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India, US decide to move towards commercial cooperation in civil nuclear energy

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday that, six years after they signed their bilateral civil nuclear agreement, India and the United States were moving towards commercial cooperation, consistent with Indian law, its international legal obligations and technical and commercial viability.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and United States President Barack Obama at a joint media interaction after their talks in New Delhi on January 25, 2015.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and United States President Barack Obama at a joint media interaction after their talks in New Delhi on January 25, 2015.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said that, six years after they signed their bilateral civil nuclear agreement, India and the United States were moving towards commercial cooperation, consistent with Indian law, its international legal obligations and technical and commercial viability.
 
At a joint media interaction with US President Barack Obama here after they held bilateral talks, both in the restricted format and at the delegation level, he said they had decided to give their critical partnership a new thrust and sustained attention.
 
For this, Mr Obama and Mr Modi agreed that India and the US must have regular summits at greater frequency. They also decided to establish hotlines between the Prime Minister of India and the US President as well as between their National Security Advisers.
 
"The civil nuclear agreement was the centrepiece of our transformed relationship, which demonstrated new trust. It also created new economic opportunities and expanded our option for clean energy," Mr Modi said.
 
"In the course of the past four months, we have worked with a sense of purpose to move it forward," he said.
 
Mr Modi said Mr Obama had also assured him of strong US efforts in support of India's full membership of the four international export control regimes at the earliest. 
 
He also said that the two countries had today decided to take their growing defence cooperation to a new level.
 
"We have agreed, in principle, to pursue co-development and co-production of specific advanced defence projects. These will help upgrade our domestic defence industry; and expand the manufacturing sector in India. We will also explore cooperation in other areas of advanced defence technologies. 
 
"We have renewed our Defence Framework Agreement. We will deepen our cooperation on maritime security," he said.
 
Noting that terrorism remained a principal global threat and was taking on a new character, even as existing challenges persisted, Mr Modi said he and Mr Obama had agreed that there was need for a comprehensive global strategy and approach to combat the evil.
 
"There should be no distinction between terrorist groups. Every country must fulfil its commitments to eliminate terrorist safe havens and bring terrorists to justice," he said.
 
Mr Modi said India and the United States would deepen their bilateral security cooperation against terrorist groups and further enhance their counter-terrorism capabilities, including in the area of technology. 
 
The two leaders agreed that a strong and growing economic relationship between the two countries was vital for the success of their strategic partnership.
 
"Economic growth in our two countries is becoming stronger. Our business climate is improving. This gives me great optimism about our economic ties. In addition, we have established a number of effective bilateral mechanisms to identify opportunities and also help our businesses trade and invest more," he said.
 
The Prime Minister said the two sides would also resume their dialogue on a  Bilateral Investment Treaty. They will also restart discussions on a Social Security Agreement that is important for the hundreds of thousands of Indian professionals working in the United States. 
 
Modi, Obama have "Chai pe Charcha" at Hyderabad House
 
"For President Obama and me, clean and renewable energy is a personal and national priority. We discussed our ambitious national efforts and goals to increase the use of clean and renewable energy. We also agreed to further enhance our excellent and innovative partnership in this area. I asked him to lead international efforts in making renewable energy more accessible and affordable to the world. President and I expressed hope for a successful Paris Conference on climate change this year," he said.
 
Mr Modi said India was honoured that Mr Obama had accepted its invitation to be the Chief Guest at its Republic Day celebratons tomorrow. "It is special because on this day we celebrate the values shared by the world's two largest democracies," he said.
 
He also noted that Mr Obama was the first US President to visit India twice in office and this reflected the transformation in the bilateral relationship as well as showed his deep personal commitment to the partnership.
 
"It tells us that our two nations are prepared to step forward firmly to accept the responsibility of this global partnership – for our two countries and for shaping the character of this century. The promise and potential of this relationship has never been in doubt. This is a natural global partnership. It has become even more relevant in the digital age. It is needed even more in our world of far-reaching changes and widespread turmoil," he said.
 
Mr Modi said the success of the partnership was important for their progress and for advancing peace, stability and prosperity around the world. 
 
"From the turn of this century, we have begun transforming our relationship. But, we have to convert a good start into lasting progress. This requires translating our vision into sustained action and concrete achievements," he said.
 
"In the last few months, I see new excitement and confidence in this relationship. I see renewed energy in our engagement. I thank you for your leadership and for setting the tone last September, when I visited White House," he said.
 
Mr Modi said the two countries would continue to deepen their collaboration in science, technology, innovation, agriculture, health, education and skills. These are central to the future of the two countries; and also give them an opportunity to help others around the world, he said.
 
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"Indeed, our strategic partnership will only be complete if we assume our responsibility to work together to promote development and connectivity in our vast region. President Obama and I agreed to pursue this goal with a sense of priority," he said.
 
Mr Modi said Mr Obama and he had an "excellent discussion" on global and regional issues. In particular, they renewed their commitment to deepen their coopeation to advance peace, stability and prosperity in Asia, Pacific and Indian Ocean Region, which is critical for the future of their two countres and the destiny of the world. They also agreed to work closely to help Afghanistan through its transition.
 
"Our relationship stands at a new level today. We have outlined a broad vision for our friendship and cooperation that reflects the opportunities and challenges of this century," he added.
 
 
Mr Obama said Mr Modi's election and strong personal commitment to the India-US relationship gave them an opportunity to further energize the efforts to enhance ties between the two countries.
 
He said the two sides had made substantive progress and that they had signed a new Declaration of Friendship that elevates and formalizes their partnership.
 
"And not only is it grounded in the values we share, but it commits us to more regular meetings at the leaders level, and sets up frequent consultations across our government," he said.
 
He said they had agreed that bilateral trade and economic partnerships must focus on improving the daily lives of their people.  
 
"Prime Minister Modi described for me his ambitious efforts to empower rural Indians with bank accounts, and to ensure clean water and clean air for the Indian people.  And we want to be partners in this effort," he said.
 
Mr Modi said that, in the last few years, bilateral trade had increased by some 60 per cent toward a record $ 100 billion. "We want to trade even more.  So we welcome the reforms that the Prime Minister is pursuing to make it easier to do business here in India," he said.
 
"Today, we achieved a breakthrough understanding on two issues that were holding up our ability to advance our civil nuclear cooperation, and we’re committed to moving towards full implementation.  And this is an important step that shows how we can work together to elevate our relationship.  We also, as the Prime Minister noted, agreed to resume discussions about a possible bilateral investment treaty.  And we will continue to pursue export reforms so that we can advance more high-tech collaborations with India," he said.
 
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He said the two sides had agreed to a number of important steps to promote clean energy and to confront climate change.  "We very much support India’s ambitious goal for solar energy, and stand ready to speed this expansion with additional financing.  We’re also launching new joint projects to improve air quality in Indian cities.  The United States will share more data and develop tools to help India assess and adapt to the impact of climate change and to help vulnerable communities become more resilient," he said.
 
"And going forward, we’ve agreed to work together to make concrete progress this year towards phasing out hydrofluorocarbons, under the Montreal Protocol, and the Prime Minister and I made a personal commitment to work together to pursue a strong global climate agreement in Paris.  As I indicated to him, I think India’s voice is very important on this issue.  Perhaps no country could potentially be more affected by the impacts of climate change, and no country is going to be more important in moving forward a strong agreement than India.  So we appreciate his leadership," he said.
 
Mr Obama said the two countries had agreed to deepen their defence and security cooperation. "We’ve renewed the framework that guides our defense cooperation for another 10 years.  And in a major step forward for our relationship, our Defense Technology and Trade Initiative will allow us to jointly develop and produce new defense technologies. We’ve also agreed to a new vision for the Asia Pacific so that we’re doing more together to advance our shared security and prosperity in this critical region," he said.
 
Mr Obama reiterated to the Indian people that the US supported a reformed UN Security Council that includes India as a permanent member. "At the same time, we see India playing a greater role in ensuring international security and peace and meeting shared challenges.  As a leading contributor to U.N. peacekeeping missions for many years, India can help the world do even more to protect citizens in conflict zones.  We welcome India’s leadership in combatting diseases and promoting global health that advances the rights and dignity of citizens around the world," he said.
 
"This new partnership will not happen overnight.  It’s going to take time to build and some patience.  But it’s clear from this visit that we have a new and perhaps unprecedented opportunity, and deepening our ties with India is going to remain a top foreign policy priority for my administration," he said.
 
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Obama embarks on India visit, to focus on climate change, trade, investment, security

United States President Barack Obama has embarked on a landmark three-day visit to India during which he wil be the chief guest at its Republic Day celebrations on Monday and hold talks with the Indian leadership on strengthening bilateral ties across the full breadth of the strategic partnership.

 
US President Barack Obama leaves for India
United States President Barack Obama has embarked on a landmark three-day visit to India during which he will be the chief guest at its Republic Day celebrations on Monday and hold talks with the Indian leadership on strengthening bilateral ties across the full breadth of the strategic partnership.
 
Mr Obama, accompanied by First Lady Michelle Obama, left by Air Force One, the presidential aircraft from the Andrews Air Force Base and is due to arrive in Delhi on Sunday morning after a refuelling halt at Ramstein in Germany.
 
Mr Obama's talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi are expected to focus on climate change, trade, investment, security and issues related to counterterrorism, Afghanistan, Iran and the Asia Pacific.
 
Briefing newspersons earlier this week about the visit, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said it was the culmination of a "qualitative invigoration" of bilteral ties following the meeting between Mr Modi and Mr Obama at the White House in Washington in September last year.
 
Soon after landing here, Mr Obama will be accorded a ceremonial reception at Rashtrapati Bhavan, following which he will visit Rajghat to pay homage to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi.
 
He will hold discussions with Mr Modi, both in the restricted format and at the delegation level, at Hyderabad House. Mr Modi will also host a lunch for Mr Obama and his delegation.
 
Mr Obama will meet President Pranab Mukherjee in Rashtrapati Bhavan in the evening. Mr Mukherjee will host a banquet for Mr Obama.
 
After attending the Republic Day Parade on Rajpath on January 26, Mr Obama will attend the "At Home" hosted by Mr Mukherjee at Rashtrapati Bhavan later in the day.
 
Mr Obama and Mr Modi will also address business events during the afternoon of that day.
 
On January 27, Mr Obama will address a select gathering before leaving for Saudi Arabia, having cancelled his plans to visit the Taj Mahal in Agra. He will now fly to Riyadh to offer his condolences on the passing away of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who died on Friday at the age of 90, and to meet King Salman.
 
Mr Obama will be the first US President to visit India twice in his tenure and also the first US President to be the Chief Guest at India's Republic Day celebrations.
 
Mr Akbaruddin said that, since the September 2014 meeting between Mr Obama and Mr Modi, the two sides had "acted with alacrity, collaborated in common pursuits, and have traversed a transformative path".
 
He said they had had nine Indo-US dialogue meetings since then and eight meetings relating to defence and security, covering areas such as cyber security, border management, counter IEDs, defence technology, trade initiatives, and global entry programme. 
 
