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Eknath Shinde Takes Oath As Chief Minister, Devendra Fadnavis His Deputy

MUMBAI, June 30: Shiv Sena rebel Eknath Shinde took oath as Maharashtra Chief Minister and Devendra Fadnavis his deputy on Thursday, as the BJP capped the coup that unseated Uddhav Thackeray a day ago with back-to-back curveballs.

"I will stay out of the government and ensure it runs smoothly," Fadnavis said at a news briefing around 4:30 pm, announcing that only Shinde will be sworn in later in the evening.

However, barely three hours later, he was seen taking oath as Shinde's deputy after BJP chief JP Nadda said, "He must be Deputy Chief Minister... I will personally request him."

Eknath Shinde thanked Prime Minister Modi, Fadnavis and other BJP leaders. "It's their magnanimity. They had a bigger mandate, yet they made me the Chief Minister. Who does that?" he said.

Devendra Fadnavis and Eknath Shinde met with Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari and staked claim to power earlier in the afternoon.

Uddhav Thackeray quit as Maharashtra Chief Minister yesterday, shortly after the Supreme Court ruled that he must prove his majority.

The Shiv Sena chief was left with only 13 MLAs after the revolt that played out in
three BJP-ruled states. Eknath Shinde and a group of rebels first moved to Gujarat's Surat in luxury buses. They were flown to Assam's Guwahati in chartered flights. They landed in Goa last evening to prepare for a possible test of strength.

Deepak Kesarkar, the spokesperson for the Sena rebels, stressed that it was ideology, and not greed for better posts, that drove them to switch sides and go with the BJP.
He also said the rebels did not betray Uddhav Thackeray and still have love and respect for him. "Nobody in Shiv Sena is against the Thackeray family," he said.

He asserted that the rebel faction is the Shiv Sena now, since Uddhav Thackeray is in a minority in the party. "It's not a question of who is the real Shiv Sena. We have the legal majority and thus ours is the legislature party," he said.

Despite evidence of its protection and facilitation of the rebels, the BJP denied any role in the Shiv Sena coup. Devendra Fadnavis held two meetings with the leadership during the crisis. A third meeting saw Eknath Shinde being flown from Guwahati to Vadodara for discussions with Fadnavis and Home Minister Amit Shah, the BJP's chief strategist.

Dinkar Gupta is new NIA chief

NEW DELHI, June 23: Former Punjab DGP and 1987-batch IPS officer Dinkar Gupta has been appointed as the new chief of the National Investigative Agency. Gupta will hold the post till March 31, 2024, that is the date of his retirement, or till further orders by the government, whichever takes place earlier.

“The Appointments Commitee of the Cabinet has approved the proposal of the Ministry of Home Affaris for appointment of Shri Dinkar Gupta, IPS (PB: 87) as Director General, National Investigative Agency in Level-17 of the post and up to 31.03.2024 i.e. date of his superannuation or till further orders whichever takes place earlier,” the order read.

The 1987-batch IPS officer was removed as the state police chief by the Congress government under Charanjit Singh Channi in October last year and was posted as chairman of Punjab Police Housing Corporation (PPHC). Gupta had decided to go on a month’s leave after Channi took over as the chief minister and the state government gave the charge to 1988-batch officer Iqbal Preet Singh Sahota.

In another order, Swagat Das was appointed Special Secretary (Internal Security) in the Unon home ministry. The 1987-batch IPS officer of the Chhattisgarh cadre is currently serving as Special Director in the Intelligence Bureau. He has been appointed to the post till November 30, 2024, that is the date of his superannuation, according to the order.

Uddhav Thackeray Vacates Chief Minister's House

MUMBAI, June 22: Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray moved back to "Matoshree" -- his family home -- from his official residence "Varsha" today, shortly after delivering an emotional speech for the rebels led by Eknath Shinde.

Late in the evening, a huge crowd assembled outside Matoshree in a show of solidarity. Videos from the spot showed the car having trouble negotiating through the crowd. Thackeray was seen getting out of the car and greeting the visitors. After exchanging civilities, they walked into the house. Thackeray's son and state minister Aaditya Thackeray was also seen greeting the party workers.

Thackeray has tested positive for Covid. But his shift to the family home, strongly associated with party founder and father Balasaheb Thackeray, was seen as carrying a message.

Earlier today, delivering a Facebook live address -- his first public reaction to the political crisis that engulfed his government -- Thackeray said, "If my own people don't want me as Chief Minister, he should walk up to me and say so... I'm ready to resign... I am Balasaheb's son, I am not after a post... If you want me to resign, let me resign and take all my belongings to Matoshree".

There, however, was a rider. "I'm willing to step down, but can you promise me that the next chief minister will be from Shiv Sena?"

This was seen a direct challenge to Eknath Shinde, who has been projecting his faction as the real Shiv Sena and has been citing the Hindutva ideology of Balasaheb Thackeray, indicating that the Sena under his son was a "lite" version.

For the rebels, this is practically an impossible wish list in the event they topple Thackeray's government and help the BJP come to power.

The BJP's refusal to offer Thackeray the top post was one of the key factors that drove a wedge between the long-time allies and led to the end of the alliance.

Congress sources have claimed that the party, along with the other ally in the ruling alliance -- Sharad Pawar -- floated the idea of offering the top job to Shinde as a way to end the impasse.

There is a buzz that the offer was made to the rebels through back-channel talks.

Earlier today, Shinde and his followers stepped up their act with a letter to the Governor and Deputy Speaker in the state assembly.

The letter by 34 rebel MLAs – four of them Independents -- declared Mr Shinde as their leader. In a resolution, the rebel faction said there is "enormous discontent" among the party cadre over the alliance with ideologically opposed Congress and Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party.

Droupadi Murmu Is BJP's Candidate For President; Oppoistion Names Yashwant Sinha

NEW DELHI, June 21: Droupadi Murmu, a former Governor of Jharkhand, has been named as the BJP's choice for the post of President. Murmu, a tribal from Odisha, will be pitted against former Union Minister Yashwant Sinha, who has been named as the opposition candidate. If elected, the 64-year-old will be the first tribal woman to become the President of India.

Elections to choose the next President will be held on July 18, the counting on July 21. The new President will take oath on July 25, the Election Commission has said.

Murmu's name was announced after the BJP parliamentary board met this evening to take a final call on the Presidential candidate. The board had discussed 20 names for the post and it was decided to pick someone from east India, a tribal and a woman, said BJP Chief JP Nadda.

Yashwant Sinha was Union Minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government. Opposition leaders, who gathered at the Parliament annexe for the meeting convened by NCP chief Sharad Pawar, unanimously agreed on Sinha's name.

"In the forthcoming Presidential elections, we have decided to elect a common candidate and stop the Modi government from doing further damage. At a subsequent meeting held today we have chosen Yashwant Sinha as a common candidate. We appeal to all political parties to vote for Yashwant Sinha," said Jairam Ramesh, Congress leader, reading from a joint statement by the opposition.

The joint statement appealed to the BJP and its allies to support the candidature of Sinha so that the nation can have a "worthy Rashtrapati elected unopposed".

A committee has been formed to steer Yashwant Sinha's campaign.

"We regret Modi government made no serious effort to have consensus on a presidential candidate," said Ramesh.

