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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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Sonia Gandhi files nomination from Rae Bareli for LS elections

Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who is seeking a fourth consecutive term in the Lok Sabha, filed her nomination papers for the coming general elections from her family bastion of Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday.

Sonia Gandhi files nomination from Rae Bareli
Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who is seeking a fourth consecutive term in the Lok Sabha, filed her nomination papers for the coming general elections from her family bastion of Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh today.
 
Ms Gandhi, 67, had been elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time in 1999 from Amethi, which is now held by her son and Congress President Rahul Gandhi since 2004. She was elected from Rae Bareli in 2004 and 2009.
 
"The people of Amethi have always accepted me with a lot of love, and I hope they will elect me again," she told reporters after filing her nomination at the district collectorate, with her son by her side.
 
The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has nominated Delhi-based Supreme Court lawyer Ajay Agarwal against her from Rae Bareli,while the Samajwadi Party has, in keeping with similar gestures in the past, not fielded anyone in the constituency.
 
The BJP had toyed with the idea of putting up former Union Miister Uma Bharti against Ms Gandhi. But she was said to be reluctant to give up her allotted constituency of Jhansi and is finally said to have agreed to contest on the condition that she be allowed to fight from both constituencies. That was not agreeable to the BJP leadership, sources said.
 
Agarwal was earlier with the Samajwadi Party and joined the BJP recently. He earned a name for himself by filing a public interest litigation in the Taj Heritage Corridor case against former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati. He has also argued against the Congress leadership in the Bofors case.
 
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“I will win against Sonia Gandhi and the BJP will create a record in UP and win majority of seats,” Agarwal told newspersons after the BJP announced his nomination.
 
Earlier, Rahul drove Ms Gandhi through the streets of Rae Bareli on the way to the collectorate. They were given a resounding welcome by the local people, who turned up in thousands to cheer them and showered rose petals on their car. She got out of the car at a few places to meet with people, including women.
 
Ms Gandhi stopped briefly at the Congress office in Rae Bareli to participate in a religious ceremony there, which has been a family tradition for years. Later, she drove to Takia, a nearby village to visit the family of the late Ali Miyan, a well-known Islamic scholar.
 
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Congress promises rights to health, pension, housing, social security, dignity

The Congress on Wednesday promised to the people a charter of minimum rights that it will put in place, if elected to office in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, including the Rights to Health, Pension, Housing, Social Security, Dignity and Entrepreneurship.

 
Sonia Gandhi releases Congress manifesto for LS elections
The Congress today promised to the people a charter of minimum rights that it will put in place, if elected to office in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, including the Rights to Health, Pension, Homestead or Housing, Social Security, Dignity and humane working conditions and to Entrepreneurship that will protect and assist all those who seek to become entrepreneurs.
 
In its election manifesto released here today by Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, the party pledged to implement a 15-point agenda for socio-economic and political transformation of the country.
 
"We will endeavour to bring around two-thirds of our population -- the skilled hands that build India - into the middle class, through a package of basic rights for all workers -- formal and informal, organized and unorganized, regular and contractual.
 
"Our aim will be to provide them and all low-income families with economic security and a minimum standard of living to uplift their condition," the manifesto said.
 
The Congress said it would ensure that the unpredictable risk of retroactive taxation is avoided and promised to invest more than 1 trillion dollars over the next decade on upgrading India's power, transport and other development infrastructure.
 
Among other things, the party said it was committed to creating national consensus on affirmative action for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the private sector.
 
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The document said the new rights would supplement the other rights established under the first and second terms in office of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, includind the Right to Food, the Right to Information, the Right to Education, the Right to Employment and the rights to fight corruption (through various laws such as the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act), the Right to Identity (Aadhaar) and the Right to direct receipt of welfare benefits (Direct Benefit Transfers).
 
The party said it would, to support the Right to Health, increase health expenditure to 3% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and provide universal and quality health care for all Indians, including free medicines.
 
To support the right to homestead/housing, it will ensure affordable and quality housing for all and expand the Indira Awaas Yojana and Rajiv Awaas Yojana to cover all poor rural and urban households, it said.
 
The manifesto promised to restore India to eight-plus growth rate within three years. The party said it would ensure India has a globally competitive business and investment-friendly environment.
 
It promised firm action to control inflation even in a difficult global economic scenario and a open and competive economy, open to global and domestic competition.
 
"Our vision is building India as the world leader in manufacturing. We will ensure a 10% growth rate in the manufacturing sector with a special emphasis on small and medium enterprises," it said.
 
The Congress said it would continue on the path of making India a world leader in agricultural  production and agro-industry, taking advantage of its national endowments and the genius of its farmers.
 
"We will focus on increasing agriculture productivity and farmer incomes by increasing investments in irrigation, agricultural value chains, cold storage and warehousing," it said.
 
The manifesto said the party would increase the Goods and Services Tax Bills and a new Direct Tax Code Bill in Parliament and ensure they are enactd within one year.
 
It also promised to support more transparent, competitive and better-regulated public private partnerships for both hard and soft infrastructure development.
 
The Congress promised to promote a more flexible labour policy as needed for maintaining competitiveness, while moving towards international labour standards for workers.
 
"We will promote greater integration with the global economy and encourage Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), especially in labour intensive sectors," it said.
 
"We will ensure that growth is socially responsible, and comes from genuine valude addition, not from stripping our natural resources or from underpaying our labour," it said.
 
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The party said it would ensure that all towns and village panchayats are connected with high-speed broadband connectivity within 18 months.
 
The manifesto said the UPA government had made serious and systematic efforts to track down and recover black money and promised to continue this effort. It said the government would appoint a special envoy to pursue this agenda.
 
The Congress promised to provide skills training to 10 crore youth and provide them with employment opportunities over the next five years and ensure that every citizen has a bank account within the next five years.
 
The manifesto promised to implement the National Youth Policy, which includes development of sports, expand higher education opportunities with a focus on students from low-income families and open up the higher education system to investment from India and from abroad and bring the best available knowldege and teaching to the country's youth.
 
"We will move our focus from 'Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan' to 'Shreshta Shiksha Abhiyan', making 'quality' the centre of our agenda," it said.
 
The party promised to work towards the enactment of the Communal Violence Bill at the earliest and continue its focus on empowerment of women and fight for their security, self-respect and dignity, and equality.
 
Among other things, it said it w ould ensure the passage of the Women's Reservation Bill, formulate a Citizen's Charter for Women's Safety and Security, and provide upto Rs 1 lakh as low-interest loans to women through self-help groups for livelihood activities.
 
The Congress promised to enhance legal protection and resource allocation for the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs). It said it would enact central legislation on the Scheduled Casts and Scheduled Tribes Sub Plans to ensure focused spending of funds on weaker sections. It also promised to ensure the passage of the Scheduled Cstes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2013.
 
The manifesto said the party would strongly protect the interests of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), especially those amongst them that are most deprived. It said it would establish a new commission to inquire into the condition of the most backward and marginalized OBC communities who have not adequately received the benefits of government programmes and recommend corrective measures.
 
The manifesto promised to strengthen the legal and institutional framework to protect children.
 
"We will improve the working conditions of Anganwadi and related workers in whose our nation entrusts our most precious asset -- our youngest citizens," it said.
 
The Congress promised a major impetus to planned urbanization, creating inclusive cities, revamping urban governance, empowering mayors, increasing low-income housing and making larger investments in urban infrastructure, especially in multi-modal transport.
 
It said it would accelerate governance reform including legal, judicial and electoral reform, building on the momentum of the last few months.
 
It promised to enact the remaining anti-corruption and accountability bills that were blocked by the opposition and to implement a strategy for legal and judicial reforms. It said it would ensure that the recommendations of the second Administrative Reforms Commission are implemented and monitored at every step. It promised to develop a consensus and bring about legislative amendments towards effective and meaningful electoral reforms.
 
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The manifesto said the party was committed to a series of specific legislative, administrative and regulatory measures to protect the environment. It said it would set up a National Environmental Appraisal and Monitoring Authority (NEAMA).
 
The Congress said it would ensure that the process of procuring the finest, and most state-of-the-art equipment for the Armed Forces was carried out efficiently and transparently, while ensuring the rapid development of the domestic defence industry.
 
"We will continue to protect and advance the interests of our defence personnel and ex-servicemen. 
 
"We will continue to follow an unwavering pro-India foreign policy, enhance bilateral relationships with our neighbours and friendly nations, enhance commercial ties and strive to mobilize support for permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council," it added.
 
The release of the manifesto was preceded by the screening of a short film on the process of drafting it, which included consultations held by Mr Gandhi with various groups, including youth, women, farmers, labourers, fishermen, students, businessmen, across the country to ensure that the document reflected the views of the people of India.
 
The manifesto talks about the Congress' contributions to India's unity, secular polity and democratic federalism and how it has championed the rights of the weaker sections, created conditions for faster economic growth and been an instrument of social and economic change.
 
