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Mallikarjun Kharge Files Nomination

NEW DELHI, Sept 30: As Mallikarjun Kharge formally joined the Congress president election by filing his nomination papers today, he was flanked by 30 leaders, including Ashok Gehlot, previously the front-runner.

Mallikarjun Kharge's entry was a last-minute twist after Ashok Gehlot dropped out. The message was delivered to him by KC Venugopal, a trusted leader of the Gandhis.

Though the Gandhis said they would be neutral, Mallikarjun Kharge's nomination at the Congress office made it clear that he has the blessings of the leadership. His papers were signed by a galaxy of leaders.

Prominent among them is Ashok Gehlot, who bowed out of the contest yesterday after apologising to Sonia Gandhi over the rebellion by MLAs loyal to him over reports that if he ran for party president, his rival Sachin Pilot would replace him.

Digvijaya Singh, who was all set to file his nomination until Kharge came into the picture, was also one of his proposers.

The others include AK Antony, Ambika Soni, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Deepender S Hooda, Salman Khurshid, V Narayanasamy, Tariq Anwar and Rajiv Shukla.

Kharge also received support from leaders of the "G-23" or group of 23 dissenters who wrote to Sonia Gandhi in 2020 calling for big reforms in the party, including elections for top posts. Mukul Wasnik, Anand Sharma, Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Manish Tewari, the most prominent of dissenters, who were discussing putting up a candidate, have all come out in support of the Gandhis-backed candidate.

This, despite one of their fellow "dissenters", Shashi Tharoor, contesting the Congress chief election.

A prominent name missing from the list was P Chidambaram.

In contrast, Shashi Tharoor had 10 backers, which is the minimum needed.

His nomination papers had 50 signatures compared to Kharge's 140.

Tharoor described his opponent as the "Bhishma Pitamah" of the party.

"It is a friendly contest that is going to happen. We are not enemies or rivals. No disrespect to him but I will represent my ideas," the Lok Sabha member from Thiruvananthapuram told reporters.

The Congress closed the nominations at 3pm with three candidates. Apart from Kharge and Tharoor, KN Tripathi also filed his papers. Over 9,100 delegates are eligible to cast their votes in the October 17 election. The result will be announced on October 19.

Popular Front Of India Banned For 5 Years Over 'Terror Links'

NEW DELHI, Sept 28: After two rounds of nationwide raids and arrests of over 240 members of Popular Front Of India (PFI) in a week, the centre late last night banned the outfit for five years over alleged terror activities.

The PFI and its affiliate organisations have been declared an "unlawful association" under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), the government said, citing the outfit's links with the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), Jamat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and Islamic State or ISIS, and said the PFI is involved in several criminal and terror cases.

The now banned outfit has been accused of raising funds, from both India and abroad, through hawala and donations as part of a "well-crafted criminal conspiracy". "With funds and ideological support from outside, it has become a major threat to the internal security of the country," said a Home Ministry order.

The ministry said the PFI has been involved in violent acts like, "chopping off the hand of a college professor in Kerala and cold-blooded killings of people associated with organisations espousing other faiths."

"Several criminal activities and brutal murders have been committed by PFI members over the past to create reign of terror in public mind," it said.

The Home Ministry said PFI and its affiliates have been indulging in unlawful activities "prejudicial to the integrity, sovereignty and security of the country", and that they have the potential to disturb public peace and communal harmony.

The PFI has been "pursuing a secret agenda to radicalise a particular section of the society", said the ministry, adding that the outfit shows "sheer disrespect towards the constitutional authority of the country".

The affiliate organisations have a "hub and spoke" relationship with the PFI. The outfit acts as the hub and utilises the "mass outreach and fund-raising capacity" of its affiliates to strengthen its capability, the ministry said.

Three states - Karnataka, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh - have recommended a ban on the organisation, the ministry said. Junior Home Minister Ajay Mishra Teni said the decision to ban the PFI was taken based on evidence gathered by central agencies during the investigation.

PFI leaders and functionaries across 15 states were first raided on September 22, in a coordinated move by National Investigating Agency (NIA), Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the state police, leading to over 100 arrests. The second round of nationwide crackdown on the organisation was carried out yesterday. Over 240 arrests have been made so far, officials said.

Besides the PFI, organisations linked to it have also been banned. These are Rehab India Foundation (RIF), Campus Front of India (CF), All India Imams Council (AIIC), National Confederation of Human Rights Organisation (NCHRO), National Women's Front, Junior Front, Empower India Foundation and Rehab Foundation, Kerala.

Oppn leaders converge at INLD rally ‘to challenge Delhi Sultanate’; Nitish, Pawar in attendance

FATEHABAD, Sept 25: Several top opposition leaders, including NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, CPI(M)'s Sitaram Yechury and Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal, congregated for a grand rally of the INLD organised in Haryana's Fatehabad on Sunday.

Addressing the rally, JDU leader KC Tyagi said the Bihar CM has come from Patna to challenge Delhi Sultanate at a time when eight former Congress CMs have joined the BJP.

He said Kumar has no fear of the ED, income tax and other agencies. Stating that he is not the PM candidate, Kumar later said there is no question of a third Front, there should be one front, including the Congress and only then the BJP can be defeated in 2024.

The rally is being held to mark the birth anniversary of former deputy prime minister and INLD founder Devi Lal.

Bihar deputy CM and RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav and Arvind Sawant of the Shiv Sena also attended the rally being held in a show of opposition unity.