Also, on the economic and commercial fronts, there have been three meetings on matters such as smart cities, financial regulations and so on. In the science and technology sphere there have been three meetings on subjects including vaccination programme and scientific research collaboration on monsoon, he said.
 
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He said that the two countries had, since September, sgned 10 MoUs in areas such as space, renewable energy, skill development and urban development.
 
"Looking ahead, India sees vast potential for growth in our relations. From our perspective, the United States is a key partner for capital, technology, knowledge, and skills in our development path. It is also a potentially important source of clean energy technology and hydrocarbons. It is an important partner in areas like defence technology and counterterrorism. It is an important factor in our space security and cyber security programmes," he said.
 
"The United States is India’s key interlocutor in adjustments to the global security and economic architecture including reforms of the United Nations Security Council. It is a partner in our quest for a rule-based, open international trading and economic order. And it is a partner in our efforts to seek peace and stability in our extended neighbourhood and globally. All these issues that I listed just now for you are likely to be the basis of our discussions during the bilateral meeting," he said.
 
"We see the visit of President Obama to India as strengthening our ties across the full breadth of our full spectrum relationship, ties between our governments, ties between our people, and ties between our institutions," he said.
 
On civil nuclear energy cooperation, Mr Akbaruddin said that negotiators from both sides were currently meeting in London to sort out various issues. This is the third meeting of the contact group set up by Mr Modi and Mr Obama in September, having met earlier in New Delhi and Vienna.
 
"As far as India is concerned, nuclear is an important component of our energy mix. It is a low carbon form of energy and, therefore, we see it as an extremely important ingredient in our energy mix. Therefore, we are engaged with the United States on discussing on this issue. I think all of you need to understand what are the issues that are being discussed. Nuclear issue is a rubric. Under that rubric what is being discussed in specific terms is administrative arrangements. You will understand that following the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement we also have to have administrative arrangements which will basically be the rules of the road of how we can work with each other administratively. So, what is being discussed, number one, are administrative arrangements. Number two, also you are aware that India and the United States have previously also agreed that the United States will support India’s quest for membership of the NSG. We are in discussions on that, how to actualise that," he said.
 
"And of course, there are issues relating to clarifications and understanding of our nuclear liability regime. Let me explain to you that what is being discussed is how within the four walls of our legal framework, our legislation, we can provide assurances to our partners in the United States of any concerns that they may have either through their vendors or their lawyers. That is the discussion that is right now taking place in London," he said.
 
"The talks are under way. There has been progress since we started. This is the third round of talks. So what we can say is that the talks are under way; there has been progress in the past; nuclear is an important component of our energy mix and we look forward to utilising the full potential of our nuclear establishment in using civil nuclear energy for our energy mix," he said.
 
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Earlier this week, US Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes, in a preview of the visit, told journalists via telephone from Washington that Mr Obama had, from the time he took office, made increasing US engagement with India a top foreign policy priority.
 
"I think that’s rooted in the belief we have that U.S. cooperation with India can significantly advance our interests in terms of promoting economic ties and increased exports to a growing market.  That’s based on our belief that our Asia Pacific policy benefits from closer ties with India, and it’s also based on our cooperation on broad ranges of global issues, which we can discuss in a bit here," he said.
 
Mr Rhodes said the trip was coming at a time when the US has a growing agendra with India. "And a lot of what the President wants to get done over the course of the next two years will benefit greatly from closer cooperation with India," he said.
 
Lising some of the areas where there is room for bilateral enhancements, he mentioned climate change and clean energy, trade and investment, security cooperation, defence and counterterrroism. He said there would be discussion on range of regional and gobal issues, including Afghanistan, Iran and the Asia Pacific, and civil nuclear cooperation.
 
So over the course of the three days, we believe this can be part of a continued transformation of the U.S.-India relationship, both in bringing about substantive outcomes that can advance our top foreign policy priorities, but also realizing the potential of the relationship that will do a lot to define the 21st century. 
 
Mr Phil Reiner, Senior Director for South Asia, National Security Council, said the visit was a "seminal moment" in the bilateral relationship and underlined that Mr Modi's invitation to Mr Obama for the Republic Day celebrations had set a different tone for the reinvigorated partnership.
 
Mr Rhodes said the US had always encouraged India and Pakistan to pursue a dialogue to resolve their bilateral issues and had been very suppportive of that process.
 
"I think terrorism is an issue that can unite people who have faced traditional divides, and we saw that in the aftermath of the horrific attack in Peshawar, where India was very quick to issue a statement of condolence and condemnation, and to reach out the Pakistani people," he said.
 
"But at the same time, we have a counterterrorism policy, as the President said, that extends from South Asia all the way to the Sahel.  And in the South Asian context, there’s really no other area where we’ve been more active from a counterterrorism standpoint since the day the President took office.  That was where the al Qaeda core was rooted, and we have made I think more progress against al Qaeda core than against any other terrorist organization since the President took office in removing a significant number of al Qaeda leaders from the battlefield, including Osama bin Laden," he said.
 
"We have a robust security cooperation in place with Pakistan, and we’ve seen the Pakistanis take some steps in recent months to go on the offensive against some of the militant groups that have threatened the Pakistani people and Pakistani government, including the Pakistani Taliban.  And again, these are groups that have a nexus to many different organizations that have threatened India, the United States and, again, importantly, the Pakistani people as well.
 
"So when you look at the network of extremist groups that operate in that part of the world, from al Qaeda to the Pakistani Taliban, to the Haqqani Network to LeT, we have significant counterterrorism cooperation with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India that has been a priority of this administration from day one," he said.
 
While in Delhi, Mr Obama will join Mr Modi on the fourth edition of his radio programme Mann Ki Baat to be broadcast on All India Radio on January 27.
 
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Delhi Assembly elections: Kejriwal calls for debate, Bedi sidesteps, Maken ready

AAP)leader Arvind Kejriwal on Tuesday challenged BJP) chief ministerial candidate Kiran Bedi to a debate on the main issues in the February 7 election to the Delhi Legislative Assembly but the former IPS officer sidestepped the dare while Congress leader Ajay Maken said he was prepared for a structured discussion.

 
Kejriwal dares Bedi to debate with him
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal today challenged Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief ministerial candidate Kiran Bedi to a debate on the main issues in the February 7 election to the Delhi Legislative Assembly but the former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer sidestepped the dare while Congress leader Ajay Maken said he was prepared for a structured discussion.
 
Ms Bedi told reporters that she was prepared for a debate with Mr Kejriwal, but on the floor of the Assembly if he is elected to the house. 
 
"I accept the challenge but I will do it only in the Delhi assembly. Right now, I am focusing on delivery, while debate is all he has been doing," she said.
 
Mr Kejriwal, a former Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer, threw the challenge while congratulating Ms Bedi this morning after she was named last last night as the party's chief ministerial candidate for Delhi by BJP President Amit Shah.
 
"I appeal to her...it will be a very good initiative for democracy if there is a debate between the two of us," he said. He said people often voted on the basis of religion and caste and had little understanding of the issues involved in an election.
 
"Such a debate would help people make an informed choice from amongst the candidates," Mr Kejriwal, who became Chief Minister after the December 4, 2013 elections and resigned after just 49 days in office, said.
 
"Ajay Maken, Kiran Bedi and I, all three should have a debate so that people can make an informed choice about selecting their chief minister," he said.
 
Mr Maken, who is leading the Congress campaign in the elections, said he was prepared for a structured debate on a mutually acceptable platform and with a mutually acceptable moderator. In fact, he said, there could be two or three such debates in the run-up to the elections.
 
Meanwhile, Mr Kejriwal organised a road show today on his way to the district magistrate's office to file his nomination papers, but the filing of papers had to be postponed because the show began late and the huge crowds and the resultant traffic jam meant that he missed the deadline.
 
Mr Kejriwal is now expected to file his nominations tomorrow, as are Ms Bedi and Mr Maken.
 
The BJP had won 31 seats in the 70-member Assembly in the 2013 elections. AAP won 28 seats and was able to form the government after it received suport from the outside from the Congress, which ended up with just eight seats after ruling Delhi for the previous 15 years.
 
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Elections to Delhi Legislative Assembly to be held on February 7

The Election Commission announced on Monday that elections would be held on February 7 to elect a new legislative assembly in Delhi, which has been under President's rule since February 14 last year after Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal resigned as Chief Minister after just 49 days in office.

 
Delhi Assembly polls on February 7
The Election Commission today announced that elections would be held on February 7 to elect a new legislative assembly in the National Capital Territory of Delhi, which has been under President's rule since February 14 last year after Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal resigned as Chief Minister after just 49 days in office.
 
Chief Election Commissioner V S Sampath told a prss conference here today that the notification for the elections would be issued on January 14 and the last date for making nominations will be January 21.
 
Scrutiny of nominations will be done on January 22 and the last date for withdrawal of nominations is January 24. Counting of votes will be taken up on February 10 and all the results are expected by that evening.
 
AAP had won 28 of the 70 seats in the Delhi Legislative Assembly in the last elections held on December 4, 2013. It was invited to form the new government after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had emerged as the single largest party with 31 seats, declined to do so.
 
Both parties were short of the 36 seats needed for a simple majority in the Assembly, but the Congress, which was reduced to just eight seats after ruling Delhi for 15 years, decided to support the AAP government from outside.
 
Mr Kejriwal, with an eye on the Lok Sabha elections which were then a few weeks away, decided to quit after he failed in his efforts to introduce the Jan Lokpal Bill for an anti-corruption ombudsman – his party’s main election promise -- in the Legislative Assembly.
 
In the Lok Sabha elections held on April 10 in Delhi, the BJP won all seven seats in the national capital.
 
Lt Governor Najeeb Jung made yet another effort to find out if a stable government could be formed in November last year but, with all the parties making it clear that they were in no position to do so and that they favoured fresh elections, the Assembly was finally dissolved on November 4, 2014.
 
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There are 70 seats in the Delhi Assembly, including 12 reserved for Scheduled Castes (SCs).
 
The electoral rolls of all the constituencies have been revised with reference to 1.1.2015 as the qualifying date and published on January 5. The total number of electorals in Delhi is 13085251.
 
Mr Sampath said as many as 11,763 polling stations would be set up to facilitate the smooth conduct of polls.
 
The Commission also announced that bye-elections would be held on February 13 to fill one casual vacancy in the Lok Sabha from Bangaon (SC) constituency in West Bengal and six vacancies in state legislative assemblies: Arunachal Pradesh - Liromoba (ST); Goa - Panaji; Tamil Nadu - Srirangam; West Benga l-Krishnaganj (SC); Maharashtra - Mukhed and Andhra Pradesh - Tirupati.
 
The notifications for the bye-elections will be issued on January 19 and the last date for making nominations will be January 27. Counting of votes will be taken up on February 16.
 
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Delhi Police sets up SIT to probe Sunanda Pushkar death

The Delhi Police said on Wednesday it had set up a Special Investigating Team to probe the death of then Union Minister Shashi Tharoor's wife Sunanda Pushkar, who was found dead in their suite in a five-star hotel in South Delhi on January 17, 2014.

