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Sonia, Rahul Gandhi never interfered in any defence deal: Ex-minister AK Antony

NEW DELHI, Dec 31: Former defence minister AK Antony on Monday came out in defence of Sonia Gandhi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi saying that they two had never interfered in any defence deals during the UPA regime.

“Government, BJP misusing agencies to manufacture lies. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi never interfered in defence deal,” Antony told reporters.

The senior Congress leader’s comments come close on the heels of the BJP and the Congress trading accusations against each other in the AgustaWestland VVIP Chopper scam.

On Sunday, the Congress had alleged that the Modi government had got AgustaWestland and its parent firm Finmeccanica removed from the blacklisted companies allowing it to bid for 100 helicopters for the Indian Navy.

Addressing a press conference, Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala had said that the Congress would “investigate the nexus between the company and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government when it comes to power” in 2019.

Even as the Congress accused the BJP and PM Modi of protecting AgustaWestland, the BJP accused the opposition party of defending Christian Michel, an alleged middleman in the deal, and asked why it was scared of a probe into the case.

Army foils New Year’s eve attack by Pakistan’s Border Action Team along LoC, kills 2 intruders

SRINAGAR, Dec 31: The Indian Army has claimed to have thwarted a “treacherous attempt” by Pakistan’s Border Action Team (BAT) to launch a strike on its post along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir’s Naugam sector and killed two intruders in the area.

A spokesperson of the army said the recovery of arms and ammunition early on Sunday indicated that they intended to carry out a “gruesome attack” in the region.

“The alertness and resilience of the own troops, who engaged and neutralised the intruders, thus eliminated a likely treacherous attack on the army forward posts along the Line of Control on the eve of New Year,” he said.

The officials said the intruders were wearing combat uniform like regular Pakistani soldiers and carrying stores with markings of the neighbouring country. He said they took advantage of the thick forests close to the LoC.

“Some intruders were also seen in BSF (Border Security Force) and old pattern IA dresses as part of a deception. They had intruded well equipped with IEDs, incendiary materials, explosives, and a plethora of arms and ammunition,” the spokesperson said.

“They were assisted by heavy covering fire of high calibre weapons such as mortars and rocket launchers from the Pakistani posts. The movement was nonetheless detected by the vigilant Indian Army troops deployed along the LoC,” he said.

He said the firefight initiated by Pakistan was retaliated strongly by the Indian Army.

“The exchange of fire continued the whole night. Our troops conducted prolonged search operations in thick jungles and difficult terrain conditions to ascertain the situation, which confirmed the elimination of two likely Pakistani soldiers and resulted in the recovery of a large cache of warlike stores.”

The army said the search operations are still underway in the sector to sanitise the area.

“Few other intruders managed to escape across the LoC, taking advantage of the Pakistani firing and adverse weather and visibility conditions,” it said.

“The Indian Army’s resolve to keep a strict vigil along the LoC and defeat all such nefarious designs of Pakistan will continue to remain firm and consistent.”

The spokesperson said the Indian Army will ask Pakistan to take back the bodies of the likely Pakistani soldiers.

Naugam sector in Kashmir’s Kupwara district is manned by soldiers of the 19th Infantry Division of the Indian Army. There have been frequent ceasefire violations going in the Naugam, Tanghdar and Keran sectors in the past several months.

Will probe why NDA government lifted ban on Agusta, says Congress

NEW DELHI, Dec 30: The Congress on Sunday sought to turn the tables on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the AgustaWestland VIP helicopter deal, saying that it will “investigate the alleged nexus between the company and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government when it comes to power” in 2019.

The opposition party alleged that it was the Modi government that removed AgustaWestland and its parent group Finmeccanica from the list of blacklisted companies and allowed it to bid for 100 helicopters for the Indian Navy. “Today, the ED [Enforcement Directorate] may save the Modi government but when it is voted out of power in 2019, we are fully committed to investigating the nexus between Prime Minister Modi and his government,” Congress’s chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala told reporters.

The remarks came a day after ED told a Delhi court that Christian Michel James, the suspected middleman in the AgustaWestland bribery case, was misusing legal access. He was handing his lawyers notes on how he should deal with questions on a “Mrs Gandhi” and a certain “son of the Italian lady who could be the Prime Minister”, ED said.

The purported claim triggered a war of words between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). While the BJP alleged that the references were to Congress president Rahul Gandhi and his mother, United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi, the Opposition party accused the government of misusing agencies to smear the Gandhi family.

“A statement made before police has no evidentiary value in the court of law. Secondly, we have nothing to do with a conversation between a lawyer and a client. If there is any evidence, why don’t they [government] place that in the public domain? Why are they hiding behind fake innuendoes? Actually, they are hiding their own misdeeds and wrongdoings by such insinuations and innuendoes,” Surjewala said.

“But they will face investigation and the link between Modi and AgustaWestland will be probed for sure when the government changes in 2019.”

In July 2018, he said media reports had elaborated as to how Christian Michel’s lawyer and his sister, Rosemary Patrizi Dos Anjos, revealed that the “Indian Prime Minister and ED pressurised him to make false and fabricated statements against” the Congress leadership while he knew nobody in the Gandhi-Nehru family.

Former finance minister P Chidambaram also took a dig at the government, ED and the media over the “new improved system” of trying cases and pronouncing judgments without evidence.

“If the government, ED and the media have their way, in this country, cases will be tried on TV channels. Further, the Criminal Procedure Code and the Evidence Act will not apply. What the ED says will be oral evidence, any piece of paper that the ED produces will be documentary evidence and what the TV channel pronounces will be the judgment,” he said on Twitter.

“Even kangaroo courts hold trials in a courtroom. Our new ‘improved’ system will surpass kangaroo courts and deliver justice on TV channels,” he added.

Surjewala alleged that the Prime Minister was trying to “hide his own misdeeds as he is the protector, benefactor and promoter” of AgustaWestland.

“We [UPA] initiated the investigation into the chopper deal in 2013. An FIR was also lodged. We were even ready for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe but the BJP backed out,” he said.

He said the Modi government permitted blacklisted company AgustaWestland to get clearances from Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) and permit its entry as partner or sub-contractor to various Indian companies.

Surjewala said the ban on AgustaWestland and Finmeccanica was revoked by the Modi government despite a pending Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) case and also the violation of the ‘integrity clause’, for which its contract was terminated.

“Not only this, Modi government sought a special opinion from its attorney general in July 2014 and permitted Agusta Westland/Finmeccanica to be part of ‘Make in India’ and bid for 100 Naval utility helicopters besides clearing its investment proposals through FIPB for the manufacture of AW119 helicopters,” he said.

The Congress leader asked the Prime Minister how his government lost all the cases in international courts against AgustaWestland and why it did not file appeals.

Handler in AfPak region gave orders to arrested ISIS terror group

NEW DELHI, Dec 27: A Delhi court on Thursday sent 10 persons, arrested the previous day on suspicion of being part of an Islamic State-inspired module, to 10 days in police custody even as more details emerged of the so-called Harkat-ul-Harb-e-Islam and the way the National Investigation Agency (NIA) tracked it down.

An NIA official familiar with the matter said the group seemed extremely radicalised and highly motivated, but questioned its ability to carry out an attack of the scale it was planning.

While the almost primitive nature of the weapons and explosives seized have attracted comment, other security officials point out that these could have been effectively used to at least spread chaos and distract security forces, both key objectives of terror groups.

NIA’s crackdown was appreciated by senior ministers. “Well done NIA for cracking the dangerous terrorist module,” finance minister Arun Jaitley tweeted.

“Would this crackdown of the terrorist module by NIA have been possible without interception of electronic communications?”

His reference was to an order on such monitoring that was issued last week and turned controversial.

Home minister Rajnath Singh said: “It is a big success and I congratulate NIA.”

NIA on Wednesday searched 17 locations — six in East Delhi’s Jafarabad area, six in Uttar Pradesh’s Amroha, two each in Lucknow and Hapur and one in Meerut — and arrested 10 suspects; it said the suspects were planning major strikes, and targeting senior Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders.

A country-made rocket launcher, 12 pistols, 112 alarm clocks, 100 mobile phones, 135 SIM cards, many laptops and various electronic gadgets, besides 150 rounds of ammunition were also recovered during the searches. The NIA also seized 25 kg of explosive material, such as potassium nitrate, ammonium nitrate, sulphur, sugar material paste, mobile phone circuits, batteries, 51 pipes, a remote control car triggering switch, wireless digital doorbell for remote switch, steel containers, electric wires, IS-related literature and ₹7.5 lakh in cash.

“The module primarily used an encrypted chat application, Threema, and received instructions from a handler based in the Af-Pak region,” a senior official in the security establishment said on condition of anonymity. The Threema application does not require a phone number to communicate. The identity of the person who was in touch with the group from the Af-Pak region is yet to be established.

“Mufti Mohammed Suhail appears to be the top dog of the group who had gathered together the others,” the first NIA officer said. Suhail is a native of the Jafarabad area of north-east Delhi who became a cleric at a mosque in Amroha.