It also includes a report card on the UPA government's performance and a comparison of the Congress with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the main opposition party. It said the Congress had an inclusive vision, while the BJP's was an "exclusionary doctrine".
 
The document lists the important legislation enacted by the UPA government in the 2009-14 period.
 
The manifesto has a detailed action plan on the implementation of its manifesto for the next five years as well as a 100-day agenda for growth.
 
The detailed plan includes an economic roadmap for 2014-19, and the Congress' plans to create more jobs, protect the interests of labour, empower the SCs, STs and OBCs, accelerate skill development, empower women, protect children and safeguard minorities.
 
It dwells at length on building a world-class education system, promoting sports, rural development and Panchayati Raj, agriculture and family welfare, industrial and manufacturing growth, infrastructure (transport, energy), urban development, housing, environment and information and communications technology.
 
"The 2014 Lok Sabha elections will offer stark choices. On the one side is the Indian National Congess with its long track record of achievements and accomplishments, with its vision and values bequeathed to it by a most remarkable generation of Indians led by Mahatma Gandhi.
 
"On the other side is an ideology of hate, bigotry and prejudice, an ideology that negates the very idea of India that has been cherished by us for centuries.
 
"On the one side is the Indian National Congress, which celebrates and rejoices in the multitude of diversities of India. On the other side is an ideology that seeks to impose uniformity in the name of unity.
 
"Economic growth, social harmony, empowerment of weaker sections and strengthening of democratic institutions have to all go hand-in hand. It is only the Indian National Congress that will, by its very character, ensure that this happens," it added.
 
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Denied LS ticket by BJP, Jaswant Singh says will file nomination on Monday

Senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh, who is upset at being denied a ticket by the party to contest the coming Lok Sabha elections from his home town of Barmer, confirmed on Sunday that he would file his nomination from there on Monday, presumably as an independent candidate.

Not furniture that BJP can adjust me: Jaswant
Senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Jaswant Singh, who is upset at being denied a party ticket to contest the coming Lok Sabha elections from his home town of Barmer in Rajasthan, today confirmed that he would file his nomination from there tomorrow, presumably as an independent candidate.
 
At the same time, he ruled out joining the Congress or any other party, saying it was insulting to him for any party to even think on such lines.
 
Reacting to media reports that the Congress might try and rope him in, Mr Singh, 76, told newspersons in his village that he had spent his entire political life in the BJP and had never thought of joining any other party.
 
"If the Congress is thinking along those lines, it is a waste of their time," he said.
 
But, despite repeated queries, he refused to confirm or deny whether the Congress had, in fact, made any overtures to him or not.
 
To another question, Mr Singh said he would go to Barmer tomorrow and file his nominations. "I will go to Barmer, will discuss the issue with others and act accordingly," he said.
 
Asked if he would resign from the party before filing his nomination, he said these things would be known tomorrow.
 
Mr Singh was particularly unhappy with senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley's statement that the party could not "adjust" Mr Singh in its list of candidates and that it would find other ways of using his abilities.
 
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"I saw on television a party leader saying that the could not 'adjust' me. The choice of words shows their way of thinking and their arrogant nature. It is insulting to me. I am not a piece of furniture, a chair or a table, which can be moved to some other part of the room if it does not fit in one place.
 
"I don't want to be 'adjusted'," he said. "All my life, I have worked for the party, in its best interests, to the best of my ability," he said.
 
About Barmer, he said it was the place where he was born and where he had grown. "All that I know today, I learnt from here," he said.
 
Asked about the caste equations in the area, Mr Singh regretted that the social fabric of the region was being torn by such considerations. He said he had never practised such politics. "You cannot divide society and people in this manner. If we persist in doing so, the state will end up as a second-rate UP, a third-rate Bihar," he said.
 
The BJP had, on Friday, announced that its candidate from Barmer would be Col Sonaram Chaudhary, a former MLA, who had recently joined it after resigning from the Congress, ignoring Mr Singh's claims and his wish that he be allowed to contest what could possibly be his last election from his home turf.
 
Reacting to the move, Mr Singh had hit out at the party yesterday, saying that it had been encroached upon by "outsiders", an obvious reference to the fact that it had given tickets to several people who had joined it in recent weeks, ignoring the claims of party loyalists.
 
He also made it clear to journalists at Jodhpur on his way to barmer that he would not indulge in any kid of bargaining with the party for post-election positions or any other officers from it.
 
"My sense of honour is not subject to trading," he said, even as Mr Jaitley and BJP President Rajnath Singh said that the party would utilise Mr Singh's abilities in some other way.
 
Mr Rajnath Singh said the importance that the BJP acccorded to Mr Singh could not be judged on the basis of an election ticket alone. "He is far above that," he said.
 
"The challenge today is between the real BJP and the fake BJP," Mr Singh said. "Only the people can decide on the difference between the two," he said.
 
He said he had lived and struggled all these years to uphold the principles on which the BJP was founded and it was important that he continued to do so.
 
He said it was for the BJP to realise what would add value to the party, to India and to the people of India.
 
The BJP's decision to deny the ticket to Mr Singh is being seen as yet another indication that the old order in the party is being forced to yield place to the new.
 
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According to media reports, Mr Singh had conveyed to the BJP leadership that he would contest the election from Barmer as an independent candidate if the party decided against nominating him.
 
He has never contested from Barmer, having been elected to the Lok Sabha from Chittorgarh in Rajasthan in 1991 and 1996, and from Darjeeling in West Bengal in the last general elections in 2009.
 
According to sources, Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje had pushed for a ticket for Col Choudhary, a Jat leader, after he joined the BJP some time ago.
 
Col Choudhary had lost the 2004 Lok Sabha elections from Barmer to Mr Jaswant Singh's son Manvendra Singh, who now represents Sheo - a part of the Barmer Parliamentary constituency - in the Rajasthan Legislative Assembly.
 
The move to deny Mr Singh a ticket has also upset a section of BJP workers in Barmer, who staged protests and tore party posters to express their anger.
 
The denial of the party nomination to Mr Singh came just a day after the BJP had, on Thursday, managed to mollify its veteran leader Lal Krishna Advani into accepting the party's decision to field him from Gandhinagar in Gujarat, though he had expressed his wish to shift to Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh.
 
Earlier, another party veteran, Murli Manohar Joshi, was reportedly upset after he had to make way for BJP Prime Ministerial candidate and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who wanted to contest the Lok Sabha elections from his constituency of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. He was persuaded finally to move to Kanpur.
 
Another senior leader, Lalji Tandon, had to give up his claim over Lucknow, the seat held by him, to accommodate Mr Rajnath Singh, who decided against contesting from Ghaziabad, the seat he had won the last time.
 
In Punjab, three-time MP and former Indian cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu had to make way in Amritsar for senior leader Arun Jaitley.
 
Yesterday, the BJP denied renomination to seven-time MP Harin Pathak from Ahmedabad East and fielded well-known actor Paresh Rawal as its candidate from the constituency. Mr Pathak is known to be close to Mr Advani and was reportedly not on very good terms with Mr Modi.
 
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Jaswant Singh says fight is between "real BJP" and "fake BJP"

Amid intense speculation that he might quit the BJP after being denied a ticket to contest the coming Lok Sabha elections from his home town of Barmer in Rajasthan, former External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh said on Saturday the party had been encroached upon by "outsiders".

My fight is between fake and real BJP: Jaswant Singh
Amid intense speculation that he might quit the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after being denied a ticket to contest the coming Lok Sabha elections from his home town of Barmer in Rajasthan, former External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh today said the party had been encroached upon by "outsiders".
 
He was apparently referring to the fact that the BJP had given Lok Sabha tickets to several people who had joined it in recent days and weeks, including Col Sonaram Choudhary, who switched sides from the Congress recently and was named the candidate from Barmer yesterday.
 
"All workers of the BJP must be seriously concerned about these developments," he said.
 
Talking to journalists at Jodhpur on his way to Barmer, where he will meet his supporters today and tomorrow before taking a decision on his future course of action, Mr Singh, 76, also made it clear that he would indulge in any bargaining with the party for post-election positions or any other offers from it.
 
"My sense of honour is not subject to trading," he said, even as BJP President Rajnath Singh and senior party leader Arun Jaitley said that the party would utilise Mr Singh's abilities in an appropriate manner.
 
Mr Rajnath Singh said the importance that the BJP acccorded to Mr Singh could not be judged on the basis of an election ticket alone. "He is far above that," he said.
 
Mr Jaitley said it was true that the BJP had not been able to accommodate Mr Singh's wishes as far as Barmer was concerned, but the party would use his abilities in other ways.
 
"The challenge today is between the real BJP and the fake BJP," Mr Singh said in Jodhpur today.
 
