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If provoked, prepared for any contingency: Army at joint defence briefing

NEW DELHI, Feb 28: The Indian military on Thursday warned Pakistan that it was prepared to respond swiftly and strongly to any misadventure or provocation, and contended that Islamabad peddled falsehoods about what happened during the aerial skirmish between the two air forces a day earlier, in a rare media briefing by two-star officers from the three services.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) has “fairly credible evidence” to prove that the Mirage 2000 strikes against the Balakot terror camp on Tuesday met their objective and IAF caused the “intended damage and destruction” during the unprecedented, peace-time cross-border strike, said IAF assistant chief of air staff (operations) Air Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor.

He said it was premature to comment on the number of casualties and it was for the government to decide if it wanted to share the evidence. Pakistani fighter jets made failed attempts to bomb Indian military installations on Wednesday in retaliation for the Balakot strike by the IAF, Kapoor said. Both air forces lost one fighter each in the engagement, he added.

In the briefing held a couple of hours after Pakistan announced its decision to release Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, Major General SS Mahal, an additional director general in the army’s military operations directorate, said the army was “in a heightened state of readiness” to respond to any provocation.

“Our ground-based air defence weapon systems have been put on high alert. Mechanised formations too have been placed on standby. I wish to assure the nation that we are fully prepared,” said Mahal in the late evening briefing on the South Block lawns.

Rear Admiral DS Gujral, the officiating director general of naval operations, said the navy was prepared to respond swiftly, resolutely and strongly to any “Pakistani misadventure”.

The IAF picked holes in the Pakistan version of Wednesday’s chain of events, asserting that it spread “blatant disinformation” on three counts – the number of Indian fighters shot down and pilots in its custody, denying that it targeted military installations, and that it did not use F-16 fighter jets.

Kapoor said Pakistan claimed that two Indian jets were shot and three pilots were down before admitting in the evening that only one MiG-21 Bison was downed and its pilot was in their custody. He said the Bison shot down an F-16 and Indian soldiers reported sighting two Pakistani pilots parachuting into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. There were two pilots in the F-16 aircraft.

He also denied the Pakistani claim that they intentionally dropped weapons in open areas. “The fact is the Pakistan Air Force jets targeted military installations. However, IAF fighters intercepted them and thwarted their plans.” He said Pakistani jets dropped bombs on army compounds but couldn’t cause any “significant damage” due to swift IAF response.

The army said the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) jets tried to target a brigade headquarters, a battalion headquarters, a logistics base and forward defences.

IAF pilot being released as a goodwill gesture, says Imran Khan

ISLAMABAD, Feb 28: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday played a gambit for de-escalating tensions with India, announcing the release of a captured Indian pilot against the backdrop of pressure from New Delhi and other countries to act against terror emanating from his country’s soil.

Addressing a joint session of Parliament in Islamabad, Khan said Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, taken into custody when his MiG-21 jet was downed during an engagement along the Line of Control (LoC) on Wednesday, would be freed on Friday as a “peace gesture”.

Tensions between the two sides have spiralled after Pakistan used combat jets to target Indian military facilities on Wednesday, a day after India conducted an air strike on a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) facility within Pakistan. The banned group claimed responsibility for the February 14 terror attack in Pulwama that left 40 paramilitary personnel dead and triggered the latest stand-off.

Khan reiterated recent remarks about Pakistan being forced to retaliate if there were any further strikes by India, though his measured speech was largely devoted to the need to de-escalate tensions between the two countries.

“We have captured an Indian pilot. As a peace gesture, we will release him tomorrow and send him back to India,” Khan said to the thumping of desks by lawmakers.

“I say today to India from this platform, don’t take this any further. Whatever you do, Pakistan will be forced to retaliate. These two countries, with the weapons we have, we shouldn’t even think in this way.”

The Indian government is “happy the IAF pilot is being released” though things can move forward only if Pakistan creates the environment by taking immediate, credible and verifiable action terrorists and anti-India proxies operating from its soil, people familiar with developments in New Delhi said.

