram by winning a lone seat. 
 
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh resigned taking moral responsibility for the BJP's stunning defeat in Assembly election, while his Rajasthan counterpart Vasundhara Raje also conceded defeat.
 
Mizoram's Congress Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla also resigned after the humiliating defeat.
 
TRS chief K. Chandrashekhar Rao said he would play a crucial role in national politics.
 
IANS
 

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Stalin holds talks with Sonia, Rahul ahead of opposition meet

Ahead of the crucial meeting of opposition parties in their bid to forge an anti-BJP front, DMK President M. K. Stalin met UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Sunday and discussed a range of issues.
DMK President M K Stalin with UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi on December 9, 2018.
DMK President M K Stalin with UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi on December 9, 2018.
Ahead of the crucial meeting of opposition parties in their bid to forge an anti-BJP front, DMK President M. K. Stalin met UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Sunday and discussed a range of issues.
 
Informing about Stalin's visit on micro-blogging site Twitter, Rahul Gandhi said: "We had a warm and cordial meeting and discussed a range of issues. 
 
"I look forward to continuing our dialogue and to strengthening our alliance that has stood the test of time." 
 
Stalin met Sonia Gandhi on the day of her 72nd birthday along with former Union Minister D. Raja and Kanimozhi. 
 
The December 10 meeting in the national capital has been called by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) supremo N. Chandrababu Naidu, aimed at brainstorming over a possible front to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
 
A host of opposition leaders are expected to participate in the meet that was earlier scheduled for November 22 but was postponed because of the Assembly polls to the states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Mizoram and Rajasthan.
 
IANS
 

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Four held for Bulandshahr violence, police mum on killers' links

Four people have been arrested in connection with the killing of Inspector Subodh Kumar Singh and a young man in violence in Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh after cow vigilantes went on a rampage, police said on Tuesday.
Inspector Subodh Kumar Singh who was attacked and shot dead by a mob protesting against alleged cow slaughter in Uttar Pradesh's Bulandshahr on December 3, 2018. (File Photo: IANS)
Inspector Subodh Kumar Singh who was attacked and shot dead by a mob protesting against alleged cow slaughter in Uttar Pradesh's Bulandshahr on December 3, 2018. (File Photo: IANS)
Four people have been arrested in connection with the killing of Inspector Subodh Kumar Singh and a young man in violence in Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh after cow vigilantes went on a rampage, police said on Tuesday.
 
The police, however, maintained it would be too early to conclude about the involvement of any organisation in the violence although local officials linked the mayhem to right-wing Hindu groups.
 
The police said the main conspirator behind Monday's mob violence was Yogesh Raj, who is on the run and is said to be a Bajrang Dal activist. 
 
Additional Director General (Law and Order) Anand Kumar said those arrested were Chaman, Devendra, Ashish Chouhan and Satish, who have been named in the FIR, while the prime suspect was Yogesh Raj.
 
"Those arrested have been found to be leading the crowd after being identified in a video. About 40-50 others who are unidentified were involved in the incident and police is confident of identifying them with the video evidence," he said.
 
The official parried questions about the political links of the three key accused who are also said to include an activist each from the BJP and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
 
"Yes, Yogesh Raj is the main conspirator," he said, adding that he was yet to be arrested. 
 
He said six teams have been formed to probe the incident and an SIT has been constituted to investigate the matter.
 
On allegations that policemen fled the spot leaving the slain Inspector alone, Kumar said the circumstances in which police personnel left the place would be analysed and till then no action would be taken against anyone.
 
He said the Inspector was first injured by a stone.
 
"He fell unconscious and was taken in a vehicle which was attacked by a mob with stones and gunfire," he added. Videos which went viral showed the Inspector dead with a bullet wound near the vehicle and several activists running around in circles.
 
A .32 bore bullet was found lodged in the head of Subodh Kumar Singh.
 
Earlier reports said the Inspector was killed when he tried to reason with the Hindutva activists blocking a busy road with carcasses of animals they claimed were of cows.
 
About the death of the youth, Sumeet, only a probe can reveal whether he was killed in cross-firing or police firing, Kumar said.
 
A view of vehicles that were damaged after violence erupted on Monday in Uttar Pradesh's Bulandshahr in violence by a mob protesting against alleged cow slaughter, on December 3, 2018. (Photo: IANS)
A view of vehicles that were damaged after violence erupted on Monday in Uttar Pradesh's Bulandshahr in violence by a mob protesting against alleged cow slaughter, on December 3, 2018. (Photo: IANS)
He said a bullet had been recovered from the body of Sumit. 
 
The officer said the dead officer was being treated as a "martyr" and full state honour was given to him in Meerut in the presence of the police brass.
 
The body was taken to his village in Etah where he would be cremated with full honours.
 
In his village, his family broke down on seeing the mortal remains. His wife rued that he had sought leave but it was not granted. If he had been given leave, he would have been alive, she said.
 
His two teenage sons paid glowing tributes to their father, saying he never discriminated people on the basis of religion.
 
The officer's elder son Shreya is studying MBA while his younger son Abhishek is a student of engineering.
 