Reading out the joint statement, he added that the unity of opposition parties forged for presidential poll will be further consolidated in the months ahead.

The first woman Governor of Jharkhand, Draupadi Murmu started her political career as a councillor.

A two-time BJP legislator from Odisha, Murmu was a minister in the Naveen Patnaik cabinet when the Biju Janata Dal or BJD ruled the state with the support of BJP.

She also headed the BJP's Mayurbhanj district unit in Odisha and had represented Rairangpur in the Odisha assembly.

Patnaik today tweeted his congratulations to Murmu.

There is speculation that the BJP may count on his support for the election, as well as of Jharkhand's ruling Jharkhand Mukti Morcha party, placing the government in a comfortable position.

The President is elected by the members of the electoral college, comprising elected members of both houses of Parliament and legislative assemblies of all states as well as the National Capital Territory of Delhi and the Union Territory of Puducherry.

Ahead Of Bandh Call Over Agnipath Scheme, Preparation In States

NEW DELHI, June 19: Precautionary measures are being taken in many states ahead of tomorrow's Bharat Bandh call given by armed forces aspirants who are protesting against the Agnipath scheme. The government has ruled out a rollback of the scheme.

The Kerala Police said its entire force will be on duty on Monday to arrest anyone engaging in violence or destruction of public property.

In Jharkhand, schools have been shut on Monday amid the bandh call. The ongoing examinations of Classes 9 and 11 have also been postponed.

In Gautam Buddh Nagar near Delhi, the police said prohibitory orders banning large gatherings have been imposed. People have been asked not to disrupt law and order.

In Faridabad near Delhi, police spokesperson Sube Singh said they are trying to avert any untoward incident. Roadblocks have been set up in various places and more than 2,000 policemen will be fielded tomorrow.

The Congress said lakhs of party workers across the country will hold peaceful protests on Monday against the Agnipath scheme and the Central government's "vendetta politics" in targeting Rahul Gandhi.

On June 14, the government had unveiled the short-term contractual recruitment programme "Agnipath" for the recruitment of soldiers in the Army, Navy and the Air Force.

Under the programme, young men and women aged between the ages of 17-and-a-half and 21 years were to be recruited in the Army, Navy and the Air Force, largely on a four-year short-term contractual basis.

As protests intensified, the Centre raised the upper age limit for recruitment to 23 years for 2022 as a one-time measure.

In Noida, a group of ex-servicemen have submitted a memorandum with the authorities demanding strict against "anti-social" elements involved in the violence during the protests.

225 people have been booked and 15 arrested in connection with the violent protest at the Jewar toll plaza on the Yamuna Expressway on Friday, reported news agency Press Trust of India.

Bihar Cuts Train Services As 'Agnipath' Rampage Continues

NEW DELHI, June 18: Train services were stopped in Bihar till 8 pm today and will be suspended again at 4 am tomorrow till 8 pm, authorities said, as the state continued to reel under the worst outbreak of violence over the 'Agnipath' military recruitment scheme.

A railway station and a police vehicle were torched, and several policemen injured in stone-throwing as protesters tried to enforce a bandh, calling for a rollback of the new scheme for recruitment in the armed forces.

Over 350 trains were cancelled today across India as deadly violence by armed forces aspirants upset with the new programme continued in several states despite new assurances and concessions by the government.

The Home and Defence ministries promised new 10 per cent quotas each in jobs for 'Agnipath' recruits after their four-year tenure. The Ministry of Shipping also announced plans to induct Agniveers.

In Uttar Pradesh, the police arrested 250 people over the violence that erupted after the scheme was announced on Tuesday and registered cases against 400 unknown people. 150 others were charged by the railways police in the state.

In Kerala, hundreds of young men took out huge protest rallies in Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode, demanding immediate exams for army recruitment. In Karnataka, the police used sticks to disperse protesters as they attempted to take out a march in Dharwad.

In Telangana, Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao expressed shock and grief over the death of a 24-year-old man, who died after security personnel opened fire at agitators at the Secunderabad railway station on Friday. Rao announced ₹ 25 lakh compensation to his family and also a government job for an eligible relative.

In Bengal, train services in the North 24 Parganas district were disrupted for around one hour as a group of agitators blocked railway tracks and did push-ups as a mark of protest.

In Haryana, protesters set a vehicle on fire outside the Mahendergarh railway station while a group of over 50 agitators raided the Ludhiana railway station in Punjab, damaging property. In Rajasthan, hundreds of young men held demonstrations at various places including Jaipur, Jodhpur and Jhunjhunu, and blocked the Jaipur-Delhi Highway in Alwar briefly.

The opposition maintained the pressure on the government, with Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who is in hospital with Covid issues, calling the Agnipath scheme "directionless" and saying that her party will work for its withdrawal.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who held a meeting with top military officers, strongly defended the programme, saying it was announced after wide-ranging consultations including with the ex-servicemen and blamed the protests on a misunderstanding spread for political reasons.

BJP says Nitish Kumar soft on Agnipath agitators; JD-U blames Centre for violence

PATNA, June 18: In a major indictment of the Bihar government, in which it is the senior partner, the BJP on Saturday accused the state administration of "not doing anything" to tackle the violence over the 'Agnipath' scheme while the central government announced special security for the party's leaders in the state.

Two MPs and eight BJP legislators, including two Deputy Chief Ministers, of the BJP were given the third-highest 'Y' Category security by the central government amid the massive backlash against the short-term military recruitment programme that has angered job-seekers.

According to BJP sources, the decision to provide extra security was cleared by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is not pleased with the way Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar handled the situation in the last three days as party offices were attacked and the police failed to control angry mobs.

Since the programme was announced on Tuesday, Bihar has seen the worst spate of violence among states, with protesters setting trains on fire, vandalising stations and attacking BJP leaders' offices, homes and cars.

The protesters are upset that the Agnipath programme will lay off 75 per cent of the recruits after four years, without the traditional retirement benefits that make India's armed forces a lucrative option for its rural youth.

The heightened security for BJP leaders came shortly after the state party chief, whose home was vandalised by 'Agnipath' protesters a day ago, criticised the state government over what he called inadequate efforts to stop violent protests in the state.

In especially strong comments, Sanjay Jaiswal appeared to criticise Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, whose Janata Dal (United), or JDU, is in alliance with the BJP in the state, saying, "Everyone has a right to protest, there's nothing wrong in that, we all have different views. But giving protesters a free hand, the administration not doing anything to stop attacks on a leader's property, this is not right."

"When we called the fire brigade, they said fire trucks will come only if the local administration officer allows it," a visibly upset Jaiwal told reporters on Saturday, alluding to inaction by state officials to prevent the attack at his home in Bihar's Bettiah town on Friday.

"We are part of the state government alliance, but something like this has not happened anywhere in the country, it is happening only in Bihar. As a leader of the BJP, I condemn this incident and if this is not stopped, it won't be good for anyone," the Bihar BJP chief told reporters.

Besides his, Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Renu Devi's home and several BJP offices were also vandalised by the protesters.

Hitting back at the comments, JD(U) national chief Rajiv Ranjan alias Lalan Singh accused the party's ally of unnecessarily blaming the state government over the protests.