Badal said the INLD and SAD are real brothers, adding the rights of farmers' can be saved by the leaders present at the rally, as he called all the parties to unite to uproot the BJP.

The coming together of so many regional satraps is seen as part of efforts to forge opposition unity. Kumar and RJD president Lalu Prasad are likely to meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi after the rally to take the process forward.

Earlier, Tyagi, a veteran socialist leader, said it will be a historic meeting that will mark the consolidation of like-minded forces against the ruling BJP in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

Huge Rajasthan Congress Crisis As 90+ Team Gehlot MLAs Threaten To Quit

JAIPUR, Sept 25: The question of the next Rajasthan Chief Minister has turned into a full-blown crisis for the Congress. Over 90 MLAs of the Ashok Gehlot camp are in protest mode and had a meeting with the Speaker, claiming they want to resign.

Told by reporters that a mass resignation will bring down the government, an MLA said, "We want Ashok Gehlot as the Chief Minister", indicating that they are expecting concessions from the Central leadership on the "one man one post" issue. The alternative is a Gehlot loyalist in the top post instead of the Chief Minister's arch-rival Sachin Pilot, said to be the Central leaders' choice.

The MLAs' meeting with the Speaker, CP Joshi, lasted until midnight and will resume later. They also had a round of meeting with the Central observers -- Mallikarjun Kharge and Congress's Rajasthan in-charge Ajay Maken -- and Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.

Sources said the party high command is extremely upset with the rebellion. Party chief Sonia Gandhi has tasked the Central leaders with resolving the issue and they will have one-on-one meetings with the MLAs. Later, a one-line resolution will be passed and the party president will be authorised to name the new Chief Minister, sources said.

While the party high command wants the issue to be resolved as soon as possible, a section of the MLAs do not wish the Legislature Party meet to happen before a new party president is elected, sources said.

Sources also said Gehlot had a telephonic conversation with central leader KC Venugopal about the evolving situation, where he said, "Nothing is in my hands".

The 90-plus Ashok Gehlot loyalists had raised the issue of Sachin Pilot's rebellion in 2020 at a meeting earlier this evening and said the Chief Minister must be from among those who supported the government at the time.

The pushback from Gehlot loyalists came after Rahul Gandhi insisted that the "One man one post" maxim be followed, which would force Gehlot to resign his post as the Chief Minister. He is the front-runner for the post of the party's national president, the election for which is due on October 17.

The legislature party meeting, which was scheduled for 7 pm in presence of central leaders, was not held. On his return to Jaipur from Jaisalmer, Gehlot went into a huddle with Kharge and Maken. Later, he met Pilot and 21 MLAs supporting him.

Gehlot had been extremely reluctant to leave the top job in Rajasthan to stop the elevation of arch-rival Sachin Pilot to the post. Sources said in case he failed to hold onto the post, he would prefer a loyalist to succeed him.

Earlier today, Gehlot said, "All Congressmen unanimously keep faith on the Congress president, and today also, you will get a glimpse of it".

Pilot, credited by many with being the architect of victory in the last assembly election, was seen as a contender for the top job but was persuaded by Rahul Gandhi to act as Gehlot's Deputy. In 2020, he rebelled, camping out in Delhi for more than a month with 18 supporters. The stand-off was resolved with intervention of Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.

Ashok Gehlot On Congress Crisis: 'Nothing In My Hands, MLAs Angry'

NEW DELHI, Sept 25: As more than 90 Rajasthan Congress MLAs loyal to him threatened to resign, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot reportedly told the party's central leadership that it was "not in his hands".

Gehlot, 71, is the frontrunner for Congress president as the party preps for its first non-Gandhi chief after more than two decades. Reports that the Congress leadership wants his rival Sachin Pilot to replace him as Rajasthan Chief Minister triggered a huge crisis on Sunday evening, and threats of mass resignation.

Sources said Gehlot spoke on the phone with KC Venugopal, a Congress leader close to the leadership, and said, "Nothing is in my hands. The MLAs are angry."

On record, Venugopal denied any such conversation. "Neither did I talk to Chief Minister Gehlot today, nor did he call me. Things will be sorted out soon," he said.

The MLAs said they wanted either Gehlot or his pick to be Chief Minister and, in a meeting, told the Speaker they were ready to quit even if it meant the government falling.

They also raised Sachin Pilot's 2020 revolt against Gehlot and said the next Chief Minister must be one who supported the government at the time.

The Congress had anticipated some opposition in Rajasthan to Gehlot moving out but it may not have expected the scale of dissent. Sources in Delhi said the MLAs were "misled". To arrest the crisis, Congress president Sonia Gandhi sent two central leaders to Jaipur to speak to the MLAs individually.

Gehlot has been reluctant to give up his Rajasthan office, especially to Pilot, whose rebellion almost brought down his government two years ago.

He has yet to file his nomination for the October 17 election to pick a new Congress chief. One candidate, Shashi Tharoor, has already started the process by asking for nomination papers.

Though Gehlot has denied any hand in the full-blown Rajasthan crisis, few in the Congress believe that the MLAs would go this far without his blessing.

Gehlot's control over his flock is well-known and was on full display when he kept over 100 MLAs on his side during Pilot's revolt and a reported BJP plan for a coup to topple his government.