Before Khan announced the release of Varthaman, the Indian side made it clear that Pakistan would not be allowed to use the captured Indian pilot as a bargaining tool, people familiar with developments said. A demarche or formal diplomatic representation handed over to Pakistan on Wednesday had clearly stated the pilot must be treated humanely and immediately returned, they said.

The government was keen to avert any attempt by Pakistan to use the pilot to influence the mood of the Indian people, as had happened in the case of passengers of the Indian airliner hijacked from Kathmandu to Kandahar in December 1999, the people said.

They said there would have been no question of a deal over Varthaman as India had demanded his unconditional return.

The people said it was Pakistan that had escalated the situation by targeting Indian military facilities, whereas New Delhi had specifically targeted a JeM base to pre-empt planned suicide attacks.

India’s stance had been accepted by major Western powers and countries across the world, many of whom had called on Pakistan to eliminate terrorist infrastructure in their official statements, they said.

Referring to Khan’s pledges to act if actionable intelligence is provided, they referred to a dossier with extensive evidence on JeM, its camps, leadership and links to attacks that was handed over on Wednesday, and said it was time for Khan to walk the talk.

Khan said he tried to call his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on the phone on Wednesday “because we wanted to make it clear we didn’t want any type of escalation”. He didn’t say why the call didn’t go through, but added he hadn’t taken the step to release the pilot out of fear or worry.

There was no official word from the Indian government on Khan’s remarks about the call.

The Indian Air Force welcomed the release of its pilot, with Air Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor saying, “We are happy our pilot who had fallen across the LoC and was in custody of Pakistan is being released... We only see it as a gesture which is in consonance with all Geneva Conventions.” The conventions apply to the treatment of captured military personnel.

Kapoor said a MiG-21 Bison flown by Varthaman shot down a Pakistani F-16 jet in the aerial engagement on Wednesday. Pakistan has denied any F-16 jets took part in the dogfight. The IAF presented parts of a US-made AMRAAM missile, not used by other jets in the Pakistani fleet, as proof of their deployment on Wednesday.

“In the aerial combat that ensued, one F-16 of the Pakistan Air Force was shot down by Indian Air Force MiG 21 Bison aircraft. The F-16 crashed and fell across the LoC in Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir. The IAF lost one MiG 21 aircraft,” Kapoor told a news conference.

Before Khan’s speech, US President Donald Trump said in Hanoi: “We have been involved in trying to help them (India and Pakistan) stop and we have some reasonably decent news.”

In his opening statement at a news conference at the end of his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump added: “I think hopefully that [tensions] could be coming to an end, it has been going on for a long time.”

Ahead of the air strike on Balakot, Trump had said that India was “looking at something very strong” in response to the loss of 40 troops in the Pulwama terror attack.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday called Modi to express his deep condolences over the Pulwama terrorist attack and conveyed the solidarity of his country with India in its fight against terror. Modi thanked Putin for Russia’s “steadfast support” for India’s efforts to protect its interests against cross-border terror attacks, a statement from the PMO said.

In the call, Putin conveyed that he “hopes for a quick settlement” of the standoff between India and Pakistan, the Kremlin said in a statement on Thursday.

On Thursday evening, the official Twitter account of Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan said he spoke on the phone to the prime ministers of India and Pakistan and called for “dialogue and communication” to deal with the tensions.

“Mohamed bin Zayed makes telephone calls to Indian and Pakistani prime ministers, stresses importance of dealing wisely with recent developments and giving priority to dialogue and communication,” the tweet said.

Khan’s announcement was welcomed by politicians in Jammu and Kashmir.

“Good news, whole nation will be relieved. I hope our leadership will also reciprocate this peace gesture. I hope Imran Khan will stand by his word and take steps on Indian dossier on Pulwama attack. Imran Khan has acted like a statesman,” People’s Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti tweeted.

National Conference leader Omar Abdullah expressed happiness and tweeted, “Very glad to know that #WingCommandarAbhinandan will be heading home. I’ll wait for him to be back on Indian soil before I welcome him back but I’m greatly relieved that PM @ImranKhan has announced the imminent release of our pilot.”

Varthaman, a fighter pilot with 16 years of experience and a father of two children, hails from Tamil Nadu’s Tiruvannamalai district and is the son of retired Air Marshal Simhakutty Varthaman, who played a significant role during the 1999 Kargil conflict when as a Group Captain.