"The central government took a decision. There are protests in other states too. Young people are concerned about their future, so they came out to protest. Of course, violence is not the way. We can't accept violence. But the BJP should also listen to what is worrying these young people, their concerns. Instead, the BJP is blaming the administration. What would the administration do?" Ranjan said in a video statement.

"What has the administration got to do with all this? A frustrated BJP is blaming the administration over its inability to contain the anger of the protesters," Mr Ranjan said.

42 Dead In Assam, Meghalaya Floods, 10,000 Homeless In Tripura

GUWAHATI, June 18: Eight people died in floods and landslides in Assam on Saturday while the number of people affected went up to 30 lakh, prompting calls to the army for rescue operations. The situation in other north-eastern states remained grim as well.

Of the total deaths in the floods this week, 24 have died in Assam and 18 in Meghalaya.

Over 10,000 people have been left homeless in Tripura due to inundation caused by incessant rainfall since Friday but there is no report of any human casualty, an official said.

Government sources said this was the third-highest rainfall in Agartala in the last 60 years. All educational institutions have been closed due to a flash flood.
Meghalaya's Mawsynram and Cherrapunji also received its highest rainfall since 1940, officials said.

Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma has announced compensation of ₹ 4 lakh to the families of those who died in the floods.

In Assam, over 4,000 villages are flooded, and 1.56 lakh people have been moved to 514 relief camps. Several embankments, culverts and roads have been damaged.

A boat carrying flood-affected people sunk in Assam's Hojai district, leaving three children missing while 21 others have been rescued, officials said today.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi dialled Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to ask about the flood situation and assured all help from the centre.

In neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh, water from river Subansiri has submerged a dam that was under construction for a hydroelectric power project.

The Assam government has also arranged special flights between Guwahati and Silchar for people stranded due to the floods and landslides.

Violence Over 'Agnipath' Spreads, Opposition Ramps Up Pressure

PATNA, June 16: Protests against Agnipath, a radical recruitment plan for the armed forces, turned violent today as Army aspirants disrupted rail and road traffic in several parts of Bihar for the second consecutive day.

Trains were set afire, rail and road traffic disrupted, window panes of buses smashed, and passersby, including a ruling BJP MLA, pelted with stones by angry youth demanding the withdrawal of the new short-term recruitment scheme. Violent protests have now spread to multiple states across the country. Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have also reported violent protests.

Phone internet and SMS services have been suspended for 24 hours in Haryana's Palwal district following stone-pelting and violence by Army aspirants. Police had to resort to aerial firing after a mob attacked them and set their vehicles on fire.

Due to demonstrations and vandalism at several railway stations, 22 trains from Bihar had to be cancelled and five had to stop after completing partial journeys, East Central Railway said.

Baton-wielding protestors smashed glass windows of the intercity express train at Bihar's Bhabhua Road railway station and set one coach on fire. Holding a banner saying "Indian Army lovers," they raised slogans rejecting the new recruitment scheme.

In Nawada, the vehicle of BJP MLA Aruna Devi, who was on her way to a court, was attacked by the agitators who hurled stones at her car, leaving five persons, including the legislator, injured. The BJP office in Nawada was also vandalised.

"The protesters seemed to have been provoked by the sight of the party flag, fitted on my car, which they tore. My driver, two security guards, and two personal staff members have sustained injuries," the MLA told reporters, adding that she was "too shaken" to have registered a police complaint.

At the railway station in Arrah, police had to resort to tear gas shelling to disperse a huge crowd of protestors who pelted stones at the police. Visuals showed railway staff using fire extinguishers to put out a fire caused by protesters throwing furniture on the tracks and setting them alight.

In Jehanabad, students pelted stones injuring several people including cops who chased them away to clear the railway tracks where they had camped to disrupt rail traffic. Dramatic visuals from the railway station showed the police and protesting students pelting stones at each other. The cops also pointed their guns at the protesters to scare them away.

In Nawada, groups of young men burnt tyres at a public crossing and raised slogans demanding the rollback of the tour of duty scheme. They also blocked the railway tracks at the Nawada station and burnt tyres on the track. Visuals from the spot show a huge crowd damaging railway property and shouting expletives at PM Modi. Many can be seen doing pushups on the railway tracks while the police try to appeal for peace through a handheld public address system.

Agnipath, the tour of duty scheme, proposes the recruitment of jawans on a contractual basis for a four-year period followed by compulsory retirement for most without gratuity and pension benefits. The new recruitment plan aims to cut down the government's massive salary and pension bills and free up funds for arms procurement.

In Saharsa, students flocked to the railway station and pelted stones when the police tried to chase them away to prevent rail traffic disruption.

Violent mobs could also be seen in Chapra, carrying heavy wooden sticks and smashing state roadways buses in protest.

Protests have been reported from several parts of neighbouring Uttar Pradesh as well.

Yesterday, protests broke out in Bihar's Muzaffarpur and Buxar with the protesters asking what they will do after four years.

Under the Agnipath scheme, about 45,000 people between the age of 17.5 years and 21 years will be inducted into the services for a four-year tenure. During this period, they will be paid a monthly salary between Rs 30,000-40,000 plus allowances. They will also be entitled to medical and insurance benefits.

After four years, only 25 per cent of these soldiers will be retained and they will go on to serve for a full 15 years in non-officer ranks. The remaining will exit the services with a package between Rs 11 lakh - ₹ 12 lakh, but won't be eligible for pension benefits.

Under the old system, youths aged between 16.5 and 21 years were selected for a minimum of 15 years of service and used to get a pension after retirement.

The new policy has drawn criticism and questions from several quarters, including a section of veterans. Critics have argued that a four-year tenure will hit fighting spirit in the ranks and make them risk-averse.

No Illegal Bulldozing, Supreme Court Warns Yogi Government

NEW DELHI, June 16: Amid allegations of Uttar Pradesh using bulldozers to target those who protested the controversial comments on Prophet Muhammad by members of the ruling BJP, the Supreme Court today sternly said, "Demolitions have to be in accordance with law, they cannot be retaliatory".

The UP government and the civic authorities of Prayagraj and Kanpur were asked to respond to a Supreme Court notice on demolitions before the next hearing on Tuesday. "Everything should look fair...we expect the authorities to act only in accordance with law. Ensure safety so that nothing untoward happens," said the judges.

On petitioners asking the court to order a stop to "illegal demolitions" in UP, the judges said: "We can't stay demolitions. We can say go in accordance with the law."

An organisation called the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind had approached the Supreme Court, asking it to act against officials responsible for what they called the "illegal" demolition of houses.

The court should ask the UP government to ensure no demolitions took place in violation of the law, the petitions urged.

Footage of bulldozers demolishing homes of those arrested or identified as protesters in Kanpur, Saharanpur and Prayagraj have spurred allegations that the UP administration is targeting a specific community over the protests against the Prophet comments.

Two persons were killed in jharkhand and hundreds were arrested during the protests over the comments by BJP leader Nupur Sharma, who has since been suspended. Another BJP leader was expelled for his social media post.

The demolitions were "shocking and appalling", the petitioners told the Supreme Court, alleging that notices were served after houses were razed.

"Adequate notices are must. What is being done is unconstitutional and shocking. It is being done by targeting a community," CU Singh, lawyer for the petitioners, said.

He said a notice of at least 15 to 40 days was a must before any demolition.

