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SC grants bail to former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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