Varthaman’s father on Thursday said in a statement that his son behaved like a “true soldier,” thanking citizens for their support and good wishes.

“I am sure all your hands and blessings are on his head...prayers for his safe return. I pray that he does not get tortured and comes home safe and sound in body and mind,” the veteran IAF officer said.

Cabinet Approves Aadhaar Ordinance to Allow its Use as ID Proof For Bank Accounts, SIM Connection

NEW DELHI, Feb 28: The Cabinet on Thursday approved the promulgation of an Ordinance to allow voluntary use of Aadhaar as identity proof for opening bank account and procuring mobile phone connection.

The Ordinance was necessitated as a bill, passed by the Lok Sabha on January 4 but pending in the Rajya Sabha, would have lapsed with the dissolution of the current Lok Sabha. The Ordinance will now give the effect to the changes in the Aadhaar Act such as giving a child an option to exit from the biometric ID programme on attaining 18 years of age.

Briefing reporters after a meeting of the Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Law and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the Cabinet has approved the promulgation of an Ordinance to give effect to the Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Bill.

The amendment provides for stiff penalties for violation of norms set for the use of Aadhaar and violation of privacy. It bans storing of core biometric information as well as Aadhaar number by service providers in cases of individuals who have voluntarily offered the national ID as a means of authentication.

"Aadhaar can be used as KYC on a voluntary basis under the Telegraph Act and PMLA rules. Any entity using Aadhaar will have to adhere to privacy guidelines," Prasad said.

The amended law makes it clear that anyone not offering Aadhaar cannot be denied any service, be it opening of a bank account or obtaining a mobile phone SIM card.

The amendments will "provide for 12-digit Aadhaar number and its alternate numbers to be generated" in a manner so as to conceal the actual Aadhaar number.

The proposed changes also seeks to lay down the procedure for offline verification of an Aadhaar number holder, and confers enhanced regulator-like power on the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to give directions as it may consider necessary to any entity in the Aadhaar ecosystem.

It proposes that every requesting entity to whom an authentication request is made will inform the Aadhaar number holder of alternate and viable means of identification and shall not deny any service to them for refusing to, or being unable to undergo authentication.

The changes that were proposed included a civil penalty of up to Rs 1 crore on entities that violate the provisions of the Aadhaar Act, with an additional fine of up to Rs 10 lakh per day in case of continuous non-compliance. Unauthorised use of identity information by a requesting entity or offline verification seeking entity would be punishable with imprisonment of up to three years with a fine that may extend to Rs 10,000 or in case of a company with a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh.

Punishment for unauthorised access to the Central Identities Data Repository as well as data tampering is proposed to be extended to 10 years each from the current three years. It also seeks to omit Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act relating to the use of Aadhaar by private entities.

Pak jets targeted Indian military installations, attempt foiled

NEW DELHI, Feb 27: India has said that Pakistan air force tried to target its military installations on Wednesday morning but their attempts were foiled by an alert IAF.

“Due to our high state of readiness and alertness, Pakistan’s attempts were foiled successfully,” said External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar.

India said that Pakistani fighter jets were detected and the Indian Air Force responded instantly. The government said that an IAF pilot who engaged with the Pakistani aircraft that violated Indian airspace on Wednesday morning was missing in action.

“In that aerial engagement, one Pakistan Air Force fighter aircraft was shot down by a MiG 21 Bison of the Indian Air Force. The pilot is missing in action. Pakistan has claimed that he is in their custody. We are ascertaining the facts,” Raveesh Kumar said.

Major General Asif Ghafoor, spokesman of the Pakistan military, had earlier claimed that IAF planes “strayed into Pakistani airspace” after its airstrikes. It also said that it had taken two Indian pilots into custody.

Pakistan Army had released a video that shows a blindfolded man, identifying himself as a Wing Commander-rank IAF officer and his service number.

The air space violation by Pakistani jets comes a day after Indian Air Force jets flew across the Line of Control to blow up Jaish-e-Mohammed’s biggest terror camp.