The veteran had suggested to the Gandhis that he can handle the party chief's responsibility along with his Rajasthan role, but Rahul Gandhi made it clear that the party would stay true to its "one person, one post" resolve earlier this year.

Gehlot had no choice but to accept it, but he apparently never gave up, as is evident with the show of strength this evening. Sources say Gehlot's message, in all this, is that his replacement has to be someone he trusts, instead of Pilot, whom he famously called "nikamma (useless)" in 2020.

For now, the odds seem to be stacked against Mr Pilot, who has the support of about 21 MLAs.

No alliance without Congress, says Lalu after meeting Sonia Gandhi

NEW DELHI, Sept 25: Bihar Chief Mnister Nitish Kumar -- the self-appointed interlocuter of the opposition -- met Sonia Gandhi in Delhi today with Bihar ally Lalu Yadav in a strong message of the importance of the Congress in any opposition front against the BJP.

Yadav, the Rashtriya Janata Dal chief, spelled it out after the meeting. "Without the Congress, there is no alliance and they have been in the forefront of fighting the BJP," he told reporters.

Mrs Gandhi, the interim Congress chief who was also the chairperson of the UPA, has apparently sent a positive vibe. But there was a rider. The opposition unity project can be taken forward after the internal elections of the Congress, she has said.

"We met Sonia Gandhi and talked about opposition unity to defeat the BJP in 2024. She said we will meet with us again after the Congress presidential polls," Yadav had added. The two leaders, she also suggested, must meet the new Congress president and decide.

The internal election of the party is due on October 17 in which Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is seen as the frontrunner for the president's post.

During his last visit to Delhi, Kumar met with most key opposition leaders - Rahul Gandhi being the first on his list.

But a meeting with Sonia Gandhi was not possible since she was abroad. This time, Mrs Gandhi's son, Rahul Gandhi, could not attend the meeting. Mr Gandhi is in Kerala, leading the Bharat Jodo Yatra -- the big public outreach programme of the Congress ahead of the 2024 election.

While today's meeting was expected to be a courtesy visit, sources had indicated that there is also a chance of some serious subjects being canvassed, including taking the Grand Alliance to a national level.

The possibility is being explored by the leaders in Bihar, especially with Kumar working on knitting the opposition into a cohesive front against the BJP ahead of the 2024 national election.

It was decided that the "alliance will continue", sources said today.

Huge Backlash Over Uttarakhand Resort Teen Murder

DEHRADUN, Sept 24: Following widespread outrage over the murder of a young girl allegedly by a senior BJP leader's son, the party today expelled the father and brother of the accused. BJP leader Vinod Arya and the accused's brother Ankit Arya, who was also a party member, have been kicked out of the party following the accused Pulkit Arya's arrest.

Vinod Arya served as a chairman of the Uttarakhand Mati Kala Board with a state minister's rank, while Ankit Arya was the Vice President of the state OBC Commission. Both of them have also been relieved from their posts by the state government.

Meanwhile, a day after the administration bulldozed parts of the Uttarakhand resort where Pulkit Arya allegedly murdered the 19-year-old woman who worked as a receptionist, angry locals set fire to parts of the building. They also vandalised local BJP MLA Renu Bisht's car. Cops had to reportedly evacuate her to safety.

Pulkit Arya was arrested for the murder of the young receptionist at a resort he owns near Rishikesh, in Pauri district, Uttarakhand. He had reported her missing on Monday, as did her family, but police said it later turned out he, along with two staff members, had killed her. Those two have been arrested too.

The resort is about 10 km from the main town, Rishikesh.

Civic authorities had carried out demolition at the resort overnight following the orders of Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami.

The woman's body was recovered from a canal this morning. Police are probing the motive amid allegations of inaction "because the accused's father belongs to the state's ruling party BJP and RSS".

There are allegations that the teenager was being forced into prostitution, but the police have not confirmed it.

Besides Pulkit Arya, resort manager Saurabh Bhaskar and assistant manager Ankit Gupta have been arrested. They confessed to the crime when questioned sternly, cops said.

When the men were arrested yesterday, protesting locals surrounded the police vehicle and assaulted them before the cops managed to take them away.

Opposition Congress has said cops were slow "because of his links with the RSS-BJP". "It's horrific. When the girl went missing on September 18, why did the police register the FIR on September 21?" said state Congress spokesperson Garima Mehra Dasauni, "Till when will this brazen misuse of power by BJP and RSS leaders continue?"

Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami promised "the harshest action" no matter who is involved.

'Bent On Making Me Prostitute': Murdered Uttarakhand Teen On WhatsApp

RISHIKESH, Sept 24: WhatsApp text messages from the murdered Uttarakhand woman to her friend seem to confirm allegations that the teenager was being forced into prostitution by the accused men.

"They are trying to turn me into a prostitute," read one of her messages to a friend, to whom she was describing her experiences working as a receptionist at the now expelled senior BJP leader's son's resort.

Screenshots of text messages from the victim are doing the rounds, where she describes how she was being forced into providing "special services" to clients for ₹ 10,000. Cops have said initial investigations indicate the messages are indeed from the victim, but a more rigorous forensic investigation is also being conducted.

The victim also told her friend that she was inappropriately touched by a man in the resort, but the accused men asked her to not do anything as he was drunk.

An audio clip of a call recording reportedly from the victim to a resort employee has also gone viral. She can be heard crying on the phone, and asking the other person to bring her bag upstairs.