The uncle of the dead Inspector said the family won't accept the compensation of Rs 40 lakh announced by the government and instead wanted the presence of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in the village. 
 
The government has formed a special investigation team (SIT) to probe the violence, the circumstances leading to it and to identify the people and groups involved. 
 
Meanwhile, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati blamed the state government for the violence in Bulandshahr, saying the "lawlessness" in the state was a result of its "faulty and wrong policies".
 
In a statement, the four-time Chief Minister said that government was now faced with the same mobocracy it inculcated to make political gains over the past many years.
 
IANS
 

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Polling begins for Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram Assembly elections

Polling began amidst tight security on Wednesday morning to choose new legislative assemblies in Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram -- two of five states where crucial elections are being held just months ahead of the all-important 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
 
MP Assembly Elections: 5 cr voters to decide fate of state as polling begins
Polling began amidst tight security this morning to choose new legislative assemblies in Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram -- two of five states where crucial elections are being held just months ahead of the all-important 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
 
In Madhya Pradesh, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is seeking a fourth consecutive term in office and the Congress is making a strong bid to return to power after a gap of 15 years.
 
In Mizoram, the Congress is looking for a third successive term in the face of a stiff challenge from the Mizo National Front.
 
Polling began at 7 a.m in three constituencies of Maoist-affected Balaghat district in Madhya Pradesh amid tight security, while in the remaining 227 of the 230 Assembly seats polling began at 8 a.m.
 
The polling will end in the three constituencies -- Baihar, Lanji and Paraswada -- at 3 p.m, while it will continue till 5 p.m in all the other constituencies.
 
In Madhya Pradesh, though the contest is mainly between the BJP and the Congress, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) are also in the fray. 
 
Among the 2,907 candidates in Madhya Pradesh, the BJP has fielded candidates in all 230 seats, while the Congress is contesting in 229 seats leaving one seat, Jatara in Tikamgarh district, for the Sharad Yadav-led Loktantrik Janata Dal (LJD).
 
The BSP has fielded 227 candidates and the SP is contesting in 51 seats. There are 1,102 independent candidates.
 
In the last polls, of the 230 seats, the BJP won 165, Congress 58, BSP four and Independents three. 
 
Over five crore registered voters in Madhya Pradesh -- 2,63,01,300 men, 2,41,30,390 women and 1,389 of the third gender -- are eligible to vote in today's polls.
 
In Mizoram, polling began at 7 a.m. for all 40 seats in the Assembly and will end at 4 p.m.
 
According to senior police officials, around 11,100 security personnel comprising central paramilitary and state security forces have been deployed across the state to ensure smooth polling and prevent any untoward incident.
 
In all 768,181 voters, including 393,685 women, would decide the electoral fate of the 209 candidates in the state, of whom 15 are women. In 2013, only six women had contested and none were successful. 
 
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Besides the two national parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), many regional and local parties have fielded candidates in most of the 40 assembly constituencies. They include the main opposition Mizo National Front (MNF), People's Representation for Identity and Status of Mizoram (PRISM), Zoram People's Movement (ZPM) and Meghalaya-based National People's Party (NPP). 
 
However, the main contest is likely to be between the ruling Congress and the MNF. Both the parties have fielded 40 candidates each. 
 
The BJP, which is trying to make inroads in the state, has fielded candidates in 39 constituencies. 
 
Except for 10 years -- 1998-2003 and 2003-2008 -- the Congress has been in power in Mizoram since it became a full-fledged state in 1987. 
 
Counting of votes in Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram will be taken up on December 11 along with Chhattisgarh, where polling was held on  November 12 and 20, and Rajasthan and Telangana, where voting will be held on December 7.
 
The term of the Assembly in Chhattisgarh is due to expire on January 5, 2019; Madhya Pradesh on January 7, 2019; Rajasthan on January 20, 2019 and Mizoram on December 15, 2018.
 
In Telangana, the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) decided to go in for early polls and, accordingly, the Governor of the State had dissolved the Assembly with immediate effect on September 6, 2018, nearly nine months before its term was to end.
 
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Kartarpur corridor: Foundation stone replaced amid row over credit

A massive political slug-fest was played out on Monday in full public view, shoving protocol to the side in the presence of Vice-President M. Venkaiah Naidu, as political leaders from opposing sides in Punjab bared it at what was meant to be solemn celebration related to the Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara corridor project.
 
Naidu lays foundation stone for Dera Baba Nanak-Kartarpur Sahib corridor
A massive political slug-fest was played out on Monday in full public view, shoving protocol to the side in the presence of Vice-President M. Venkaiah Naidu, as political leaders from opposing sides in Punjab bared it at what was meant to be solemn celebration related to the Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara corridor project.
 
Naidu and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Monday laid the digital foundation stone of a road project that will link the Kartarpur corridor (in Pakistan) by pressing a button.
 
The actual foundation stone was removed by the authorities just three hours before the event after Punjab cabinet Minister and local legislator Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa objected to the names of former Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, Shiromani Akali Dal President Sukhbir Singh Badal and Union Minister Harsimrat Badal on the foundation stone.
 