Tensions have been elevated since a suicide car bombing by Pakistan-based terrorists killed at least 40 CRPF jawans on February 14. On Tuesday, the Indian Air Force bombed terror group Jaish-e-Mohammad’s biggest training base in Pakistan.

India tells Pak to release IAF pilot, protests ‘vulgar display’ of injured

NEW DELHI, Feb 27: India on Wednesday asked Pakistan to ensure immediate release and safe return of the IAF pilot who was missing in action after he engaged with Pakistani jets that violated Indian airspace on Wednesday morning.

Pakistan Army released a video that shows a blindfolded man, identifying himself as a Wing Commander-rank IAF officer and his service number. India has strongly objected to Islamabad putting out photographs and videos of the pilot.

A statement by the ministry of external affairs said the video was a “vulgar display” of an injured personnel of the Indian Air Force in violation of all norms of International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Convention.

The Wing Commander was part of the IAF’s Combat Air Patrol (CAP) that engaged the on-coming Pakistani fighters that violated Indian airspace this morning, a day after India carried out a counter-terror strike at Jaish-e-Mohammed camp in Pakistan.

The ministry of external affairs had earlier in the day summoned Pakistan’s Deputy High Commissioner Syed Haider Shah to lodge a strong protest over Pakistan Air Force’s bid to attack Indian military installations.

India said Pakistan’s “unprovoked act of aggression” was in sharp contrast to India’s non-military anti-terror pre-emptive strike at a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist camp in Balakot on Tuesday morning. “It is unfortunate that instead of fulfilling its international obligation and bilateral commitment to take credible action against terrorist entities and individuals operating from its soil, Pakistan has acted with aggression against India,” the statement said.

The statement added that it was already conveyed to Pakistan that India reserves the right to take firm and decisive action to protect its national security. New Delhi regretted the “continuing denial by Pakistan’s political and military leadership at the presence of terrorist infrastructure in territories under its control.”

“A dossier was handed over to Pakistan side with specific details of JeM complicity in Pulwama terror attack and the presence of JeM terror camps and its leadership in Pakistan,” the MEA statement said.

New Delhi has said that Pakistani fighter jets tried to target its military installations on Wednesday morning but their attempts were foiled by the Indian Air Force.

“Due to our high state of readiness and alertness, Pakistan’s attempts were foiled successfully,” said External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar. India said that Pakistani fighter jets were detected and the Indian Air Force responded instantly.

The air space violation by Pakistani fighter aircraft comes a day after Indian Air Force jets flew across the Line of Control to blow up Jaish-e-Mohammed’s biggest terror camp.

Tensions have been elevated since a suicide car bombing by Pakistan-based terrorists killed at least 40 CRPF jawans on February 14.

‘Blatant politicisation of sacrifices made by armed forces’: 21 oppn parties

NEW DELHI, Feb 27: Leaders of 21 opposition political parties on Wednesday condemned the Pulwama terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir and targeted ruling Bharatiya Janata Party over “blatant politicisation” of the sacrifices made by the jawans. The opposition parties expressed solidarity with the armed forces in the fight against terrorism.

Reading out a joint statement after the meeting of opposition party leaders, Congress president Rahul Gandhi said, “The meeting of 21 parties expressed their deep anguish over the blatant politicization of the sacrifices made by our Armed Forces by leaders of the ruling party.”

This comes in the wake of BJP leaders including party president Amit Shah saying at public rallies post-Pulwama attack that “only Modi government can avenge” the attack on security forces. At least 40 CRPF jawans were killed in Pulwama terror attack on February 14.

“National security must transcend narrow political considerations. The leaders observed that the Prime Minister has, regrettably, not convened an-all party meeting as per the established practice in our democracy,” reads the joint statement.

The opposition parties expressed deep concern for the safety of the missing pilot, confirmed earlier in the day by external affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar. “One pilot is missing in action,” said Kumar this morning while briefing the media about “aerial engagement” with Pakistan Air Force.

Pakistan violated Indian airspace on Wednesday with its fighter jets crossed the Line of Control (LoC). The IAF took prompt action and one F-16 fighter jet of Pakistan was shot down, he said. The Indian Air Force lost one MiG-21 Bison and one pilot was missing, the MEA spokesperson said.