Uttarakhand top cop Ashok Kumar has also said that the 19-year-old receptionist, whose body was fished out of a canal this morning, was being pressured by the resort owner to provide "special services" to guests.

Earlier, a Facebook friend of the receptionist had reportedly said that the woman was killed because she refused to have sex with guests as demanded by Pulkit Arya -- the owner of the resort where she worked.

The same night that she called this friend, her phone went unreachable after 8:30 pm. When after repeated attempts the friend could not connect to her, he called Pulkit Arya, who said she had gone to her room to sleep.

The next day, when he reportedly called Pulkit again, his phone was found switched off as well. The friend then rang up Ankit, the resort's manager, who said she was in the gym.

He then spoke to the resort's Chef, who told him he had not seen the woman that day.

WhatsApp chats indicate that "extra service" -- a euphemism for sex -- was provided to VVIP guests at the resort for ₹ 10,000.

The chats also reveal that this "extra service" was provided in the guise of spa treatment.

The tone and content of her messages to the friend indicate she felt something was amiss at the resort and did not want to continue working there.

Pulkit Arya was arrested for the murder of the young receptionist at the resort which he owns near Rishikesh, in Pauri district.

Besides Pulkit Arya, resort manager Saurabh Bhaskar and assistant manager Ankit Gupta have been arrested. They confessed to the crime when questioned sternly, cops said.

The incident has triggered huge backlash against the BJP.

Punjab CM Mann Calls Meeting Of MLAs Tomorrow After Governor Refuses Assembly Session

CHANDIGARH, Sept 21: Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann called for a meeting of MLAs tomorrow after the Governor turned down the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government's demand for a special session of the assembly to introduce a trust vote.

The ruling Aam Aadmi Party called the governor's decision "murder of democracy".

Governor Banwarilal Purohit withdrew his earlier order of summoning the special session of the Punjab Assembly on September 22 while acting on a legal advice.

Bhagwant Mann said that the governor not allowing the assembly to run raises big questions on democracy.

AAP leaders have been complaining of poaching attempts by the BJP to topple the government in Punjab, as part of what AAP and other Opposition parties claim to be BJP's "Operation Lotus". The AAP leadership wanted to prove that their house was intact, through a confidence motion in the assembly.

Shashi Tharoor vs Ashok Gehlot Likely For Congress President

NEW DELHI, Sept 20: The Congress is set to have a non-Gandhi president for the first time in over 20 years. Ashok Gehlot, a Gandhi family loyalist, will run for party president opposite Shashi Tharoor, who is among those in the party who want major internal reforms.

Shashi Tharoor, a former Union Minister, was the first to declare his intention to run for a post that has been with the Gandhis -- either Sonia Gandhi or her son Rahul -- for much of 25 years. He is a prominent member of the Congress's G-23 or group of 23 leaders who had written to Sonia Gandhi in 2020 calling for an organizational overhaul and blaming the party's downspiral on a leadership drift.

Tharoor met with Sonia Gandhi, who is just back from a trip abroad for a medical check-up, this afternoon and got her go-ahead to contest the October 17 election.

Within hours, the fight for the Congress top post became considerably tougher with Ashok Gehlot emerging as the other candidate. The Rajasthan Chief Minister, a staunch Gandhi family loyalist, had been pressing for Rahul Gandhi's return as party chief until recently. He is likely to win support among those batting for status quo and a return of Rahul Gandhi at the top post.

Mrs Gandhi had taken over as the interim chief of the party after Rahul Gandhi had stepped down from the post after the 2019 elections defeat.

Rahul Gandhi, who is currently leading the party's "Bharat Jodo" yatra, has firmly refused to return as president despite unrelenting demand from a section of Congress leaders.

Spurred by Gandhi family loyalists, Congress units in three states have called for Gandhi's nomination as the chief – supporting the suspicion of many that the Gandhis would retain control of the party with or without an election. More such requests are likely to come in as the election gets closer.

Last week, Tharoor was among the leaders who sought "transparency and fairness" in the poll process in a letter to the AICC central election authority. He was also among the leaders who asked that the list of voters be made public.

This morning, Tharoor had signed a petition by a group of young party members calling for a revamp. The petition had referred to the party's "Udaipur declaration" made in May, which commits to fair elections and rules like one candidate per family and one person per post, besides a five-year cap on party posts.

The elections for the post of the Congress president will be held next month after a two-year-long back and forth on the subject. The filing of nominations for the post of the president begins in three days.

The elections will take place against the backdrop of exits by a number of key leaders over the last year – including Kapil Sibal, Jaiveer Shergill, Sunil Jakhar, Amarinder Singh, RPN Singh, Ashwani Kumar and Hardik Patel. The latest on the list is senior leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, whose exit was emulated by most leaders of the party's Jammu and Kashmir unit.

Punjab Police File Case After AAP Accuses BJP Of Trying To Bribe MLAs

CHANDIGARH, Sept 14: Punjab Police today filed a case on Aam Aadmi Party's complaint that the BJP was trying to bribe its MLAs. AAP today sought a probe into allegations of an attempt by the BJP to topple its government.

The ruling party claimed that the BJP had offered ₹ 25 crore each to at least 10 MLAs. The state BJP has already dubbed the allegations as "baseless" and a "bundle of lies".

Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann said the BJP's "Operation Lotus" had earlier failed in Delhi. "Operation Lotus" is a code name used by Opposition parties to refer to "poaching" of MLAs by the BJP.