"Only the people can decide on the difference between the two," he said.
 
He said he had lived and struggled all these years to uphold the principles on which the BJP was founded and it was important that he continued to do so.
 
He said it was for the BJP to realise what would add value to the party, to India and to the people of India.
 
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The BJP's decision to deny the ticket to Mr Singh is being seen as yet another indication that the old order in the party is being forced to yield place to the new.
 
According to media reports, Mr Singh had conveyed to the BJP leadership that he would contest the election from Barmer as an independent candidate if the party decides against nominating him.
 
He has never contested from Barmer, having been elected to the Lok Sabha from Chittorgarh in Rajasthan in 1991 and 1996, and from Darjeeling in West Bengal in the last general elections in 2009.
 
According to sources, Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje had pushed for a ticket for Col Choudhary, a Jat leader, after he joined the BJP some time ago.
 
Col Choudhary had lost the 2004 Lok Sabha elections from Barmer to Mr Jaswant Singh's son Manvendra Singh, who now represents Sheo - a part of the Barmer Parliamentary constituency - in the Rajasthan Legislative Assembly.
 
While Mr Singh has not spoken out about his future course of action, the speculation was that he might resign from the BJP in a day or two and decide to contest from Barmer as an independent candidate or ask his son to contest from the constituency, again as an independent. He said that he would announce his decision at Barmer on Monday.
 
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The move to deny Mr Singh a ticket has also upset a section of BJP workers in Barmer.
 
These development have come just a day after the BJP had, on Thursday, managed to mollify its veteran leader Lal Krishna Advani into accepting the party's decision to field him from Gandhinagar in Gujarat, though he had expressed his wish to shift to Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh.
 
Earlier, another party veteran, Murli Manohar Joshi, was reportedly upset after he had to make way for BJP Prime Ministerial candidate and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who wanted to contest the Lok Sabha elections from his constituency of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. He was persuaded finally to move to Kanpur.
 
Another senior leader, Lalji Tandon, had to give up his claim over Lucknow, the seat held by him, to accommodate Mr Rajnath Singh, who decided against contesting from Ghaziabad, the seat he had won the last time.
 
In Punjab, three-time MP and former Indian cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu had to make way in Amritsar for senior leader Arun Jaitley.
 
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Advani agrees to contest from Gandhinagar after BJP leaves choice to him

After sulking for nearly 24 hours during which top leaders of the party sought to mollify him, veteran BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani announced on Thursay that he would contest the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Gandhinagar in Gujarat, giving up his insistence on fighting from Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh.

File photo of senior BJP leader L. K. Advani.
File photo of senior BJP leader L. K. Advani.
After sulking for nearly 24 hours during which top leaders of the party sought to mollify him, veteran Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Lal Krishna Advani today announced that he would contest the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Gandhinagar in Gujarat, giving up his insistence on fighting from Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh.
 
Mr Advani, 86, was miffed by the fact that the party had decided to field him from Gandhinagar, from where he has been elected five times, though he had indicated that he would prefer to contest from Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh.
 
He was also upset that the party did not give him any choice in this matter, though it had accommodated the wishes of several other senior leaders by allowing them to fight from constituencies they wanted.
 
In a statement issued here this evening, Mr Advani said BJP President Rajnath Singh had conveyed to him the "desire of the Gujarat unit of the BJP and the decision of the Election Committee yesterday that I should contest the Parliamentary election from Gandhinagar."
 
He said that, this morning, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who is the BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate, also came over to his residence and emphasised that the people of Gujarat were keen that he represent Gandhinagar in the Lok Sabha once again.
 
He said Mr Rajnath Singh informed him today that the Madhya Pradesh unit of the BJP had also suggested his name for contesting the Bhopal Parliamentary seat.
 
"He has further informed me that after consulting all colleagues in the Parliamentary Board and the Central Election Committee of the party, it has been agreed that the choice between the two parliamentary seats should be left to me. 
 
"I am deeply touched by this gesture of my party colleagues.  I had some weeks ago said that I would be contesting the Parliamentary election from Gandhinagar itself.   I have been integrally connected with Gujarat since migrating from Karachi in 1947. I have represented the State both in Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha.  
 
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"Having represented Gandhinagar constituency in the Lok Sabha since 1991, I have decided to contest the 2014 General Elections from Gandhinagar itself.  I have conveyed my opinion to Shri Rajnath Singh," he said.
 
Mr Advani also conveyed his gratitude to Mr Kailash Joshi, the present member from Bhopal in Lok Sabha, who had offered him the seat, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Madhya Pradesh BJP chief Narinder Singh Tomar for proposing his name from Bhopal.
 
Shortly before Mr Advani's decision, Mr Rajnath Singh issued a statement notng that the former Deputy Prime Minister had represented Gandhinagar in the Lok Sabha since 1991.
 
"He has been winning that constituency in each of the last five general elections by a large margin. The Gujarat Unit of BJP had unanimously recommended Shri Advaniji’s name for contesting the Lok Sabha election from Gandhinagar this time also, and the Central Election Committee of the Party also unanimously decided that Shri Advaniji should contest from Gandhinagar. 
 
"There was an alternate suggestion that Shri Advaniji should contest from Bhopal. The Madhya Pradesh Unit of the  BJP has recommended Shri Advaniji’s name from the Bhopal Lok Sabha seat.  They were keen that Shri Advaniji, the senior most leader of the party should contest from that State, so that the Party’s gains in that State may also be enhanced," he said.
 
"I have consulted the members of the Parliamentary Board and the Central Election Committee of the Party on this issue telephonically since most of the members are traveling in various parts of the country.  It is the unanimous view of the party that the choice of where to contest from should be left to Shri Advaniji himself.  I have spoken to Shri Advaniji and conveyed the views of all to him in this regard.  The party will respect the opinion of Shri Advaniji with regard to his choice of constituency for contesting the election," Mr Rajnath Singh added.
 
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The two statements, with Mr Rajnath Singh saying that Mr Advani could choose the constituency he wanted to contest from, and the veteran leader accepting the BJP's decision, indicated that the party had managed to find a way out of an embarassing situation.
 
The solution was worked out after several senior BJP leaders met Mr Advani last night and throughout the day and following a gentle nudge from the top brass of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is learnt to have advised the party leadership to quickly put a lid on the controversy by accommodating his wishes and showing due deference to his age, seniority and stature.
 
Senior leaders Sushma Swaraj and Nitin Gadkari had met Mr Advani at his residence here last night to apprise him of the party's position in the matter and persuade him to accept the decision.
 
The party's Parliamentary Board had last night, after a marathon sitting, decided that Mr Advani would be renominated from Gandhinagar and that Mr Modi would contest from a second seat, Vadodara, in that state.
 
The party had earlier, on March 15, announced that Mr Modi would contest from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh.
 
Mr Advani's request to move from Gandhinagar to Bhopal was seen as an indication of the uneasy relationship that he shares with Mr Modi, whose elevation as the party's Prime Ministerial candidate had upset him. Mr Advani has for long wanted a shot at the top job himself.
 
His insistence on moving to Bhopal has also given rise to speculation that he feared that his chances of getting re-elected from Gandhinagar might be sabotaged by Mr Modi's supporters, who had not taken kindly to Mr Advani's objections to the Gujarat Chief Minister's elevation as the BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate.
 
Mr Advani was not present at yesterday's meeting of the party's Parliamentary Board. The party's view has been that any shift by Mr Advani would send out "wrong signals".  Mr Modi was amongst those who attended the meeting.
 
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Earlier, the sitting MP from Bhopal and BJP veteran Kailash Joshi had said that he was not keen on contesting from the constituency and had offered the seat to Mr Advani.
 
This morning, Mr Modi himself met Mr Advani and talked to him for more than half an hour. Later, Ms Swaraj met him again, as did former party president M Venkaiah Naidu.
 
Political observers said Mr Advani was, by expressing his wish to contest from Bhopal, sending out the message that he was not dependent on Mr Modi to get re-elected to the Lok Sabha. 
 
Some weeks ago, there were suggestions that the BJP might ask Mr Advani to opt for a Rajya Sabha seat, but that move was dropped after the party patriarch made it clear that he was keen on contesting again from Gandhinagar and in no mood to retire from electoral politics.
 
The BJP leaders who met Mr Advani as well as the RSS are learnt to have conveyed to him that the party's decision on Gandhinagar would not be changed. But, by this evening, the party appeared to be in a mood to relent and accomodate him, with Mr Rajnath Singh telling reporters in Chennai that Mr Advani was free to contest from any seat of his choice. "It is entirely upto Mr Advani," he said.
 
The spat, which was all over the front pages and on all television news channels, has caused acute embarassment for the BJP just weeks ahead of the crucial Lok Sabha elections.
 