Pakistan claimed that two MiG aircrafts were shot down by its air force with Prime Minister Imran Khan claiming that the “pilots are with us”. MEA spokesperson Kumar said the government was ascertaining the facts regarding the claim made by Pakistan.

The opposition leaders “urged the government to take the nation into confidence on all measures to protect India’s sovereignty, unity and integrity.”

“I’m sorry to hear that one of our brave IAF pilots is missing. I hope he will return home soon, unharmed. We stand by our armed forces in these difficult times,” Gandhi wrote on Twitter.

IAF jets blow up Jaish-e-Mohammed’s main terror camp in Pakistan

NEW DELHI, Feb 26: Indian forces carried out a strike at the biggest camp of the terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed in Balakot early this morning, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said on Tuesday, hours after IAF dropped 1,000 pound bombs in a thickly-forested hilltop that has eliminated a large number of terrorists. This camp was headed by Jaish chief Masood Azhar’s brother-in-law Maulana Yousuf Azhar.

The strikes was carried out on the basis of credible intelligence and designed to target the Jaish camp without any civilian casualties, Gokhale announced hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a top security meet to review the cross-border strike.

The foreign secretary also launched a global outreach, briefing envoys of the USA, UK, Russia, Australia, Indonesia, Turkey and six Asean nations on the Indian air strike across LoC in Balakot.

The strike on terror camp comes 12 days after the Pulwama terror attack which killed 40 CRPF jawans after a Jaish terrorist rammed an explosive-laden vehicle into a CRPF convoy on Jammu-Srinagar highway on February 14.

The government said it had expected the Jaish to carry out more terror attacks.

“Credible intelligence was received that JeM was attempting another suicide attack in various parts of the country, and the fidayeen jihadis were being trained for this purpose. In the face of imminent danger, a pre-emptive strike became absolutely necessary,” he said.

Gokhale’s briefing was the first formal statement from the government on the overnight strike by IAF’s Mirage-2000 jets.

The Foreign Secretary did not get into the details of the strike but he underlined that “a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis” being trained for suicide attacks were eliminated.

“Strikes happened only a short while ago. We are waiting for more details,” he said.

India also underlined how Pakistan had not acted against the Jaish that had been banned by the United Nations, despite being informed about the presence of the camps many times.

“The existence of such massive training facilities capable of training hundreds of jidhadis could not have functioned without the knowledge of Pakistan authorities,” the top official said.

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has called an “emergency meeting” after India carried out air strikes across the LoC and destroyed terror camps in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Nation in safe hands: Modi

JAIPUR, Feb 26: In his first public event hours after the IAF carried out strikes at Jaish terror camp, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday pledged to uphold the country’s honour.

“It is such a moment that we should salute our bravehearts, bow to them. I assure you that the nation is in safe hands,” PM Modi told a gathering of ex-servicemen in Rajasthan’s Churu.

“There is nothing more important than this country,” Modi said, without making a direct reference to the overnight strikes by the Indian Air Force at terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed’s terror camp across the Line of Control. He didn’t have to.

“I won’t let this country down,” said Modi, recalling that he had pledged to protect the country’s best interests back when he came to office in 2014.

“In 2014 I had said and repeat it again… Saugandh mujhe is mitti ki, main desh nahin mitne dunga, main desh nahin rukne dunga, main desh nahin jhukne dunga (I vow that I will not let the nation be erased, I will not let the nation stop, I will not let the nation bow down),” said Modi.

The swift and precise air strike that destroyed Jaish-e-Mohammed’s camp has been welcomed across the political spectrum. Congress president Rahul Gandhi was among the first to tweet: “I salute the pilots of the IAF.”

Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee described the IAF as “India’s Amazing Fighters”.

In the Delhi Assembly, the soldiers received a standing ovation as soon as the lawmakers met today.

India has taken a series of steps to build pressure on Pakistan following Pulwama terror attack. India withdrew the most favoured nation (MFN) status given to Pakistan in 1996, hiked tariff by 200 per cent on imports from Pakistan and also decided to construct hydel projects to stop India’s share of water from flowing to Pakistan.