2 Minor Girls, Sisters, Found Hanging From Tree In UP's Lakhimpur

LUCKNOW, Sept 14: Two girls were found hanging from a tree in Uttar Pradesh's Lakhimpur today. Both were minors.

A large police force is in the area where the bodies were found this afternoon.

The bodies have been taken for autopsy, the UP police said.

"We are trying to confirm the cause of death and sequence of events," an officer said.

Many lives could have been saved if govt acted on time during second wave of Covid: Parliamentary panel

NEW DELHI, Sept 13: Many lives could have been saved during the second wave of the Covid pandemic if containment strategies were implemented on time, a parliamentary panel has said while pulling up the government for not being able to anticipate the gravity of the situation.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health, in its 137th report presented to Rajya Sabha on Monday, said the second wave was undoubtedly marred by high cases, increased deaths, shortage of oxygen and beds in hospitals, reduced supplies of medicines and other important drugs, disruption of essential health care services, hoarding and black marketing of cylinders and medicines etc.

“The committee is of the considered view that had the Government been successful in identification of the more virulent strain of virus in the population at an early stage and suitably implemented its containment strategy, the repercussions would have been less grave and many lives could have been saved,” it said.

The committee observed that India is one of the countries with the heaviest burden of Covid-19 cases in the world. The enormity of the population of the country posed a major challenge in the face of the pandemic.

With the fragile health infrastructure and the huge shortage of healthcare workers, the country witnessed tremendous pressure, it said.

It noted that the government could not accurately anticipate the gravity of the possible resurgence of the pandemic and its subsequent waves Even when the trajectory of Covid-19 cases in the country registered a decline in the aftermath of the first wave, the government should have continued its efforts to monitor the resurgence of Covid and its possible outrage in the country, the committee said.

It noted that the ministry had cautioning states to maintain vigil and chalk out strategy for any exigencies that may arise due to resurgence of Covid-19 in their respective regions.

“However, the committee is unhappy to note that many states were unable to cope up with the arising uncertainties and medical emergencies in the wake of the resurgence of Covid-19 during the second wave that caused more than 5 lakh registered deaths,” it said.

Gujarat Cops Stop Kejriwal From Visiting Auto Driver's Home For Dinner; Later relent

AHMEDABAD, Sept 12: Aam Aadmi Party National Convenor and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal today had dinner at an auto-rickshaw driver's home in Ahmedabad. But the event was preceded by high drama after Gujarat Police briefly stopped Kejriwal from travelling in the auto, citing security concerns.

Earlier today, the AAP leader had accepted an auto-rickshaw driver's invitation for a dinner at his home in Ahmedabad. He left his hotel around 7.30 pm and planned to reach the rickshaw driver's house in his auto.

The police stopped the AAP national convenor, which lead to a heated argument. He was later allowed to travel to the auto driver's house. A police official sat beside the auto-rickshaw driver, while two police cars escorted the three-wheeler.

Kejriwal, who is on a two-day Gujarat visit as part of the AAP's campaign for the upcoming Assembly polls, addressed a gathering of auto-rickshaw drivers in Ahmedabad in the afternoon.

After his address, an auto-rickshaw driver named Vikram Dantani, a resident of the city's Ghatlodia area, requested Kejriwal to have dinner at his home.

"I am your fan. In a video I saw on social media, you went to have dinner at the home of an auto driver in Punjab. So, will you come to my home for dinner?" asked Dantani.

The Delhi Chief Minister immediately replied in the affirmative to the invitation.

"Autowalas of Punjab and Gujarat love me. Should I come today evening? at 8 pm," said the AAP leader.

‘BJP's factory of lies working overtime on Bharat jodo yatra’: Jairam Ramesh

NEW DELHI, Sept 12: In a press briefing on Monday, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh hit out at the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the RSS, saying that they spread hate and rumours. “BJP ki rajneeti todne ki hai, jodne ki nahi (BJP’s politics is divisive not of uniting),” Ramesh said.

He added that he won’t speak on “t-shirt, underwear and vests”, referring to the BJP’s dig on a t-shirt Rahul Gandhi had recently worn.

“This Bharat Jodo Yatra is about inflation and unemployment, if they want to make issues out of containers, shoes and t-shirts, it shows they are afraid. They say anything, jhooth ki factory overtime chal rahi hai (factory of lies is working over time),” Ramesh said.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who is now on Day 5 of his 3,570-km padyatra, on Monday resumed the Bharat Jodo march from Vellayani Junction in Thiruvananthapuram. The rally saw an encouraging turnout of people who lined up the streets of the state in thousands to extend support. Rahul Gandhi is also an MP of Kerala from the Wayanad seat.

The yatra halted at Pattom at around 11 am and resume at 5 pm to reach Kazhakuttom, where the journey will end for the day, according to an itinerary of the yatra released by the Congress. The rally entered Kerala on Saturday evening with thousands of Congress workers giving him a rousing welcome at the Tamil Nadu border. On Sunday, the party launched its Malayalam anthem of the Bharat Jodo Yatra in the presence of senior leaders K C Venugopal and Jairam Ramesh.

India says it uncovers fraudulent shell companies with Chinese links

NEW DELHI, Sept 11: Indian authorities on Sunday said they had arrested a man who had masterminded the creation of many shell companies linked to China and appointed dummy directors to run the fraudulent businesses.