 
Delhi Police sets up SIT to probe Sunanda Pushkar death
The Delhi Police today said it had set up a Special Investigating Team (SIT) to probe the death of then Union Minister Shashi Tharoor's wife Sunanda Pushkar, who was found dead in their suite in a five-star hotel in South Delhi on January 17, 2014.
 
Close to a year after she was found dead, the Delhi Police had yesterday said that they were treating it as a case of murder following the receipt of a final report from the medical board set up by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), which held that she had died of poisoning.
 
Nobody has been named as a suspect in the case, which has been filed against unknown persons at the Sarojini Nagar Police Station here.
 
Delhi Police Commissioner B. S. Bassi told journalists today that the SIT had been set up to ensure a thorough probe into the death and said that progress in the investigations would be closely monitored by the Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) (South).
 
The SIT comprises the Additional DCP (South), an Assistant Commissioner of Police, an inspector and the station house officer (SHO) of the Sarojini Nagar Police Station.
 
Asked if Mr Tharoor would be questioned by the SIT, Mr Bassi said, "As far as questioning is concerned, whatever was necessary has been done, and whatever is necessary will be done."
 
Ms Pushkar, 52, was found dead, lying on a bed in room 345 of the Hotel Leela Palace in the Chanakyapuri area of the capital around 2030 hours of January 17 last year.
 
Mr Bassi said the the filing of the case, under section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) would facilitate further investigation into her death. He said the quantum of poison administered had not been ascertained yet and samples of her viscera would have to be sent to laboratories abroad for this. The substance has also not been identified yet.
 
Reacting to the developments, Mr Tharoor had said yesterday he was stunned to hear the Delhi Police had filed a case of murder against unknown persons in the demise of his wife.
 
"Needless to say I am anxious to see this case is investigated thoroughly and continue to assure the police of my full co-operation. Although we never thought of any foul play in the death of my wife, we all want that a comprehensive investigation be conducted and that the unvarnished truth should come out.
 
"In the meantime I join all members of Sunanda's family in asking for full information about the basis on which the police have come to this conclusion. We have not been provided with copies of the postmortem report and other reports of the inquiry like the CFSL report till date. We repeat our request for a copy of these reports to be provided to us immediately," he added.
 
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Ms Pushkar's death came just a day after a very unseemly and public controversy on micro-blogging site Twitter that involved her and her husband and a Pakistani journalist Mehr Tarar.
 
The controversy arose out of Ms Pushkar's suspicion that Mr Tharoor was involved in an affair with Ms Tarar, an allegation that that the Pakistani journalist denied.
 
Mr Tharoor and Ms Pushkar had at that time put out a joint statement asserting that they were "happily married" and intended to "remain that way".
 
"We are distressed by the unseemly controversy that has arisen about some unauthorised tweets from our Twitter accounts," they had said.
 
"Various distorted accounts of comments allegedly made by Sunanda have appeared in the press. It appears that some personal and private comments responding to these unauthorised tweets -- comments that were not intended for publication -- have been misrepresented and led to some erroneous conclusions.
 
"We wish to stress that we are happily married and intend to remain that way. Sunanda has been ill and hospitalised this week and is seeking to rest. We would be grateful if the media respects our privacy," the statement, posted on Mr Tharoor's Facebook page on the day before her death, had said.
 
Mr Tharoor's aide told journalists outside the hotel on the night the body had been discovered that he had returned to the suite that evening, after attending the day-long All India Congress Committee (AICC) session at Talkatora Stadium and another event, when he discovered that his wife had died.
 
According to the aide, Mr Tharoor initially thought his wife was resting, but he realised something was amiss a little later and then his staff informed the police, which rushed a team immediately.
 
The aide said that Ms Pushkar, who was unwell, and Mr Tharoor had checked into the hotel the previous morning because of some repairs and renovation work being carried out in their house.
 
Since the couple had been married for less than seven years, a sub-divisional magistrate had inquired into the death under Section 176 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). Police procedures had begun after that.
 
Ms Pushkar used to work as a sales director in a Dubai firm before she got married to Mr Tharoor. 
 
Born on January 1, 1962, Ms Pushkar was divorced from her first husband, Sanjay Raina. Her second husband Sujith Menon died in a road accident in  1997. She had a son, Shiv Menon, from that marriage. It was Mr Tharoor's third marriage, too.
 
Mr Tharoor, 58, is currently a member of the Lok Sabha, representing the Thiruvananthapuram constituency in Kerala.
 
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BJP leader Manohar Lal Khattar to be sworn in as Haryana CM on Sunday

Bharatiya Janata Party leader Manohar Lal Khattar, a first-time member of the legislative assembly and former "pracharak" of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, will be sworn in as the new Chief Minister of Haryana later on Sunday.

Manoharlal Khattar
Manoharlal Khattar
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Manohar Lal Khattar, a first-time member of the legislative assembly and former "pracharak" of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), will be sworn in as the new Chief Minister of Haryana later today.
 
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other senior BJP leaders are expected to attend the swearing-in ceremony that will be held at Panchkula near here.
 
BJP president Amit Shah, former Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani and Chief Ministers of BJP-ruled states are also expected to be present at the function.
 
Mr Khattar, 60, was elected as a member of the Haryana Legislative Assembly from Karnal, winning his maiden election with a margin of more than 63,000 votes.
 
The elections, held on October 15, saw the BJP capturing power for the first time in the state, winning 47 seats in the 90-member house. 
 
The Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) of former Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala came in second with 19 seats, while the Congress, which ruled the state for the last 10 years, had to rest content with third place, with 15 seats.
 
The Haryana Janhit Congress (BL) won two seats and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) one seat each. Independents won five seats.
 
Mr Khattar had been unanimously elected as the leader of the BJP Legislature Party by the party's newly-elected legislators here on October 21.
 
Later, senior BJP leader and Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu, who was sent here as the party's Central observer for that meeting, accompanied Mr Khattar to call on Haryana Governor Kaptan Singh Solanki to apprise him of the party's decision.
 
Mr Solanki invited Mr Khattar to form the new government in the state. 
 
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Mr Khattar was born on May 5, 1954, in Nigana village of Maham tehsil in Rohtak district. His father Harbans Lal Khattar was a Punjabi shopkeeper who had migrated to India during the 1947 Partition.
 
After passing out of school, he moved to Delhi, where he ran a shop near Sadar Bazar while studying for a degree from the University of Delhi.
 
Mr Khattar joined the RSS in 1977 and became a full-time pracharak three years later. In 1994, he was deputed to the BJP. He was Organisational General Secretary of the BJP in Haryana between 2000 and 2014 and was the head of its campaign election committee in Haryana for the recent Lok Sabha elections. He was later made a member of the BJP's National Executive. He is a bachelor.
 
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SC grants bail to former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa

The Supreme Court on Friday granted bail to former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, who was convicted by a special court in Bangalore on September 27 in an 18-year-old corruption case and sentenced to four years in prison and asked to pay a fine of Rs 100 crore.

File photo of J. Jayalalithaa.
File photo of J. Jayalalithaa.
The Supreme Court today granted bail to former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, who were convicted by a special court in Bangalore on September 27 in an 18-year-old corruption case and sentenced to four years in prison and asked to pay a fine of Rs 100 crore.
 
Along with Ms Jayalalithaa, 66, the apex court also granted bail to her close aide Sasikala Natarajan, Sasikala's nephew and Jayalalithaa's disowned foster son Sudhakaran and Sasikala's close relative Ilavarasi, who were also convicted in the case and sentenced to four years in prison and fined Rs 10 crore each.
 
The Karnataka High Court had, on October 7, rejected Ms Jayalalithaa's bail application. While doing so, Judge A V Chandrashekhara recalled that the Supreme Court had made it clear in the past that corruption cases should be put on the fast track. He pointed out that the apex court had taken a tough stand in such cases and had described corruption as a "violation of human rights".
 
Ms Jayalalithaa and the three co-accused persons were accused by the prosecution of amassing assets valued at Rs 66.65 crore disproportionate to their known sources of income from 1991-96 during her first term in office.
 
The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) supremo had moved the Supreme Court for bail on October 9.
 

 
Jayalalithaa granted interim bail by SC in DA case
The apex court today suspended her sentence and granted her bail after imposing some conditions, including that she would have to submit her paprs for the appeal against her conviction within two months, that is by December 18, and that she would not seek any adjournment of the hearings. 
 
As soon as news of the court's decision to grant her bail came, hundreds of supporters of Ms Jayalalithaa in Chennai and elsewhere broke out into rapturous celebrations.
 
Ms Jayalalithaa, who has been held in prison in Bangalore since September 27, is expected to be released on bail later today or tomorrow. She will remain confined to home in Chennai while she is on bail.
 
The court fixed December 18 as the date to satisfy itself if she had complied with its order.
 
Her counsel Fali Nariman assured the court on her behalf that there would be no act of lawlessness by her party's workers in Tamil Nadu. She had sought bail on the grounds that she was suffering from various ailments and that she was a senior citizen and a woman.
 
Ms Jayalalithaa stood disqualified as a member of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly after her conviction and sentence and had to resign as Chief Minister. She is also barred from contesting elections for six years after she completes her four-year sentence.
 
The case was filed in 1997 by the Tamil Nadu government's Department of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC) during the tenure of Jayalalithaa's rival and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader M Karunanidhi as Chief Minister.
 
The Supreme Court ordered the case to be transferred to a special court in Bangalore in 2003 on a petition filed by DMK leader K Anbazhagan, who had expressed doubts about a fair trial in Tamil Nadu after Jayalalithaa returned as Chief Minister.
 
The prosecution had alleged that Ms Jayalalithaa had just Rs 3 crore when she took over as Chief Minister for the first time in 1991 and had taken a token salary of just Re 1, but her wealth and that of her three co-accused had grown to Rs 66.6 crore during her five years in office, vastly disproportionate to her known sources of income.
 
The alleged wealth included 2000 acres of land, 30 kg of gold and thousands of sarees. She was also accused of spending more than Rs 5 crore on her foster son's wedding in 1996, though she had claimed that the expenditure was borne by the bride's family.
 
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The court held that the prosecution had been able to prove that she possessed disproportionate assets of about Rs 53 crore. 
 
Ms Jayalalithaa had all along maintained that the case was an act of political vendetta by the DMK. Among other things, she had agued that her previous assets were undervalued, her property was overvalued and her income from various sources were not taken into account.
 
In the Lok Sabha elections held earlier this year, the AIADMK had made a near clean sweep in Tamil Nadu, winning 37 of the 39 seats from the state and emerging as the third largest party in the House.
 
Elections to the Tamil Nadu Assembly are due in 2016 and unless her conviction is overturned by a higher court, Ms Jayalalithaa cannot contest them.
 
After Ms Jayalalithaa stepped down, senior AIADMK leader O. Panneerselvam was sworn in as the new Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu on September 29.
 
Mr Panneerselvam, 63, had earlier served as Chief Minister for a brief period from September 21, 2001 to March 1, 2002 after the Supreme Court had declared null and void the action of then Governor Fatima Beevi appointing Ms Jayalalithaa to the position as she had been sentenced to two years rigorous imprisonment in another corruption case.
 
Ms Jayalalithaa was later cleared of all charges in 2002 and had returned as Chief Minister.
 