A clearly upset Randhawa announced that he would 'boycott' the foundation stone ceremony and even put black tape on the stone where the names of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, Punjab PWD Minister Vijay Singla and his own (Randhawa) were put on the foundation stone along with the names of the Badals.
 
Officials of the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI), sensing that the situation could get unpleasant in the presence of dignitaries, removed the foundation stone and replaced it with the digital one.
 
The foundation on the screen carried the names of Vice President Naidu, Punjab Governor V. P. Singh Badnore, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari.
 
Though the ceremony was to celebrate the approval of the governments of India and Pakistan to allow the Kartarpur corridor to enable people to pray at the gurdwara in Pakistan, leaders of the Akali Dal and its ally BJP on one side and Punjab's ruling Congress on the other not only indulged in running each other down and claiming credit for getting the project cleared but even raised slogans against each other in the presence of the Vice President.
 
Harsimrat Badal, in her address at the function, took a dig at the Congress leaders over the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. There was immediate sloganeering against her by Congress leaders and activists.
 
When Gurdaspur MP and Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar was giving his vote of thanks, he hit back at the Akali Dal leadership by making Punjab a drugs hub. This led to protests and sloganeering by Akali Dal leaders, including Harsimrat's brother and former Minister Bikram Singh Majithia.
 
Earlier, Randhawa was seen speaking and gesturing angrily to officers while they made arrangements for the high-profile function.
 
The Minister, the Congress legislator from Dera Baba Nanak, was visibly disturbed and shouted at officers. He later told a TV channel: "I will not boycott the function but I will boycott the foundation stone itself. I cannot see my name and those of my ministerial colleagues along with the Badals."
 
"The Badals have no contribution in getting the Kartarpur corridor project cleared. They ruled Punjab from 1997 to 2002 and again for 10 years (2007-17). Did they come here to offer prayers while in power? They are only trying to take credit (for the Kartarpur corridor) just because they (Akali Dal) have an alliance with the BJP," the Minister said.
 
Randhawa blamed the NHAI officers for the foundation stone controversy. He said that he had serious objections to the foundation stone carrying the names of the Badals. 
 
"The sanctity of the function should have been kept. The foundation stone should have carried only the names of the Vice-President and Chief Minister Amarinder Singh," Randhawa said.
 
The Minister was also upset that the Congress leadership in Punjab, including him (as the local minister and legislator), Gurdaspur MP Sunil Jakhar (the Punjab Congress President) and cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu were being deliberately ignored for the function while all attention was being given to the Badal family.
 
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Randhawa's outburst came even as the SAD-BJP and Congress leaders in Punjab were in the midst of a major controversy in claiming credit for getting the Kartarpur corridor project cleared by the governments of India and Pakistan.
 
The NDA government at the Centre, of which the SAD is a part, approved the project in Punjab linked to the Kartarpur corridor on November 22. The date of the foundation stone was hurriedly decided for November 26 to ensure that it was done before Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan laid the foundation stone of the actual Kartarpur corridor in Pakistan on November 28 (Wednesday).
 
The Congress government in Punjab was going to hold its own function here this week but Chief Minister Amarinder Singh decided to be part of the central government function itself.
 
The SAD-BJP combine leadership has also been trying hard to take the credit away from state cabinet Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu who in August went to Pakistan for the swearing-in of his cricketing friend Imran Khan and was the first to announce that Pakistan was keen to open the Kartarpur corridor for devotees from India.
 
The Akali Dal leadership, including Harsimrat Badal, branded Sidhu as a 'traitor' for hugging Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa at the swearing-in function. They questioned his statements regarding Pakistan's move on the Kartarpur corridor.
 
Harsimrat Badal is now herself headed to Pakistan as the central government's representative for the foundation stone ceremony of the Kartarpur corridor on Wednesday. Sidhu is also going for the same event.
 
It was at the Kartarpur gurdwara, which is located around two to three kilometre from the India-Pakistan border and is situated right opposite the border belt in Dera Baba Nanak in Indian Punjab's Gurdaspur district, that Sikhism founder, Guru Nanak Dev (1469-1539), spent 18 years of his life till he died in 1539.
 
The gurdwara, which fell in Pakistan territory following the partition of India in 1947, has major significance in Sikh religion and history.
 
For the past 71 years, ever since partition, Sikhs have been offering prayers near the international border.
 
IANS
 

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C. P. Joshi apologises for remark, BJP demands his expulsion

Rebuked by his own party and facing backlash from the BJP, former Union Minister and Congress veteran C. P. Joshi on Friday apologised for his remarks that "only Brahmins can speak about Hindu religion, not Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Minister Uma Bharti".
C. P. Joshi (File photo)
C. P. Joshi (File photo)
Rebuked by his own party and facing backlash from the BJP, former Union Minister and Congress veteran C. P. Joshi on Friday apologised for his remarks that "only Brahmins can speak about Hindu religion, not Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Minister Uma Bharti".
 
In a video gone viral, Joshi is seen saying: "It is strange that Uma Bharti, who is of the Lodhi community is talking about Hindu religion, Narendra Modi is of some other religion and he talks about Hindu religion.
 
"In this country, if anyone knows about religion, it is the pandits and the Brahmins." The video has been shared by several Bharatiya Janata Party leaders and Ministers on social media, condemning Joshi and the Congress. 
 