Security agencies appear to have been tipped off after the group made an attempt to buy ammonium nitrate, a compound that can be also used to make incendiary devices. Security agencies, including the NIA, mounted surveillance, which included monitoring activity of the group on the internet and phone communications.

They also infiltrated the group getting members to feel secure and reveal their plans, a second security official said on condition of anonymity.

Rashid Zafar, one of the 10 suspects who was arrested, was asked to procure the chemicals, initial investigations have revealed.

An official of the Uttar Pradesh Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a 45-year-old woman and her 17-year-old son, who were questioned twice on Wednesday, were again quizzed on Thursday over possibly helping the alleged mastermind with accommodation in Lucknow.

TV sting accuses aides of 3 UP ministers of bribery

LUCKNOW, Dec 27: Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on Thursday ordered probe by a special investigation team into corruption charges against aides of three ministers.

The Chief Minister has directed the SIT to immediately start probe by recording the statements of all the people concerned and submit its report within 10 days.

A private news channel had conducted a sting operation in which the private secretaries of three ministers – Om Prakash Rajbhar (backward class welfare), Archana Pandey (mining) and Sandeep Singh (basic, secondary and higher education) – were caught on camera purportedly demanding bribe.

A senior government officer said the three secretaries have been suspended and a police case registered against them.

An official statement said Yogi Adityanath had taken note of the sting operation and ordered constitution of a special team. The Chief Minister has ordered strict action be taken in this case.

“A three-member SIT has been constituted under ADG (Lucknow zone) Rajiv Krishna. The IG, Special Task Force and a senior officer of vigilance establishment will be the members of the team. Special secretary, information technology, Rakesh Verma will assist the SIT in the probe,” it added.

Yogi Adityanath also directed the secretariat administration department to probe all cases in which complaints of illegal activities by the secretariat staff had been received.

“The Chief Minister has stated that the state government will follow the policy of zero tolerance against corruption and work with transparency. Strict action will be taken on complaints regarding corruption by government officers and employees,” an official spokesman said.

Rahul Gandhi asks partymen to focus only people's issues

NEW DELHI, Dec 27: Congress chief Rahul Gandhi has asked his party’s spokespersons to focus on the people’s issues and to avoid falling into the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s trap of establishing a religious-themed political narrative in the run-up to the 2019 assembly elections.

He issued the directions at a meeting with the Congress’s talking heads at his residence in Delhi on Thursday. The meeting was called to discuss the party’s media strategy for the 2019 polls.

A Congress spokesperson, who attended the meeting and spoke on condition of anonymity, said Gandhi identified issues like agrarian distress, jobs, price rise, women’s safety and corruption in the context of Rafale jet fighter deal and bank scams as the people-centric issues they need to stay focused on.

The Congress, which will celebrated its 134th foundation day on Friday, is also including fresh faces in its team of spokespersons and media panelists as part of its election preparedness.

The Congress’s chief spokesman, Randeep Singh Surjewala, attended the meeting along with Ragini Nayak, Pawan Khera, Jaiveer Shergill, Rajiv Tyagi, Akhilesh Pratap Singh, and Gourav Vallabh.

Gandhi asked them not to “get derailed by the BJP’s politics of religion”. “He [Gandhi] told us to focus on the BJP government’s report card and how Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not talk about the real issues like jobs, farmers and corruption,” said another spokesperson, who attended the meeting.

Gandhi said the party should fight the 2019 elections solely on the people-centric issues and not “fall into the BJP’s trap” and divert attention from the “failures” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.

Gandhi cited “the positive and credible narrative” that the party had focused on in the assembly elections held in five states in November and December. Congress wrested power from the BJP in there of the five states — Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh.

Gandhi is also expected to make other organisational changes. He will have to find the replacement for Ashok Gehlot, who was general secretary in-charge of organisation and training before taking over as Rajasthan chief minister this month.

Haryana has been without an in-charge since April when general secretary Kamal Nath was appointed as the Madhya Pradesh Congress chief. Gandhi will have to name new party heads in Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh to replace Nath and Bhupesh Baghel, who took over as chief ministers of the two states this month.

Delhi Congress chief Ajay Maken has requested Gandhi to relieve him of his organisational responsibilities on medical grounds.

ISIS module busted: The 10 men who plotted the New Year’s Eve attack

NEW DELHI, Dec 26: In a major success for the security forces, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) busted an ISIS-inspired module in raids in 17 places on Wednesday and arrested 10 men.

The 10 men were part of an ISIS-styled module named Harkat-e-Harb-e-Islam. Among the 10 men arrested by the NIA were an engineering student, a graduation student two brothers who worked as welders and a mufti working at a madrasa in Amroha. The mufti, identified as Mufti Mohd. Suhail was the mastermind of the group.

The 10 men were among 16 who had been detained in raids in 17 places including Seelampur in Delhi, and Lucknow, Hapur and Amroha in Uttar Pradesh.

The 10 men who have been arrested are: Mufti Mohd. Suhail alias Hazrath: A native of Amroha, Suhail was working a Mufti in a Madrasa at Hakim Mahtab Uddin Hashmi Road, Amroha, UP. He was staying at Jaffrabad in Delhi, and had tasked other team members to procure arms, explosives and other accessories to prepare IED’s and pipe-bombs. He was the mastermind of the group.

Anas Yunus: A resident of Jaffrabad in Delhi, Anas, 24, is a Civil Engineering student at a university in Noida. Anas was instrumental in procuring electrical items, alarm clocks and batteries etc to as raw material for the bombs that the group was planning to make and use in terror attacks.

Rashid Zafar Raq alias Zafar. Zafar, 23, is into the garments business.

Saeed alias Sayeed: Saeed, 28, is a resident of Amroha and runs a welding shop there.

Raees Ahmad: Raees is Saeed’s brother and a resident of Saidapur Imma, Amroha, UP. He runs a welding shop at Islam Nagar, near Idgah, in Amroha.

Both Saeed and Raees had had procured huge quantities of explosive material/gun powder (approximately 25 kg) to prepare Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and pipe bombs and had been instrumental in fabricating a rocket launcher to carry out the terrorist attacks.

Zubair Malik: Zubair, 20, is a resident of Jaffrabad in Delhi and studying in the third year of graduation at a university in Delhi.

Zaid Malik: Zaid, 22, is Zubair Malik’s brother.

Both Zaid and Zubair were part of the terror conspiracy and were instrumental in procuring batteries, connectors, SIM cards on fake documents and mobilising funds to buy bomb-making material.

Saqib Iftekar: Saqib, 26, is a resident of Hapur and was working as Imam at the Jama Masjid, at Baksar in Uttar Pradesh. He helped the mastermind Mufti Mohd. Suhail in procuring weapons.

Mohd. Irshad: A resdient of Amorha in Uttar Pradesh, Irshad is an auto-rickshaw driver and was helping Mohd. Suhail arrange a hide-out to store the material for making IEDs and bombs.

Mohd. Azam: A resident of Gashi Mendu in Delhi, Azam, 35, runs a medical shop in Seelampur, Shahdara, Delhi and had helped Mufti Mohd Suhail in arranging weapons.

Apart from these 10 men, the police has also detained six others who are being interrogated and may be placed under arrest depending on the information obtained from them.

India's longest road-rail bridge opened near China border

DIBRUGARH, Dec 25: India opened its longest road-rail bridge in the northeastern state of Assam on Tuesday as part of efforts to boost defences on its sensitive border with China.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi drove an inaugural cavalcade along the 4.9km Bogibeel bridge over the Brahmaputra river to inaugurate the project which has taken nearly two decades and $800m to complete.

The bridge, near the city of Dibrugarh, will enable the military to speed up the dispatch of forces to neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh, which borders China.

With the opening of the bridge, the rail journey from Dibrugarh to the Arunachal Pradesh capital Itanagar has been cut by 750km.

India lost territory in Arunachal Pradesh in a 1962 war with China.

The bridge has been designed to bear the weight of India's heaviest 60-tonne battle tanks and so that fighter jets can land on it.

India opened its previous longest bridge, the 9.1km Dhola-Sadiya bridge, in 2017 to connect Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, also to boost tactical defences.

Construction of the Bogibeel bridge was agreed by the government as part of a 1985 agreement to end years of deadly agitation by Assamese nationalist groups.

KCR kicks off third front plan, meets Odisha CM Patnaik

BHUBANESWAR, Dec 23: Telangana chief minister and TRS chief K. Chandrashekhar Rao on Sunday met his Odisha counterpart and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) chief Naveen Patnaik for exploring an alternative front to the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led alliances.

KCR, as the TRS chief is popularly known, met Patnaik this evening at the latter’s residence, saying the regional parties should come together as the country needs a change.

“The dialogue for a new front has begun. We are making efforts to bring like-minded parties together though nothing concrete has come out. We will meet again in the upcoming days,” said Rao, congratulating Patnaik for his initiative to get the women’s reservation bill passed in the Lok Sabha. “My party fully support the cause of women,” he added.

The BJD, however, said Rao’s visit was purely personal. “The visit is totally personal and there is no political motive behind it. It’s a courtesy visit on chief minister Naveen Patnaik,” BJD spokesperson Sasmit Patra said.