Earlier, another senior party leader, Murli Manohar Joshi, was said to be unhappy with the fact that the BJP had made him shift to Kanpur from Varanasi to make away for Mr Modi. Another veteran leader Lalji Tandon was reportedly upset that his Lucknow seat was given to Mr Rajnath Singh.
 
In Punjab, former Indian cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu had to give up Amritsar, a seat he had won thrice, to enable another senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley to contest from there. Mr Sidhu was offered two other seats, but he made it clear that he would not fight from anywhere else.
 
In Rajasthan, former External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh is learnt to have told Mr Rajnath Singh that he would contest from Barmer as an independent if he were denied a ticket from there.
 
On June 10 last year, Mr Advani had resigned from all posts in the party, a day after its president Rajnath Singh, ignoring his objections, appointed Mr Modi as the chairman of its campaign committee for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. 
 
He came around a day later on the request of senior leaders and on the advice of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat.
 
Mr Advani had, at that time, skipped the BJP's national executive meeting in Goa, where the announcement about Mr Modi was made.
 
The manner in which the BJP top brass went ahead and announced Mr Modi's appointment, in Mr Advani's absence, led to the conclusion in many quarters that he had been marginalized by the party that he had led at one time.
 
Mr Advani, along with former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, is amongst the tallest leaders of the BJP, which the two had helped to found and build over the past three decades and more.
 
It was largely due to his efforts that the BJP bounced back from just two Lok Sabha seats in 1984 to 86 in 1989, 121 in 1992 and 161 in 1996, when it became the single largest party in the Lok Sabha.
 
Mr Advani was the BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate in the 2009 elections, which saw the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) win a second term in office.
 
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Indian ships, aircraft widen search for missing Malaysian aircraft to Bay of Bengal

India has widened the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines aircraft, which disappeared from the radars early on Saturday while on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people board, to the Bay of Bengal at the request of the Malaysian government.

 
India has widened the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines aircraft, which disappeared from the radars early on Saturday while on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people board, to the Bay of Bengal at the request of the Malaysian government.
 
An official press release said here today that the Malaysian authorities had requested for the extension of the search to the Bay of Bengal in area of about 9000 sq km (15 km x 600 km).
 
"This area is approximately 900 km due west of Port Blair. Search in this area would be undertaken by the resources of Eastern Naval Command," it said.
 
Earlier, the Government had deployed assets of the Indian Navy, Indian Coast Guard and Indian Air Force in a coordinated search of the area in South Andaman Sea for the missing airliner, which also had five Indians and a Canadian of Indian origin among its passengers.
 
Indian Navy has been nominated as the lead service for the coordination of the operation. The joint effort is being coordinated from Maritime Operations Centre of the Indian Navy in New Delhi.
 
The release said specific areas had been allocated by the Malaysian authorities for search by Indian ships and aircraft. Presently, two ships of Indian Navy, INS Saryu and INS Kumbhir, are combing the designated areas in South Andaman Sea.
Hunt for missing jet spreads to Indian Ocean
 
INS Kesari has replaced INS Kumbhir at around 1500h today for the search as it is also carrying an integral helicopter.  In addition, two Coast Guard vessels are also carrying out search along the coastline. Two Dornier aircraft of Indian Navy and Coast Guard are also carrying out aerial search in the vicinity of the Andaman coastline.
 
The Joint Operations Room at Port Blair has been activated to monitor the progress of the search operations. The Commander-in-Chief Andaman and Nicobar Command has been nominated as the Overall Force Commander of the Indian Forces.
 
 
The Boeing B777-200 ER aircraft, operating flight MH370, was reported missing off the Vietnamese coast around 0240 hours Malaysian time on Saturday. 
 
The plane had departed from Kuala Lumpur at 1241 Saturday morning and was scheduled to land at Beijing International Airport at 6.30 am local Beijing time on the same day.
 
Over the past five days, a lot of information has been thrown up, but most of them have turned out to be false leads and a massive search operation, involving ships and aircraft from several countries, has not found any trace of the missing aircraft. India is the latest country to have joined the search efforts in its territorial waters.
 
Malaysian police have said they are looking at all kinds of possibilities, including terrorism, hijacking, sabotage, mechanical failure and passengers or crew members with personal or psychological problems.
 
The airline has deployed teams of caregivers in Kuala Lumpur and Beijing, consisting of its trained staff and volunteers from NGOs to take care of families of the passengers and crew of the aircraft.
 
Over the past four days, the search and rescue teams have expanded the scope of their operations beyond the flight path to the West Peninsula of Malaysia at the Straits of Malacca. 
 
"The authorities are looking at a possibility of an attempt made by MH370 to turn back to Subang. All angles are being looked at. We are not ruling out any possibilities," the airline had said in a statement on Tuesday.
 
The last known position of MH370 before it disappeared off the radar was 065515 North (longitude) and 1033443 East (latitude).
 
The search and rescue mission has been joined by teams from countries such as Australia, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Philippines, the United States of America and now India.
 
Apart from the search in the sea, search on land in between these areas is also being conducted.
 
The airline said the aircraft, was carrying a total of 239 people, comprising 227 passengers (including two infants) and 12 members of crew. 
 
According to the manifest, the Indians on the flight were identified as: Mr Vinod Kolekar, 59; Ms Chetana Kolekar, 55; Mr Swanand Kolekar, 23; Ms Chandrika Sharma, 51; and Mr Kranti Shirsath, 44. The list also includes a Canadian of Indian origin, Mr Muktesh Mukherjee, 42.
 
The passengers are of 14 different nationalities. All crew on board are Malaysians.
 
The passengers include 153 from China/Taiwan (including one infant), 38 from Malaysia, 5 Indians, 7 Indonesians, 6 Australians, four from France, three (including an infant) from the United States, two each from Ukraine, Canada and New Zealand, and one each from Russia, Italy, the Netherlands and Austria.
 
The flight was piloted by Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, a Malaysian aged 53 with total flying hours of 18,365hours. He joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981. First officer, Fariq Ab.Hamid, a Malaysian, 27, has total flying hours of 2,763 hours. He joined Malaysia Airlines in 2007.
 
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The families of passengers may contact +603 7884 1234 (Kuala Lumpur) / +8610 6437 6249 (Beijing), the airline said.
 
Among the latest theories is one that suggests that the aircraft could have been deliberately flown across the Malay peninsula towards the Andaman Islands by someone with aviation training, hundreds of km from its intended flight path.
 
Malaysia Airlines did not give out any new information today, except to say that it would continue to cooperate with the search and rescue mission being coordinated by the Department of Civil Aviation under the Ministry of Transport.
 
"Malaysia Airlines is fully aware of the on-going media speculations and we have nothing further to add to the information we have already provided," it said.
 
"The aircraft is still missing, and the search area is expanding," Malaysia's acting Minister of Transport Hishamuddin Hussein told a press conference in Kuala Lumpur today.
 
"We are now pushing further into the South China Sea, and further into Indian Ocean," he said.
 
Mr Hussein said as many as 57 ships and 48 aircraft from 13 countries were involved in the search efforts. "Our priority remains finding the plane," he said.
 
He said investigating teams would not release any information until it had been properly verified and corroborated.
 
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Kiran Reddy quits as Andhra Pradesh CM day after LS passes Telangana Bill

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy announced his resignation on Wednesday in protest against the decision of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance Government at the Centre to go ahead with its decision to carve out Telangana from Andhra Pradesh as the 29th state of the Union.

Andhra Pradesh CM Kiran Reddy resigns, quits Congress
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy announced his resignation today in protest against the decision of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government at the Centre to go ahead with its decision to carve out Telangana from Andhra Pradesh as the 29th state of the Union.
 
Mr Reddy handed in his papers to Governor E S L Narasimhan a day after, amid noisy schenes, the Lok Sabha passed the Andhra Pradesh Reorganization Bill, which seeks to bifurcate the state to create the new state of Telangana.
 
Before driving down to Raj Bhavan to submit his resignation, Mr Reddy addressed a press conference at which he hit out at his Congress party for allegedly flouting Parliamentary procedures in its haste to get the Bill passed.
 
"I am ashamed. They did it like thieves, blacking out the live telecast. What was the need to do all this?" he asked.
 
Thanking the party for giving him the chance to serve as Chief Minister, he, however, made it clear that he could not continue in the Congress because, according to hi, it had betrayed the Telugu people.
 
He said he would also resign as a member of the Legislative Assembly as well as from the membership of the Congress.
 
Mr Reddy said the Congress and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had got together in the Lok Sabha yesterday to get the Bill passed.
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He was particularly upset that the Bill was passed in the absence of several MPs from Andhra Pradesh, who had been suspended from the House for disrupting proceedings on February 13.
 
There has been media speculation about Mr Reddy planning to launch a new party but he did not touch the topic today. "My future is not important," he said when asked about it.
 