Strongly disapproving the comments, Congress President Rahul Gandhi said Joshi's remarks were against the ideology of the party and he should apologise for them.
 
"Respecting the principles of the party and sentiments of its workers, Joshi would definitely realise his mistake. He should express remorse for his statement," said Gandhi and warned party leaders to refrain from making any statements which may hurt sentiments of any section of the society.
 
Soon after Gandhi's rebuke, Joshi issued an apology. 
 
"Respecting the ideals of the Congress and the sentiments of the party workers, I express remorse for my statement if it caused any hurt to the sentiments of any section of the society," he said in a brief statement.
 
Taking strong offence to the remarks, the BJP accused the Congress of indulging in casteist and divisional politics and demanded Joshi's expulsion from the party. 
 
"Joshi's remarks reflect the Congress' casteist and communal politics. Joshi has mentioned Uma Bharti's caste, he has mentioned Modi's caste, don't people from the Lodh community deserve respect. The Congress' strategy of dividing people will not yield any results," said BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra. 
 
Describing Gandhi's admonition of Joshi as "merely a drama", Patra dared the Congress chief to expel him. 
 
"If Gandhi is really hurt by the comments as he says, then he should immediately expel Joshi from the Congress," added Patra. 
 
Sharing Joshi's video on Twitter, Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan accused the Congress of pursuing the politics of "divide and rule". 
 
"The Congress which claims to have fought against the British is following their footsteps and pursuing the politics of divide and rule," said the Petroleum Minister. 
 
IANS
 

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SC takes exception to 'leak' of Verma's response, adjourns CBI hearing to Nov 29

Taking exception to a leak of CBI Director Alok Verma's response to the CVC's report submitted in a sealed cover before it a day ago, the Supreme Court on Tuesday adjourned hearing of the case till November 29.
Taking exception to a leak of CBI Director Alok Verma's response to the CVC's report submitted in a sealed cover before it a day ago, the Supreme Court on Tuesday adjourned hearing of the case till November 29.
 
A visibly unhappy Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi, in a brief order, said "for reasons not to be recorded, we are not inclined to hear the matter today (Tuesday)" after a news portal carried extracts of Verma's response.
 
Gogoi also said one of the two judges on the bench -- Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice K. M. Joseph -- "will be away from tonight".
 
Venting its anguish over the manner in which applications mentioned before the court on Monday reached the media, CJI Gogoi said: "This court is not a platform. This is a place where adjudication of rights takes place. We intend to set it right." 
 
The CJI also referred to the mentioning of the application by CBI DIG Manish Kumar Sinha who was supervising the probe into allegations of corruption against Special Director Rakesh Asthana. 
 
DIG Sinha, while questioning his dramatic transfer to Nagpur on the night of October 23, has pointed a finger at National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval for allegedly interfering in the investigation against Asthana. 
 
At the outset, the Chief Justice, disallowing the customary mentioning, asked senior counsel Fali Nariman to look at a report which was given to him.
 
"It is only for you (Nariman) to read yourself, it is not for the counsel for Alok Verma" (Nariman is appearing for Verma)," Gogoi told the senior counsel.
 
Addressing him as the "most respected senior member of the institution", Gogoi added: "If you wish to respond to this, we will adjourn the hearing from an hour or so." 
 
However, Nariman expressing his ignorance over the publication, said: "I was also disturbed on seeing it. I will request the court to summon the person who carried this report."
 
He also added while the "media is free, but at the same time it has to be responsible. It has to be both. It is my reading of the media. Responsible means responsible and not responsible to someone".
 
Referring to the media reports that a mentioning was made on Monday seeking more time to file Verma's response to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC)'s report, Nariman clarified that the lawyer who made the request was totally unauthorised and he (Nariman) was not even informed about it.
 
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"It was not informed to me. I was not aware. Nobody asked him to make mentioning. We worked whole night to prepare (Verma's) response. It was totally unauthorised."
 
"I was as disturbed," Nariman said when he saw newspaper reports in the morning.
 
Later in the day, Nariman told the court the report that appeared in the news portal was of November 17, whereas we filed the response on November 19.
 
Refusing to moderate its position on papers meant for the court reaching the media even before it could be dealt with by them, CJI Gogoi said: "We expect high a degree of confidentiality." 
 
The court was apparently perturbed over the "integrity" of the investigating agency getting "compromised" due to wide media coverage of the DIG Sinha's application naming high and mighty in the matter relating to Special Direrctor Rakesh Asthana. 
 
Even as advocate Gopal Shankaranarayanan, who had sought accommodation of a few hours in filing the reply of Alok Verma to "not so complimentary" findings of the CVC, tried to explain the position, Nariman said that he had approached the court a day before without any authorisation. 
 
The CJI was so irked with the situation that had emerged by the alleged "leak" of Verma's response to court and the contents of DIG Sinha finding space in media columns that he refused to hear any one including Solicitor General till the issue before the court is sorted out.
 
IANS
 

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Three killed, 15 injured in grenade attack near Amritsar

Three people were killed and at least 15 others injured when two motorcycle-borne masked youths threw a grenade at a religious congregation in Rajasansi area in Punjab's Amritsar district on Sunday, police said.
 