"The respondents (UP government) will get time for their objections. We should ensure their (affected parties) safety in the meantime. Let's be clear, they're also a part of society, ultimately, when someone has a grievance, they have a right to have it addressed," said Justice AS Bopanna.

The UP government asserted that it had followed the law and had only razed homes that were illegally built. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the demolitions had been carried out "irrespective of community".

"The due course of law is followed for demolitions. The media links the demolitions with political statements unnecessarily," said senior lawyer Harish Salve on behalf of the UP administration.

The petitioners expressed fear of more demolitions over the weekend and requested the Supreme Court for interim protection. "Petitioners rely on Newspaper reports. We rely on official records," said Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the UP government.

"If the house has been constructed without following any laws at all then they can't say that they should not even be touched," Mr Mehta argued, adding that the petitions were based on "misconceptions and politics".

Justices Bopanna and Vikram Nath took up the case two days after some former judges and senior lawyers wrote to Chief Justice of India NV Ramana urging him to take note of the alleged incidents of illegal detention, razing of homes and police action on those linked to protests over the Prophet comments.

The Supreme Court hearing brought some hope to the family of politician Javed Mohammed, accused by the police of being the mastermind behind violence last Friday in Prayagraj. His bungalow was razed on Sunday.

"The biggest thing is the house did not even belong to him; the whole ownership is with his wife . How did you bring down the wife's house? The wife and other family members are homeless now," said his lawyer KK Rai.

Indian Opposition Hunts For A President

NEW DELHI, June 15: Sharad Pawar today refused an offer to run for President, telling an opposition meeting that he "still has an active political innings to play". But the meeting turned chaotic over a last-minute resolution against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The meeting, which was clouded by the absence of five key parties, saw "chaos" over the resolution that Mamata Banerjee was accused of springing on the parties without notice, sources say. Many asserted that the only agenda for the meeting was the presidential election.

Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who called the meeting, told reporters later that the opposition needed to sit together to discuss "the bulldozing taking place in the country."

Mamata Banerjee had invited 22 parties but 16 attended the meeting. They decided on a 21 June deadline for naming a presidential candidate versus the nominee of the BJP and its allies. Mamata Banerjee, Sharad Pawar and Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge will consult with various parties to build consensus on a name.

After Sharad Pawar, 81, turned down Mamata Banerjee's offer to be the opposition's presidential candidate, no one had any other suggestion. At the end of the meeting, she took the names of Gopal Gandhi and National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah.

In a tweet, Sharad Pawar said, "I sincerely appreciate the leaders of opposition parties for suggesting my name as a candidate for the election of the President of India, at the meeting held in Delhi. However I like to state that I have humbly declined the proposal of my candidature."

Sharad Pawar had the support of many parties, including Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress, Left, the Congress and the Shiv Sena. "If Sharad Pawar agreed, everybody will give him support. But Pawarji does not agree, we will discuss," Ms Banerjee told reporters.

The presidential elections will take place on July 18 and the results will be declared on July 21. June 29 is the last date for nominations.
While Mamata Banerjee's rivals Congress and Left attended the meeting, leaders like
Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao - who had bonded with his Bengal counterpart over their common goal of defeating the BJP - decided to boycott it.

The Akali Dal and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) also opted out, protesting the Congress' presence. AAP said it will "consider the matter only after the Presidential candidate is declared".

The TRS said there was "no question of sharing any platform with the Congress." The party said the Congress had been invited despite its objections and lashed out at its leader Rahul Gandhi. It also accused the Congress of "ganging up with the BJP" in Telangana, especially in the recent bypolls.

3 Days, 30 Hours Of Questioning Of Rahul Gandhi

NEW DELHI, June 15: Congress's Rahul Gandhi walked out of the Enforcement Directorate offices after over nine hours of questioning in the third straight day today in an alleged money laundering case connected to the National Herald newspaper. He will be questioned again on Friday -- a day's exemption he asked for having been granted by the agency, sources said.

Sources also said the agency is recording an audio and a video version of his questioning. The statement is later typed up and is signed by him and the Investigating officer.

Over the last three days, Gandhi has been questioned for more than 30 hours. His mother and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, who is hospitalised after testing positive for Covid, will also be questioned after her health improves.

Outside the ED offices, meanwhile, the Congress has been on a collision course with the Delhi Police, with top leaders and workers of the party continuing their protest against what they called the "vendetta politics" of the ruling BJP.

Even today, senior leaders, including Sachin Pilot, were rounded up and detained by the police.

The top leaders of the Congress -- including KC Venugopal, Bhupesh Baghel and Randeep Surjewala -- said the police also barged into the party headquarters from where they detained workers and leaders.

Cellphone videos showed some of the Youth Congress and Mahila Congress workers being dragged and taken away in buses.

Pilot was also picked up from near the party headquarters. "They shoved us into the bus and I don't know what next they plan to do with us. This sort of detainment has never happened before. This behaviour in a civil society is just not done," he said.

The Delhi Police, however, have denied the Congress claims.

The Enforcement Directorate's questioning is about the Gandhis' dealings with the Young India company, which took over AJL, which runs the National Herald newspaper. The Young India took over 800 crores in assets of AJL and according to the Income Tax department, this should be considered an asset of Young India shareholders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, for which they should pay tax.

The Congress has claimed that the Young India is a non- profit, and so the shareholders cannot make any money from its assets.

The Enforcement Directorate has argued that Young India has not done any charitable work. Its only transaction was the transfer of AJL's debt. The Congress has countered that the newspaper is the charity.

The Income Tax order has been challenged in court and is pending in the Supreme Court.

Rahul Gandhi Questioned For 10 Hours On Day 2, Summoned Again

NEW DELHI, June 14: Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi has been asked to come again on Wednesday by the Enforcement Directorate in a money laundering case linked to the National Herald newspaper. On Day 2, he was questioned for 10 hours.

The Congress leader had asked ED officers to complete the questioning today itself however late it gets, but the agency declined it, asking him to appear again, say sources.

On Day 2 at the central probe agency's office in Delhi, Gandhi was questioned for 10 hours. He arrived at the agency's office at 11:30 am with his "Z+" category security and left close to midnight.

Earlier in the day, top Congress leaders like Harish Rawat and Randeep Singh Surjewala were detained from outside the Congress office as they tried marching to the ED's office. Many workers have also been detained.

Congress workers and senior leaders were seen in physical altercations with the police and security forces as they were stopped from entering the cordoned-off area. Several were detained as they tried to reach the party office.

Rahul Gandhi was questioned for more than 10 hours yesterday in an alleged money laundering case connected to the National Herald newspaper.

Sources say Gandhi was asked around 25 questions yesterday and is expected to spend a long day at the probe agency's office again. Unlike with the police, statements made to an ED officer are admissible in court.

The probe pertains to alleged financial irregularities in Young Indian Private Limited, promoted by the Congress, that owns National Herald. National Herald is published by Associated Journals Limited, or AJL.

The Congress again slammed the BJP-led Centre and accused it of using the probe agency as an "election management department" which it claimed has lodged over 5,000 cases to intimidate political adversaries. The cases vanish when one joins the BJP, the party alleged.

Senior Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala claimed that the government fears Mr Gandhi and that's the only reason it is 'targetting' him.