KCR, who led TRS to a massive victory in recently concluded assembly elections, had said that a consortium of regional parties would soon emerge to challenge both Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress.

The Telengana CM’s visit to Odisha comes a day ahead of PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Odisha where he would address a public meeting near Khurda, where the Paikas rebelled against the oppression of British in 1817. Modi would also unveil several developmental projects worth Rs 15,000 crore. The PM would come back to Odisha again on January 5 and 16 to address two separate public meetings as part of BJP’s focus on the eastern states.

Political analyst Panchanan Kanungo said the both Patnaik and KCR, who are likely to hold fort in their respective states, could play an important role after 2019 elections if the BJP and Congress-led alliances fail to get majority.

The TRS chief would spend a night in Bhubaneswar before heading for Sun Temple at Konark and Lord Jagannath Temple at Puri on Monday. He is also expected to meet West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee on Monday.

BJP, JD(U) to contest 17 seats each, LJP 6 in Bihar Lok Sabha elections

NEW DELHI, Dec 23: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Janata Dal (United) will contest 17 seats each in Bihar in next year’s Lok Sabha elections, leaving the remaining six for Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), leaders of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) announced on Sunday, allaying apprehensions of unease in the ruling coalition after the desertion of Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP).

Union minister Paswan will not contest the Lok Sabha polls, due in April-May, and will get a nomination in the Rajya Sabha at the earliest opportunity.

“We will win more than the 31 seats that we clinched in the 2014 elections,” BJP president Amit Shah told a press conference attended by Kumar and Paswan in Delhi.

Shah was referring to the combined NDA tally in Bihar five years ago, when the RLSP was a part of the alliance and the JD(U) fought the elections independently. After an hour-long meeting with the allies, Shah said the three parties will soon identify the seats they will contest and make an announcement. Bihar sends 40 parliamentarians to the Lok Sabha.

The BJP contested 30 seats and won 22 in 2014, and the new deal meant that it will fight fewer seats than it bagged five years ago to make way for Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s JD(U).

The LJP won six of the seven seats it contested and the RLSP, which is now a part of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), bagged all three seats that it fought.

The agreement is a victory of sorts for the JD(U), which has two members in the Lok Sabha but wanted to contest the same number of seats as the BJP.

In 2013, Kumar walked out of the NDA and joined hands with arch-rival Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress two years later. The alliance swept the Bihar assembly elections in 2015, but it suffered a big blow after Kumar returned to the NDA last year.

“We will form a government under [Prime Minister] Narendra Modi,” Paswan said in the Capital, stressing that there was no strain in the alliance. He also thanked finance minister Arun Jaitley, who played a key role in sealing the deal with the BJP.

Chirag, his son and a Lok Sabha member, triggered a flutter last week, asking the Centre’s ruling BJP to treat allies “with respect”. He appeared displeased that a seat-sharing formula was not agreed upon despite several rounds of talks. His party also asked the BJP to announce a deal by December 31.

As the NDA put up a united front in Delhi, Bihar CM Kumar said, “We will jointly campaign and form the government at the Centre.”

He added that the decision to send Paswan, a nine-time Lok Sabha MP, to the Upper House was a recognition of his long service to the nation.

In Patna, JD(U) spokesperson Rajiv Ranjan said Paswan’s continuation in the NDA will give the alliance a psychological edge.

“More than the agreement, the very fact that the LJP will be in the NDA will now nullify the advantage the grand alliance was expecting [in case of Paswan’s desertion],” he said.

But the opposition targeted the BJP for agreeing to contest just 17 seats. On Twitter, RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav said the deal proved the NDA was in a bad shape in the state.

Kushwaha, who is now an ally of Tejashwi, said, “As far as Ram Vilas Paswan is concerned, he foresees the weather. The NDA is not going to win a single seat in Bihar. He knows it. That is why he did the right thing by asking for a Rajya Sabha berth.”

Rahul Gandhi calls Modi 'insecure dictator' over snooping order

NEW DELHI, Dec 21: Congress President Rahul Gandhi has called Prime Minister Narendra Modi an "insecure dictator" as the political heat over the central government's order on snooping of personal computers of citizens picks up pace.

The Central government on Thursday said a total of 10 central agencies are empowered under the Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, to intercept or snoop any personal computer in the name of national defence and security.

Talking about the latest order, Rahul Gandhi said such measures won't solve any problem for the government. "Converting India into a police state isn't going to solve your problems, Modi Ji. It's only going to prove to over 1 billion Indians, what an insecure dictator you really are," Rahul Gandhi tweeted.

Opposition hits out at Govt order to monitor computers

NEW DELHI, Dec 21: A Home Ministry order designating 10 central agencies to intercept and monitor information in electronic devices triggered a political firestorm on Friday after the opposition flagged down the government order as “extremely worrisome”. Soon, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee also waded into the controversy and appeared to suggest that this was “dangerous”.

The government order listing 10 central agencies such as the Intelligence Bureau, CBI and the income tax department had been issued a day earlier under a 2009 rule under the information technology law.

The notification by the home ministry’s cyber and information security wing, signed by home secretary RK Gauba, authorises the 10 agencies to intercept, monitor and decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer.

Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel tweeted his reservations about the government’s move along with a copy of the order. “The sweeping powers given to agencies to snoop phone calls and computers without any checks and balances is extremely worrisome. This is likely to be misused,” he said, describing the order as a “direct assault on civil liberties and personal freedom of citizens”.

P Chidambaram, who was the Union Home Minister in 2009 when the rule invoked by the NDA government was brought in, said he hadn’t studied the fresh order. “But if anybody is going to monitor computers, then it is an Orwellian state,” he said, according to news agency ANI.

Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala linked the government order to the BJP’s loss of three states in the recently-concluded assembly elections and described it as a violation of the Fundamental Rights of citizens. “Having lost elections, now Modi Govt wants to scan/snoop YOUR computers? ‘Big Brother Syndrome’ is truly embedded in NDA’s DNA!” he tweeted.

Under the IT Act, the 10 notified agencies can be ordered to intercept any information transmitted through any computer resource, if required for the country’s sovereignty and integrity, security, friendly relations with a foreign power, preventing incitement for committing an offence and to maintain public order

Apart from the IB, CBI and tax department, the other agencies empowered to intercept include Narcotics Control Bureau, Enforcement Directorate, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, National Investigation Agency, Research and Analysis Wing and Delhi Police Commissioner. The armed forces’ Directorate of Signal Intelligence will also have this power for its operations in Jammu and Kashmir, North-East and Assam.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee wondered why the government had issued the fresh order if it was only for national security.

“Blanket surveillance is bad in law,” she said, and asked people to give their opinion about the move.

“If it is for National Security, then only for that purpose Central Government already has the machinery. But, why all commoners will be affected? Public Opinion please...,” she said.

Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien tweeted: “If you use a computer, read this. Snoop. Snoop”.

MIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi said this signified “George Orwell’s Big Brother is here”

“(Prime Minister Narendra) Modi has used a simple Government Order to permit our national agencies to snoop on our communications. Who knew that this is what they meant when they said ‘ghar ghar Modi’,” he said in a tweet.

Rahul Gandhi plays chess during Shimla holidays

SHIMLA, Dec 21: Rahul Gandhi, who is currently holidaying in Shimla after hectic campaigning for polls in five states, seems to be making the most of the picturesque hill station. The Congress president arrived in Shimla on Tuesday, along with his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and her children.

After stopping at a dhaba for tea and Maggi noodles on Wednesday, the family paid a visit to a school for children with special abilities on Thursday where Rahul played a game of chess with some local teens.

The Gandhis arrived in Shimla by road to see Priyanka's under-construction house in Chharabra, a local Congress leader said.

However, Himachal Pradesh Congress president Sukhwinder Sukhu said he had no information about the visit of Rahul and Priyanka. "I have no official information about Rahul's visit to Himachal," Sukhu was quoted as saying.

The Congress chief’s visit comes days after the party emerged victorious in Assembly elections Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

Won’t allow Modi to sleep till farm loans written off: Rahul Gandhi

NEW DELHI, Dec 18: Back in Delhi after a whirlwind tour of three states to witness three Congress chief ministers take over, party chief Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday renewed his attack on the BJP-led national coalition over the plight of farmers and accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of worrying only about wealthy businessmen. Chief Ministers of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, two of the three states that the Congress wrested from the BJP in the just-concluded state elections, have ordered a farm waiver within hours of taking charge.

“Congress and all opposition parties will force Modi to give farm loan waiver to farmers… Will not allow Modi to sleep till he waives the loan,” Gandhi said on Parliament House premises on Tuesday.

A loan waiver has been high on the Congress’s to-do list in the recently-held assembly elections in five states. Meeting after meeting, Congress leaders had highlighted the farmers’ plight and promised them a new deal, starting with a waiver.

Gandhi told reporters that he had been highlighting the point that the main fight in India is between small traders, farmers and 15-20 wealthy businessmen, building on the narrative that had been at the centre of his election campaign in the five states.