3 killed, 20 injured in grenade blast in Amritsar
Three people were killed and at least 15 others injured when two motorcycle-borne masked youths threw a grenade at a religious congregation in Rajasansi area in Punjab's Amritsar district on Sunday, police said.
 
The grenade attack took place on the Nirankari Satsang Bhawan of the Nirankari sect in Adliwala village, about 15 km from Amritsar. The sect campus is located in Amritsar's rural belt.
 
The injured were rushed to hospitals in Amritsar. A few of them were in serious condition, police said. All victims were sect followers from nearby villages who had gathered for the Sunday weekly religious meeting.
 
Witnesses told the police that two youths on a motorcycle, their faces covered, forced entry to the sect campus by pointing a pistol at a woman volunteer at the gate.
 
"Everything happened within a couple of minutes. They got in, threw the grenade and fled," one man told the police.
 
The attack came amid a high alert issued on November 14 by the Punjab Police regarding the movement of 6-7 terrorists in the state. 
 
Punjab Police Inspector General (Border Range) S.P.S. Parmar confirmed to the media that three people were killed in the grenade attack.
 
Asked if it was a terror attack, Parmar said that all angles were being investigated.
 
"The people had gathered for prayers. There were around 200 people. Preliminary reports suggest that the two persons threw one grenade. Three people have been killed and 15 to 20 are injured. No firing took place," Parmar said.
 
"We are investigating the incident from all angles," Parmar said.
 
Senior police officers rushed to the village following the grenade attack.
 
Congress legislator Raj Kumar Verka told the media that no compromise would be made by the Congress government in Punjab on terrorism.
 
"We will deal with it strictly," Verka said, admitting that the incident showed intelligence failure on the part of the Punjab Police.
 
The Punjab Police, along with the Jammu and Kashmir Police, had recently busted two modules of Kashmiri students who were studying in institutions in Punjab and having links to terrorist outfits in troubled Kashmir.
 
Posters of Kashmiri terrorist Zakir Mussa had mysteriously appeared in Punjab's Gurdaspur district on Friday saying that he had been seen in Punjab.
 
The Nirankari sect has millions of followers across the country and abroad. The sect has its headquarters in Delhi.
 
IANS
 

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Death toll in Tamil Nadu due to cyclone Gaja rises to 33

The death toll due to cyclone Gaja, which hit Tamil Nadu's coastal districts on Friday, has increased to 33, Chief Minister K. Palaniswami said on Saturday.
 
Coast Guard conducts aerial survey of Cyclone Gaja affected areas
The death toll due to cyclone Gaja, which hit Tamil Nadu's coastal districts on Friday, has increased to 33, Chief Minister K. Palaniswami said on Saturday.
 
Speaking to reporters at Salem, about 350 kilometres from here, Palaniswami said that 20 men, 11 women, and 2 children died due to the cyclone that crossed the Tamil Nadu coast between Nagapattinam and Vedaranyam districts between 12.30 a.m. and 2.30 a.m. on Friday.
 
The cyclone left a trail of destruction in Nagapattinam, Thanjavur, Thiruvarur, Cuddalore, Pudukkottai and Ramanathapuram districts, damaging houses, huts and crops.
 
Palaniswami said about 70 livestock and several goats, poultry and deer have also died due to the cyclone.
 
Some 127,000 trees were uprooted by the strong cyclonic winds that touched a maximum speed of about 120 kmph, the Chief Minister added.
 
He said supplies of water, milk and food were being distributed to the people affected by the calamity.
 
About 177,500 people are staying in 351 relief camps in the cyclone-affected areas.
 
The Chief Minister said about 30,000 electricity poles were broken, and 105 power sub-stations affected. About 10,000 personnel have been sent to the cyclone-affected coastal districts to repair the installations.
 
Meanwhile, actor Rajinikanth appreciated the members of his Rajini Makkal Mandram for their work in providing relief to the cyclone-affected people.
 
IANS
 

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Cyclone Gaja claims 13 lives, leaves trail of destruction in TN

Severe cyclonic storm Gaja battered the Tamil Nadu coast on Friday, leaving at least 13 people and several livestock dead and a trail of destruction in several districts.
 
Cyclone Gaja wreaks havoc in TN’s Nagapattinam
Severe cyclonic storm Gaja battered the Tamil Nadu coast on Friday, leaving at least 13 people and several livestock dead and a trail of destruction in several districts.
 
Authorities said the cyclone crossed the coast between Nagapattinam and Vedaranyam districts between 12.30 a.m. and 2.30 a.m. with wind speeds of about 110-120 kmph.
 
So powerful were the gales that the roof-sheets of the Nagapattinam railway station were damaged. Thatched and tiled roofs of several houses were also damaged in the strong cyclonic winds.
 
A ship was grounded in Karaikal Port in Puducherry.
 
Traffic on the highways was affected owing to fallen trees while communication links in Vedaranyam were also affected.
 
Traffic out of hill station Kodaikanal was affected due to fallen trees.
 
In some places like Pudukottai walls of houses collapsed due to rains.
 