The prime minister said the government could take “bold decisions” because of “your one vote”. He said, “Your vote made a strong government in 2014. The entire world is today witnessing its power…Your one vote will give reply to those thinking of a weak government at the Centre and elect a stronger BJP government again.”

Tension between India and Pakistan has escalated in the aftermath of Pulwama attack. India blamed Pakistan for continued terror attacks in India. Pakistan denied having any hand behind the terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir.

At least 40 CRPF jawans were killed in the Pulwama terror attack earlier this month. The IAF strike on terror camp comes 12 days after the terror attack in the Kashmir Valley after a Jaish terrorist rammed an explosive-laden vehicle into a CRPF convoy on Jammu-Srinagar highway on February 14.

Opposition extends full support to govt

NEW DELHI, Feb 26: The central government on Tuesday briefed the opposition parties over pre-dawn strike by the Indian Air Force on terror camps deep across the Line of Control (LoC). Emerging from the meeting, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said the opposition parties extended “full support” to the government and security forces in the fight against terror.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj briefed the opposition leaders at the all-party meeting held at Jawaharlal Nehru Bhawan in New Delhi. The meeting was attended by Union ministers Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley and Vijay Goel, Congress leader Azad and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah among others.

“We have appreciated the efforts by the forces, they always have our support to end terrorism. Another good thing is that it was a clean operation in which no civilian died and terror camps were specifically targeted,” said Azad.

Swaraj said, “I am happy that all parties in one voice praised the security forces and supported the government’s anti-terror operations.”

Swaraj briefed the opposition leader about her telephonic conversation with US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo over the Indian air strikes on JeM terror camps in Balakot.

In the last all-party meeting also, convened in the wake of Pulwama terror attack, the opposition parties had said they backed the government calling upon to take all necessary action in the aftermath of the terror attack killing at least 40 CRPF soldiers.

Earlier in the day, when reports of IAF operation broke, several opposition leaders including Congress president Rahul Gandhi praised the air force for the strike on terror camps. Gandhi wrote on Twitter” “I salute the pilots of the IAF.”

“Congratulations to our brave air force for a brilliant operation across the LOC,” said former BJP leader Yashwant Sinha. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, Karnataka CM HD Kumaraswamy, Madhya Pradesh CM Kamal Nath, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor and RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav are among the opposition leaders, who extended support to the armed forces.

India withdrew the most favoured nation status granted to Pakistan in 1996. It also increased tariff on imports from Pakistan by 200 per cent. It also decided to stop India’s quota of water from flowing to Pakistan. IAF attack is being viewed as the latest in the series.

100 companies of paramilitary forces moved to Srinagar amid massive crackdown

SRINAGAR, Feb 23: The Centre airlifted an additional hundred companies of paramilitary forces to Srinagar to boost security build up after police detained JKLF chief Yasin Malik Friday night and arrested dozens of Jamaat-e-Islami workers in the Valley.

There has been a considerable build-up of security forces across Jammu and Kashmir after the February 14 terror attack in Pulwama which killed 40 CRPF troopers.

About two dozen people associated with the Jamaat-e-Islami were also arrested from central, north and south Kashmir as part of a crackdown after the terror attack on a CRPF convoy that killed 40 troopers in Pulwama on February 14.

Police have so far not commented on the detentions.

The Jamaat-e-Islami termed the move a “well-designed conspiracy to pave way for further uncertainty in the region”.

“During the intervening night of 22-23 February, 2019 police and other forces agencies launched mass arrest drive and raided many houses in the Valley wherein dozens of its central and district level leaders have been arrested,” it said in a statement.

Those detained included its chief (Ameer Jama’at) Dr Abdul Hamid Fayaz, Advocate Zahid Ali (spokesperson), Ghulam Qadir Lone (former secretary general) and dozens more, it said.

Former chief minister and Peoples’ Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti criticised the arrests saying, “You can imprison a person but not his ideas.”

Police and paramilitary forces have been put on high alert but there was no confirmation about any more detentions.

Earlier this week, the government withdrew the security cover of separatist leaders in Kashmir.