“Modiji has made two Hindustans. One Hindustan consists of wealthy businessmen... and the other is made up of farmers, poor, youth, small traders,” he said.

“Two states announced farm loan waivers within six hours, the third will also do it soon,” the Congress president said, underlining how the Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh had gone for a loan waiver within six hours. The third, Rajasthan, would also follow suit.

“But for the four years that Modiji has been Prime Minister, he hasn’t forgiven loans of even Re 1,” he said.

Rahul Gandhi, who has been a sharp critic of Modi’s 2016 sudden decision to ban high-value currency notes, also linked his criticism over the notes ban decision to the poor.

The PM, he said, had a choice between a loan waiver and demonetization. But the Congress president alleged, Modi preferred demonetisation over a loan waiver because it benefited his wealthy friends.

During campaigning, Gandhi had described a promise to protect farmers reeling from low prices and a promise to provide jobs to the young as two pillars of the party’s strategy.

The Congress approach has capitalised on the perceived resentment around these two points and promised short-term measures such as loan waivers and longer term steps to encourage small and medium industries to create jobs.

I wasn’t the PM afraid to talk to Press: Manmohan Singh

NEW DELHI, Dec 18: Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday said the country needs a “strong and independent” central bank which has to work in “close cooperation” with the central government.

“I do hope and pray that government and the RBI find a way to work in harmony,” said the former Prime Minister, who had also served as the RBI governor from 1982 to 1985. He had earlier termed RBI governor Urjit Patel’s resignation “very unfortunate” and a “severe blow” to the country’s economy.

Patel, who had a run in with the government over autonomy of the central bank, resigned from his job on December 10, citing personal reasons. His resignation came four days ahead of a crucial meeting of the board of the central bank that could have discussed issues of simmering differences with the government.

Manmohan Singh who was ridiculed for his silence by his political opponents also hit back by asserting that during his 10-year tenure in office, he was “not afraid” of talking to the press.

Speaking at the launch of his book Changing India, a compilation of his speeches and papers in six volumes, he said, “People say I was a silent Prime Minister. I think these (six) volumes (of his book) speak for themselves. I wasn’t the PM who was afraid of talking to the press. I met press regularly and on every foreign trip I undertook, I had a press conference on board or immediately on return.”

His statement was an obvious dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is yet to host a press conference since taking charge.

“I have been termed as an accident prime minister of the country, but I think that I was also an accidental finance minister,” Dr Singh said after the launch.

This is not the first time that the former PM has taken a jibe at Modi. In November at a book launch of Congress leader Manish Tewari, he said, “My advice to the prime minister is that he should exercise due restraint becoming of the office of the Prime Minister.”

Congress president Rahul Gandhi had, earlier this month, criticised Modi for never addressing a press conference in his tenure, and suggested he should try addressing reporters as it is fun to be asked questions.

Singh’s criticism of the current government also extended to the tiff that the BJP-led NDA government has had with the last RBI chairperson Urjit Patel over issues of autonomy of the central bank and the revision of the GDP back-series announced by the federal think tank NITi Aayog, which lowered the growth rate during the time Dr Singh was PM.

On the GDP numbers, he said, “I am not an expert on GDP statistics, but I think it’s not proper that while releasing GDP numbers, they should not be done by people with no expertise. Deputy chairman of the planning commission (NITI Aayog) was announcing these numbers that reduced the credibility of the exercise.” The Congress has accused the government of “manipulating” GDP data of previous years in an attempt to undermine India’s growth during the UPA rule.

On the farm loan waiver announced by the newly sworn-in Congress governments in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh on their first day in office, Manmohan Singh said, “We have to honour the commitment that was part of the election manifesto.

“I haven’t studied the impact but since commitment has been made so we have to honour it. These are commitments made to people and what has been promised, has to be delivered,” he said.

Earlier at the book launch, Manmohan Singh said that India has been immensely kind to him and he “will never be able to repay this debt”

“Life has been a great adventure and enterprise and I have no regrets,” he said.

On India’s prospects, he said, “Despite all the hiccups and hurdles, I have no doubt that India will get its action right, despite the difficulties, this country is destined to be a major powerhouse.”

“The emergence of India as global power is one such idea whose time has come,” he added.

MP, Chhattisgarh, Assam waive off farm loans

NEW DELHI, Dec 18: The newly formed Congress governments in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh waived off farmers loans within hours of being sworn in on Monday.

The BJP government in Assam has also approved Rs 600 crore farm loan waiver which it said will benefit around eight lakh farmers of the state, a move that comes in the backdrop of debt woes of farmers becoming a major issue in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections.

Assam is the third state to waive farm loans.

States which have earlier waived farm loans are Karnataka, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.

Baghel announces farm loan waiver, increase in MSP of maize

RAIPUR, Dec 17: Senior Congress leader Bhupesh Baghel was Monday sworn in as the chief minister of Chhattisgarh. MLAs T S Singh Deo and Tamradhwaj Sahu were sworn in as ministers.

Former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh and senior Congress leader Motilal Vora at Balbir Singh Juneja Indoor Stadium for the swearing-in ceremony of Bhupesh Baghel as Chhattisgarh CM.

Bhupesh Baghel waived off farmers’ loan worth Rs 6,100 crore and increased Minimum Support Price (MSP) for maize to Rs 2,500 from Rs 1,700 per quintal. About 16 .5 lakh farmers will be benefitted through the move.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi had announced that farm loans will be waived within 10 days and Minimum Support Price (MSP) for maize will be increased to Rs 2,500 from Rs 1,700 per quintal. These two decisions have been taken today: Bhupesh Baghel

Meanwhile, the venue of CM designate Bhupesh Baghel's oath taking ceremony has been changed from Science College ground to Balbir Singh Juneja Indoor Stadium in Raipur, due to continuous rainfall. The city is witnessing heavy rainfall since afternoon.

Kamal Nath, Gehlot take oath

JAIPUR/ BHOPAL, Dec 17: Kamal Nath has taken oath as Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister in the presence of top Congress and opposition leaders flown to state capital Bhopal from Jaipur where they had watched Ashok Gehlot and his deputy Sachin Pilot take charge.

Rahul Gandhi is accompanying this team of political leaders as they zip across three state capitals today to attend the oath ceremony of Congress chief ministers, an occasion that his party is also using to showcase opposition unity. A host of opposition leaders are attending the show of strength in three states.

Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati and Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav have skipped the three oath ceremonies, though they are supporting the new Congress governments in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee is not attending either, but has deputed her representative unlike the other two leaders.

Chartered planes have flown those attending from Rajasthan’s Jaipur, where Gehlot took oath, to Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh. It will later take a short flight to Chhattisgarh where Bhupesh Baghel will take oath as Chhattisgarh chief minister.

Among those who are on the Congress’s guest list are Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu, his Karnataka counterpart HD Kumaraswamy, Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar, All India Trinamool Congress leader Dinesh Trivedi, Janata Dal (Secular) president HD Deve Gowda, National Conference president Farooq Abdullah, Loktantrik Janta Dal chief Sharad Yadav, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam president MK Stalin and leader Kanimozhi, a Rajasthan Congress leader, familiar with the development, said.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi is attending all three ceremonies as will former prime minister Manmohan Singh and Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge and several other senior party leaders.

The Karnataka oath ceremony earlier this year of HD Kumaraswamy of the Janata Dal Secular, backed by the Congress, was seen as the big bang start of an opposition effort to unite to take on the BJP in next year’s national election. Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav and Mamata Banerjee had attended that event and their absence at the Congress events today has raised questions on the strength of that unity.

Opposition leaders came together on Sunday too, at a rally in Chennai, where MK Stalin of key ally Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) proposed that Rahul Gandhi be projected as the prime ministerial candidate of a joint opposition, saying he has the “ability to defeat the fascist BJP”.

The Congress has said it prefers to leave the leadership issue of an anti-BJP alliance for after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Last week, the Congress posted its best electoral performance since the 2014 general elections. It snatched Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh from the BJP. While the party swept Chhattisgarh, it just made the majority mark in Rajasthan and fell short by a whisker in Madhya Pradesh. The BSP and Samajwadi Party offered to fill the gap to keep out the BJP, which was not far behind.

Delhi High Court convicts Sajjan Kumar for 1984 riots

NEW DELHI, Dec 17: The Delhi High Court on Monday called the anti-Sikh riots case of 1984 “communal frenzy” after the then prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her bodyguards as it sentenced Congress leader Sajjan Kumar to life imprisonment in one of the cases.

As it reversed the trial court’s order acquitting Kumar, the court also directed him to surrender by December 31, 2018, and slapped a fine of Rs 5 lakh on him and Rs 1 lakh on all other accused in the case.

The case relates to the murder of five members of a family during the anti-Sikh riots in the Raj Nagar area in the Delhi Cantonment on November 1, 1984.

“What happened in the aftermath of the assassination of the then Prime Minister was carnage of unbelievable proportions in which over 2,700 Sikhs were murdered in Delhi alone. The law and order machinery clearly broke down and it was literally a ‘free for all’ situation which persisted. The aftershocks of those atrocities are still being felt,” justice S Muralidhar and justice Vinod Goel said while handing the 203-page judgement.