Apart from fallen 12,000 electricity poles in seven districts, 102 power sub-stations in districts like Nagapattinam, Thanjavur and Thiruvarur were affected.
 
According to the state power utility, about 500 km of power supply lines were affected by Gaja. Officials said it would take at least two days to restore power supply in full in districts like Nagapattinam and Thiruvarur.
 
Chief Minister K. Palaniswami said in Salem, some 350 km from the state capital, that 13 persons had lost their lives in the cyclone.
 
He said a sum of Rs 10 lakh would be paid to each family of the dead. For those severely injured, a sum of Rs 100,000 would be paid and those who suffered minor injuries would get Rs 25,000.
 
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About 82,000 people living in low-lying areas have been sent to 471 relief centres, the Chief Minister said, adding the preventive measures helped keep the death toll low.
 
Relief centres were set up in Cuddalore, Nagapattinam, Ramanathapuram, Thanjavur, Pudukottai and Thiruvarur on Thursday itself.
 
According to officials, 28 livestocks were killed in cyclone.
 
Owing to strong winds, an Indigo Airlines Chennai-Trichy flight was not able to land in Trichy and was sent back.
 
R. B. Udhyakumar, Minister for Revenue and Disaster Management, said all the trees felled by the cyclone were being removed.
 
Piles of felled trees blocked traffic in parts of Nagapattinam and Vedaranyum.
 
Several universities in Tamil Nadu have postponed their examinations slated for Friday. Schools remained closed on Friday in Nagapattinam, Cuddalore, Thanjavur, Pudukottai, Thiruvarur and several other districts in Tamil Nadu and in Puducherry, including Karaikal.
 
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has forecast scattered heavy to very heavy rain over Tiruchirapalli, Namakkal, Dindigul, Madurai, Theni, Karur, Coimbatore, Tiruppur, Nilgiris and Virudhunagar districts of Tamil Nadu.
 
According to Chief Minister Palaniswami, the Fisheries Department will estimate the damage to the fishing boats before paying compensation to the fishermen.
 
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh spoke to Chief Minister Palaniswami and enquired about the cyclone damage.
 
IANS
 

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Sabarimala becomes a police fortress

With the Lord Ayyappa shrine opening for a day on Monday, Sabarimala town has been virtually taken over by some 2,300 Kerala Police personnel after protests marred the last pilgrimage season.
 
Security tightened ahead of reopening of Sabarimala Temple
With the Lord Ayyappa shrine opening for a day on Monday, this temple town has been virtually taken over by some 2,300 Kerala Police personnel after protests marred the last pilgrimage season.
 
The pilgrims will be allowed to go up the pathway only on Monday afternoon, an official said.
 
The temple opens its door at 5 p.m. and closes on Tuesday at 10 p.m.
 
Pathanamthitta District Collector P. B. Nooh has declared prohibitory orders in and around the temple town banning the gathering of four or more persons to foil street protests.
 
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and numerous Hindu groups are up in arms against the September 28 verdict of the Supreme Court that allowed women of all age groups to enter the temple.
 
The Kerala government has said it will implement the ruling, pitting it against the protesters.
 
All the roads leading from Nilackal to the base camp of the temple town Pamba are barricaded and have been declared out of bounds till Monday morning by the police.
 
The police are checking each and every vehicle that passes in and around the temple town. On Sunday, after protests, the police allowed the media to travel till Nilackal.
 
Kerala BJP spokesperson M. T. Ramesh warned the police against examining the holy kit (Irrumudi Kettu) that is carried on the head by the pilgrims.
 
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Former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said that there appeared to be some shady goings on as the media had never before been banned into the temple town.
 
"If the media is kept away, then the authorities want to hide something," he said.
 
State Congress President Mulapally Ramachandran said: "Parties like CPI, academics, intelligentsia and socio-cultural icons should prevail upon (Chief Minister Pinarayi) Vijayan to see that he handles this very sensitive issue in a more mature way." 
 
The Sabarimala Karma Samithi has written to media groups not to depute lady journalists to cover Monday's events at the temple that are generally out of bounds for women in the age group 10 to 50.
 
The Samithi is angry that when the temple opened for the monthly prayers last month, attempts by two women journalists to do their job from the temple top were thwarted by protesters. 
 
The representatives of the Pandalam Royal family, the custodian of the jewellery of the Sabarimala temple, said the temple was passing through "tough times" as the temple town had been taken over by the police. 
 
"We will hold a special prayer and singing of hymns when the temple opens," said Sreekumar Varma.
 
Pathanamthitta district Superintendent of Police T. Narayanan said on Sunday that, as of now, there had been no request from women to enter the shrine.
 
As of Sunday , the police have registered 545 cases and arrested 3,731 persons who protested last month when the temple opened for six days. 
 
Only around 100 are still in jail, while the rest have secured bail.
 
IANS
 

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Modi won't survive if Rafale probed, says Rahul; Reliance rebuts charges

Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Friday alleged that French defence major Dassault Aviation had paid "kickback" to Reliance to secure the Rafale deal, and claimed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would not survive if the "huge corruption" in the purchase was probed.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi addressing a press conference in New Delhi, on November 2, 2018.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi addressing a press conference in New Delhi, on November 2, 2018.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Friday alleged that French defence major Dassault Aviation had paid "kickback" to Reliance to secure the Rafale deal, and claimed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would not survive if the "huge corruption" in the purchase was probed.
 