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Kerala Governor Sheila Dikshit resigns, may return to Delhi politics

Kerala Governor Sheila Dikshit said on Tuesday she had resigned from her position, amid reports that the Narendra Modi government at the Centre was planning to shift her to the North-East and indications that she might return to active politics in Delhi.

 
Kerala Governor Sheila Dikshit resigns
Kerala Governor Sheila Dikshit today said she had resigned from her position, amid reports that the Narendra Modi government at the Centre was planning to shift her to the North-East and indications that she might return to active politics in Delhi.
 
Ms Dikshit, 76, who was Chief Minister of Delhi for 15 years over three consecutive terms, had taken over for a five-year term as the 22nd Governor of Kerala only on March 11 this year after she and her Congress party suffered a humiliating defeat in the December 4, 2013 elections to the Delhi Legislative Assembly.
 
She had lost in her own constituency of Gole Market by a huge margin to Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal, who went on to serve as Chief Minister of Delhi for 49 days before he resigned. The Congress had managed to win only eight seats in the 70-member house.
 
Ms Dikshit was among the Governors appointed by the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre who had refused to heed clear signals from the new Modi government, which assumed office on May 26, that they should hand in their papers.
 
There were also reports in the media suggesting that she might be shifted to a North-Eastern state if she refused to quit.
 
Ms Dikshit met President Mukherjee and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh here yesterday. 
 
"I have only one thing to say. The news flashing on television channels is correct. I have submitted my resignation yesterday," she told newspersons.
"This is what I wanted to say, and I wanted to say it myself."
 
"I don't have anything more to say right now. After my resignation is accepted, I'll say whatever I have to say," she said.
 
To repeated queries about her views on the way the Modi government had handled Governors and about her future plans, Ms Dikshit said that she would not like to say anything further.
 
"Let my resignation be accepted, after that I promise you that I will talk to you," she added.
 
Asked if she had been under pressure from the Modi government to resign, Ms Dikshit said, "I have nothing to do with all that. I did what my heart told me to do."
 
She is now expected to plunge back into active politics in Delhi, where Assembly elections may be held in the next few months if it is not possible to form a viable government within the present Assembly in which no party has a clear majoirty.
 
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With this, eight of the Governors appointed by the previous government have resigned so far, while two were sacked.
 
Soon after the new government started nudging them, five Governors -- B L Joshi in Uttar Pradesh, M K Narayanan in West Bengal, Ashwani Kumar of Nagaland, Shekhar Dutt of Chhattisgarh and Bharat Vir Wanchoo of Goa, all of whom are former police officers -- resigned.
 
Mr Vakkom Purushothaman, a senior Congress leader from Kerala, who was shifted from Mizoram to Nagaland after then Gujarat Governor Kamala Beniwal was moved to Mizoram, resigned in protest against the manner in which he was transferred without consulting him.
 
Ms Beniwal, who had a few run-ins with then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who is now the Prime Minister, was sacked on August 6. Earlier, on July 11, Mr Virendra Kataria had been removed as Lt Governor of Puducherry.
 
On Sunday, another senior Congress leader from Kerala, Mr K Sankaranarayanan, resigned after he was transferred as the Governor of Mizoram from Maharashtra.
 
The Governor of Uttarakhand, Mr Aziz Qureshi, has meanwhile filed a petition in the Supreme Court alleging that he had received calls from the Union Home Secretary suggesting that he resign. He contended that only the President could remove him.
 
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Ten dead, 18 injured in stampede at Kamtanath Pahad temple at Chitrakoot in Madhya Pradesh

Ten pilgrims were killed and at least 18 others suffered injuries in a stampede at the Kamtanath Pahad temple in Chitrakoot in the Satna district of Madhya Pradesh in the early hours of Monday, officials said.

 
Ten killed in stampede at Kamtanath Pahad temple at Chitrakoot in MP
Ten pilgrims were killed and at least 18 others suffered injuries in a stampede at the Kamtanath Pahad temple in Chitrakoot in the Satna district of Madhya Pradesh in the early hours of today, officials said.
 
Inspector General of Police (Rewa Range) Pawan Shrivastav told NetIndian over the telephone that the victims included six women and four men. 
 
He said six of those injured had been discharged after first aid while the rest were undergoing treatment for injuries. None of them was in a serious condition, he said.
 
District Magistrate and Collector Mohan Lal said the incident occurred around 4.45 am today.
 
Thousands of pilgrims had gathered at the temple, located about 80 km from Satna district headquarters on the border between Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh for the five-km "parikrama" (circumambulation) of the Kamadgiri hill on the occasion of Somvati Amavasya.
 
Details of the circumstances leading to the incident were not clear, but Mr Shrivastav said one of the pilgrims, a woman, appeared to have stumbled and fallen and before people realised it, some more people fell and several others following them, all at a brisk space in a cramped section of the "parikrama" trampled upon them.
 
Many of the devotes, especially women, were performing "Shayana Pradakshinam" --- in which they lie down and roll on the path -- for worship when the incident occurred, sources said.
 
The district authorities have ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident, they said.
 
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan expressed his grief at the loss of lives in the incident and announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh to the next-of-kin of those killed, Rs 50,000 for those with serious injuries and Rs 10,000 for those who have suffered minor injuries.
 
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Modi calls for political solution in Sri Lanka that addresses aspirations of Tamils

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday stressed the need for a political solution that addresses the aspirations of the Tamil community for equality, dignity, justice and self respect within the framework of a united Sri Lanka.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting a delegation from the Tamil National Alliance of Sri Lanka, in New Delhi on August 23, 2014.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting a delegation from the Tamil National Alliance of Sri Lanka, in New Delhi on August 23, 2014.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today stressed the need for a political solution that addresses the aspirations of the Tamil community for equality, dignity, justice and self respect within the framework of a united Sri Lanka. 
 
At a meeting with a six-member delegation of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) from Sri Lanka here, Mr Modi, in this context, urged all stakeholders in the island nation to engage constructively, in a spirit of partnership and mutual accommodation, towards finding a political solution that builds upon the 13th Amendment of the Sri Lankan Constitution. 
 
The TNA delegation, which is on a visit to India, briefed Mr Modi on the situation in Sri Lanka and their assessment and expectations regarding devolution and national reconciliation. 
 
The visit is part of India's continuing engagement with the Government and political parties in Sri Lanka.
 
Mr Modi assured the TNA delegation of India’s continuing support for relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction works in Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka particularly in projects relating to housing, livelihood generation, capacity building, education, hospitals and infrastructure. 
 
The TNA delegation is led by Mr. R. Sampanthan, MP, and comprises Mr. Mavai S. Senathirajah, MP; Mr. K. (Suresh) Premachandran MP; Mr. P. Selvarajah MP; Mr. Selvam Adaikkalanathan MP and Mr. M.A. Sumanthiran MP. 
 
This is the first delegation of the TNA to visit India after the Narendra Modi government assumed office on May 26.
 
Mr Nripendra Misra, the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh were present at the meeting.
 
Yesterday, the delegation had met External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and made a detailed presentation to her about their perception of the current situation in Sri Lanka.
 
Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin told reporters that there was also a discussion about Indian development projects in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka, which include a housing project and hospitals.
 
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Modi says that if India has to develop, no part of country can remain underdeveloped

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Thursday that, if India has to emerge as a developed nation, no part of the country could remain weak and underdeveloped.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said that, if India has to emerge as a developed nation, no part of the country could remain weak and underdeveloped.
 
Pointing out that eastern India had remained underdeveloped, he said growth should be balanced across north, south, east and west so that common people all over the country could enjoy the fruits of development in equal measure.
 
Mr Modi was addressing a gathering after launching the National Digital Literacy Mission in Ranchi.
 
He also dedicated to the nation Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) oil terminal at Jasidih and the 765 kV Ranchi-Dharamjaygarh-Sipat transmission line.
 
Mr Modi announced that work would commence shortly on the Jagdishpur-Phoolpur-Haldia gas pipeline, which would become a major source of energy for eastern India. 
 
He also initiated work at the North Karanpura Super Thermal Power Plant which, he said, would dispel darkness from Jharkhand. He also laid the foundation stone for two IT-related projects.
 
Mr Modi said Jharkhand had huge potential for development and promised to repay the love and affection shown to him by the people of the state through development.
 
Stating that India could develop only if its states developed, he referred to yesterday's decision by the Union Cabinet to increase royalty rates on minerals which would benefit Jharkhand enormously.
 
Jharkhand Governor Sayed Ahmed, Chief Minister Hemant Soren and Union Ministers Ravi Shankar Prasad, Piyush Goyal and Dharmendra Pradhan were amongst those present on the occasion.
 
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India calls off Foreign Secretary-level talks with Pakistan

India on Monday called off its Foreign Secretary-level talks with Pakistan after the High Commissioner of that country held a meeting with a separatist leader from Kashmir here during the day in the first of a series of such interactions planned over the next three days.

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif.
File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif.
India today called off its Foreign Secretary-level talks with Pakistan after the High Commissioner of that country held a meeting with a separatist leader from Kashmir here during the day in the first of a series of such interactions planned over the next three days.
 
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh was due to meet her Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry in Islamabad on August 25 as part of the efforts by both sides to resume their stalled dialogue process.
 
The meeting was scheduled to take place nearly three months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had met Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif here, a day after assuming office, when the two leaders had agreed that their Foreign Secretaries would remain in touch to explore how the two neighbours could move forward in various areas.
 
The decision to call off the meeting also came against the background of several incidents of alleged violations of ceasefire from across the border in recent weeks.
 
"At a time when serious initiatives were being undertaken by the Government of India to move bilateral ties forward, including towards the resumption of a regular dialogue process, the invitation to so-called leaders of the Hurriyat by Pakistan’s High Commissioner does indeed raise questions about Pakistan’s sincerity, and shows that its negative approaches and attempts to interfere in India’s internal affairs continue unabated," Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin told newspersons.
 
He said Singh had conveyed to Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit today, in clear and unambiguous terms, that Pakistan's continued efforts to interfere in India’s internal affairs were unacceptable. 
 
"It was underlined that the Pakistani High Commissioner’s meetings with these so-called leaders of the Hurriyat undermine the constructive diplomatic engagement initiated by Prime Minister Modi in May on his very first day in office.
 
"The only path available to Pakistan is to resolve outstanding issues through a peaceful bilateral dialogue within the framework and principles of the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration.
 
"Therefore, under the present circumstances, it is felt that no useful purpose will be served by the Indian Foreign Secretary going to Islamabad next week. Foreign Secretary's visit to Islamabad for talks on 25 August stands cancelled," Mr Akbaruddin added.
 
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India's decision to call off the talks is being seen as a strong message that it would not accept the Pakistan's envoy's meeting with Kashmiri separatist leaders and any sort of interference in its internal affairs.
 
Mr Basit had met separatist leader Shabbir Shah here on Monday in the first of a series of such meetings planned over the next three days.
 
Mr Sharif was among the SAARC leaders who attended Modi's swearing-in ceremony on May 26 evening. Mr Modi’s invitation to SAARC leaders to attend the event was seen as a diplomatic masterstroke at that time and Mr Sharif’s decision to travel to Delhi was seen as an equally important gesture of goodwill.
 