Stalin makes pitch for Rahul Gandhi as PM candidate

CHENNAI, Dec 16: The Congress prefers to leave the leadership issue of the anti-NDA alliance for after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls but on Sunday, key ally Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) proposed Congress president Rahul Gandhi as the prime ministerial candidate, saying he has the “ability to defeat the fascist BJP”.

The pitch came at a rally in Chennai as senior opposition leaders gathered for the unveiling of a statue of late DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi at the party office, Anna Arivalayam.

It was the first time they were together at an event after the Congress wrested power in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in the November-December assembly elections. Many senior opposition leaders are also expected to attend the swearing-in of new Congress chief ministers — Ashok Gehlot and his deputy Sachin Pilot in Jaipur, Kamal Nath in Bhopal and Bhupesh Baghel in Raipur — on Monday.

United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Congress party president Rahul Gandhi, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) Chief and Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu, and his Kerala counterpart Pinarayi Vijayan were present at the statue unveiling. Tamil superstar-cum-politician Rajinikanth and former Union minister and disgruntled BJP leader Shatrughan Sinha also attended the event.

After Sonia Gandhi unveiled the nine feet bronze statue of Karunanidhi, they paid tribute at his memorial at Marina Beach. The leaders then addressed a rally at Royapettah, where Stalin proposed Rahul Gandhi as the prime ministerial candidate.

Stalin said that Rahul Gandhi will be able to give good governance.

“The current NDA government at the Centre has pulled the nation to 15 years back. If we allow them to rule further, they will draw India to 50 years back. When our leader (Karunanidhi) was alive, he welcomed Indira Gandhi to rule the nation. ‘Welcome (first prime minister Pandit Jawaharlal) Nehru’s daughter, give us a stable government’ is the famous quote of our leader since late 1970s,” he said.

“Now, as a son of Karunanidhi and DMK’s chief, I propose the candidature of Rahul Gandhi from Tamil Nadu. He has the ability to defeat the fascist Modi government. I appeal to the leaders of all the parties on the dais. We will strengthen the hands of Rahul Gandhi and save this nation. Welcome Rahul Gandhi, give us good governance,” Stalin added.

In her address, Sonia Gandhi called the nation’s people to come together to save the institutions and values of India.

“India’s democratic values and institutional freedom which we preserved for last 70 years are under a risk now. So, the DMK-Congress alliance should stay strong to safeguard the institutions and values of the nation. It is a call to Tamil Nadu and the nation for making a change,” she said.

Rahul Gandhi said different voices of the nation have come together against the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre.

“BJP believes in one idea and is not ready to hear the voices of crores and crores people of the nation. So, all the voices have come together and will definitely dethrone the BJP,” he said.

Praising the late DMK chief, he said, “I was impressed with the simplicity and honesty of Karunanidhi. His lifestyle has shown me the way how a political leader should behave. Karunanidhi had always stood as the voice of Tamil language, culture and tradition. However, under the government of Narendra Modi, the values of Tamil culture and tradition are under danger,” he alleged.

The Congress president also said that he will not allow the BJP to destroy the freedom of individual institutions of the country.

“We aren’t going to allow the destruction of the idea of India, the destructions of our institutions, the Supreme Court, the RBI (Reserve Bank of India), the EC (Election Commission). And we are going to stand together and do this,” he added.

Naidu said the opposition parties have a compulsion to form an anti-BJP alliance to save the nation, accusing the Modi government of “destroying” all its institutions.

“Karunanidhi fought for the states’ autonomy and federal structure. However, the BJP government ruling at the Centre is against the federal structure. We have not benefited from the BJP’s policies.

“People elected a BJP government, all institutions were destroyed. Federalism is destroyed. They are misusing CBI. It’s a premier institution for corruption control, now it’s embroiled in corruption itself. They removed the CBI director. The RBI governor has resigned,” he said, in a reference to CBI chief Alok Verma being sent on leave amid a spat with his deputy Rakesh Asthana and the sudden quitting of central bank chief Urjit Patel.

“Even ED (Enforcement Directorate), and IT (Income Tax) department are being used to victimise politicians. Yesterday you saw the Rafale case in Supreme Court. Even for SC, this government has filed wrong affidavit. Governors are misusing powers in Goa, Nagaland, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and other states,” he alleged.

He further slammed the AIADMK government in Tamil Nadu, alleging it was controlled by the BJP.

Bhupesh Baghel named CM of Chhattisgarh

RAIPUR, Dec 16: Bhupesh Baghel, who is said to be a key player behind the party’s impressive win in the state’s assembly elections, will be the new chief minister of Chhattisgarh, the Congress announced on Sunday.

The decision to name Baghel as the chief minister was taken at a meeting of the newly elected Congress Legislature Party (CLP) on Sunday. The swearing-in ceremony is likely to be held on December 17 (Monday).

Bhupesh Baghel said that his first priority as the new CM is to “waive off the loan of farmers as our president Rahul Gandhi had promised in the campaign rallies”.

Who misled Supreme Court on CAG report on Rafale: Rahul Gandhi

NEW DELHI, Dec 14: Hours after the Supreme Court rejected ordering a probe into the Rafale deal, and said it was satisfied that due process has been followed in it, Congress president Rahul Gandhi highlighted parts of the apex court’s order, especially the reference that the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has given its report on the deal to Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC), to continue his attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

CAG hasn’t submitted anything to PAC, and the factual error in the court’s order provided Gandhi with fresh ammunition.

In paragraph 25 of the judgment, the bench stated: “The material placed before us shows that the Government has not disclosed pricing details, other than the basic price of the aircraft, even to Parliament, on the ground that sensitivity of pricing details could affect national security, apart from breaching the agreement between the two countries.”

The SC judgment was delivered on Friday by a three-judge bench of the top court headed by chief justice Ranjan Gogoi.

“The pricing details have, however, been shared with the Comptroller and Auditor General (hereinafter referred to as CAG), and the report of the CAG has been examined by the Public Accounts (Committee),” the judgment added.

The court seems to have erred on this point. While CAG Rajiv Mehrishi was not available for comments, an official of the audit body familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity that it “has not given any report to the Parliament on the Rafale deal” although the government has shared price details with it.

Speaking at a press conference along with PAC chief Mallikarjun Kharge, Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad and others, Gandhi said, “How does the Supreme Court judgment have this line that Rafale pricing has been examined by the PAC? Now, we have to ask the government, where is this CAG report?”

He added, “Maybe it is happening in some other Parliament, may be in France. Or, Modi-ji might have set up a PAC in the Prime Minister’s Office,” before reiterating his slogan, “Chowkidar chor hai.”

Kharge emphasised that the deputy CAG deposed before his panel on Friday but the audit watchdog has not given any report on Rafale. “We don’t know how this happened. But this is strange,” added Kharge.

Biju Janata Dal lawmaker and PAC member Bhartruhari Mahtab confirmed this: “There has not been any communication in any manner, be it oral or written, between the PAC and the CAG on Rafale. The rules are clear that only after the CAG report is placed before Parliament, the PAC takes up the matter for review.”

To be sure, the order’s reference to the report doesn’t seem to impinge on the thrust of the order -- which is that due process was followed in the deal, that the court does not have the power to go into the pricing issue, and that the choice of the offset partner is not the government’s but the aircraft maker’s.
When asked about the non-existent CAG report, Finance minister Arun Jaitley said: “I think whatever are the contents of the verdict in terms of the procedural details of the narration which have been given that is not a subject matter of our comment. If there is something that is required to be done in that regard, I think the lawyers will examine it and do the needful.”

Lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan, who was one of the petitioners in the case, said some of the facts mentioned in the order are neither on record nor factually correct.

Bhushan said in a statement that the CAG report has not been submitted to PAC and no portion of the CAG report has been placed before Parliament or placed in the public domain. “Obviously this factually incorrect statement must be based on some communication [not on record and unknown to us] made by the government to the court,” he alleged.

Bhushan pointed out that the court also mentioned its judgment that the chief of the Indian Air Force had communicated his reservation regarding the disclosure of the pricing details which would adversely affect national security. “This alleged fact was also not on record and it is not understood as to where and how the court got this,” said Bhushan.

The judgment mentioned that the bench during hearing in the case interacted with the senior Air Force officials who “answered Court queries in respect of different aspects, including that of the acquisition process and pricing.”

Bhushan termed this too as “factually incorrect”. “The only question asked of the Air Force officials by the court and the only questions they answered was about whether the Rafale aircraft belonged to the 3rd, 4th and 5th generation and when the last acquisition took place. They were neither questioned, nor did they say anything on the acquisition process or on pricing. At least this did not happen during court proceedings,” said Bhushan.

The petitioners had also alleged that the Rafale maker Dassault gave an offset contract to Anil Ambani’s group company at the cost of public sector Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and the court, in its order seems to get confused between Reliance Industries, promoted by Mukesh Ambani, with which Rafale maker Dassault was discussing a partnership in 2012 and Reliance Defence, promoted by Anil Ambani, with which Dassault entered into a partnership in 2015. The two run separate conglomerates.