Some of his Cabinet colleagues from the Seemandhra region, who were opposed to the bifurcation of the state, and several legislators were present at the press conference.
 
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Rahul: Congress will deepen democracy, BJP wants to concentrate power in individual

Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandh said on Monday the coming Lok Sabha elections would be about his party's push for a more democratic and open society and the Bharatiya Janata Party's efforts to concentrate power in the hands of an individual.

Rahul Gandhi
Rahul Gandhi
Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi today said the coming Lok Sabha elections would be about his party's push for a more democratic and open society and the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) efforts to concentrate power in the hands of an individual.
 
In an interview with Times Now Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami, Mr Gandhi said India had always been run successfully when a large number of people were involved in decision-making processes.
 
Asked why he had shied away from taking on the role of the Prime Ministerial candidate of the Congress in the 2014 elections, he said that it was the prerogative of the Members of Parliament to elect the Prime Minister of the country and the party was only being correct in this regard and showing its respect for the system.
 
At the same time, he pointed out that he had made it very clear that he would take on any role that the Congress asked him to.
 
About the Congress decision in the 2009 elections to name Dr Manmohan Singh as the Prime Ministerial candidate, Mr Gandhi said that Dr Singh was the incumbent Prime Minister and the party had only made it clear that there would be no change if it were voted back to power.
 
To a question about whether he was scared of an electoral fight with BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, he said, "You have to understand Rahul Gandhi...If you did, you will find out that Rahul Gandhi is not scared of anything."
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He said people must understand what he had been through in his formative years, and what he thinks. He spoke of how he had lost his grandmother Indira Gandhi and father Rajiv Gandhi.
 
"My father was in constant combat with the system. I saw him die. I have seen my grandmother die. I saw my grandmother go to jail. I have been through a lot of pain," he said.
 
Saying that he lost what he would have been scared of losing, he said, "There is nothing I am scared of now."
 
"I don't like what I see in Indian politics...I see only one thing, I see the system. I am blind to everything else," he said, when asked about what he thought of Mr Modi, who has been attacking him constantly in his political rallies.
 
Mr Gandhi said the system hurts people every day because it is predatory in nature.
 
In response to a query about whether he was afraid of losing to Mr Modi, he said he was not and, in any case, that was not the point as far as he was concerned.
 
"I am here basically for one thing. I see tremendous energy in this country, more than any other country," he said, referring to the millions of youth.
 
Mr Gandhi said he wanted to change the system and unleash the power of the country's people, especially its youth.
 
"We will defeat the BJP. We will win the elections. The BJP believes in concentration of powr. I believe in democracy, in opening up the system," he said.
 
On the Prime Minister's charge that Mr Modi had presided over a massacre in Gujarat in 2002, he said, "What the Prime Minister said is a fact. Gujarat did happen. People did die."
 
Asked if he, too, thought that Mr Modi was responsible for the violence in which more than a thousand people, mainly Muslims, died, he said, "He was the Chief Minister of Gujarat at that time".
 
To persistent questions about whether he held Mr Modi responsible for the violence, though courts had cleared him, Mr Gandhi said the Congress and the BJP had opposing ideologies. He said the Congress wanted to push democracy further and deeper, empower the women of the country, create jobs for the youth and open up the political system completely. The BJP, on the other hand, wanted to concentrate power in the hands of an individual, and decision-making in the hands of a few people.
 
He said the Congress was the only party that was trying to change the system and empower the people.
 
He repeatedly cited the examples of the Right to Information (RTI) Act and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and spoke about how the UPA government had created a rights-based paradigm.
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He also spoke about how he had worked to strengthen democracy within the Indian Youth Congress and the National Students Union of India (NSUI), and about how he now plans to bring about changes within the Congress.
 
He mentioned how he now plans to, on a pilot basis, select Lok Sabha candidates in 15 constituencies through "primaries". According to him, this would be a far-reaching move and would change the political system in fundamental ways.
 
Mr Gandhi said there needed to be a debate in the country on how political parties select their candidates, how they are funded, how policies are made and decisions taken, and how the women and the youth could be empowered.
 
He said he wanted to see India become a manufacturing base for the world, as China is today. He said most major countries in the world wanted to set up manufacturing facilities in India and that is why the Government had taken up projects such as the dedicated freight corridors and the industrial corridors.
 
Asked about the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, following the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, he said Sikhs as a community had always stood by Mrs Gandhi. He said the act of two individuals could not be overlaid on entire community. He said what had happened in Delhi after Mrs Gandhi's death was horrible. To repeated questions, he said some Congress members were probably involved in the violence, but they were going through a legal process.
 
But, in answer to another question, he said 1984 was different from 2002 in Gujarat because in the first case, the government of the day was not involved and did everything in its power to stop the violence. He said that, though he was a child at that time, he could see that the government made efforts to end the violence.
 
He said he had been told by various people that the Government of Gujarat did not do enough to stop the 2002 violence and had, in fact, abetted and pushed the violence. "So there is a huge difference between the two," he said.
 
Mr Gandhi said that all these pointed to the need to change the system and empower the people. 
 
He also underlined the need to ensure that elected representatives had a larger role in the process of law-making.
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In response to another query, Mr Gandhi said he was open to a discussion on bringing political parties under the purview of the RTI. But this should be done in a way that does not create an imbalance, he said.
 
At several points, Mr Gandhi said there was a need to move to the fundamental and core issues facing the country instead of discussing "superficial" issues. He said the people on the periphery and on the streets needed to be empowered.
 
Asked why he had remained silent on many issues in the past ten years, he said he used to share his views with the Prime Minister whenever required.
 
On corruption, he said the Congress would take firm action against anyone found guilty and had done so in the past.
 
"I want to take India to a different place," he said, referring to the politics of today. "Unfortunately, it is at a particular place toay. Certainly, there are points at which you might have to take a decision which you are not 100 per cent happy with," he said, answering  a question about whether the Congress would enter into alliances with parties whose leaders have been accused of corruption.
 
In any case, he said, alliance would be with the party and the idea, and not with an individual.
 
He said none of these alliances had been tied up yet, but talks were on, and these decisions were taken by the senior leaders of the party.
 
Asked if he would take responsibility if the Congress lost the elections, he said nobody gave him credit when the party won, but everybody was quick to blame him if it lost. He said that if his party did not do well in the coming elections, he would, as its Vice-President, take responsibility.
 
To a question about his family name and dynastic politics, Mr Gandhi said he did not choose to be born in the family he was. "I did not sign up to be born in this family," he said.
 
He said the choice was simple. He could either walk away from everything, or try and do something about the system. He said pretty much everything he had done in the past few years was about changing the system for the better.
 
"I am also against dynasty, but you cannot wish away dynasty in a closed system," he said. "It happens everywhere," he said, pointing to many other parties in which people from the same families dominated the organisations.
 
Mr Gandhi said the interviewer was focusing on superficial issues. "You have not asked me one question on India...about how we hope to empower our women and our youth, or how we will create jobs," he said.
 
On the personal attacks against him and his family, he said he did not worry about them. "I am being attacked becase I am doing things which are dangerous to the system," he said.
 
Mr Gandhi said people who attacked him had realised that he was a person who was here for the long term and who thought deeply about ways of changing the system.
 
"You can attack me all you want, I am not going to let go," he said, adding that there were a few thousand people in the party working with him on these ideas and they would not be deterred by such attacks.
 
"I am a serious politician, I am not somebody who is here to get power, make money," he said. "I am going to take them on."
 
Mr Gandhi also said he was not worried about losing eletions. He said the tasks he had taken on required long and concentrated thinking by a lot of people. "It is difficult, it is painful," he said.
 
He said defeats would only make him stronger and he did not consider them as the end of the world.
 
"I don't like unfairness. It makes my blood boil. That is at the heart of my politics," he said.
 
"You may find me strange...maybe I look loke an anamoly in this environment," he said.
 
"I am not driven by the desire for power. Power is an instrument tht can be used to certain things. It is not important for me to capture power, own it. I do not have a quest for power, a thirst for power, it is not there in me," he said.
 
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Kejriwal undergoes tests at hospital, police register cases against his stir

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal underwent tests at a hospital in Ghaziabad on Wednesday after spending two days in the open in the bitter cold of the national capital on a protest demanding that the Delhi Police act against two of its officers who did not carry out orders from two of his Ministers.

AAP Dharna: Delhi Police register FIR against protestors
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal underwent tests at a hospital near his residence in Ghaziabad early this morning after spending two days in the bitter cold of the national capital on a protest demanding that the Delhi Police act against two of its officers who did not carry out orders from two of his Ministers.
 
Doctors at the Yashodha Hospital at Kaushambi in Ghaziabad told NetIndian that Mr Kejriwal had arrived there this morning and undergone a variety of tests.
 