The Congress has alleged that the questioning is BJP's "vendetta politics". Union Minister Smriti Irani had said the party was trying to pressurise the probe agency and the protest was not to save democracy but to save Rahul Gandhi's properties worth ₹ 2,000 crore

UP Bulldozer Action 'Mockery Of Law': Ex-Judges Urge Supreme Court To Step In

NEW DELHI, June 14: Accusing the Uttar Pradesh administration of "making a mockery of the Constitution", three former Supreme Court judges are among 12 prominent persons who have urged the court to react to the "violence and repression by state authorities against Muslim citizens" protesting over BJP representatives' remarks on Prophet Muhammad.

Their letter to the court specifically terms the bulldozing of houses of protesters "an unacceptable subversion of the rule of law", and requests the court to take suo motu cognizance. Besides former Supreme Court judges B Sudarshan Reddy, V Gopala Gowda and AK Ganguly, the June 14 letter is signed by three former High Court judges and six lawyers.

The Prayagraj Development Authority had on Sunday bulldozed the home of Javed Ahmad, alleged to have been involved in the June 10 violent protests triggered by now-suspended BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma's controversial remarks on the Prophet. The allegedly illegal properties of two persons accused of rioting were bulldozed in Saharanpur too.

"The coordinated manner in which the police and development authorities have acted lead(s) to the clear conclusion that demolitions are a form of collective extra-judicial punishment," the letter reads.

The Uttar Pradesh Police has arrested 333 people from eight districts and registered 13 FIRs for the June 10 protests.

"Videos of young men in police custody being beaten with lathis, houses of protestors being demolished without notice or any cause of action, and protestors from the minority Muslim community being chased and beaten by the police, are circulating on social media, shaking the conscience of the nation," reads the letter.

It says that Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's reported statements sanctioning action that "sets an example" further emboldened the police "to torture protestors".

"The mettle of the judiciary is tested in such critical times," the letter tells the Supreme Court. Saying that the judiciary has in the past "emerged with distinction as the custodian of the rights of the people", the letter cites examples of suo motu action by the Supreme Court, such as when migrant workers were forced to walk home during the 2020 Covid lockdown and the Pegasus spyware matter.

Signatories include Justice AP Shah, former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court and former chairperson of the Law Commission of India; Justice K Chandru, who served the Madras High Court, and Justice Mohammed Anwar, who served the Karnataka High Court.

Six senior lawyers are also part of the appeal - former law minister Shanti Bhushan, Prashant Bhushan, Indira Jaising, Chander Uday Singh, Sriram Panchu and Anand Grover.

Rahul Gandhi Questioned By Enforcement Directorate Amid Congress Protest

NEW DELHI, June 13: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was questioned by the officials of Enforcement Directorate (ED) for over 11 hours today in the National Herald money laundering case, following a huge protest by the Congress on the streets of Delhi.

Chaotic scenes were witnessed as Gandhi, accompanied by sister and Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, headed towards the ED's office amid party workers' slogans against the central government.

The Congress march made it through two points of barricading but was stopped at the third where Delhi Police had deployed heavy force. After Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra proceeded forward, many Congress leaders started a sit-in. Ms Gandhi Vadra dropped her brother at the ED office and then left.

Rahul Gandhi was accompanied by party leaders Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Chidambaram, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel and others.

Subsequently, top Congress leaders were detained and put on buses. They were then taken to police stations. Ms Gandhi Vadra reached the Tughlaq Road police station to meet party leaders, including Congress general secretary KC Venugopal.

Police had imposed prohibitory orders today near the agency's office. Permission for the protest march was refused last night, with the police citing "communal and law and order situation" and VVIP movements.

The Congress, however, decided to go ahead with the countrywide protest that was planned as a show of strength. Protests were held in Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala, among other states.

Addressing the media this morning, Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala said the barricading of the whole of Delhi "proves that the government fears us". He described the Narendra Modi government as "coward" and said the Congress is ready to make "sacrifices".

The Congress has been accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah of using central agencies to silence the Opposition. The party has said the allegations against its leaders are "fake and baseless" and accused the BJP of "vendetta politics".

The ED's probe pertains to alleged financial irregularities in the Congress-promoted Young Indian Private limited that owns the National Herald newspaper. The newspaper is published by Associated Journals Limited (AJL) and owned by Young Indian Private Limited.

Rahul Gandhi was questioned about the incorporation of the Young Indian company, operations of the National Herald and the funds transfer within the news media establishment.

Sonia Gandhi too has been summoned in this case. She had sought more time after she tested Covid positive. The agency has now issued her a fresh summons for June 23. Last afternoon, the Congress chief had to be admitted to a hospital in Delhi due to Covid-related issues.

Congress leaders Chidambaram, Venugopal, Tiwari manhandled by cops during Delhi protest

NEW DELHI, June 13: Congress leader P Chidambaram suffered a fracture in his left rib after he was pushed by Delhi Police during the party's protest in Delhi today. Congress MP KC Venugopal manhandled by cops in Delhi during rally for Rahul Gandhi.

Chidambaram was among hundred of Congress leaders and workers who protested outside the Enforcement Directorate's Delhi office as party leader Rahul Gandhi came for questioning by the probe agency in an alleged money laundering case linked to National Herald newspaper.

Chidambaram tweeted he was lucky to get away with only a suspected hairline crack.

"When three big, burly policemen crash into you, you are lucky to get away with a suspected hairline crack. Doctors have said that if there is a hairline crack, it will heal by itself in about 10 days. I am fine and I will go about my work tomorrow," Chidambaram tweeted.

Congress MP KC Venugopal was on Monday pulled and dragged by personnel of the Delhi Police during the party's protest march against the Enforcement Directorate's questioning of Rahul Gandhi during the day in the National Herald case.

Venugopal, a Rajya Sabha MP, was among top Congress functionaries, including Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and MPs Jairam Ramesh and Deepender Hooda, to be detained by the Delhi Police during the solidarity march.

A video of Venugopal being manhandled by policemen were shared by Youth Congress president Srinivas BV and the UP West Youth Congress on Twitter.

Sharing the video, Srinivas BV wrote, "This behaviour of Delhi Police with a sitting Rajya Sabha MP and AICC General Secretary @kcvenugopalmp ji is highly condemnable." It shows a policemen forcibly taking the MP towards a bus, presumably waiting to pick up protesting Congress workers.

His colleague, Randeep Surjewala, said another Congress leader, Pramod Tiwari, was thrown on the road and he suffered a head injury.

"Modi government has crossed every limit of barbarism. Former Home Minister P Chidambaram was hit by police, his glasses were thrown on the ground, he has a hairline fracture in his left rib. MP Pramod Tiwari was thrown on the road. He has head injury and rib fracture. Is this a democracy?" Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said in a video statement that he tweeted.

Earlier in the day, the Congress said it will continue to hold its “Satyagraha march” in the national capital despite the Delhi Police denying permission for the same.

Leaders and workers of the party were detained in several parts of the country when staged protest rallies in a show of support for Gandhi.

Congress workers from western Uttar Pradesh alleged they were taken in custody by the police in Delhi and lodged at the Mandir Marg police station. Among those allegedly detained in Delhi include former UP unit chief of Congress Ajay Kumar Lallu.