The latest arrest was part of a larger probe launched by the federal government’s Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) against founders of shell companies used to conduct illegal transactions.

Earlier this month the government began cracking down on Indian entities that were providing fake directors to some shell companies linked to China.

The SFIO said it had arrested a man called Dortse, who was on the board of Jillian India Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of Jillian Hong Kong Ltd, and had raided multiple places to unearth the scam.

It did not describe the Chinese links of the shell companies nor disclose the nature of frauds allegedly perpetrated.

For directors of the several of the shell companies, Dortse would use the names of Indian citizens who had no education and worked in menial jobs, according to the SFIO.

It is being reported that local police had arrested two directors of a company, including a Chinese national, for their alleged involvement in providing dummy directors to shell companies linked to China.

Journalist S Kappan Gets Bail, Supreme Court Stresses Freedom Of Expression

NEW DELHI, Sept 9: Kerala Journalist Siddique Kappan, jailed in Uttar Pradesh for nearly two years, was granted bail today by the Supreme Court, which said "Every person has freedom of expression."

Siddique Kappan was arrested on his way to Uttar Pradesh's Hathras, where he said he was going to report on a 19-year-old's gang-rape and murder. He was charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for alleged terror funding.

"The person (Kappan) has been in custody for two years," the Chief Justice of India, UU Lalit, noted.

The court said the journalist has to report to the police in Delhi for the next six weeks and in Kerala after that. He will be produced before a trial court in three days and he has to submit his passport.

A reporter for Malayalam news portal Azhimukham, Siddique Kappan was arrested by the UP police on the charge of trying to disturb law and order in Hathras. He had links with the Popular Front of India (PFI), said the cops. The journalist has always said he is being framed.

In court today, the Uttar Pradesh government argued that Kappan was paid to incite riots and that he is not even an accredited journalist. "He was trying to create a riot situation and use explosives. He belongs to the PFI and that is a terrorist organization," said Mahesh Jethmalani, lawyer for UP, adding that he had incriminating literature.

The Supreme Court questioned the evidence against Kappan. "What was found with Kappan? No explosives were found, material was not found with him but in the car and they weren't used for propagating," Chief Justice Lalit said.

Kappan's lawyer Kapil Sibal asked the prosecution to read what was in that literature.

"What material was dangerous. Is there any literature which shows anything damaging," asked the Chief Justice.

UP argued that it was a "toolkit", a word used by many to describe a guide to stirring an agitation or terror.

The judges said, "What you have shown in terms of literature doesn't show anything."

The UP government's arguments in the Supreme Court mirror its 5,000 page charge sheet filed in 2021.

In the previous hearing, UP had told the court that Kappan is part of a larger conspiracy to "incite religious discord and spread terror".

The Hathras case drew massive outrage and protests over allegations that the state administration and the police were involved in a cover-up.

The young woman died days after she was gang-raped. Later, the UP police cremated her in the dead of night, in the absence of her family.

Recently, a video of Kappan's nine-year-old daughter, talking about the "freedom and rights of ordinary citizens" at a school function, went viral on social media.

"I have the firm belief that my husband is innocent, and the 705 days have been extremely painful for the family," said Raihana Kappan, Kappan's wife.

Kappan is also facing a money-laundering case filed by the Enforcement Directorate. The Supreme Court said he could apply for bail in that case too.

Rahul Gandhi Leading Bharat Jodo Yatra

NEW DELHI, Sept 8: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and other senior leaders started the party's 'Bharat Jodo Yatra' from Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu today. The yatra is being seen as a desperate attempt by the party to rally support for the 2024 general election.

Before starting the yatra, Gandhi hoisted the national flag at the camp site of the 118 'Bharat Yatris -- Congress leaders who will walk with him on the 3,570 km journey from Kanyakumari to Kashmir.

The yatra was officially launched last evening. Ahead of the launch, Gandhi visited his father and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's memorial at Sriperumbudur, where he was assassinated in a terrorist attack by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE).

Last morning, Gandhi shared a photo of him paying respects to his father. "I lost my father to the politics of hate and division. I will not lose my beloved country to it too. Love will conquer hate. Hope will defeat fear. Together, we will overcome," he captioned it.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi has described the march as a "landmark occasion" and expressed confidence that the organisation would be "rejuvenated".

The march would cover 12 states and two Union Territories in about five months. The participants plan to walk about 22 km daily in two batches -- 7 am to 10.30 am and 3.30 pm to 6.30 pm.

The next stop in the yatra is Kerala. The Congress march is scheduled to reach there on September 11. It aims to reach Karnataka on September 30, move across the state over the next three weeks before moving north.

The yatra will stop in Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Nilambur in Kerala, Mysuru, Bellary and Raichur in Karnataka, Vikarabad in Telangana, Nanded and Jalgaon in Maharashtra, Indore in Madhya Pradesh, Kota, Dausa and Alwar in Rajasthan, Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Ambala and Pathankot in Punjab, Jammu, and the final destination Srinagar.

During the yatra, Gandhi and other Congress leaders will stay in containers, some of which have sleeping beds, toilets and air-conditioning.

The 148-day yatra will include padayatras, rallies, and public meetings at various places. Senior Congress leaders, including Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, are expected to attend these events.

Rahul Gandhi Starts 'Bharat Jodo' Yatra

CHENNAI, Sept 7: Congress's Rahul Gandhi flagged off the party's massive mass contact programme, 'Bharat Jodo Yatra', from Kanyakumari this afternoon with an eye on the 2024 general elections.