Lawyer Bhushan pointed out: “The Reliance Company with which Dassault was once discussing, was a completely different company of Mukesh Ambani and had nothing to do with the new company of Anil Ambani incorporated at the time of the 2015 deal.”

After Rahul Gandhi’s press conference, law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters the Congress chief’s statement were unfortunate and a new low in country’s politics.

“Does he consider himself above the Supreme Court? “[The] SC verdict has exposed the lies of Rahul Gandhi. We had expected that he will accept the judgment with humility,” Prasad said, adding that Gandhi’s statement shows his frustration.

Congress names Ashok Gehlot Rajasthan chief minister, Sachin Pilot his deputy

NEW DELHI, Dec 14: The suspense over the next Rajasthan chief minister ended on Friday after Congress president Rahul Gandhi picked party veteran Ashok Gehlot for the top post and named the party’s state unit chief Sachin Pilot as his deputy.

Gehlot, 67, secured his third term as the state’s chief minister after Gandhi brokered peace between him and Pilot, whose supporters took to the streets on Thursday to press his claim to the CM’s post, after two days of tortuous consultations during which he met them twice individually on Thursday and together on Friday.

The delay in designating the next chief minister, after it became clear on Tuesday that the Congress had wrested back the state from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), stemmed from the stiff resistance offered by supporters of Pilot, 41, to the candidacy of Gehlot. Pilot was seen to have steered the Rajasthan unit through difficult times and rebuilt it in the five years he spent as its chief.

Both Gehlot and Pilot will take their oaths of office and secrecy on December 17, the day Kamal Nath will be sworn in as the Madhya Pradesh chief minister.

The announcement came at a joint press conference at Congress headquarters in New Delhi. Congress general secretary in-charge of Rajasthan Avinash Pande, central observer KC Venugopal and former union minister Jitendra Singh were also present at the press conference.

Referring to Gehlot’s ‘kaun banega crorepati’ reply to a question on who will be the chief minister at a press conference last month, Pilot, in a lighter vein, said, “Who would have known that instead of one there will be two crorepatis.”

Pilot took over as the Rajasthan Congress chief in January 2014, nearly a month after the party was decimated in the assembly elections in which it managed to win just 21 of the 200 seats in the assembly.

The poor show continued in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections as the Congress failed to open its account while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won all 25 seats. The Congress dethroned the BJP in the just-concluded assembly elections, winning 99 seats. The BJP won 73 seats.

The Congress has the support of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) with six legislators and also some independents.

“Mera aur Ashok Gehlot ji ka jaadu puri tarah chal gaya hai (our magic completely worked in the state),” Pilot told reporters.

Gehlot thanked Gandhi for giving him the opportunity to serve the people of the state for a third time as CM and promised that he and Pilot will provide good governance.

Gehlot was brought to the All India Congress Committee (AICC) in April 2017 as general secretary in-charge of Gujarat and took charge of organisation and training in March this year, replacing another veteran, Janardan Dwivedi. Apart from Gehlot, only three leaders have so far occupied the CM’s post three times. The others are Mohan Lal Sukhadia and Haridev Joshi of the Congress and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat of the BJP.

Gehlot has been a member of Parliament from Jodhpur five times and represented Sardarpura in the state assembly an equal number of times. Pilot represented Dausa and Ajmer in the Lok Sabha in 2004 and 2009 respectively.

While Gehlot is known for his political acumen and organisational skills, Pilot is credited with strengthening the party at the grassroots level.

Pilot expressed confidence that the Congress will sustain its electoral performance, saying the party will get a big mandate in the 2019 polls and form the government at the Centre, too.

With the Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan CM selections done, the Congress leadership is now grappling with the issue in Chhattisgarh, where the party won a two-thirds majority, ousting the BJP from power after 15 years. Congress Working Committee (CWC) member Tamradhwaj Sahu, state chief Bhupesh Baghel and former legislature party leader TS Singhdeo are the front-runners.

During the day, the leaders held extensive deliberations both with Gandhi and his mother and former party chief Sonia Gandhi. A section of the party had argued that since there had been a massive consolidation of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in favour of the Congress, the next chief minister should be from the community. Both Baghel and Sahu belong to the OBCs; TS Singhdeo is a Rajput.

Kamal Nath to be MP chief minister

NEW DELHI, Dec 14: After two days of deliberations, endless meetings, and significant jockeying by the supporters of chief ministerial aspirants, Congress president Rahul Gandhi, after consulting various leaders including United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi, and looking at the choice of every booth-level party worker in the states concerned, picked Kamal Nath, 72, as chief minister of Madhya Pradesh.

For Rajasthan, he was also expected to pick Ashok Gehlot, 67, or Sachin Pilot, 41. He was in a late-night meeting with Gehlot, immediately after meeting Pilot, at the time of going to print at 12:10am. For Chhattisgarh, the decision on the next chief minister is likely to be made on Friday.

The Congress won a landslide in Chhattisgarh, clearly won Rajasthan, and edged out the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Madhya Pradesh on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the elected legislators of all three states passed resolutions asking Gandhi to pick their CMs. There were two aspirants in Madhya Pradesh, Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia; two in Rajasthan, Gehlot and Pilot; and three in Chhattisgarh, Bhupesh Baghel, TS Singhdeo, and Tamradhwaj Sahu.

Even as the candidates themselves chose to play it cool, their supporters expressed themselves, with Pilot’s backers blocking roads in Bharatpur and Karauli in protest.

Although some critics blamed the Congress party and Gandhi for “indecisiveness” in choosing the chief ministers of the three states, the delay in such a process isn’t anything new.

In October 2014, the BJP took nine days after the results of the Maharashtra elections were announced to pick Devendra Fadnavis as its chief minister. In March 2017, it took the BJP eight days after the Uttar Pradesh election results to pick Yogi Adityanath.

Hours before the announcement of the Madhya Pradesh CM, Gandhi tweeted a photo with Nath and Scindia at his residence in New Delhi. Along with the photo, the Congress president posted a fitting quote by Russian philosopher and writer Leo Tolstoy: “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”

After Gandhi’s tweet, Scindia posted the same photo and said: “It is not a race, it is not about kursi, we are here to serve the people of Madhya Pradesh. I am leaving for Bhopal and you will get to know the decision today.

Late on Thursday, the Congress’s Twitter handle congratulated Nath on being picked as the CM of the state that has a 230-member assembly. “Our best wishes to Shri @OfficeOfKNath for being elected CM of Madhya Pradesh. An era of change is upon MP with him at the helm,” the party handle said. Local television channels reported Nath would take oath on Monday.

Pilot and Gehlot, who first met Gandhi in the afternoon as the party deliberated on the next Rajasthan CM, appealed to their supporters to maintain calm as the party leadership discussed the matter.

“Friends, I appeal to all workers to maintain peace and discipline in the state. I have full faith in the party leadership. Whatever decision Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi will take in the interest of the state we will welcome that. We all are dedicated and sincere workers of the Congress and hence it is our responsibility to maintain its dignity,” Pilot wrote in a Twitter message after the protests. Gehlot said the workers put in a lot of effort and should wait for Gandhi’s decisions.

On Wednesday morning, the four candidates reached Delhi to meet Gandhi, who also discussed the matter with Sonia Gandhi and a few other senior leaders. He also looked at the preferences of all booth-level workers in the three states, collated through Shakti, the party’s new network connecting the Congress headquarters to workers.

Gandhi’s sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was also seen going inside her brother’s residence as consultations over the CM picks in the three states were underway.

But the MP announcement didn’t come immediately, perhaps in keeping with the protocol that a chief ministerial choice is best announced by the legislators. Meetings of legislators and the candidates of the three states were held in the respective state capitals. About 48 hours after the results, the Congress had chief ministers-designate in the heartland state of MP. After the announcement, Nath said: “This post is a milestone for me... I thank Jyotiraditya Scindia who supported me.”

“The time ahead will be challenging and we will fulfil the promises together.”

Experts said the important thing now for Scindia is to work to ensure the party does well in the 2019 general elections.

The choice of Nath was seen to be controversial in some quarters because of his alleged involvement in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots that erupted in New Delhi following then PM Indira Gandhi’s assassination by two Sikh bodyguards.

The Shiromani Akali Dal and the Aam Aadmi Party (in the opposition in Punjab) both highlighted the allegation. SAD and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) threatened to quit in the run-up to the assembly elections in his state in 2016 when Nath was made the party’s general secretary (Punjab and Haryana). He quit soon after, but said it was to avoid an “unnecessary controversy” and there was no wrongdoing on his part.

Nath has in the past denied the allegations made against him.

Congress bags Chattisgarh, Rajasthan; Stakes claim in MP; Telangana votes KCR; MNF wins Mizoram

NEW DELHI, Dec 12: The Congress is looking at its strongest finish in state elections in recent times - sweeping Chhattisgarh, in position to win Rajasthan, and is ahead of the BJP in a cliffhanger in Madhya Pradesh, with big gains in all three states.