The Delhi Chief Minister has had a persistent cough for the past few weeks and it appeared to have aggravated because of spending two days in the open. He had slept on the pavement outside Rail Bhavan on Monday night as part of an indefinite protest, which he called off yesterday after the Delhi Police finally agreed to send the two officers concerned on leave.
 
The doctors said there was no cause for concern as far as Mr Kejriwal's health was concerned.
 
Meanwhile, the Delhi Police have registered complaints against unidentified Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supporters for the protest outside Rail Bhavan in violation of prohibitory orders which banned the assembly of five or more persons.
 
Mr Kejriwal and his Ministerial colleagues were not named in the complaint, sources said.
 
"The cases registered in connection with the agitation on January 20th and 21st in the area of Parliament Street Police Station will also be investigated on merit," they said.
 
Mr Kejriwal, his ministerial colleagues and MLAs of his AAP had begun their protest on Monday morning, escalating an unprecedented showdown with the city police. The issue also became a confrontation between the Delhi Government and the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, to which the Delhi Police reports in view of the fact that Delhi is the national capital.
 
Mr Kejriwal had demanded that the concerned police officers should be suspended or at least transferred, pending the judicial inquiry ordered in the cases by the Lt Governor.
 
The decision to send them on leave is being seen as a via media in which both sides got to save their faces.
 
Mr Kejriwal told a crowd of his supporters at the venue of his protest yesterday evening that the AAP government would continue its efforts to ensure that the Delhi Police becomes accountable to the elected government of the national capital territory.
 
He also said that his government would continue its efforts to get full statehood for Delhi, as promised in its election manifesto.
 
He said the Lt Governor had urged him and his colleagues to call off his fast in view of the preparations which needed to be made for the Republic Day Parade and in the interests of national security.
 
Mr Kejriwal said the decision taken by the Lt Governor to send the police officials on leave was a major step in the march towards full statehood.
 
The 24-day-old AAP government had demanded the suspension, or at least the transfer, of the Station House Officers (SHOs) of three police stations in the capital in connection with the alleged gang-rape of a Danish tourist some days ago and the confrontation between police officers and two Delhi Ministers -- Somnath Bharti and Rekha Birla -- in two other cases.
 
Mr Kejriwal wanted action against the police officers who, he alleged, refused to act on Mr Bharti's instructions and raid an apartment from where an alleged drug and prostitution racket was operating.
 
Mr Bharti, the Law Minister of Delhi, had told the police late in the night last Wednesday night that a decoy customer had been sent to the apartment in the Khirki Extension area and it had been established that a prostitution racket was running from the apartment.
 
The police, in an episode that was widely covered by television cameras, made it clear to Mr Bharti that they could not do so in the absence of a search warrant and without following proper procedures.
 
In the case of Ms Birla, the Minister of Women and Child Development, the police had declined to act on her demand that they apprehend the in-laws of a woman who had suffered burns. In this case, too, they said proper procedures had to be followed.
 
The Delhi government has also accused the police of mishandling the case of the alleged gang-rape of a 51-year-old Danish tourist last week in the Pahargunj area of the city.
 
According to Mr Kejriwal, he had been informed that all the accused persons in the case of burning of a woman had been arrested two days ago.
 
In the other two matters, the Lt Governor had decided to send the concerned police officials on leave, he said, satisfying their demand that the officials should not be in their positions while the inquiry was being conducted.
 
Several people on both sides -- among the AAP supporters and the police -- suffered injuries in the jostling at the venue of the protest yesteday.
 
Thousands of office-goers and others, meanwhile, had been put to inconvenience as police blocked off many of the roads leading to the Government and other offices in the area and the Delhi Metro shut down four of its stations as a precautionary measure.
 
People had to walk long distances to their offices or to other Metro stations or the nearest bus stations on the two days that the protest lasted.
 
The Delhi Police reports to the Union Home Ministry and Mr Kejriwal is demanding, among other things, that they must be under the control of the Delhi Government.
 
Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde has said that Delhi, being the national capital, has a special status, akin to Washington, DC, in the United States, and the police, therefore, has to be under the Central Government.
 
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Nine killed in fire on Mumbai-Dehradun Express near Dahanu in Maharashtra

Nine passengers including a woman, were killed when a fire broke out in the speeding 19019 Mumbai-Dehradun Express near Dahanu in Thane district of Maharashtra in the early hours of Wednesday.

Fire kills nine on Mumbai-Dehradun Express
Nine passengers including a woman, were killed when a fire broke out in the speeding 19019 Mumbai-Dehradun Express near Dahanu in Thane district of Maharashtra in the early hours of today.
 
Western Railway sources said the fire broke out in S3 coach of the train and then spread to the adjoining coaches S2 and S4, taking the passengers, most of whom were asleep, unawares.
 
The cause of the fire, which broke out at around 0235 hours today while the train was running between Dahanu Road and Gholwad stations , could not be ascertained immediately, the sources said.
 
According to them, the fire was noticed by a gateman at a level crossing, and he alerted the station master of Gholwad station, who quickly contacted the driver and asked him to stop the train.
 
Fire tenders and ambulances rushed to the spot and the blaze was brought under control soon. The affected coaches were detached and the rest of the train was later brought to Gholwad station, about 145 km north of Mumbai, on the Maharashtra-Gujarat border, around 0530 hours.
 
Accident and medical relief vans were rushed to the spot from Mumbai and Valsad in Gujarat to assist in the relief efforts.
 
Five persons who felt suffocated due to the smoke were given first aid in the acident relief vans and later discharged, te sources said.
 
The Divisional Railway Manager of Mumbai Central Division and other top railway officials rushed to the spot to supervise the relief operations.
 
Five of the deceased have been identified by the Railways as Ms Deepika Shah , 65, Mr Dev Shankar Upadhyay, 48, Mr Surendra Shah, 68, Mr Nasirkhan Ahmedkhan Pathan, 50, and Mr Feroz Khan, 38. 
 
The bodies of the victims were sent to Civil Hospital, Dahanu Road (Telephone No. 02528 222371) by the Government Railway Police.
 
The  Railways have offered free accommodation in the train to the relatives of the deceased up to Dahanu Road.
 
Railways Minister Mallikarjun Kharge has expressed his grief at the loss of lives and announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs 5 lakh to the next-of-kin of those killed in the fire.
 
He has also announced an inquiry by the Commissioner of Railway Safety, Western Circle, into the incident.
 
Meanwhile, services on the up line resumed at 0640 hours, the sources added.
 
About 500 food packets along with tea and drinking water were arranged for the passengers of the train at Valsad where five more coaches were added to the train before dispatching it for its o­nward journey.
 
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The Railways have opened helplines to provide information to relatives of the passengers.
 
The numbers are:
 
Mumbai: 022 23011853 and 022 23007388
Valsaid: 241903- Valsad; 
Dahanu Road: 022 67649632
Bandra Terminus: 022 26435756
Surat: 0261 2423992
New Delhi: 011 23342954
Dehradun: 0135 2624002, 2624003
 
Just 11 days ago, on December 28, 2013, as many as 26 passengers were killed and eight others suffered injuries when a major fire broke out in an air-conditioned coach of the 16594 Bangalore-Nanded Express shortly after it left the Satya Sai Prasanthi Nilayam station in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh.
 
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Arvind Kejriwal to be next Chief Minister of Delhi

Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal will be the next Chief Minister of Delhi and is likely to be sworn in at a ceremony at the historic Ramlila Maidan here on December 26.

 
AAP to form Govt in Delhi, Kejriwal to be CM
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal will be the next Chief Minister of Delhi and is likely to be sworn in at a ceremony at the historic Ramlila Maidan here on December 26.
 
Mr Kejriwal met Delhi Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung this afternoon and handed over a letter to him conveying his party's readiness to form the next government in the capital.
 
This followed a meeting of the party's Political Affairs Committee (PAC) at Ghaziabad near here to consider the results of a "referendum" conducted by it among the people of the capital on the question of whether it should form the government or not.
 
AAP ended up with 28 seats in the 70-member Delhi Legislative Assembly after the December 4 elections, three less than the 31 secured by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is the single largest party in the house. Both parties were short of the 36 seats required for a simple majority.
 
Mr Jung invited Mr Kejriwal to form the government after the BJP declined to do so, saying it did not have the numbers needed.
 
The Congress, which managed just eight seats, had, in the meanwhile, written to Mr Jung saying that it would extend support from outside to AAP if it formed the government.
 
After his meeting with Mr Jung at Raj Nivas, Mr Kejriwal told newspersons that he had handed over a letter to from AAP expressing its readiness to form the next government.
 
He said that the date for the swearing-in ceremony would be finalised after a formal approval is received from the President.
 
"This is not my victory but that of the aam aadmi (common man). The common man is the chief minister, not me," he said.
 
Mr Kejriwal, who had earlier this morning indicated that he would like the swearing-in ceremony to be held at Jantar Mantar here, said that it had been agreed at the meeting with Mr Jung that it would be held at Ramlila Maidan.
 