JLKF chief Yasin Malik, Jamaat leaders detained

SRINAGAR, Feb 23: Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front chief Yasin Malik was detained in Srinagar Friday night, ahead of the hearing on Article 35A in Supreme Court which is likely to take place on Monday.

Malik who is also part of the Joint Resistance leadership (JRL) was detained in a police station.

On February 11, the Jammu and Kashmir government had sought adjournment of hearing on the contentious Article 35 A case in the Supreme Court.

About two dozen people associated with the Jamaat-e-Islami were also arrested from central, north and south Kashmir as part of a crackdown after the terror attack on a CRPF convoy that killed 40 troopers in Pulwama on February 14.

Police have so far not commented on the detentions.

The Jamaat-e-Islami termed the move a “well-designed conspiracy to pave way for further uncertainty in the region”.

“During the intervening night of 22-23 February, 2019 police and other forces agencies launched mass arrest drive and raided many houses in the Valley wherein dozens of its central and district level leaders have been arrested,” it said in a statement.

Those detained included its chief (Ameer Jama’at) Dr Abdul Hamid Fayaz, Advocate Zahid Ali (spokesperson), Ghulam Qadir Lone (former secretary general) and dozens more, it said.

Police and paramilitary forces have been put on high alert but there was no confirmation about any more detentions.

Earlier this week, the government withdrew the security cover of separatist leaders in Kashmir.

69 Tea Garden Workers Dead After Consuming Spurious Liquor in Assam

GUWAHATI, Feb 23: Sixty nine tea garden workers died after consuming spurious liquor in Assam, with 39 deaths reported from Golaghat district alone. Several others have been admitted in a critical condition at the Jorhat Medical College Hospital and at the Golaghat civil hospital. The deaths come less than two weeks after more than 100 people died after drinking bootleg alcohol in northern India.

At least seven women were among the dead at the plantation, 310 km from the state's capital Guwahati.

According to locals, the workers at Salmara tea garden had consumed the liquor on Thursday evening and four women died soon after. In the next 12 hours, eight more deaths were reported. The toll has now touched 69.

Police have arrested the owners of the illegal country-made liquor factory in Jugibaari area near the garden. The accused have been identified as Indukalpa Bordoloi and Deba Bora. Police are on the lookout for more persons involved in bootlegging spurious liquor.

“We have already arrested two, and are looking for more accused,” said Deputy Superintendent of Police, Partha Pratim Saikia.

Locals said a glass of illicit liquor is sold for Rs 10 to Rs 20 in the area. The liquor vendor, Sanju Orang and his mother Draupadi Orang, died after consuming the tainted alcohol.

Assam Excise Minister Parimal Suklabaidya has ordered a probe into the incident. Two excise officials of Salmara area have been suspended for neglect.

“We will investigate the incident. The guilty won’t be spared,” said Golaghat Deputy Commissioner, Dhiren Hazarika while speaking to News 18 Assam Northeast.

Meanwhile, local resident, Prabin Das, who heads a committee demanding prohibition of liquor was allegedly attacked by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) activists in Golaghat when he blamed the state excise department for its failure in checking the manufacture of spurious liquor.

“It all happens because of a nexus between the excise department and illicit liquor manufacturers,” said Das.

On the other hand, opposition Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) president has demanded adequate compensation for the families of the victims.

Supreme Court issues notice to Centre, 11 states; orders them to ensure safety of Kashmiris

NEW DELHI, Feb 22: The Supreme Court on Friday issued a notice to the central government and 11 states, seeking their response on a plea for its intervention to prevent the alleged attacks on Kashmiri students after last week’s terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama.

The notice has been issued to Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Meghalaya, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR).

The court said the Union home ministry will issue advisories to all the state governments to ensure the protection of Kashmiris in their respective states. It asked the chiefs of the state police to ensure the safety of Kashmiris.

Incidents of assaults and harassment of Kashmiris have been reported from various parts of the country after a 22-year-old Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist rammed his car packed with explosives into a CRPF convoy killing 40 personnel on February 14.

Several Kashmiri students have been arrested and suspended from their colleges for alleged “anti-national” activities across India. Some have even alleged they were harassed and asked by their landlords to vacate accommodations, fearing attacks on their properties after the strike in Pulwama.