At a bilateral meeting the next morning, Mr Modi had conveyed to Mr Sharif India's deep concerns relating to terrorism and made it clear to him that Islamabad must abide by its commitment to prevent its territory and areas under its control from being used for terrorist acts against India.
 
He had also said India expected Pakistan to take the necessary steps to expedite the trial in the cases relating to the November 26, 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai to ensure that those guilty are punished.
 
Mr Modi told Mr Sharif that the two countries could move immediately on full trade normalisation on the basis of the September 2012 roadmap drawn up by them. 
 
On July 24, Mr Singh had a telephonic discussion with Mr Chaudhry, including on how the two sides should move forward on various issues.
 
During that conversation, they had agreed that they should meet to take the process forward as directed by the two Prime Ministers and decided to meet in Islamabad on August 25.
 
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Obama formally invites Modi to Washington, reiterates wish to work closely with him

United States President Barack Obama on Friday formally invited Prime Minister Narendra Modi to visit Washington in September and reiterated his desire to work closely with him to make India-US relations a defining partnership of the 21st century.

 
Obama looking forward to meeting Modi: Burns
United States President Barack Obama today formally invited Prime Minister Narendra Modi to visit Washington in September and reiterated his desire to work closely with him to make India-US relations a defining partnership of the 21st century.
 
Mr Obama's invitation was contained in a letter from him handed over by US Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns, who called on Mr Modi here today on the second day of a two-day visit to Delhi.
 
Mr Modi conveyed his thanks to Mr Obama for the invitation and said he looked forward to a result-oriented visit to Washington with concrete outcomes which would impart new momentum and energy to the India-US strategic partnership.
 
He said re-energizing the partnership between the two countries would send an important message to the region and beyond.
 
Articulating his vision for India-US relations, he stated that the relationship between the world's oldest and largest democracies should not only be for the benefit of the two countries, but should emerge as a powerful force of good for peace, stability and prosperity in the world. 
 
Mr. Burns conveyed Mr Obama's desire to strengthen economic relations, including in next-generation technologies and manufacturing sector; cooperate in enhancing energy security; deepen security cooperation, including in maritime security, counter-terrorism and intelligence exchange; expand consultation and coordination on Afghanistan; and, work more broadly for security and prosperity in Asia. 
 
Mr Modi reiterated his desire to strengthen relations with all of India's neighbours. 
 
He recalled Mr Obama's telephone call soon to him soon after his election victory and expressed his appreciation for his detailed and thoughtful letter.
 
He said he saw immense opportunities for deepening cooperation across the full spectrum of the relationship and laid special emphasis on involving youth in creating new avenues of promoting cooperation between the two countries. 
 
National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, US Charge d'Affaires Kathleen Stephens, and US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Biswal were also present at the meeting. 
 
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46 Indian nurses in Iraq freed by militants, India sends plane to bring them home

The Government on Friday confirmed that all 46 Indian nurses, most of them from Kerala, who were stranded in the war-torn city of Tikrit in Iraq for the past many days, were freed by militants who handed them over to Indian officials in Erbil earlier in the day after moving them to Mosul on Thursday.

 
Indian nurses returning from Iraq: Chandy
The Government today confirmed that all 46 Indian nurses, most of them from Kerala, who were stranded in the war-torn city of Tikrit in Iraq for the past many days, were freed by militants who handed them over to Indian officials in Erbil earlier in the day after moving them to Mosul yesterday.
 
An Air India aircraft was sent by the government from here this afternoon to Erbil to pick up the nurses as well as 70 other Indians who want to return from Kirkuk in Iraq.
 
Senior officials of the Kerala government and of the Ministry of External Affairs, including a joint secretary, as also officials of other departments have gone on the flight to Erbil to facilitate the return of the nurses.
 
The flight will land at Kochi in Kerala tomorrow morning and later fly to Delhi with those who wish to travel to the national capital, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said at his daily briefing here.
 
The first indications that the nurses had been freed came from senior Kerala government officials who confirmed the development to NetIndian.
 
They said the nurses had been transported by the militants by bus from Mosul to Erbil, about 80 km away, where they were handed over to officials of the Indian Embassy in Baghdad, who were pre-positioned there by the Indian government.
 
A little later, Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, who had met External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj here yesterday to push for steps to ensure the safe return of the nurses, also confirmed to reporters that they had been freed.
 
"The nurses are being taken to the Erbil airport; they are set to return to India," he said.
 
"The nurses will board the flight at Erbil and the plane will reach Kochi at 7am tomorrow," he said.
 
The plight of the nurses, who were stranded at their hospital in Tikrit, even as fighting was going on around them, and running low on money and provisions, as well as the safety of 39 Indian workers held captive by militants in Mosul have posed a major foreign policy challenge for the Narendra Modi government soon after it assumed office on May 26.
 
The 39 workers, mainly from Punjab and other parts of north India, continue to remain in captivity, though they are said to be safe and unharmed, according to the Ministry of External Affairs.
 
Mr Akbaruddin said the government would now focus and redouble its efforts to secure the return of the workers soon. 
 
Hundreds of Indians who are working in the non-conflict parts of Iraq, including in places such as Basra, Najaf and Karbala, are scheduled to return by regular commercial flights from those cities to India in the coming days on the advice of the Indian government. Several have already returned home in the past many days.
 
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Saying that it had been a day of dramatic developments, Akbaruddin said, "I can confirm to you that those Indian nurses who were yesterday moved from Tikrit against their will are now free."
 
He said Indian officials, who had been sent to Erbil from Baghdad in anticipation of such a development, were in continuous contact with the nurses
.
"The process is underway for their return. This has not happened just like, it has happened because of enormous efforts put in at various levels," he said, without going into the details.
 
Mr Akbaruddin once again urged the media to be restrained in its coverage of the developments, saying they should not do anything to jeopardise the lives of those in captivity in Mosul and Indians working in other parts of Iraq.
 
"It is the time to turn to each other, not on each other," he said, pleading for understanding on the part of the media and urging it to have faith that the government was doing its best in the circumstances to extricate the Indians in "an extremely difficult situation".
 
He stressed that these were situations in which the conventional norms of diplomacy did not work and unconventional methods were called for.
 
Mr Akbaruddin said Ms Swaraj herself was leading the diplomatic effort and had been in touch with several of her counterparts in the region, including the Gulf states.
 
He said the government could not share details of the efforts being put in on the ground. "We will leave no stone unturned to bring home all the Indians who want to return from Iraq," he said.
 
Mr Akbaruddin, in particular, urged the media not to carry unconfirmed reports on the situation and took exception to some newspapers which headlined a quote from one of the nurses in distress. "This is not the best way to help our nationals," he said.
 
Pressed for details, Mr Akbaruddin said the nurses had been freed after a "multiplicity of contacts" established by India and who helped it in this endeavour.
 
"India has friends not just in Iraq, but also outside Iraq. The support that we are getting is very substantial," he said. He said India had knocked on several doors as part of this effort and one of them opened to enable the safe return of the nurses.
 
To another question, Akbaruddin said Indian officials had remained in continuous contact with the nurses throughout the exercise, using not only telephones but other "tools" which are "normally available to governments".
 
"We were always in contact, we were in touch with what was happening. All our national assets are being used," he said.
 
Asked about the condition of the nurses, he said, "Our understanding is that they are safe, unharmed and unhurt" but they had clearly gone through a traumatic experience.
 
He said Indian officials had made all possible arrangements for their comfort in Erbil. "Before soon they will with their loved ones, with their families and friends, and that it the best antidote for all their travails," he said.
 
Despite repeated queries, he declined to provide details about who had moved the nurses from Tikrit to Mosul and then Erbil or the group which was holding the 39 Indian workers captive in Mosul, saying that such information could not be divulged when an operation was still under way. "That will be a story for another day," he added.
 
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Indian nurses in Tikrit, workers held captive in Mosul safe: MEA

The Government said on Tuesday that the 46 Indians stranded in a hospital in the strife-torn city of Tikrit in Iraq had taken refuge in the basement of their hospital due to the fighting and bombing going on in the vicinity of their building but were safe and unharmed.

Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin briefing newspersons in New Delhi on July 1, 2014.
Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin briefing newspersons in New Delhi on July 1, 2014.
The Government today said the 46 Indians stranded in a hospital in the strife-torn city of Tikrit in Iraq had taken refuge in the basement of their hospital due to the fighting and bombing going on in the vicinity of their building but were safe and unharmed.
 
At his daily briefing on the situation in the war-torn parts of Iraq, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin also urged journalists of media organisations to refrain from contacting the nurses on their mobile telephones for an hour-by-hour account, saying that this could jeopardise their lives.
 
He said the Indian government had been approached by the humanitarian organisations working in Iraq as well as the Iraqi authorities and asked to convey this request to the media. "They have requested us to request Indian media organisations to be restrained in what you are trying to achieve," he said.
 
"Both the Red Crescent in Iraq and Iraqi government authorities have conveyed that such efforts are endangering the lives of the nurses and the 39 Indians held in captivity in Mosul," he said.
 
Mr Akbaruddin urged journalists not to try and contact the nurses directly when they were caught in a conflict zone. "There is a conflict going on and you are endangering the lies of the Indians," he said.
 
He said the Iraqi authorities had found these attempts as "extremely intrusive and disconcerting".
 
"Please back off, otherwise you will jeopardise the lives of the Indians," he pleaded.
 
Mr Akbaruddin said the Indian mission had alerted the Iraqi authorities in Tikrit about the situation of the nurses and they were also in touch with them on a regular basis. 
 
"We are hopeful of extricating them from this extremely delicate situation," he said. "They remain safe, unharmed as of now."
 
Asked about media reports that the hospital had been captured by the militants and that the nurses had been asked by them to vacate the premises, he urged the media not to go by hearsay or by "second-hand or third-hand" information.
 
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"The nurses are safe, they are in touch with the Indian mission," he said. "The mission is advising them on what to do. He also made it clear that, given the situation in Tikrit, the mission cannot advise them to leave the building at this stage in view of the risks involved.
 
To a question, Mr Akbaruddin said the 39 workers held captive in Mosul were safe, as per the information received by the government. He made it clear that the government could not provide more details in these matters.
 
"You have to trust us on this. There is no need to be lone rangers in such matters," he said.
 
Mr Akbaruddin said the Indian mission in Baghdad and the camp offices in Basra, Najaf and Karbala, all in the non-conflict zones, had booked tickets for about 139 Indians wishing to return to India and they would fly home in the next few days. This was in addition to the 94 who had flown out yesterday, he said.
 
He said most of them were bound for Delhi, some to Hyderabad and a few to Kerala and Tamil Nadu. He said a significant number of Indians, including about 450 contacted by Indian officials in a factory, had opted to stay back of their own accord.
 
India has set up the camp and mobile offices in the non-conflict zones to facilitate the return of those Indians wishing to return, especially in the matter of documentation, resolution of disputes with employers and purchase of tickets.
 
Mr Akbaruddin said that the Indian mission would also facilitate the return of Nepalese citizens in Iraq, at the request of the government of Nepal, which does not have an embassy in Baghdad.
 