Reliance has, however, rubbished the allegations as "blatant lies".
 
Rejecting Gandhi's allegations, Reliance accused the Congress of resorting to "blatant lies" and "distorted facts" to mount an "unwarranted campaign of calumny and falsehoods" against the Group and its Chairman Anil Ambani. 
 
"If an inquiry starts on this (Rafale deal), Modi is not going to survive it, guaranteed," Gandhi said here alleging the deal to procure 36 Rafale jets was "done by Modi to give Ambani Rs 30,000 crore".
 
Gandhi cited two reasons for his claims: "One, because of corruption. Two, because it is very clear who the decision maker was. 
 
"Nobody would be able to say that some General in the Air Force or the Defence Minister or some bureaucrat from the Defence Ministry (was the decision maker)."
 
Gandhi said that if there was nothing to hide, Modi would have ordered an inquiry into the decision to purchase the fighter jets from France.
 
"But Modi is silent. He has lost his sleep because of tension as he knows he will be caught."
 
Claiming Dassault Aviation "invested Rs 284 crore" in a "loss making" Indian company, Gandhi said it was the "first installment of kickback" that was paid by the French defence major to secure the deal.
 
He said that Dassault CEO Eric Trappier's claim that his company chose Reliance as its offsets partner because it had land available next to an airport, had been belied as it had been revealed that the land was bought by the money that was "invested by Dassault".
 
Gandhi alleged Trappier was "lying" to save Modi who in April 2015 had announced the inter-governmental deal to buy the jets in "complete violation" of defence procurement policies.
 
He also alleged that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Director Alok Kumar Verma was "removed" because he was looking into the documents pertaining to the deal that could "nail" Modi.
 
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"It is obvious that there is enough material in public domain to nail Modi," he said alleging that Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman's recent visit to France was a part of a cover-up which the Modi government was indulging in to prevent the truth from coming out.
 
Gandhi also said that Modi was "terrified" and would never agree for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the deal. 
 
Strongly denying Gandhi's allegations, Reliance Infrastructure said it was "deeply unfortunate" that the group and its chairman were continuously being dragged into a political battle ahead of the state and general elections.
 
It said that Dassault's investment in Reliance Airport Developers Ltd (RADL) had no link with the Rafale contract.
 
"Congress attacks on Anil Ambani in his individual capacity are shameful and deplorable," the company said in a statement, adding that Anil Ambani had not entered into any transactions personally with Dassault nor had he derived any personal benefit from any transactions.
 
It said that RADL transaction was completed in full compliance with applicable FDI and all other regulations and that the information was in public domain since December 2017, nearly a year ago. 
 
"It is clear that the Congress' consistent allegation that Anil Ambani has received contracts worth Rs 30,000 crore is a blatant attempt to mislead the public for their own political gains and is a concoction of lies," it said rejecting Congress' allegation that "land at Mihan, Nagpur was bought from funds provided by Dassault". 
 
"Any suggestion of any payment to Anil Ambani is absolutely false and mischievous," it said, adding that payment for the land at Mihan was made from 2015 to 2017, much before the investment by Dassault in RADL. 
 
The company said the Indian and French governments, Dassault and Reliance have clarified on multiple occasions that there was no offset contract for Rs 30,000 crore to Reliance, related to purchase of 36 aircraft.
 
IANS

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

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58 dead, 72 injured as train mows down Dussehra revellers in Amritsar

As many as 58 people were killed and 72 others injured after a speeding train mowed down a large group of people who had strayed on to the railway tracks at Joda Phatak, a level crossing, during Dussehra celebrations here this evening, sources said.
A view of a train crashing through a crowd of people who had strayed on to the railway tracks during Dussehra celebrations at Joda Phatak in Amritsar, Punjab on October 19, 2018. Photo taken from a video posted on Twitter by an eyewitness.
A view of a train crashing through a crowd of people who had strayed on to the railway tracks during Dussehra celebrations at Joda Phatak in Amritsar, Punjab on October 19, 2018. Photo taken from a video posted on Twitter by an eyewitness.
As many as 58 people were killed and 72 others injured after a speeding train mowed down a large group of people who had strayed on to the railway tracks at Joda Phatak, a level crossing, during Dussehra celebrations here this evening, official sources said.
 
There were conflicting reports about what exactly happened but it appeared that, as the effigy of Ravana was set ablaze and fire crackers flew all around in the dark, several people from the crowd unwittingly moved on to the railway tracks, close to the venue of the celebrations, to avoid being singed by the fire crackers.
 
The loud noise and the blinding lights appeared to have prevented the people from noticing that a train was speeding towards them. Before the people, engrossed by the spectacle before them, realised what had happened, the Jalandhar-Amritsar train went by in a flash, running over several of them.
 
Amritsar Police Commissioner S. S. Srivastava told reporters that 58 people had died and 72 had suffered injuries in the incident.
 