Both Jantar Mantar and Ramlila Maidan were venues of the hunger strikes held by Mr Kejriwal and his one-time mentor and veteran social activist Anna Hazare for a strong Lokpal Bill for an anti-corruption ombudsman in the country. Since then, the two have fallen apart following differences over Mr Kejriwal's decision to float a political party.
 
Earlier, Mr Kejriwal told newspersons outside AAP's office in Ghaziabad that the results of the referendum conducted by it showed that an overwhelming majority people of Delhi wanted it to form the next government in the capital.
 
He noted that Lt Governor Najeeb Jung had, on December 14, invited AAP to form the government in Delhi and he had sought ten days to take a decision in this regard.
 
"We are not a small party, we are a party of the common man. We wanted to consult the people before taking a decision," he said.
 
On December 17, AAP, wary of the mixed signals that would go out if it formed a government with support from the Congress, urged the people of Delhi to vote on its website or send SMSs to help it decide whether it should accept the Lt Governor's invitation or not.
 
Mr Kejriwal also wrote letters to Congress President Sonia Gandhi and BJP President Rajnath Singh seeking clarifications from them on the support extended by them to AAP if it decided to form the next government.
 
Senior AAP leader Manish Sisodia said that 64 per cent of the people from Delhi who had participated in the referendum via the internet had backed the idea that the party should form the next government.
 
He also said that in a majority of the 280 public meetings held in different localities of the capital the people had supported the move.
 
Mr Sisodia also announced that Mr Kejriwal was the chief ministerial candidate of the party, as had been made clear by it even before the December 4 elections.
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Mr Kejriwal said the names of the Ministers in the new government would be finalised in a couple of days.
 
Mr Kejriwal, 45, was expected to meet Mr Jung around 1230 hours today to convey his decision.
 
Responding to queries from mediapersons, he said the party would finalise the names of its Ministers in a couple of days.
 
Mr Kejriwal is an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur. He worked for three years for Tata Steel before joining the Indian Revenue Service (IRS) in 1995. He quit the service in 2006.
 
In between, he emerged as a vocal right to information (RTI) activist and won the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership in 2006.
 
His newly-floated Aam Aadmi Party made its debut in the December 4 elections and he defeated Chief Minister Sheila Dixit of the Congress to be elected to the Delhi Legislative Assembly.
 
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Five killed, 83 injured in serial blasts near Modi's rally venue in Patna

At least five people were killed and as many as 83 others suffered injuries in a series of low-intensity blasts that occurred near the Gandhi Maidan in Patna shortly before Gujarat Chief Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party's Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi addressed a huge rally there on Sunday afternoon.

Serial blasts rock Patna; 5 killed, over 80 injured
At least five people were killed and as many as 83 others suffered injuries in a series of low-intensity blasts that occurred near the Gandhi Maidan here shortly before Gujarat Chief Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi addressed a huge rally there this afternoon.
 
In all, there were seven blasts, including one in a toilet on platform number 10 at the Patna railway station, about two and a half kilometres from the ground. The other six explosions occurred around the Gandhi Maidan, the venue of the rally, which was attended by thousands of people.
 
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar told newspersons that one person suffered injuries in the first blast at the railway station and his condition was stated to be critical.
 
He said the other five blasts occurred around the Gandhi Maidan within the space of 15-20 minutes.
 
Mr Kumar said that, in all, 83 people were taken to the Patna Medical College Hospital, where 38 were admitted for treatment while the rest were discharged after first-aid. He said the condition of a few of the injured was serious.
 
Police sources said four unexploded bombs were found later and had been defused by bomb disposal squads. One policemen suffered injuries while defusing a bomb.
 
Mr Kumar said the police were questioning some suspects and had gathered valuable clues. He said he was confident the police would find those responsible for the blasts. 
 
He said there were no intelligence inputs about the possibility of such blasts. According to him, the police had made elaborate arrangements for Mr Modi's rally and it was a matter of serious concern that such an incident had occurred.
 
He said that the way in which the serial blasts were carried out indicated that somebody had planned to vitiate the atmosphere in the state.
 
The Chief Minister announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs 5 lakh to the next of kin of those killed in the blasts. He said the state government would meet the medical expenses of those injured in the explosions.
 
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condemned the blasts and called for urgent steps to identify and ake action against those responsibility. He also appealed to the people to maintain peace and calm.
 
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Dr Singh spoke to Mr Kumar to enquire about the situation and called for immediate and firm action against those responsible.
 
He also assured the Chief Minister of all assistance from the Centre in the investigations.
 
Mr Kumar held a meeting with senior state government and police officials to take stock of the situation.
 
In Delhi, Union Minister of State for Home R P N Singh told journalists that the explosions were caused by crude devices.
 
Condemning the blasts, he said teams from the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the National Security Guard (NSG) had been rushed to Patna to probe the incident.
 
He said the Ministry of Home Affairs was in continuous touch with the Bihar government in this regard.
 
The rally continued, with none of the speakers, including Mr Modi making any reference to it. However, towards the end, Mr Modi did urge people to return home from the meeting in a peaceful manner.
 
Later, he condoled the loss of lives in a post on micro-blogging site Twitter. 
 
"Blasts in Patna are deeply saddening & unfortunate. Condolences with families of deceased & prayers with injured. I appeal for peace & calm," he said.
 
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India, Hungary agree to strengthen economic, defence ties

India and Hungary on Thursday agreed to substantially expand their economic relations by leveraging their complementary strengths, India's large and growing market and Hungary's membership of the European Union.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban, at the delegation level talks, in New Delhi on October 17, 2013
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban, at the delegation level talks, in New Delhi on October 17, 2013
 
India and Hungary today agreed to substantially expand their economic relations by leveraging their complementary strengths, India's large and growing market and Hungary's membership of the European Union.
 
At talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban here, the two sides had "very productive discussions in which they reviewed the entire spectrum of their relations.
 
The two leaders welcomed the work done by the Joint Economic Committee, which met earlier this week and identified priority areas for cooperation, including information technology, pharmaceuticals, auto components, healthcare, tourism, energy, engineering goods and food processing, among others.
 
"I also sought Prime Minister Orban’s support for an early conclusion of the India-EU Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement, which would enhance trade and investment flows between India and Hungary," Dr Singh said at a joint media interaction with Mr Orban later.
 
He said the two sides had a very productive collaboration in the field of Science & Technology, which has been benefited from the annual contribution of one million Euros each to a Joint Strategic Research Fund. 
 
"Today, we have agreed to enhance our annual contribution to the Fund to 2 million Euros each. This would enable us to undertake new projects involving high-end technologies," he said.
 
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The two countries also agreed to strengthen their cooperation in the area of defence technology."Hungary possesses advanced technology in niche areas of defence industry and can become a reliable partner in our efforts for modernization of our defence," he said.
 
Dr Singh said India appreciated Hungary’s support on international issues, including its candidature for a permanent membership of the reformed United Nations Security Council and the 2008 decision of the Nuclear Suppliers Group on civil nuclear cooperation with India. 
 
"I have sought Prime Minister Orban’s support for India's full membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and other multilateral export control regimes," he said.
 
Dr Singh said India and Hungary shared strong cultural bonds. "Hungary has an admirable tradition of scholarship in the field of Indology. We will continue to nurture this important strand of our relationship through continued support to Indian studies through fellowships and exchanges. I am confident that the activities planned under the Cultural Exchange Programme 2013-15 would contribute to strengthening our cultural relations," he said.
 
The two leaders also exchanged views on a wide range of regional and international issues. 
 
"We both recognized that terrorism and extremism pose a common threat to modern democratic societies like India and Hungary. We noted the need to create a global normative framework against terrorism and agreed to deepen our cooperation in this regard. 
 
Noting that this was Mr Orban's first ever visit to India, he appreciated his strong personal commitment to deepening the relations between the two countries, which have traditionally been very close and friendly due to the remarkable history of cultural and people-to-people ties. 
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"Today, there is much that brings our countries together. Like India, Hungary is a thriving democracy. It is a dynamic economy at the heart of a transforming Central Europe and a member of the European Union. Indian investors are increasingly finding a home in Hungary. In our own ways, both our countries are making important contributions to security and development in Afghanistan. Hungary has also been supportive of concerted global action for combating terrorism. All this gives us reason to work closely together for strengthening our relations. 
 
"I look forward to working closely with Prime Minister Orban for expanding and deepening our bilateral relations," he added.
 
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India, China Special Representatives to meet soon to discuss boundary settlement

India and China on Monday agreed that their Special Representatives would meet soon to continue discussions seeking early agreement on a framework for a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable boundary settlement.

Li Keqiang hopes visit would increase trust between India, China

India and China today agreed that their Special Representatives would meet soon to continue discussions seeking early agreement on a framework for a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable boundary settlement.

At talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang here, the two sides tasked their Special Representatives to consider further measures that may be needed to maintain peace and tranquility along the border.
 
The meeting between the two leaders took place only days after the recent stand-off in Eastern Ladakh caused by an incursion by Chinese troops.
 
The two Governments had early this month agreed to restore status quo ante along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Western Sector of the India-China boundary as it existed prior to 15 April,2013.
 
"India and China are two civilizational neighbours and have lived in peace through the ages. We have had our differences in more recent times, but over the last 25 years, we have steadily built a mutually beneficial relationship. The basis for continued growth and expansion of our ties is peace and tranquility on our borders," Dr Singh said at a joint media interaction with Mr Li here today.
 
"While seeking an early resolution of the boundary question, Premier Li and I agreed that this must continue to be preserved.
 
"We also took stock of lessons learnt from the recent incident in the Western Sector, when existing mechanisms proved their worth," he said.
 
Since 2003, the Special Representatives of China and India have held 15 rounds of talks on the border settlement.
 
National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon is the Special Representative of India and the new Chinese Special Representative is former Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.
 
Dr Singh said it had been immense pleasure for him to get to know Mr Li personally.
 
"I sincerely appreciate his reaching out to me on his first day in office and his choosing India as his first foreign destination as Premier," he said.
 
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Dr Singh said that, starting yesterday evening, when they had a restricted meeting, Premier Li and he had had wide-ranging and candid discussions covering all matters of mutual interest and concern. 
 
"I am delighted that there are so many areas of convergence between us and on which there is a great deal of meeting of minds. Most importantly, we agreed that the relationship between our two countries is of growing significance and essential for our peaceful development and sustained economic growth, as well as for stability and prosperity in our region and the world," he said.
 
The Prime Minister said he had reiterated to Mr Li India’s concerns about the effects on lower riparians of activities in the upper reaches of their shared rivers. 
 
"It would be useful for the mandate of our Expert Level Mechanism to be expanded to include information sharing on upstream development projects on these rivers. I am glad that we have agreed to expand cooperation on trans-border rivers. It would also be useful for India and China to collaborate on a better understanding of the stresses on our shared Himalayan ecosystem," he said.
 
Dr Singh said he had told Mr Li that the rise of China and India was good for the world and that the world had enough space to accommodate the growth aspirations of both their peoples. 
 
"To make this a reality, it is important to build understanding between our two peoples. We agreed that both sides must work to strengthen greater trust and confidence, which, in turn, will permit much larger co-operation," he said.
 
He said economic cooperation constituted a very important part of the bilateral relationship and the growth potential of the two economies could provide the engine for greater cooperation.
 
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"There are many ongoing areas of co-operation that we will carry forward as outlined in the Joint Statement. I conveyed to Premier Li our concerns about the trade deficit and sought increased market access to China for our exports and investments. I also invited increased Chinese involvement in the vast opportunities in our infrastructure and manufacturing sectors," he said.
 
"The rapid development of our economies has opened up new opportunities for economic cooperation bilaterally, in our region and globally, which our Strategic Economic Dialogue will identify and explore. We have also discussed the possibility of infrastructure development to link India’s North Eastern region with Bangladesh, Myanmar, China and other countries in the South East Asian region," he said.
 
Dr Singh said Premier Li and he also used the opportunity to review the rapidly evolving global political and economic situation and resolved to strengthen their strategic communication and dialogue on these issues. 
 
"We also agreed that we have a shared interest in an open multilateral trading system and in combating protectionism," he said.
 
"Before I conclude, let me say again what a pleasure it has been to welcome Premier Li amongst us. I am sure that his leadership will go a long way in strengthening the relationship between our two countries and extending it to new frontiers. I look forward to seeing him again very soon and I have also accepted his gracious invitation to visit China at the earliest opportunity," he added.
 
Mr Li, who assumed office in March, arrived here yesterday afternoon at the start of a four-nation tour that will also take him to Pakistan, Switzerland and Germany. In India, he will also visit Mumbai.
 
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PM says lack of water could limit India's social, economic growth in future

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Friday that most objective data available pointed unerringly to the conclusion that water, or the lack of it, could well become the limiting factor for India's social and economic growth in the future.

 
PM chairs Water Resources Council Meet in New Delhi

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said that most objective data available pointed unerringly to the conclusion that water, or the lack of it, could well become the limiting factor for India's social and economic growth in the future.

"With around 18% of the world's population but only 4% of its usable fresh water, India already faces a scarcity of water, which is a vital and stressed natural resource," he said at the 6th meeting of the National Water Resources Council here.
 
Dr Singh said climate change could further aggravate the distortions in water availability in the country. Receding glaciers would negatively impact flows in the country's major rivers and pose a major new threat to the welfare of millions of our people, he said.
 
He said rapid economic growth and urbanization today were widening the demand supply gap and leading to worsening of the water-stress index. 
 
"Our water bodies are getting increasingly polluted by untreated industrial effluents and sewage. Groundwater levels are falling in many parts due to excessive withdrawals, leading to contamination with fluoride, arsenic and other chemicals. The practice of open defecation, which regrettably is all too widespread, contributes further to contaminating potable water sources," he said.
 
Dr Singh said the situation called for judicious management of the country's limited water resources and a paradigm shift in its approach to this vital issue. 
 
"Planning for water use and distribution has to be done on the foundation of a national vision. Regions with sufficient water resources are already experiencing the strains that result from having water-deficient regions around them. We therefore need to rise above political, ideological and regional differences and also move away from a narrow project-centric approach to a broader holistic approach to issues of water management," he said.
 
The Prime Minister said integrated water resources planning at the basin level, conservation of water, preservation of river corridors, recharging of aquifers and their sustainable management and improvement of water use efficiency were among the broad areas that needed urgent attention. 
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"Our irrigation systems need to shift from a narrow engineering-construction-centric approach to a more multi-disciplinary and participatory approach. Incentives need to be provided to narrow the gap between irrigation capacities created and those being utilized. We also need to move towards transparent and participatory mechanisms of pricing of water by the primary stakeholders themselves. The local communities have to be involved actively in the management of water resources," he said.
 
Dr Singh said that groundwater had a prominent role in meeting the requirements of water for drinking and other purposes. 
 
"In spite of its vital importance, there is no regulation for its extraction and coordination among competing uses. We need to, therefore, initiate steps to minimize misuse of groundwater by regulating the use of electricity for its extraction. We also need to move to a situation where groundwater can be treated as a common property resource in a way that protects the basic needs of drinking water as also the livelihoods of our poor farmers," he said.
 
Dr Singh recalled that the National Water Resources Council was created by the National Development Council (NDC) at its thirty-sixth meeting on 14th March, 1982, and it was part of the vision of late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. 
 
"It was devised not only to discuss the National Water Policy issues, but also to deliberate on administrative arrangements and regulations for fair distribution and utilization of water among different beneficiaries, keeping in view the optimum development of this scarce national resource. Our task today is to fulfill that vision so that we can assure our future generations of a water-secure future," he said.
 
Earlier, the meeting was given a presentation on the highlights of the extensive consultations preceding the formulation of the draft National Water Policy 2012.
 
"It would not have escaped your attention that the draft is an effort to focus attention on the looming crisis in the water sector and to lay a roadmap for the future, based on the fundamental principles of equity, sustainability and good governance. Our deliberations today need to be guided not only by these sound principles, but also an appreciation of the fact that we are approaching a critical juncture for the future of water management in our country," he said.
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Dr Singh said the 12th Plan, which was adopted by the NDC yesterday, had dwelt on these and other issues confronting the water sector and called for path-breaking reform. 
 
He said outlays for the water sector had been increased substantially. "But these outlays will deliver only if they are matched and supported by better management and good governance. An urgent national consensus on the common denominators of water governance is therefore essential and the first critical step towards achieving water security and sustainability for all," he said.
 
According to him, one of the problems in achieving better management is that the current institutional and legal structures dealing with water in the country are inadequate, fragmented and need active reform.
 
"It is in this context that a suggestion has been made for a national legal framework of general principles on water, which, in turn, would pave the way for essential legislation on water governance in every State," he said.
 
Dr Singh emphasized the need to see the proposed national legal framework in proper perspective. 
 
"The framework would be an umbrella statement of general principles governing the exercise of legislative, executive or devolved powers by the Centre, the states and the local governing bodies. The central government, I repeat, does not wish to encroach, in any manner, upon the constitutionally guaranteed rights of States or to centralize water management.
 
"As we move into the Twelfth Plan period, the Indian economy and society will face daunting challenges in the water sector, both in terms of quantity as well as quality. There is a need, therefore, to take urgent and pragmatic decisions because water security is an issue on which we have to swim together or sink together. These decisions need your collective support," he added.
 
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