'Those In Power Must Act Responsibly': Delhi High Court On Hate Speech

NEW DELHI, June 13: The Delhi High Court turned down the plea of CPM's Brinda Karat to allow a police case against BJP MPs Anurag Thakur and Parvesh Verma today over alleged hate speech delivered in 2020 during protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act. The court upheld the order of the trial court, which had turned down a similar appeal last year on the ground that there was no mandatory sanction from the central government.

The High Court, however, issued strong remarks on the subject of hate speech, especially by political leaders.

Expressing concern, Justice Chandra Dhari Singh said, "Hate speech is given by elected representatives, political and religious leaders especially on the basis of religion, caste, region or ethnicity is against the concept of brotherhood".

Such people, he said, "bulldoze the constitutional ethos" and violates the equality and liberty granted under the Constitution.

"This is a gross insult to the fundamental duties prescribed under the Constitution. Therefore, there is a need for strict action from the central and state governments," the judge said.

Calling hate speech the "starting point of attacks" -- ranging from discrimination to exclusion, deportation, and, even genocide -- "against a targeted community" the court said it is "not appropriate for leaders to engage in such acts or speeches".

"In a democracy like India, the elected leaders carry their responsibility not only towards the voters in their constituency, but also towards the society and nation as a whole and ultimately to the Constitution," the court said.

Giving the example of exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Kashmir Valley, the court said hate speech is not specifically limited to any religion or community.

The judge also exhorted the executive and the civil society to help prevent the "menace of hate speech".

"There is a need for effective control of "hate speech" at all levels and all law enforcing agencies must ensure that the existing law is not made a dead letter," the court said.

In their petition before the trial court, Brinda Karat and KM Tiwari had said Anurag Thakur and Parvesh Varma "had sought to incite people, as a result of which three incidents of firing took place at two different protest sites in Delhi".

On Januray 27, 2020, at a rally in Delhi's Rithala, had Anurag Thakur had lashed out at the anti-CAA protesters and exhorted the crowd to raise the "Shoot the traitors" slogan, the petitioners had claimed. They also contended that on January 28, 2020, Parvesh Verma made incendiary comments against the anti-CAA protesters in Shaheen Bagh.

LeT terrorist killed in chance encounter in Srinagar: police

SRINAGAR, June 12: Police on Sunday said LeT terrorist Adil Parray of Ganderbal was killed in a chance encounter with a "small team of Srinagar police" in Kreesbal Palpora Sangam area of Srinagar.

As per police the slain was involved in the killing of two policemen Gh Hassan Dar in Sangam and Saifulla Qadri in Anchar Soura and injuring a 9 year old girl in the attack.

"LeT #terrorist Adil Parray of #Ganderbal who was involved in #killing of 02 JKP personnel Gh Hassan Dar in Sangam & Saifulla Qadri in Anchar Soura and injuring a 9 year old girl, killed in a chance #encounter with a small team of Police, ' IGP Kashmir said in a statement.

Curfew In Jammu's Bhaderwah Town, Army Called In For Flag March

SRINAGAR, June 9: Curfew has been imposed and the army has been called in to conduct a flag march in Bhaderwah town of Jammu and Kashmir's Doda district over attempts by some elements to create communal tension.

The police said they are keeping a close watch on the situation and would act against anyone found violating law and order.

Curfew was imposed after attempts were made to create communal tension in the town, local administration officials said without giving more details.

Security forces have been deployed in large numbers in the town, known to be communally sensitive.

India's Presidential elections on July 18

NEW DELHI, June 9: The Election Commission on Thursday announced July 18 as the date of the 16th Presidential Election for electing the next President of India.

“The ECI has fixed the schedule for the election of the office of the President of India. The notification for the election will be issued on June 15, the last date for nomination is scheduled for June 29, while the polls to be held on July 18. The counting of the votes, if needed, shall be done on July 21,” Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar said at a press conference in New Delhi.

“The commission has decided to maintain all Covid precautions and protocols on polling day,” he added.

The tenure of President Ram Nath Kovind will come to an end on July 24, 2022, and as per Article 62 of the Constitution, an election to fill the vacancy caused by the expiration of the term of office is required to be completed before the term ends.

The law provides that the notification for election shall be issued on or after the sixtieth day before the expiry of term. Article 324 of the Constitution, the Presidential and Vice-Presidential Elections Act, 1952, and the rules made thereunder vest the superintendence, direction, and control of the conduct of election to the office of the President of India in the ECI.

The President is elected by the members of the Electoral College consisting of elected members of both Houses of Parliament, and elected members of the Legislative Assemblies of all States including National Capital Territory of Delhi and the Union Territory of Puducherry.

However, the nominated members of either Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha or Legislative Assemblies of the states are not eligible to be included in the Electoral College and therefore, are not entitled to participate in the election process. Similarly, members of the Legislative Councils are also not electors for the Presidential election.

According to Article 55 (3) of the Constitution the election is held in accordance with the System of Proportional Representation by means of single transferable vote and the voting at such election shall be by secret ballot. In this system, the elector has to mark preferences against the names of the candidates.

The elector can mark as many preferences as the number of candidates. While the marking of the first preference is compulsory for the ballot paper to be valid, other preferences are optional. For marking the vote, the Commission also supplies a particular pen to the electors in the polling station by the designated official when the ballot paper is handed over.

The Members of Parliament are expected to cast their votes at the Place of Poll in the Parliament House, New Delhi, and members of State Legislative Assemblies are expected to vote at the respective State Capital.

The Secretary General, Rajya Sabha will be the Returning Officer for the elections, Kumar announced.

Election shall be held with the system of proportional representation by means of single transferable vote.

The total value of the votes for all MPs combined is 5,43,200 and States is 5,43,231. The total electorals for the current election would be 4809, according to the EC.

Bihar Couple Begs For Money To Pay ₹ 50,000 'Bribe' To Hospital For Son's Body

SAMISTIPUR, June 8: An elderly couple is out on the streets of Bihar's Samastipur seeking money to "get their son's body released from a government hospital". A hospital employee allegedly asked the couple for ₹ 50,000 to release the body of their son.

Since the couple does not have the money, they are walking around the city "begging for money".

A video of the couple has gone viral on social media.

The father said that his son that gone missing a few days ago.

"Some time ago my son had gone missing. Now, we've received a call that my son's body is at Sadar Hospital, Samastipur. A hospital employee has asked for ₹ 50,000 to release my son's body. We're poor people, how can we pay this amount?," said Mahesh Thakur.

Most of the health workers at the hospital are on contract and often do not get their salaries on time. There have been several instances where the staff has taken money from relatives of patients.

The hospital authorities have said that strict action will be taken in the matter. "Those found responsible will not be spared. This is a shame on humanity," said Dr SK Chaudhary, civil surgeon, Samastipur.

Sidhu Moose Wala Case: Gangster Lawrence Bishnoi Is Mastermind, Say Police

NEW DELHI, June 8: Gangster Lawrence Bishnoi is the mastermind behind the murder of Sidhu Moose Wala, the Delhi Police told reporters today. Lawrence Bishnoi was the key suspect in the killing of Sidhu Moose Wala. But he had not confessed to the crime, saying instead that his gang was involved and they had planned and executed the crime.

Lawrence Bishnoi -- who is in Delhi's Tihar jail -- has been questioned several times by the police.