"India is the institutions that protect this flag. India is free media that protects this flag. India is a judiciary that protects this flag. And today every single one of our institutions is under attack by BJP, RSS. They think this flag is their personal property. They think they can determine single-handedly the future of this people, state of this country," Rahul Gandhi said in his address.

The BJP, RSS think they can "frighten opposition using ED, CBI, Income Tax," Gandhi said. "It doesn't matter how many hours of interrogation they do, not a single opposition leader is going to be scared of BJP," he added.

Dubbed the "longest march" in the country over a Century by the Congress, the Bharat Jodo Yatra was launched with a rally in Kanyakumari. The 'padyatra' or foot march will begin on Thursday morning. The 3,500-km foot march will be covered in 150 days.

Leaders of the Congress have denied any political angle and insisted that the yatra "is meant to unite the country".

During the march, they will try to connect with the common people on various issues, including inflation, price rise and unemployment, the leaders have said.

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, unable to attend the launch due to health issues," said in a statement that she will be participating "in thought and spirit". "This is a landmark occasion for our great party with such a glorious legacy -- the Indian National Congress. I am confident that our organization will be rejuvenated," she added.

Senior party leader Jairam Ramesh said that a stronger Congress is a must for opposition unity against the BJP. In a tough message to the regional parties, he added that the Congress cannot be taken for granted by the other opposition parties.

The Yatra comes amid the Congress's efforts to hold internal elections, which have been repeatedly postponed due to Gandhi's reluctance to participate. A section in the party is hoping for a continued leadership by the Gandhis.

Rahul Gandhi started the day with a visit to his father Rajiv Gandhi's memorial in Tamil Nadu's Sriperumbudur, where the former Prime Minister was killed in a suicide attack on May 21, 1991.

Gandhi will walk all the way - from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, where the yatra will conclude. He will be staying in a shipping container cabin, which will have a bed, toilet and an air conditioner. Containers have been set up for other yatris as well, who will walk the entire route with Gandhi, sources said.

'Lost Father To Hate, Division, Don't Want To Lose Country': Rahul Gandhi

CHENNAI, Sept 7: Congress MP Rahul Gandhi today paid floral tributes to his father and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi at a memorial in Sriperumbudur near Chennai. Gandhi said he lost his father to "hate and division" and does not want to lose his country.

The Wayanad MP, who arrived in Chennai on Tuesday to participate in the Congress's Bharat Jodo Yatra, began the day by offering tributes to Rajiv Gandhi and sat in silent prayer.

Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in a suicide bombing in Sriperumbudur on May 21, 1991.

"I lost my father to the politics of hate and division. I will not lose my beloved country to it too. Love will conquer hate. Hope will defeat fear. Together, we will overcome," Gandhi tweeted, along with a photo showing him offering floral tributes at his father's memorial.

He shared a live video of his visit to Rajiv Gandhi Memorial in the Tamil Nadu district.

Earlier, Gandhi planted a sapling at the memorial. Tamil Nadu Congress chief KS Alagiri and other senior party leaders accompanied Mr Gandhi.

He will leave for the southern coastal Kanyakumari district and after visiting the twin memorials for the savants - Thiruvalluvar and Swami Vivekananda besides those for Kamaraj and Gandhi Mandapam - he launched the 3,500-km-long Bharat Jodo Yatra covering 12 states.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin will present Rahul with the national flag made from khadi to be handed over to Seva Dal workers managing the foot march.

Nitish Kumar Meets Rahul Gandhi For Opposition Unity

NEW DELHI, Sept 5: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who came to Delhi with a longish "to-do" list for his 'Mission Opposition', checked off the first item this evening, meeting Congress's Rahul Gandhi at his Tughlaq Road residence.

Sources said the discussion was entirely on 2024 and the means to unite the opposition, at the end of which Kumar again told reporters that he has no ambition for the top post.

"There is a concerted effort to weaken regional parties. My effort is to unite the Opposition ahead of the general elections. I have no intention of pitching myself as a prime ministerial candidate," said Kumar.

While Mr Kumar had said that he wishes to meet the leaders of his new Mahagathbandhan alliance in Delhi, he has also declared that the visit is meant to bring all the opposition leaders under one umbrella - a task seen as a significant challenge.

The list of people he wants to meet includes several disparate elements.

The key among them is Aam Aadmi Party chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal -- attempts to amalgamate whom into the opposition coalition failed in 2019, with AAP's role in ending the UPA government at the Centre weighing heavily on the Congress.

The other leader Kumar wants to meet is HD Kumaraswamy -- the chief of the Janata Dal Secular, who ended the alliance with the Congress after their government in Karnataka fell through.

The formation of the Congress-JDS alliance in 2018 to keep the BJP out of power in Karnataka had marked the efforts to form the opposition front.

Kumar is also likely to meet Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, who was the prime mover in the efforts to unite the opposition in 2019; Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, another leader seen as upset with the Congress; and the leaders of the Left which is providing outside support to his government in Bihar.

According to sources in Kumar's Janata Dal United, the Bihar Chief Minister is also scheduled to visit Maharashtra, Haryana and Karnataka soon on his 'Mission Opposition'.

This was kicked off last week with the visit of Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao to Patna. Rao, once a proponent of a non-Congress-non-BJP front, indicated that he was ready to think fresh. Asked about the matter, Kumar had pointedly said, "Why Third Front, we are working on the main Front".