K Chandrashekhar Rao of the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti (TRS) swept Telangana and the Mizo National Front (MNF) won Mizoram.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated the Congress in tweets, saying, “We accept the people’s mandate with humility.”

Congress chief Rahul Gandhi said it was “time for change,” crediting party workers for his party’s performance and promised “strong governments” in the states that his party set to win.

“This is a clear message to the prime minister and the BJP that the country is not happy with what they are doing... the BJP has a certain ideology and we will fight against it. We have won this elections, we will also win in 2019,” Gandhi said at a press conference on Tuesday evening, adding, “However, we do not want to get rid of anyone, hum kisi ko mukt nahi karna chahtein,” a dig at the BJP’s Congress-mukt BHarat (Congress-free India) campaign.

Votes are being counted today in five states in what has been billed as the semi final before next year’s Lok Sabha election. Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have been ruled for the last 15 years by the BJP and Rajasthan for the last five. The party had also won 60 of the total 65 parliament seats in these heartland states as it swept the 2014 general elections, in which the Congress was reduced to its lowest tally ever in the Lok Sabha.

In Telangana, K Chandrashekhar Rao is prepping to take oath again, set to return as chief minister with a big win in the assembly elections. In Mizoram, the Congress has lost its last bastion in the north east to the Mizo National Front.

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and her Delhi counterpart Arvind Kejriwal, both of who yesterday attended a meeting of 21 opposition parties to discuss an anti-BJP front, cheered today’s election result.

“The countdown to 2019 has begun. This result will be reflected at the national level,” said West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, calling it a “disaster for” the BJP. Kejriwal said “The countdown of the Modi government’s fall has begun,” Kejriwal tweeted in Hindi.

Almost 12 hours after counting began, the Congress continued to flirt with the majority mark of 100 seats, way ahead of the BJP. The party has an offer of support from the Rashtriya Lok Dal, which has won a single seat. A party or alliance needs 100 seats to win a majority in the 200-member Rajasthan assembly; voting was held in 199 seats as a candidate died in one constituency. The BJP is leading in 70 seats. In 2013, the Congress had won only 23 seats as the BJP snatched an absolute majority with 163 seats.

In Madhya Pradesh, the closest contest for most part of the day, the Congress is leading in 114 seats, up 53 from last time, and the BJP in 109, down 55.

Earlier in the day, the Congress reached out to Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, the Samajwadi Party and the GGP (Gondwana Ganatantra Party), sources said, to request support if it fails to make the majority mark. A party needs to win 116 seats in the state’s 230-member assembly to form government.

The BSP has said it “will try and stop the BJP from forming government”; the party is leading in two seats in Madhya Pradesh.

Chhattisgarh has been swept by the Congress, which is leading in 68 of the state’s 90 seats, a two-thirds majority and a gain of 29 seats from last time. A party needs 46 to form government in the state. The BJP is ahead in only 16 seats.

The big Congress gains in these heartland states will be a huge morale booster for the party led by Rahul Gandhi who is often taunted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah for a series of debacles in state elections since the 2014 general elections. As it lost state after state, the only bright spot was Punjab, which the party wrested from the Akali Dal-BJP combine last year and the small state of Puducherry, which it retained, in 2016.

In southern state Telangana, the country’s youngest, Rao, popularly called KCR, established his supremacy early today, never looking back. His TRS was leading in a whopping 87 seats, way more than the 60 it needs for a majority in the 119 member assembly.

The TRS, which spearheaded the Telangana statehood campaign that culminated in the creation of India’s youngest state out of Andhra Pradesh in June 2014, took a gamble in September when it opted for early elections almost a year ahead and CM Rao dissolved the assembly.

KCR faced a united challenge from the Congress, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the Left that have formed a ‘mahakootami’ (grand alliance) to unseat the TRS. The BJP fought separately and is now leading only in one seat.

In Mizoram, the Mizo National Front (MNF) is all set to return to power after a gap of 10 years by defeating the Congress in its last bastion in the northeast with a lead of 26 seats. Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla of the Congress lost both the seats he contested.

Congress stakes claim to form government in Madhya Pradesh, writes to governor

BHOPAL, Dec 11: Madhya Pradesh Congress chief Kamal Nath on Tuesday night staked claimed to form government in the state, in a letter to governor Anandiben Patel.

Kamal Nath said in his letter that the Congress has “emerged the single largest party with majority support” and that “all the Independents have in addition assured support to the Congress party.”

The veteran Congressman has also sought an appointment with the governor later tonight after all results are announced; he said he would meet her with senior Congress leaders to “apprise you and form the next government in Madhya Pradesh”.

The governor’s office, however, has said that an appointment will be given only after the situation is made clear by the Election Commission, reported news agency ANI.

The Congress had won or was leading in 114 of the state’s 230 assembly seats close to midnight, after almost 16 hours of counting of votes. The BJP is close at its heels at 109. Both are shy of the majority mark of 116 seats in the 230-member Madhya Pradesh assembly.

So far, three Independent candidates have won and another one is leading. Mayawati’s BSP is leading in two seats and the Samajwadi Party in one seat. The BSP said earlier today that it will “try and ensure the BJP does not form government.”

“The ideology of SP, BSP and the Congress is the same - different from that of the BJP,” said Congress president Rahul Gandhi.

In the cliffhanger that the Madhya Pradesh contest has been all day, the Congress right now has 41 per cent vote share, while the BJP has 41.1%. The total difference of votes polled by the parties across the state’s 230 seats is 45,207. In the 2013 election, the BJP had won 165 seats, getting a comfortable majority in the Assembly, while the Congress had won only 58 seats.

The Congress has also snatched Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan from the BJP today. While the BJP ruled Madhya Pradesh and CHHattisgarh for the last 15 years, it had won Rajasthan besting the Congress in 2013.

Time for change: Rahul Gandhi

NEW DELHI, Dec 11: Celebrating the Congress’ best performance in assembly elections in a while, its chief Rahul Gandhi today said the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when his party was reduced to its lowest tally in Parliament ever, was the “best thing” that happened to him, taking a swipe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, from whom he said he had learnt a vital lesson.

“The absolute best thing for me was the 2014 elections...I learnt a lot from that election... I learnt that the most important thing in this country is what the people feel, and as a politician, you have to work with that sentiment,” Gandhi said, adding, “Mr Narendra Modi taught me that lesson. I see (from his actions) what not to do. He was given a massive opportunity to lead the country. He refused to listen to the heartbeat of this country... That is something I have learnt from how he has acted. For me, the best teachers are the people of this country.”

The Congress has today wrested Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan from the BJP and is running neck and neck with the rival party in Madhya Pradesh. The party has made big gains — it had come in a poor second in all the three states in 2013, followed by another drubbing in 2014 general election when Narendra Modi led the BJP to a spectacular win.

Addressing a press conference in the evening, Rahul Gandhi said Tuesday’s results heralded a “time for change,” asserting that the Congress will also win next year’s general election. “The BJP has a certain ideology and we will fight against it. We have won this elections, we will also win in 2019,” he said.

In another jab at the BJP, he also added, “However, we do not want to get rid of anyone, hum kisi ko Bharat se mukt nahi karna chahtein. (We dont want to rid the country of anyone).” It was a reference to the frequent promise made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah for a “Congress mukt Bharat (Congress-free India).”

Rahul Gandhi said it was a victory today of Congress workers and of “youth and farmers and small businessmen.”

BJP government taking country on wrong path: Manmohan Singh

MOHALI, Dec 10: Former prime minister Manmohan Singh alleged Monday the BJP-led central government was taking the country towards a “wrong path” and the nation’s freedom could be under threat due to its actions.

He said the Congress had played an important role in strengthening the country’s freedom, but “during the last four and a half years, the BJP laid emphasis on things which could adversely affect India’s history”.

“This can again endanger country’s freedom,” he said.

Manmohan Singh was speaking at the re-launch ‘Navjivan’, a Hindi newspaper that was first launched in 1919 by Mahatma Gandhi but was closed several times during the British regime.

“I want to appeal to the people that they should understand how the present government is taking the nation on a wrong path and there is a need to strongly fight against it,” he said, adding former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru had once said that “Freedom is in peril, defend it with all its might.” He said Punjab had played a vital role in the fight for country’s freedom.

The event was attended by Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and other party workers.

Congress leader and Associated Journals Limited chairman Motilal Vora on the occasion said after Mahatma Gandhi was sent to jail in 1920, he had asked Jawaharlal Nehru to run the paper.

Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh could not attend the event due to ill-health.

“I regret not being able to attend the function, as I’ve been advised bed rest by the doctors,” he tweeted.

RBI governor Urjit Patel resigns

NEW DELHI, Dec 10: Reserve Bank of India Governor Urjit Patel has stepped down effective immediately, the central bank’s top official said in a statement.

“On account of personal reasons, I have decided to step down from my current position effective immediately. It has been my privilege and honour to serve in the Reserve Bank of India in various capacities over the years,” he said in a brief statement that did not refer to the rift with the government.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi reacted to Urjit Patel’s decision to step down, describing him as an economist of a very high calibre with a deep and insightful understanding of macro-economic issues.