The 28-year-old singer-politician was shot dead by some unidentified attackers in Punjab's Mansa district on May 29 -- a day after his security cover was cut down by the Punjab government. He had sustained 19 bullet wounds and died within 15 minutes of being shot, the police had said.

Centre Blames Pakistan For Spate Of Targeted Killings In Kashmir

NEW DELHI, June 1: Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government cannot be part of ethnic cleansing so minorities would not be shifted out of the Kashmir valley but only to a safer location, this decision was taken by the centre amidst demands from Kashmiri Pandits who wanted to be shifted out of Kashmir after a spate of targetted killings mostly at the minority community and non-locals.

Central intelligence agencies again blamed Pakistan for the escalating violence in the Kashmir valley while briefing union Home Minister Amit Shah during a series of meetings on Friday at the North Block.

"Violence levels might have increased in Kashmir but it is not jihad. It is being done by some desperate elements," said a senior functionary in the government, adding that perpetrators of violence are sitting across the border in Pakistan.

Officials also told Shah that there is no evidence to suggest the presence of the Taliban in the Kashmir valley. This is significant as the Narendra Modi government started its engagement with the Taliban just earlier this week.

Earlier in the day, three rounds of meetings were held in the North Block. In the first round, intelligence heads of both internal and external agencies -- Director of the Intelligence Bureau Arvind Kumar, and the chief of Research and Analysis Wing Samant Goel -- along with Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir Manoj Sinha and Director General of Police Dilbagh Singh briefed the Home Minister about the steps being taken to break the cycle of violence.

It was unanimously decided that Kashmiri Pandits would be moved to safer locations but not out of Kashmir. "Centre can't be part of any ethnic cleansing. In this government, we believe in multi cultural society," added a senior level officer.

According to him, chatter being intercepted by intelligence agencies suggest that Pakistan has plans to push the graph further and that's why fresh infiltration attempts are being made.

In fact, in the second round of the meeting, the focus was entirely on the safety of the Amarnath yatra.

"There are so many inputs that we are getting about the yatra. In fact, The Resistance Front (TRF) has openly said that they would let the yatra go on peacefully," stated another official.

Why Look For Shivling In Every Mosque: RSS Chief

NAGPUR, June 2: RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat today called for a "path through mutual agreement" on the controversy over the filming of Gyanvapi mosque in Uttar Pradesh's Varanasi.

Hindu and Muslim petitioners are fighting a legal battle over a court-ordered filming of the mosque complex to check whether there are idols of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, and whether a "Shivling" has been found, as claimed by the Hindu petitioners.

"We had special devotion towards some places and we spoke about them but we shouldn't bring out a new matter daily. Why should we escalate the dispute? We have devotion towards Gyanvapi and doing something as per that, it's alright. But why look for a Shivling in every masjid?" said the chief of the RSS, short for Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP's ideological mentor.

The RSS chief's statement defuses weeks of comments by rightwing groups and leaders that indicated the matter could turn into street mobilisation, making some to draw parallels with the demolition of the Babri Masjid in UP's Ayodhya in 1992.

"Gyanvapi matter is ongoing. We can't change history. Neither today's Hindus nor today's Muslims created it. It happened at that time. Islam came from outside via attackers. In the attacks, Devsthans were demolished to exhaust the morale of those who wanted India's independence," Bhagwat said at an event in Nagpur.

The Varanasi district court on Monday deferred till July 4 a hearing on the Gyanvapi masjid committee's petition challenging the maintainability of a suit filed by Hindu women

"Issues were raised over places in which Hindus have a special devotion. Hindus don't think against Muslims. The ancestors of today's Muslims were Hindus too. It was done to keep them forever devoid of independence and suppress morale. So Hindus feel they (religious places) should be restored," he said.

"If there are issues in mind, it will rise. It is not against anyone...Find out a path through mutual agreement...If a path does not always come out, people approach court, and if it is done then whatever the court decides should be accepted. We should abide by the decisions, considering our judicial system pious and supreme. We should not question its decisions," the RSS chief said.

Bhagwant said the RSS is not opposed to any form of worship and considers all of them holy. "We have no opposition against any form of worship; we accept them all and consider all of them holy. They may have adopted that form of worship, but they are descendants of our rishis, munis, Kshatriyas. We are descendants of the same ancestors," he said.

Hindu and Muslim petitioners are fighting a legal battle over a court-ordered filming of the mosque complex.

The Varanasi district court on Monday deferred till July 4 a hearing on the Gyanvapi masjid committee's petition challenging the maintainability of a suit filed by Hindu women.

The Gyanvapi mosque stands next to the iconic Kashi Vishwanath temple. Five women petitioners have asked the court to allow daily prayers before idols on its outer walls as well as other "visible and invisible deities within the old temple complex". The site is currently open for prayers once a year.

Amid the Gyanvapi row, a petition seeking an inquiry into the "history" of Taj Mahal was rejected by the Allahabad High Court last month. Days later, a Delhi court hearing a plea seeking restoration of Hindu and Jain deities inside the Qutub Minar complex had reserved its order for June 9. The Archaeological Survey of India, or ASI, had opposed the petition saying Qutub Minar is not a place of worship.

Banker, Migrant Labourer Shot Dead In Targeted Killing In Kashmir

SRINAGAR, June 2: Terrorists shot dead a migrant labourer in Kashmir's Budgam today, hours after the killing of a bank manager in Kulgam. Another worker was injured in the attack and has been shifted to a hospital.

Terrorists fired at two non-local labourers at a brick kiln at Magraypora in Chadoora area of the central Kashmir district, officials said.

The labourer who died in the attack has been identified as Dilkush Kumar from Bihar.

Police have cordoned off the area and are looking for the terrorists involved in the incident, which took place at 9.10 pm.

The Union Territory has been rattled by a string of targeted killings in the recent months, with Vijay Kumar, a manager with the Ilaquai Dehati Bank, being shot in Kulgam district on Thursday. Kumar was a native of Rajasthan.

Terrorists shot dead Kumar inside the bank premises, the eighth targeted killing in the Valley since May 1 and the third of a non-Muslim government employee.

Various political parties have attacked the BJP over the Kashmir situation and sought answers from the local administration for the spurt in targeted killings.

Gujarat Woman To 'Marry Herself', Claims First 'Sologamy' In India

AHMEDABAD, June 2: A 24-year-old woman has created a buzz in Gujarat's Vadodara city with the announcement that she would be marrying herself by undergoing traditional rituals of a Hindu wedding on June 11.

Experts, however, said that a 'sologamy' or self-marriage would not have any legal standing in India.

Speaking about her intentions, Kshama Bindu said she wished to break stereotypes and inspire others who are "tired of finding true love." Bindu, who identifies as bisexual, also claimed that her marriage will be the first instance of sologamy in India.

"At one point in my life, I realised that I don't require a prince charming because I am my own queen. I want the wedding day, but not the next day. That is why I have decided to marry myself on June 11. I will dress up like a bride, take part in rituals, my friends will attend my wedding and then I will come back to my house instead of going with the groom," she told reporters.

Bindu, who is a working professional, added that her mother, who lives in another city, has given her consent for this unusual "groom-less" wedding.

"I have already booked a pandit (priest) to solemnise my marriage. I have observed that unlike in the West, self marriages are not popular in India. Hence, I have decided to start this trend and inspire others. People may not like my idea, I am confident that I am doing the right thing," she said.