The injured, many of them in a critical condition, were rushed to the Civil Hospital, the Medical College Hospital and other hospitals in the city.
 
Hundreds of people gathered at the scene. While many of them were grieving for their near and dear ones, others were angry with the authorities for failing to ensure the safety of people participating in the celebrations. Similar crowds also gathered outside the hospitals.
 
Senior officials from the district administration, the police and the Northern Railway had reached the spot and were supervising the rescue and relief efforts.
 
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said on micro-blogging site Twitter that he was rushing to Amritsar to personally oversee the relief effort. He was due to leave on a visit to Israel later tonight but the trip has now been called off.
 
Capt. Amarinder Singh also announced that the Punjab government would give Rs. 5 lakh to the next-of-kin of those who were killed in the incident and free treatment for the injured.
 
"Rushing to Amritsar to personally supervise relief & rescue in tragic rail accident on Dussehra in Amritsar. My govt will give Rs 5 lakh to kin of each deceased & free treatment to injured in govt & pvt hospitals. District authorities have been mobilised on war footing," he said.
 
"We will do everything possible to assist the injured. Have directed the district administration to leave no stone unturned to ensure the best possible treatment for them," he said, adding that a Crisis Management Group had been set up to monitor the relief and rehabilitation efforts.
 
"The state will remain in mourning tomorrow in view of #Amritsar train mishap. All offices & educational institutions will remain closed," he added.
 
Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled the loss of lives in the accident.
 
"Extremely saddened by the train accident in Amritsar. The tragedy is heart-wrenching. My deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their loved ones and I pray that the injured recover quickly. Have asked officials to provide immediate assistance that is required," he said.
 
Congress President Rahul Gandhi said, "The train accident in Punjab in which over 50 people have died is shocking. I urge the state government & Congress workers to provide immediate relief at the accident site. My condolences to the families of those who have died. I pray that the injured make a speedy recovery."
 
Railways Minister Piyush Goyal, who was on an official visit to the United States, is flying back to India after cancelling his remaining engagements.
 
IANS adds:
 
A large number of some 700 people were watching the huge Ravan effigy in flames amid exploding crackers while on the tracks at Joda Phatak near Dhobi Ghat within the city when the Jalandhar-Amritsar DMU passenger train coming to Amritsar from Hoshiarpur came hurtling down around 7 p.m.
 
It took just about 10-15 seconds for the train to pass -- and leave behind a heap of crushed and dismembered bodies.
 
Amritsar Police Commissioner S.S. Srivastava told reporters that 58 people have died and 72 have been rushed to hospitals in the city. The toll could go up, Srivastava said. 
 
Video clips posted on social media showed some people who had apparently seen the approaching train trying to run away from the site. A few of them were also mowed down.
 
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Wails and cries filled the air as people frantically looked for their near and dear ones. Severed bodies, including those of children, were lying at the accident site hours after the incident with angry people not allowing authorities to remove them.
 
"I have lost my child. I want him back," an inconsolable mother was wailing at the disaster spot.
 
Most people reportedly could not hear the hooting of the train due to the exploding crackers.
 
"Out of nowhere came the train," said a man, while speaking to journalists. "Before anyone could realise what was happening, it ran over scores of people."
 
"When the effigy started to burn in full flow, people began running away from it fearing it may fall over them," said another man. "They did not realise that a speeding train was coming and the train did not sound its hooter."
 
Another man felt that the tragedy would have claimed at least 100 lives. The dead included several children, another witness said.
 
Ironically, moments before the tragedy, another train passed the area but there were no casualties, a railway official said.
 
A local resident, Nirmal Jit Sindhu, alleged that the Dussehra celebrations were organised by forcing the local administration to grant permission near the railway tracks.
 
He said last year the administration had not granted permission for the use of this venue for Dussehra celebrations owing to its proximity to the tracks.
 
Some people blamed Local Bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu's wife Navjot Kaur, who was the Chief Guest at the celebrations, saying her late arrival delayed the burning of the effigy by more than half an hour.
 
Sidhu told a news channel on telephone from Bengaluru that the death toll was alarmingly high.
 
BJP leader and former local bodies minister Anil Joshi blamed Sidhu's wife Navjot Kaur for running away from the Dussehra celebrations site soon after the train accident.
 
"The Dussehra celebrations were organised without the local administration permission. She (Navjot Kaur) disappeared midway during the ceremony when she was apprised about the disaster," Joshi told reporters.
 
"The driver didn't slow down the train and was watching towards the burning Ravana," said one of the witnesseses.
 
Another woman was inconsolable as she said her son was missing.
 
"The administration and the Dussehra committee are at fault as they should have informed the railways authorities about the celebrations", said another eyewitness.
 
Eyewitnesses said there were no barricading near the railway tracks and the people were forced to see the Dussehra ceremony by standing on tracks.
 
The effigy of Ravana was being burnt around 200 feet away from the railway track.
 
A railway official said in New Delhi that the drop gates at the spot were down but people still massed on the tracks in violation of railway rules.
 
Several senior railway officials were set to fly by an Indian Air Force plane to Amritsar to help oversee the relief and rescue effort.
 
NNN

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

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