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Abducted Indians in Iraq "unharmed", efforts on to secure their release: MEA

The government today said the 39 Indian nationals abducted and held captive in the violence-torn city of Mosul in Iraq remained "unharmed" and that it was continuing its efforts to secure their safe and early release.

 
Indian nationals in captivity remain unharmed: MEA
The government today said the 39 Indian nationals abducted and held captive in the violence-torn city of Mosul in Iraq remained "unharmed" and that it was continuing its efforts to secure their safe and early release.
 
Briefing journalists here, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said the government was in touch with authorities and agencies in Iraq in this regard and was getting more information about the situation.
 
"On the diplomatic front, our efforts are continuing both in Iraq and outside. Our initiatives are gaining impetus. We are proceeding systematically and carefully. Various doors are opening now; these are primarily in Iraq at various levels, all of which are significant. Our information flow has improved providing us channels to obtain, corroborate and confirm information," he said.
 
"There is no safety in captivity. That said, we are everyday trying to obtain information and corroborate information. I can tell you they remain unharmed as of now," he said in response to questions about the safety of those held captive.
 
Akbaruddin said the government was also in touch with the 46 Indian nurses stranded in Tikrit and they, too, were safe. "They remain safe and we are working to continue to assist them," he said.
 
One of the 40 people kidnapped in Mosul had managed to escape a few days and was in touch with the Embassy of India in Baghdad.
 
In all, some 120 Indians were stranded in the "conflict zone", of whom 17 have managed to come out safely.
 
Akbaruddin said there were about 10,000 Indians in areas beyond the conflict zone, including in the south and north of the country and there were no safety issues as far as they were concerned,
 
He, however, said that several Indians outside the conflict zone also had expressed a wish to return home but were unable to do because of issues related to their employment and other matters.
 
"These Indian nationals are not facing a threat in terms of the conflict zone. However there are issues relating to their status, their documentation, their visa requirements as well as their contractual obligations. In essence labour issues," he said.
 
He said there were about 12 major companies who had employed Indians in Iraq, including one in Najaf which had some 2000 Indian employees, mostly as construction workers. The Najaf company had sent back about 28 Indians at their request, he said.
 
He said that, of the 300 requests for assistance of various kinds at the control set up by the MEA at its headquarters here, about 100 related to evacuation.
 
He said the Embassy officials would meet the representatives of the company and sort out the issues involved.
 
"We will continue to assist everyone who would want to return," he added.
 
Mr Akbaruddin said the government was also in touch with the Indian agents who had sent the Indian nationals to work in Iraq.
 
He said there were smaller numbers of Indians in Kirkuk and a large number in Basra.
 
"I’d like to explain that Basra is approximately more than 500 km south of Baghdad. It is not an area anywhere near the conflict zone," he said.
 
"Sure there is concern among them and if anybody would like to return we will try and work this out. However, if we need to work this out, we need to work this out under the normal contractual and legal terms under which these people are working there. Because that is not a conflict zone and therefore we cannot use force majeure requirements there," he said.
 
"We will continue to assist everyone who would like to be facilitated in case he wants to return. However, in this we can do so only following the norms of the host country and we will have to do that. It is normal in those areas to have issues of an employer-employee nature, these are staple and we are working those issues out one by one systematically, in accordance with the local laws," he added.
 
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Polling underway for 41 seats in final phase of LS elections

Polling was underway on Monday amidst tight security in 41 constituencies spread over three states -- Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal -- in the ninth and final phase of elections to the 16th Lok Sabha.

 
Ninth phase of 16th LS polls underway
Polling was underway today amidst tight security in 41 constituencies spread over three states -- Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal -- in the ninth and final phase of elections to the 16th Lok Sabha.
 
Thousands of voters turned out to exercise their franchise in these constituencies and long queues of voters  were seen at many polling stations despite the sweltering heat,
 
All eyes were, however, on Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, the second constituency from which BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is trying to make his maiden entry into the Lok Sabha. His main rivals in Varanasi are Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal and local Congress leader Ajay Rai.
 
Mr Modi is also in the fray from Vadodara in Gujarat, where polling was held on April 30.
 
Around 1.6 million people are eligible to cast their votes in Varanasi in what is clearly the keenest contest of the 2014 elections. There were long queues of voters outside polling stations in most areas of the city.
 
The authorities have deployed around 45,000 security personnel to ensure free and fair polls in the constituency. More than 12,000 polling booths were put under surveillance with CCTV cameras and proceedings at more than 300 polling stations were being videographed.
 
The Election Commission has deployed Tamil Nadu Chief Electoral Officer Praveen Kumar as a special observer for the constituency following complaints of bias against the local election officials by the BJP. Several senior police officers of Uttar Pradesh are also camping in the city.
 
The constituencies that voted today included 18 in Uttar Pradesh, 17 in West Bengal and six in Bihar. They have a total of 66.13 million voters and there were 606 candidates in the fray.
 
The first phase of polling in the long drawn out election process was held on April 7. Counting of votes for all constituencies will be taken up on May 16 and all results are expected by that evening. Two members in the 545-member Lok Sabha are nominated by the President from the Anglo-Indian community.
 
Other prominent candidates in the fray in Uttar Pradesh include Samajwadi Party (SP) supremo and former Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav from Azamgarh and UP Legislative Assembly Speaker Mata Prasad Pandey from Doomariaganj.
 
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Union Minister of State for Home Affairs R P N Singh is contesting from Kushinagar and popular Bhojpuri film actor Ravi Kishan from Jaunpur, both on the Congress ticket. Veteran BJP leader Kalraj Mishra is contesting the Deoria seat. Quami Ekta Dal (QED) leader Mukhtar Ansari, who withdrew from the contest in Varanasi and later announced his support for the Congress, is in the contest from Ghosi.
 
In Bihar, the prominent candidates include well-known Hindi filmmaker Prakash Jha, who is trying his luck yet again, this time as a Janata Dal (United) candidate, and former Union Minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).
 
In West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has fielded former Union Ministers Sudip Bandopadhyay, Dinesh Trivedi in Barrackpore and Sougata Roy in Dum Dum and actors Dipak Adhikari (Dev) from Ghatal and Tapas Paul in Krishinagar.
 
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has put up Ms Subhashini Ali against Mr Trivedi in Barrackpore, while the BJP has fielded well-known magician P C Sorcar (Junior) in Barasat. West Bengal Congress chief Adhir Chowdhury is the party's candidate in Berhampore.
 
The TMC had won 14 of the 17 seats that went to the polls today in West Bengal in the 2009 elections, while the CPI, SUCI and Congress had won one each. The TMC and the Congress were in an alliance then. The CPI (M) had not won a single seat from these in 2009.
 
There are a total of 328 candidates, including 18 women, in the 18 constituencies of Uttar Pradesh, which have a total electorate of 31.6 million voters.
 
In Bihar, more than 8.8 million voters are eligible to exercise their franchise in the six constituences which have a total of 90 candidates in the fray.
 
The 17 constituencies that went to the polls in West Bengal have a total electorate of  25.61 million and 188 candidates in the fray.
 
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BJP, Congress in bitter war as Modi plays caste card after Priyanka's "neech rajniti" remark

Bharatiya Janata Party Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi on Tuesday played the caste card as as his party and the Congress got involved in a bitter all-out war over a remark about "neech rajniti" made against him by Congress campaigner Priyanka Vadra.

 
No alliance can save 'mother-son' govt: Modi
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi today played the caste card as as his party and the Congress got involved in a bitter all-out war over a remark about "neech rajniti" made against him by Congress campaigner Priyanka Vadra.
 
Addressing public meetings in Uttar Pradesh, Mr Modi hit out at the Congress for denigrating him for his humble origins, while the Congress and other rivals of the BJP accused him of deliberately misinterpreting Ms Vadra's statement to make a naked appeal for votes from the backward classes.
 
It all started with Mr Modi storming into Amethi, the constituency of Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, in Uttar Pradesh yesterday in the last 90 minutes of campaigning there ahead of tomorrow's polling.
 
There, Mr Modi, 63, launched his fiercest attack on the Congress and the Gandhi family. Among other things, he spoke about an incident of the early 1980s in which former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the late father of Mr Rahul Gandhi, allegedly insulted then Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister T Anjaiah.
 
Mr Rajiv Gandhi's daughter and Rahul's sister Priyanka Vadra reacted sharply to Mr Modi's remarks yesterday evening.
 
"They have insulted my martyred father on the soil of Amethi. People of Amethi will never forgive them for this act. Workers in Amethi will reply to their 'neech rajniti' (low-level politics). There will be reply from each of the polling booths," she said.
 
Mr Modi hit back at Ms Vadra this morning in a series of tweets on Twitter. "As I belong to a socially backward caste, they consider my politics to be of a low level," he said.
 
"Some people may not understand this, but the country has reached the present heights because of the sacrifice and hard work of the lower castes," he said.
 
"This 'low-level politics' will free India of 60 years of misgovernance and vote-bank politics, wipe the tears of crores of Indians," he said.
 
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Mr Modi went on to build on this theme in public meetings that he addressed at various places in Uttar Pradesh, evoking criticism from rival parties that the BJP was playing the caste card in the final stages of the campaign in a desperate effort to garner as many votes and seats as possible.
 
He asked the crowd at Domariyaganj, "Is it a crime to be born in a backward caste. Did I insult anyone despite being born in a backward caste?"
 
"We do not want anything. We just want a right to live with dignity. What is the crime we have committed? Just because we belong to the lower strata, does it mean we can be abused like this? You want to hang me hang me but do not insult my fellow Indians who were born in lower castes,” he said
 
"I have sold tea, not the country," he said, referring to his humble beginning as a tea vendor.
 
Union Minister and senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal came down heavily on Mr Modi, accusing him of deliberately misinterpreting facts in a desperate effort to get votes.
 
Mr Sibal and other Congress leaders pointed out that Ms Vadra had, at no stage, made any reference to Mr Modi's caste. They said Mr Modi was also aware of this but was deliberately giving a "caste spin" to the campaign.
 
"He knows what he is saying. He knows that he is misinterpreting. He does it purposely. That is the way he is. He will never take the facts at their face value,” Mr Sibal said.
 
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Another Congress leader Rashid Alvi said, "Nobody knows which caste Mr Modi belongs to. It is he himself who has disclosed that he belongs to OBC (Other Backward Classes). He is doing this kind of politics. Now he has come down to this level."
 
BJP leaders defended Mr Modi, saying Ms Vadra should not have used the expression "neech" (low) in view of the negative connotations it had as far as caste was concerned.
 
"She doesn't understand the impact it can have, the negative impact it can have, especially at the time when this country is trying to extricate itself out of caste politics," BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said.
 
In the evening, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader and former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati attacked Mr Modi for his "desperate attempt to get the votes of the backward classes in Uttar Pradesh".
 
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1 dead, 14 hurt in twin blasts on Bangalore-Guwahati Express at Chennai station

A 24-year-old woman was killed and 14 others suffered injuries in twin blasts which occurred in two coaches of the 12509 Bangalore-Guwahati tri-weekly express train minutes after it pulled into the Chennai Central station on Thursday morning.