Reacting to comments that she was doing it for publicity, Bindu said she is already popular on social media as an influencer.

"I just want to break stereotypes and inspire others to love themselves. There are people who are tired of finding love or getting divorced multiple times. Being a bisexual, I was also in love with a man and a woman in the past. But now, I want to give all the love to myself," she said.

Over 100 Kashmiri Pandit families fled Valley after school teacher killed : Report

SRINAGAR, June 1: More than 100 Hindu families have fled Kashmir as panic spread after the killing of a Hindu school teacher in Kulgam, a community leader said on Wednesday.

Terrorists on Tuesday shot dead Rajni Bala, 36, outside a government school in Kulgam that lies south of Srinagar - the latest in a spate of targeted killings of civilians.

Avtar Krishan Bhat, president of a Kashmiri Pandit colony in Baramulla, said that around half of the 300 families living in the area had fled since Tuesday.

"They were terrified after yesterday's killing. We will also leave by tomorrow as we are waiting for a government response," he said. "We had asked the government to relocate us outside Kashmir."

Residents claimed police had sealed off a area in Srinagar and stepped up security around places where Kashmiri Pandit government employees live.

The local administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment on families fleeing, but Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, last month assured Kashmiri Pandits that measures would be taken for their security.

Last month, Rahul Bhat, a Kashmiri Pandit working at the tehsil office was shot dead inside his office, leading to protests by other employees from the Kashmiri Pandit community who demanded re-location to safer areas outside the Kashmir valley.

"We have killed all those militants who were responsible for the earlier killings," IGP Kashmir Vijay Kumar told Reuters on Wednesday.

'Kashmiri Pandits locked inside their colonies. Is this justice'? asks Kejriwal

NEW DELHI, June 1: Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Wednesday claimed the Kashmiri Pandits were locked inside their colonies for protesting against the killings of the members of the community in the Kashmir Valley.

“The Kashmiri Pandits have only one demand- security. The terrorists killed 16 Kashmiri Pandits including Rahul Bhat, Rajni Bala and Makhan Lal Bindroo. But the Centre didn't do anything. When they protested, the Pandits were locked inside their colonies. Is this justice?” the Aam Aadmi Party tweeted the chief minister saying this.

“The same thing is happening with Kashmiri Pandits now that happened with them in the 1990s. They are being targeted and killed in their houses, offices & roads. It's against humanity and country and no one is doing anything to stop it,” Kejriwal added.

There is a widespread anger among the Kashmiri Pandits across the union territory over the killings of the members of the community by the terrorists. On Tuesday, a woman school teacher from Jammu was shot dead on campus at Gopalpora in Kashmir's Kulgam district. This comes more than a fortnight after Rahul Bhat, a government employee, was shot dead at the Chadoora tehsil office in Budgam.

A group of Kashmiri Pandit employees, who were given jobs under the PM's package for the community, said they had began preparations for ‘mass migrations’ outside Kashmir, it has been reported.

"We have come to fix the rate with truck-owners. Let's see if any decision comes from the government by this evening. If not, then we will migrate from here tomorrow," one of their representatives said.

Kashmir Targeted Killings: Amit Shah Calls Lt Governor, Seeks Explanation

NEW DELHI, June 1: Targeted killings of Kashmiri Pandits and other civilians in Kashmir valley have prompted Home Minister Amit Shah to seek an explanation over security lapses from the Union Territory's Lieutenant Governor, said a Home Ministry officer with direct knowledge of the matter.

Shah has called Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha to Delhi for a briefing on the ground situation, the officer, who asked not to be named, said. National Security Advisor Ajit Doval will also attend the meeting.

"A meeting is scheduled on June 3, where steps being taken by the UT (Union Territory) administration to protect minorities would be discussed," the officer said.

The centre has been making efforts to ensure Kashmiri Pandits return to the valley. Shah in the meeting, however, is likely to ask Jammu and Kashmir officials why, despite the efforts, the administration has not been able to assure safety for the minority community in the valley.

Last month alone, three civilians and two security forces personnel lost their lives in targeted killings in Kashmir valley.

The administration has decided to transfer Hindu government employees, who are working in remote areas of Jammu and Kashmir, to the district headquarters in the valley, sources said. This would ensure they are better protected as the headquarters have maximum security, sources said, adding they would be given secure accommodation too.

Recent targeted killings have led to a massive protest by over 4,000 Kashmiri Pandit employees, who have threatened the centre they would migrate to Jammu region from the valley in large numbers, putting a jobs package of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for Kashmiri Pandits at risk of failing.

In recent killings, a Kashmiri Hindu, Rahul Bhat, was shot dead inside a magistrate's office in Kashmir valley on May 12. A Hindu school teacher, Rajni Bala, was shot dead in Kulgam district yesterday.

Despite the threat of targeted killings of civilians, the security forces say more terrorists have been killed in encounters in May than any other month since January this year.

Fourteen encounters took place in May and 27 terrorists - 20 locals and seven from Pakistan - were shot dead. Two security personnel were killed in action during in the same month.

"Summer is going to be very hot in Kashmir valley as the number of youngsters going underground is at an all-time high," said an officer in charge of anti-terror operations in Kashmir valley, referring to those going incognito to join terror ranks, or going underground.

"Of the 20 local terrorists killed, all belonged to the 18-25 age group. This is a worrying sign," the officer said.

The Lieutenant Governor, ahead of the meeting with the Union Home Minister, also held a meeting today with top administration and police officials.

ED summons Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi for questioning in National Herald Case

NEW DELHI, June 1: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has summoned Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi and Member of Parliament (MP) Rahul Gandhi over the National Herald case, the party said on June 1.

The two leaders have been summoned by the investigating agency for questioning on June 8 in the money laundering case that the party claims had been closed in 2015.

"This is a strange case of money laundering where no money is involved. The case is more hollow than a pack of cards. We will face it. We are not intimidated. This reeks of vendetta, pettiness, fear and political cheapness," Congress leader and senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi told reporters informing about the summons notice sent a few days ago.

Singhvi said while Sonia Gandhi will appear for questioning if required but the party will write to the probe agency seeking some accommodation for Rahul Gandhi. "It is a political, social, economic, and legal battle," he said.

The National Herald case pertains to the alleged misappropriation of assets of over Rs 2,000 crore in an equity transaction.

"In 2015, the ED closed the National Herald case. But the govt did not like it and it removed the ED officials concerned, brought in new officials and reopened the case. This is to divert attention from inflation and other raging problems," Singhvi said.

The Congress party has blamed the BJP government at the centre for using 'puppet' agencies to intimidate political opponents. "National Herald has a history that goes back to Independence days. All opposition leaders, including Mamata Banerjee and Farooq Abdullah, are under the attacks from central agencies," Singhvi said.

ED had questioned former Union minister Pawan Bansal, senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge in April in connection with case. The case pertains to allegations of cheating, conspiracy and criminal breach of trust in the acquisition of the Associated Journals Limited (AJL), which ran the Congress mouthpiece, National Herald, by Young Indian Pvt Ltd.

"Started the National Herald newspaper in 1942, at that time the British tried to suppress it, today Modi govt is also doing the same & ED is being used for this. ED has given notice to our president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi," said Congress leader Randeep Surjewala.



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