“He steered the banking system from chaos to order and ensured discipline. Under his leadership, the RBI brought financial stability,” Modi said in two tweets. “He (Urjit Patel) leaves behind a great legacy. We will miss him immensely,” he said.

Patel had taken charge as the governor in September 2016 after Raghuram Rajan resigned from the post on 19 June of that year and had overseen the government-driven ban on high-value currency notes. Patel’s term as RBI governor was to end in September 2019.

Patel’s resignation comes against the backdrop of sharp differences between the central bank and the government over how much autonomy the RBI should have. The government is widely perceived to have sought reduction of curbs on lending and to gain access to the RBI’s surplus reserves.

It’s BJP, RSS agenda: Rahul Gandhi on RBI governor’s resignation

NEW DELHI, Dec 10: Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Monday slammed the government on Monday over Reserve Bank of India Governor Urjit Patel’s resignation, calling it the ‘continuation of the BJP, RSS agenda’’.

“In the middle of the meeting we were told that the BJP, RSS agenda is progressing and that RBI governor has resigned... What is happening that the government is getting desperate, RBI governor is not able to function”, Gandhi said talking to reporters after the Opposition meet in Delhi.

The Congress earlier attacked the government over the resignation, calling it an ‘assault on a democratic instituition’.

Within minutes of Patel announcing his resignation, the Congress tweeted, “Another one bites the dust. This is the result of our chowkidar assault on democratic institutions- RBI Governor, Urjit Patel steps down."

The Congress has earlier also targeted the government over what it calls its efforts to capture the central bank

The party has accused the government of packing the central bank’s board with handpicked nominees and making every attempt to push through its proposals

Patel’s resignation comes against the backdrop of sharp differences between the central bank and the government over how much autonomy the RBI should have. The government is widely perceived to have sought reduction of curbs on lending and to gain access to the RBI’s surplus reserves.

Patel, 55, who took over as the 24th Governor of the central bank on September 5, 2016, had the shortest tenure since 1992.

He was hand-picked by the BJP-led government after his predecessor Raghuram Rajan was denied a second-term.

Kushwaha resigns as union minister, walks out of NDA

NEW DELHI, Dec 10: Bihar politician Upendra Kushwaha today quit as a minister at the centre, declaring in his resignation letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, “I stand dejected, betrayed by your leadership.” He has also walked out the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and said that he has his options open.

That, he said, could mean contesting elections alone, joining the anti-BJP opposition alliance now being tested or a third front. But he is not attending a meeting of opposition leaders from different political parties being held in the capital today to work out a strategy to forge what is being called a “grand alliance” against the BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha election next year.

Kushwaha announced his divorce from the NDA at a press conference in Delhi prefacing it with a list of difficulties and betrayals that he claimed he has had to endure as a member of the alliance in Bihar. “They will not open their account,” he said referring to the BJP and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who he alleged, were out to finish his party.

“Narendra Modi did not live up to people’s expectation as prime minister... People thought achche din will come for Bihar... people of Bihar feel cheated,” the minister of state said soon after sending his resignation to Modi.

Upendra Kushwaha also launched a sharp attack on the NDA government in Delhi and Bihar, accusing the government of pushing the agenda of what he called was, the agenda of the BJP’s ideological mentor, RSS, in universities and elsewhere.

“I feel I should not be a minister when RSS agenda is being implemented,” he said.

Kushwaha had been dropping hints about quitting the BJP-led national coalition for weeks, particularly after Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) negotiated a seat-sharing pact for the 2019 general elections with BJP boss Amit Shah that they declared, would reduce seats for their two other alliance partners.

Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samta Party, or RLSP, had joined the NDA ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and won three seats. The BJP ended up with 22 seats and Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party six. That equation changed after Nitish Kumar’s return.

Kushwaha had attempted to reach out to Amit Shah and Narendra Modi and sought appointments with them to address his concerns but found them less than willing to engage him in negotiations. BJP leaders, sources said, had taken note of reports that he had been in touch with rivals and had already sensed that he had made up his mind.

It is around this time that Kushwaha, prepping for his exit from the NDA, put out a 25-point charter of demands for the Nitish Kumar government that asked the BJP-JD(U) government to improve its governance record. The demands include appointment of school teachers, exempting teachers from non-teaching work and timely holding of the student union elections.

Kushwaha is already in touch with expelled Janta Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav and is discussing a merger of their parties ahead of next summer’s parliamentary elections.

Kushwaha, a protégé-turned-rival of Nitish Kumar, comes from the backward Koeri community, which accounts for roughly 5-6% of Bihar’s population and has significant presence in 25-30 assembly segments.

Pakistan can seek India’s help if it feels it cannot handle terrorism alone: Rajnath Singh

JAIPUR, Dec 2: Pakistan can take India’s help if it cannot tackle terrorism on its own, home minister Rajnath Sigh said on Sunday, stressing that terrorism was the key area of disagreement between the two countries.

Reacting to Imran Khan’s recent remarks that Kashmir was the outstanding issue, Singh said there was no “second thought” that Pakistan was sponsoring militancy in Jammu and Kashmir.

“ is very clear that everything is sponsored by Pakistan. Recently, the Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said...nothing will be gained through a blame game. He emphasised the Kashmir issue...I want to make it clear that the issue is not Kashmir but terrorism,” Singh said at a press conference at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) media centre in Jaipur.

“...Afghanistan took the support of America to counter Taliban. Similarly, if Pakistan cannot counter terrorism on its own, it can take India’s help,” he added.

At the groundbreaking ceremony for the Pakistani section of the Kartarpur corridor, Khan said last week his country’s civilian and military leaderships were united in desiring better relations with India although Kashmir remained the key issue between the two sides.

At the gathering, that included Indian Union ministers as well, the cricketer-turned-politician also acknowledged that it was not in Pakistan’s interest to allow its soil to be used for terrorism and said he was prepared to talk to his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, “any time”.

In election-bound Rajasthan, Singh said no major terrorist incident had taken place in the country in the four-and-a-half years of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) rule, clarifying that he did not want to claim that terrorism had completely stopped.

Terrorism is confined only to Kashmir where, too, the situation is improving, Singh said, adding the panchayat elections in J&K were being conducted successfully.

Singh also hit out at Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who on Saturday said the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was turning the 2016 cross-border strikes by Indian forces on terror launch pads into a “political asset”.

Gandhi had also said there were three such operations by the forces during the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime, but the government that time kept them under wraps.

“They are telling it today. Why was the country not informed earlier? If our army had shown its valour and strength then should this country not have any knowledge of this matter?” Singh asked.

State Congress spokesperson Archana Sharma said, “The Congress party never dragged army into politics. In our tenure, we had won many wars, but we have never used them to gain political mileage from the bravery of the army.”

Singh also spoke on the Maoist insurgency. “I have nothing against the people who follow Maoist ideology but will not tolerate violence.” Terrorism has reduced and the problem of Maoism will get eliminated from the country in the coming years, he added.

India’s first engine-less train, Train 18, breaches 180 kmph during trials

NEW DELHI, Dec 2: India’s first self powered engine-less train, known as Train 18, on Sunday breached the 180 kilometre per hour (kmph) speed limit during a trial run on Sunday, a senior railway official said. Designed to run at 160 kmph, the Train 18 breached the 180 kmph mark in the Kota-Sawai Madhopur section.

“Train 18 breached the 180 kmph speed limit becoming the first train in the Indian Railway to travel at such speed,” S Mani, general manager of Integral Coach Factory (ICF), Chennai, that has manufactured the train, said.

Railway minister Piyush Goyal also tweeted a video of the trial run when the train breached the 180 kmph mark.

“We expect Train 18 to commence its commercial run from January 2019. Normally the trials take three months. But now it is happening faster than expected,” said Mani.

Initially, the Railways will roll out two Train 18s with 16-17 coaches each.

Train 18 is capable of touching 200 kmph but tracks in the Indian Railways’ network will need to be upgraded for that.

According to a (which) report, only 0.3% of India’s rail tracks, spread over 60,000 km, are fit to handle trains running at the speed of up to 160 km per hour.

The Train 18 had earlier successfully completed trials at a speed of up to 130 km per hour in Moradabad. It was moved to Kota in Rajasthan for trials at the speed of up to 160 km per hour.

With Rotating seats which can be aligned in the direction of travel in executive class, modular toilets with bio-vacuum system, modular luggage rack with glass bottom, sliding doors in coaches and continuous window glasses for contemporary modern look, this make in India initiative of the Indian Railways’ is full of modern facilities.

It will be provided with automatic plug type doors with retractable footsteps, which will open and close automatically at the stations. To provide entertainment, all coaches of the train will be provided with on board Wi-fi, infotainment and GPS based passenger information system (PIS) which will keep the passengers informed about the travel status.

According to officials familiar with developments, the Train 18 will offer both comfort and pace to the passengers and will fit the bill of replacing intercity express trains, which have travel time in six hour range. All coaches will be chair car type for day travel.


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