 
Chennai train blasts: 14 injured passengers stable
A 24-year-old woman was killed and 14 others suffered injuries in twin blasts which occurred in two coaches of the 12509 Bangalore-Guwahati tri-weekly express train minutes after it pulled into the Chennai Central station here this morning.
 
Southern Railway sources said two of the injured had suffered serious grievous injuries while the others had received minor injuries.
 
Southern Railway General Manager Rakesh Mishra told reporters at the scene that the "minor intensity" blasts occurred in sleeper coaches S4 and S5 at about 7.15 am, some ten minutes after the train arrived on platform number 9.
 
Three coaches of the train -- S3, S4 and S5 -- were affected by the two explosions, the sources said.
 
The deceased passenger was identified as Ms Swati who was travelling from Bangalore to Vijayawada on her way to her home town of Guntur in Andhra Pradesh, he said. Media reports said she was an employee of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).
 
Sources said the blasts appeared to have been caused by some devices placed under seat 70 of coach S4 and seat 30 of coach S5.
 
Mr Mishra said the train was running slightly late and had arrived at the station at 7.05 am instead of its scheduled time of 5.45 am.
 
The injured were rushed immediately to the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital near the station.
 
Minister of Railways Mallikarjun Kharge has sanctioned an ex-gratia payment of Rs 1 lakh for the next-of-kin of the deceased passenger, Rs 25,000 for each of those with grievous injuries and Rs 5,000 for each of those with minor injuries.
 
Police officials, accompanied by dog squads and bomb disposal squads, rushed to the scene of the blasts immediately and platform number 9 was cordoned off.
 
The entire train was checked by the police and it later resumed its journey to Guwahati, Assam after the affected coaches were detached and replaced with new coaches.
 
Mr Mishra said the entire train was being checked and it would resume its journey to Guwahati, Assam an hour later after the two affected coaches are detached.
 
The Railways have set up a helpline at Chennai on telephone number 044-25357398 to provide information to relatives of the passengers of the affected train.
 
Operations on other platforms as well as on the nearby suburban section continued to remain normal, Mr Mishra added.
 
A team from the National Investigation Agency (NIA) from Hyderabad will reach Chennai later today to probe the incident.
 
Security was intensified at Chennai Central railway station after the incidents.
 
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Among the seriously injured passengers, one was identified as Sumantho Devnath (37, Male), while the other was an unidentified male.
 
Those with minor injuries were identified as follows:
 
1. Shaiful Haque – 27 years Male
2. Anjanedu– 29 years Male
3. Vimal Kumar Das – 43 years Male
4. Shagun Kumar Rai– 23 years Male
5. Altaf Khan – 17 years Male
6. Uma – 35 years Female
7. Jitendra Mohanto Deka – 58 years Male
8. Sari – 21 years Male
9. Murali – 27 years Male
10. Bijoy Kumar – 14 years Male
11. Sudanchand Debnath – 64 years Male
12. Surendra Varma– 31 years Male
 
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BJP mounts sharpest attack on Robert Vadra, releases video, booklet

The Bharatiya Janata Party on Sunday mounted its sharpest attack on Congress President Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law Robert Vadra, releasing a video and a booklet alleging that he had made windfall profits from land deals in Haryana and Rajasthan.

Senior BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad addressing a press conference in New Delhi, on April 27, 2014
Senior BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad addressing a press conference in New Delhi, on April 27, 2014
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) today mounted its sharpest attack on Congress President Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law Robert Vadra, releasing a video and a booklet alleging that he had made windfall profits from land deals in Haryana and Rajasthan.
 
The latest allegations came against the growing attacks  by Ms Gandhi, her son and Congress Vice-President  Rahul Gandhi and her daughter Priyanka Vadra against the BJP and its Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in recent days.
 
The video and booklet were released here by senior BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad, who said they were not aimed at the Gandhi family but against corruption.
 
He said there was gross violation of laws relating to land and environment in the deals by Mr Vadra and alleged they had been facilitated by his proximity to the Gandhis and by the indulgence of the Congress governments in Haryana and Rajasthan.
 
"Someone talks about a big heart. Whose big heart helped Robert Vadra to establish his empire in such a short span with an initial investment of just Rs 1 lakh," he asked.
 
This came in response to Ms Vadra's dig earlier in the day at Mr Modi who had said in the past that he had the "56-inch chest" needed to govern India.
 
"To run a country like India, you don't need a 56-inch chest, but a big heart and moral strength," Ms Vadra said at an election meeting in her mother's constituency of Rae Bareli.
 
Mr Prasad said Mr Vadra's land deals were a "textbook case of corruption and crony capitalism under state patronage", and demanded that the Congress President and Vice-President should answer the questions raised by his party.
 
He also alleged that bureaucrats who helped Mr Vadra in his deals were rewarded with important postings later.
 
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Modi files papers from Varanasi; vows to clean up Ganga, serve weavers

BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi on Thursday filed his nomination papers for the ongoing Lok Sabha elections from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh and vowed to turn it into the spiritual capital of the world, clean up the mighty Ganga river and put its famed weavers back on the road to prosperity.

 
Modi files his nomination papers from Varanasi
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi today filed his nomination papers for the ongoing Lok Sabha elections from  Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh and vowed to turn it into the spiritual capital of the world, clean up the mighty Ganga river and put its famed weavers back on the road to prosperity.
 
"Mother Ganga has called me to Varanasi. I don't think anyone has sent me here nor have I come here. Like a child returning to his mother's arms, I have come here to Ganga," he told mediapersons outside the district collectorate before filing his papers.
 
Mr Modi's main rivals in Varanasi are Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader and former Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and local Congress leader Ajay Rai.
 
Well-known classical vocalist Channulal Mishra, retired Allahabad High Court judge Giridhar Malaviya, a boatman Virbhadra Nishad and Ashok, a weaver, were among those who signed Mr Modi's nomination papers as proposers.
 
Senior BJP leaders Amit Shah, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi were amongst those present on the occasion.
 
Mr Modi is also contesting for a seat in the Lok Sabha from Vadodara in Gujarat, where his main rival is senior Congress leader Madhusudhan Mistry. 
 
Vadodara will go to the polls on April 30, while Varanasi will vote on May 12 in the final round of the nine-phase elections.
 
“The Modi wave in the country has turned into a tsunami after Mr Modi filed  his papers from here today and it will wipe out all other parties such as the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress in Uttar Pradesh,” Mr Shah, one of Mr Modi’s closest confidants, told reporters later.
 
Earlier, Mr Modi, 63, arrived in Varanasi this morning to a resounding welcome by thousands of his party's supporters who lined up both sides of the streets on his route to the collectorate. On the way, he paid tributes at the statues of Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, the renowned educationist, and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, India's first Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister. Incidentally, Mr Giridhar Malaviya is a grandson of Madan Mohan Malaviya.
 
Mr Modi, who has been the Chief Minister of Gujarat since late 2001, told reporters that he had been able to change the fortunes of kite makers, who are mainly Muslims, in his state by modernising the industry and introducing new technology and marketing tools and was confident he would be able to achieve similar changes for the weaver community of Varanasi, again made up largely of Muslims.
 
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He also spoke about his success in cleaning up the Sabarmati river that flows through Ahmedabad, the main city of Gujarat, and building a modern waterfront there, and hoped to develop the Ganga in Varanasi in similar fashion.
 
"Varanasi is the cradle of India’s glorious culture, a confluence of tradition, history, culture and harmony. This is the blessed land of the Sankat Mochan temple. The spiritual power of this land is exceptional. It drew people from all over the world, who came to this land in search of peace and Moksha. It was in Sarnath, that Gautama Buddha delivered his first sermon after attaining Enlightenment. Varanasi is the birthplace of the venerable Sant Ravidas. It was in Benaras that Mahatma Kabir was born, lived and shared his wisdom. Mirza Ghalib described Benaras as ‘Kaba-E-Hindustan’ and ‘Chirag-E-Dair’ or the light of the world.  When Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya had to select a place to set up a centre of learning, it was not a surprise that he chose Benaras. No mention of Varanasi is complete without remembering (shehnai player) Ustad Bismillah Khan, arguably the greatest symbol of Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb. Ustad Bismillah Khan Sahab’s love for Varanasi is legendary," Mr Modi said in his blog today before he reached Varanasi.
 
"We envision Varanasi as a World Heritage Site that is able to draw both devotees and those who wish to understand and absorb India’s culture. This means creating state-of-the-art tourist and infrastructure facilities for Varanasi. And it is my firm belief that once we are able to give the required impetus to tourism, it will not only bring more tourists but also enhance the livelihood of the poorest of the poor. More tourists means more income for those associated with temples, those who are living on the Ghats, those who ride the ferries on the Ganga…the entire town and surrounding areas will receive a much needed facelift," he said.
 
"Ganga is the lifeline of Varanasi and is at the core of our identity- She is our Mother. Unfortunately, governments have not been able to devote the attention that should have been given to Ganga. The condition of the Ganga in several parts of UP is pitiable. We can’t let this go on anymore! Need of the hour is to work towards cleaning the Ganga and restoring it to its previous glory. In 1986 the Government of the day brought the Ganga Action Plan but it merely remained a plan, the action was missing. Budgets were allocated but the money was never used for the intended purpose. The condition of the Varuna too is similar. Now is the time for urgent action to solve this anomaly!
 
"And when I talk about my commitment to clean the Ganga, it is not a mere promise. When I took over as CM in 2001 the condition of Sabarmati was similar. It was better known for hosting circuses and children playing cricket. Switch to 2014 and things are very different! We have brought water from the Narmada and now water flows through the Sabarmati. A world class Sabarmati River Front was created, which has emerged as a popular recreation and cultural spot in Ahmedabad. With the blessings of Baba Bholenath, this is what we intend to replicate in Varanasi.
 
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"It is not only the Ganga that has become the victim of sheer negligence. We are firm in our commitment to address the issues of cleanliness in Varanasi so that we can give the citizens of Varanasi a clean and green city. We will focus on solid waste management right from collecting the waste to treating it. Similarly, the poor waste disposal practices over the years have not served the people of Varanasi well. We will leave no stone unturned to ensure that such occurrences are history within a very short period of time. Within a fixed timeframe, the problems of solid waste management, sewer and chemical waste will be successfully mitigated," he said.
 
Mr Modi said the weavers of Varanasi had suffered due to apathy of the governments in Delhi and Lucknow.
 
"It is my firm resolve to infuse this sector with latest technology and qualitative value addition so that the weavers of Varanasi become our pride at the world level. From ensuring that they get quality raw material to better marketing of their products, it is my resolve to ensure that they stand on their own feet with pride and their future generations have a bright future," he added.
 
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Priyanka says pained by attacks on husband, vows to fight back harder

Congress President Sonia Gandhi's daughter Priyanka Vadra on Tuesday hit back at the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party for maligning her husband Robert Vadra as part of a political attack on her family and declared that she would not be deterred by such attempts and would fight back with stronger resolve.

 
Feel sad about my husband, family being humiliated: Priyanka
Congress President Sonia Gandhi's daughter Priyanka Vadra today hit back at the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for maligning her husband Robert Vadra as part of a political attack on her family and declared that she would not be deterred by such attempts and would fight back with stronger resolve.
 