Karnataka Seer Found Dead At His Mutt, Suicide Note Found

BELAGAVI, Sept 5: A Lingayat seer in Karnataka was found dead at his mutt in Belagavi district early this morning, officials have said.

Basava Siddalinga Swami, seer of Sri Guru Madiwaleshwar Math, was found hanging at his quarters by his followers and attendants, they added.

Police have recovered his purported suicide note and investigation is on to ascertain the cause of his death. The content of the note is not known yet.

Sources say the seer was reportedly upset over a video in which two women were seen discussing the alleged cases of sexual assault in some mutts in Karnataka.

The women had also mentioned his name in the video.

Earlier this month, Shivamurthy Sharanaru, who heads the Murugha Math - one of the key Lingayat seminaries in the state, was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting two minor girls. Both girls have accused him of sexually abusing them for years.

He was arrested following protests by the civil society members and various organisations at Karnataka's Chitradurga and Mysuru districts.

Influential Karnataka Seer, Charged With Raping Schoolgirls, Arrested

BANGALURU, Sept 1: Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru, the chief of Murugha Math -- one of the key seminaries of Karnataka's politically powerful Lingayat community -- has been arrested after allegations of rape from two school girls. He was named in a case under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act after the two girls alleged that they suffered sexual assault for years.

Shivamurthy Sharanaru has claimed that the allegations against him are part of a long-drawn conspiracy. He has claimed that he will be proved innocent.

The arrest comes after days of demand from the Dalit community and others, including a section of employees of the Murugha Math. Given the amount of political clout the Lingayat community wields, there has been complete silence from the state's political leaders -- the Congress and the ruling BJP.

Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai's predecessor, former Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa had publicly backed him, saying the seer has been "falsely implicated".

Earlier this month, Congress's Rahul Gandhi had visited the mutt and was inducted into the Lingayat community by the Shivamurthy Sharanaru.

Sources said the police had exercised considerable discretion while making the arrest to avoid a law and order issue. It is not yet known where he has been taken or whether he will be produced before a court tonight.

The girls -- both students of Murugha Math -- had approached a non-governmental organisation in Mysuru and said they were being abused. The non-profit had taken up the matter and a complaint was filed with the police.

On August 31, cases were registered against Shivamurthy Sharanaru under POCSO and the SC/ST Act, since one of the survivors belongs to the Dalit community.

No Reason To Deny Bail, Says Supreme Court In Teesta Setalvad Case

NEW DELHI, Sept 1: Raising serious concerns about the way activist Teesta Setalvad has been kept in custody in Gujarat for more than two months, the Supreme Court today questioned how the Gujarat High Court issued notice asking for a reply after six weeks.

A bench led by Chief Justice of India UU Lalit also observed that there is "no offence in this case over which bail cannot be granted", that too to a woman. Ms Setalvad has been in jail for more than two months and yet no chargesheet has been filed, the judges said.

Stating that the FIR filed against the petitioner does not say much apart from the observations made by the Supreme Court, the bench said the Gujarat High Court, while issuing notice on Ms Setalvad's bail plea on August 3, granted a long adjournment.

The bench, which included Justice S Ravindra Bhat and Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia, raised several questions related to Ms Setalvad's custodial detention.

"She is a lady. How did the high court issue notice returnable after six weeks? Is that the standard practice in Gujarat High Court? And give us instances where a lady is involved in a case like this and the High Court has made it [notice on bail plea] returnable by six weeks," said the Chief Justice.

Teesta Setalvad has been in custody since June 25 over allegations that she faked documents to file cases related to the 2002 Gujarat riots.

"There is no offence in this case that comes with a rider that bail cannot be granted, like Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and Prevention of Terrorism Act. These are normal offences and a lady is entitled to favourable treatment," the Chief Justice said.

The Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta, sought an adjournment to today's hearing. "All these arguments should be made in the High Court and not in the Supreme Court. That's my preliminary objection," Mehta said.

Senior lawyer Kapil Sibal, the counsel for Ms Setalvad, said: "I am challenging the FIR. There cannot be an FIR here. The FIR doesn't disclose what's the document I forged."

Ms Setalvad was arrested in Mumbai by Gujarat Police's Anti Terror Squad, a day after the Supreme Court dismissed her client Zakia Jafri's petition that challenged the Special Investigation Team clearing Narendra Modi, the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, of any wrongdoing in the alleged larger conspiracy involving the Gujarat riots.

The court will take up Ms Setalvad's bail plea again tomorrow at 2 pm.

BJP Leader Shot Dead Inside Gurgaon Showroom

GURGAON, Sept 1: Local BJP leader Sukhbir Khatana was shot dead by five men inside inside a cloth showroom in Gurgaon today. Police are checking CCTV camera footage from the spot, on Gurudwara Road near Sadar Bazaar.

The gunmen were already inside the showroom as he entered, and started shooting indiscriminately. There were a number of other shoppers and staff there, who ran or ducked. "Sukhbir Khatana was badly injured. He died on the way to a private hospital," said Deepak Saharan, the area police chief.

He was a former vice-chairperson of the Sohna Market Committee in Gurgaon, and said to be close to Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar. From Rithoj village near the city, he was preparing for Zila Parishad elections, according to news reports.

His body was sent for post-mortem examination after registering a murder case.


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