Addressing a meeting in Rae Bareli, her mother's constituency, Ms Vadra said she was saddened by the kind of discourse in the country during the campaign for the ongoing Lok Sabha elections.
 
She said the elections should have been about development, about the needs of the people of the country, what political parties plan to do for them and how, about jobs for the youth and how the country would be taken forward.
 
Instead of debates on such issues, she said the people were being misled by baseless allegations against the Congress and her family.
 
"Lots of things are being said, harsh words are being used, my family is being maligned, my husband is being maligned," she said.
 
"I am saddened, not because my family is being maligned, not because my husband is being maligned and the truth does not come out," she said.
 
"Not because everyday I have to tell my children that the truth will emerge one day, because I have learnt from (former Prime Minister) Indira Gandhi that the truth will come out," she said. "Your mind becomes stronger. No matter how much they try to push us down, we will come back stronger," she said. 
 
"The more they try to malign me, the harder I will fight back," she declared.
 
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Ms Vadra said the elections were also about preserving India's pluralist democracy, its composite culture and its development.
 
"In these elections, vote for the country, for your children's future, for the India of Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi, a country in which Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians live together," she said.
 
Ms Vadra, who has been managing the campaign of Ms Gandhi in Rae Bareli and her brother and Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi in Amethi, recalled the love and affection that the people of the region had showered on her family.
 
"This country is known for its generosity, its great sons have been known for their generosity. My mother was not born in this country, but you made her one of your own. You know how well she has represented you in Parliament," she said.
 
She accused the opposition of making people and communities fight each other. "They talk about taking one community forward, about leaving the other behind," she said.
 
This was the first time that Ms Vadra has responded in this manner to the allegations levelled against her family by the BJP, though she did not name the party at any point.
 
"There has been a political attack against my family. They have used my husband to make a political attack on my family. This has been going on for two years, and I feel very strongly about it," she told reporters later.
 
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Polling begins for 121 seats in fifth phase of LS elections

Polling began on Thursday morning amidst tight security for 121 seats spread across 12 States in the fifth phase of the Lok Sabha elections which are being held in nine rounds between April 7 and May 12.

 
Polling begins in fifth phase of LS elections
Polling began this morning amidst tight security for 121 seats spread across 12 States in the fifth phase of the Lok Sabha elections which are being held in nine rounds between April 7 and May 12.
 
This is the round of polling that covers the largest number of constituencies in the elections to the 16th Lok Sabha and more than 16.61 crore voters are eligible to exercise their franchise to choose from a total of 1769 candidates in the fray.
 
Simultaneously, voting is also being held today for the remaining 77 seats in the 147-member legislative assembly of Odisha. Polling for 70 seats in the Assembly was held on April 10 in the third phase of polling.
 
Bye-elections are also being held today to fill two vacancies in the West Bengal legislative assembly.
 
The constituencies that went to the polls today include all 28 Lok Sabha seats from Karnataka, 20 of 25 in Rajasthan, 10 of 29 in Madhya Pradesh and 19 of 48 in Maharashtra.
 
Seven of 40 constituencies in Bihar, three of 11 in Chhattisgarh, one of six in Jammu & Kashmir, six of 14 in Jharkhan, 11 of 80 in Uttar Pradesh, 11 of 21 in Odisha, four of 42 in West Bengal and the remaining one of two seats in Manipur also went to the polls today.
 
Prominent candidates figuring in today's polls include former Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) Chairman Nandan Nilekani (Congress), his rival in Bangalore South and BJP General Secretary Anant Kumar, former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda (JD-S), Union Ministers Sushilkumar Shinde, M Veerappa Moily, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Srikant Jena and former Union Minister Maneka Gandhi (BJP).
 
Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar's daughter Supriya Sule (NCP) and former Union Minister Lalu Prasad's eldest daughter Misa Bharti are among  the others in the contest.
 
Actor-turned-politician Shatrughan Sinha, former Union Home Secretary R K Singh are among the prominent BJP candidates in Bihar.
 
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Other big names in today's contest include former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, BJP leader Gopinath Munde, Lok Sabha deputy speaker Karia Munda of the BJP, and senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha's son Jayant Sinha.
 
In Rajasthan, former External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, who was expelled by the BJP recently, and Olympian shooter Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore are among the key candidates.
 
In West Bengal, the contest between former India football captain Bhaichung Bhutia (TMC) and S S Ahluwalia for the Darjeeling seat will be keenly watched.
 
In Chhattisgarh, former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi is in the fray from Mahasamund while Chief Minister Raman Singh's son Abhishek Singh is making his electoral debut from Rajnandgaon.
 
Of the 121 seats at stake in today's polls, the BJP had won 44 in the last Lok Sabha elections in 2009 while the Congress had got 37.
 
Polling has so far been held in 111 constituencies in the first four phases, including for 91 seats in the third phase held on April 10.
 
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Bollywood personalities take a stand, urge people to vote for "secular party"

In an unprecedented move, a group of well-known people from the film and entertainment industry, including filmmakers such as Vishal Bhardwaj, Mahesh Bhatt, Govind Nihalani and Zoya Akhtar, singer Shubha Mudgal and actor Nandita Das, on Wednesday issued an appeal, urging people to vote for the secular party which is most likely to win in their constituency.

Nandita Das
Nandita Das
In an unprecedented move, a group of well-known people from the film and entertainment industry, including filmmakers such as Vishal Bhardwaj, Mahesh Bhatt, Govind Nihalani and Zoya Akhtar, singer Shubha Mudgal and actor Nandita Das, today issued an appeal, urging people to vote for the secular party which is most likely to win in their constituency.
 
"The best thing about our country is its cultural diversity, its pluralism - the co-existence of a number of religions and ethnicities over centuries, and hence the blooming of multiple streams of intellectual and artistic thought," the appeal said.
 
"And, this has been possible only because Indian society has prided itself on being essentially secular in character, rejecting communal hatred, embracing tolerance," it said.
 
The signatories, who also included filmmakers Imtiaz Ali, Kabir Khan and Vijay Krishna Acharya, writer Anjum Rajabali, and actors Swara Bhaskar, Jyoti Dogra and Joy Sengupta, said that the very sense of India was vulnerable today.
 
"The need of the hour is to protect our country's secular foundation. Undoubtedly, corruption and governance are important issues, but we will have to vigilantly work out ways of holding our government accountable to that. However, one thing is clear: India's secular character is not negotiable! Not now, not ever. 
 
"As Indian citizens who love our motherland, we appeal to you to vote for the secular party, which is most likely to win in your constituency," they added.
 
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Other signatories to the appeal include filmmakers Anand Patwardhan, Kundan Shah, Hansal Mehta, , writer-diector Saket Chaudhary, documentary filmmaker Rakesh Sharma, actor Aditi Rao, writer-director Vinay Shukla, writers Sanjay Chhel, Kamlesh Pandey, Robin Bhatt, Rajesh Dubey, Vinod Ranganath, Imteyaz Husain, 
 
Tabla maestro Aneesh Pradhan, lyricists Sameer Anjan, Kauser Munir and Jalees Sherwani, film editors Amitabh Shukla and Nishant Radhakrishnan, art director Sukant Panigrahi, producer Anusha Khan, sound designer Bishwadeep Chatterjee, screen writers Manasee Palshikar, Rukmini Sen, Priyanka Borpujari and Mazahir Rahim, documentary filmmaker Surabhi Sharma and screen writer Sharad Tripathi also signed the appeal.
 
The signatories also included cinematographers Anil Mehta and C K Muraleedharan, producer Preety Ali, filmmaker Sona Jain, theatre activist Sameera Iyengar, playwright Shivani Tibrewala Chand and activists Tushar Gandhi, Teesta Setalvaad and Javed Anand.
 
This is the first time that Bollywood personalities have come out collectively to take a stand during elections in the country, though many of them have been individually associated with political parties. Many have also contested and won elections and also served as Ministers at the Centre.
 
Writer Rajabali, whose brainchild the appeal is, told mediapersons that he was surprised at the readiness with which the younger lot signed the statement and took a stand at a time when they might justifiably be more obsessed with their careers.
 
Actress Nandita Das, who has been involved in a variety of causes, said that she owed whatever she was today to the secular and pluralist upbringing that she had.
 
Without naming any party, she said there was a couple of them which are playing a divisive role. She said that, by laying emphasis on development and governance, these parties were seeking to underplay their divisive record.
 
According to her, there was enough evidence in the public domain about the role these parties had played. She said it was not just about communalism and Muslims, but about all other religious, linguistic and regional groups. In this context, she pointed out the stand taken by various parties on criminalisation of private and consensual sex between adults of the same sex.
 
"I am what I am because of the varied influences that I have experienced. I want my son to grow up with all these many influences," she said. She said the country could not be reduced to a monolith or a homogenous entity. "In our differences lie our unity," she said.
 
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Priyanka denies there was proposal for her to contest against Modi from Varanasi

Congress President Sonia Gandhi's daughter Priyanka Vadra on Monday denied a newspaper report that there was a proposal for her to contest against BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh in the Lok Sabha elections.

Priyanka Vadra
Priyanka Vadra
Congress President Sonia Gandhi's daughter Priyanka Vadra today denied a newspaper report that there was a proposal for her to contest against Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh in the Lok Sabha elections.
 
She also told NDTV television news channel that her family, including elder brother Rahul Gandhi, the vice-president of the party, would whole-heartedly support her if she ever decided to fight an election.
 
"No one in my family would ever stop me from contesting an election. My brother, mother and husband would wholeheartedly support me if I wanted to contest," NDTV quoted he as saying.
 
"My brother has expressed to me many times that he thinks I should contest,' she said.
 
Ms Vadra said that she would, for the present, continue to focus on managing the election campaigns of her brother Rahul Gandhi in Amethi and her mother Sonia in Rae Bareli, both in Uttar Pradesh.
 
"My decision to not contest is personal. I will only change it when I feel from within I should," she said.
 
Ms Vadra's comments today addressed the oft-expressed view that she could overshadow her brother, who is leading the Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, if she played a larger role in politics.
 
The Times of India said in a front-page lead story today that Ms Vadra was learnt to have been keen on being the party's candidate against Mr Modi, and that the party leadership finally decided against it.
 
Ms Vadra has limited her political role to managing Rahul Gandhi's and Sonia Gandhi's campaigns in Amethi and Rae Bareli.
 
According to the newspaper, she is believed to have made a strong pitch to contest because she felt Mr Modi was "bad for the country" and needed to be "stopped".
 
The report said a section of Congress leaders felt that her candidature would have sent out a strong message to the party's workers and the electorate at large.
 
It said the party's decision not to field Ms Vadra was based on the logic of preferring a local leader to take on Mr Modi, who belongs to Gujarat. There was also the fear that it would have exposed her to attacks from Mr Modi and the BJP on account of her husband Robert Vadra's alleged land deals.
 
The report said there was also a fear that her candidature would have diverted attention from Mr Rahul Gandhi and his campaign and raised questions whether her entry was an implicit acknowledgement of "her brother's lacklustre leadership".
 
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