Will kill anyone who picks up gun in Kashmir Valley: Army

NEW DELHI, Feb 19: The Indian army has categorically stated that anyone who takes up the gun in the Kashmir Valley will be “killed and eliminated”, unless they surrender.

This statement was made by Chinar Corps commander Lt Gen KS Dhillon at a press conference a day after a 17-hour-long encounter in which 3 Jaish-e-Mohammad leaders were killed. A major and three soldiers were also killed in the encounter.

The encounter took place barely 100 hours after the car bombing of a CRPF convoy on February 14 at Lethpora in Pulwama. Forty CRPF jawans were killed in the suicide bombing.

Addressing the press conference, Lt Gen KS Dhillon said, “Our focus is clear on counter-terrorism operations. We are very clear that anyone who enters Kashmir Valley will not go back alive.”

He followed this up with a request to all the mothers in the Kashmir valley and also a warning that anyone who picks up the gun would be eliminated.

“Anyone who has picked up a gun will be killed and eliminated, unless he surrenders. I request all the mothers in the Valley to ensure that their sons don’t take up the gun,” he said.

“In a Kashmiri society, mother has a great role to play. Through you, I would request the mothers of Kashmir to please request their sons who have joined terrorism to surrender and get back to the mainstream. Anyone who has picked up the gun will be killed and eliminated, unless he surrenders,” Lt Gen Dhillon reiterated.

Lt Gen Dhillon’s statement comes especially after the identification of the man who had attacked the CRPF convoy.

Hours after the convoy was attacked, Jaish-e-Mohammad had claimed responsibility for the attack and had identified the suicide bomber as Adil Ahmad Dar, a 22-year-old local who lived barely 10 kilometres from the attack site.

Shiv Sena, BJP seal deal for 2019 poll pact

NEW DELHI, Feb 18: Allies BJP and Shiv Sena, often seen taking potshots at each other, finalised a seat-sharing pact for 2019 Lok Sabha elections on Monday. The deal was reached after BJP president Amit Shah met Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray at his residence in Mumbai.

The BJP will contest 25 of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra while Shiv Sena will fight on the remaining 23.

“Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal are among our oldest allies. We had some differences but they are a thing of the past now. Our alliance will win at least 45 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra,” said BJP chief Amit Shah.

Uddhav Thackeray said the Shiv Sena and the BJP are old allies. “People have seen the Shiv Sena and the BJP for the past 30 years. For 25 years, we stood united, there was confusion for five years. But like Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said, I still provided guidance to government from time to time,” Thackeray was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the pact saying the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance will continue working for the well-being of Maharashtra.

The Sena-BJP alliance fell apart in the assembly elections held in 2014, after the BJP refused to accept the Sena as the senior partner in the state. They fought separately and the BJP fielded candidates in 260 out of 288 assembly seats; the Sena contested 282 seats. The former won 122 and the latter 63.

They came together after the election to form the government in Maharashtra, but the relationship has remained strained.

The parties contested separately in the subsequent local body elections and the BJP dominated the local polls, winning 15 out of the 27 big city corporations in the state. The Sena retained control of Mumbai but managed to win just two more seats than the BJP in the city.

The assembly election is supposed to be held six months after the Lok Sabha polls this summer.

Shiv Sena, the ruling party’s cantankerous ally, had hinted to the BJP that it expects at least half the Lok Sabha and assembly seats in the state if the partnership between the two is to continue, leaders familiar with informal negotiations between the two parties said. The Sena had also told the BJP about its preference for simultaneous polls.

The Sena had announced in January that it would go solo in the next Lok Sabha and state elections and has since then built pressure on the BJP on issues such as the Ram temple and demonetisation.

30 Karol Bagh hotels to be shut over fire safety

NEW DELHI, Feb 16: The Delhi government on Friday suspended the fire certificates of 30 hotels in Karol Bagh for lacking adequate safety mechanisms, effectively shutting them down for at least 15 days, in the wake of a major fire at Aprit Palace hotel in the locality in which 17 people were killed.

The action, initiated by state home minister Satyendar Jain, will further strengthen the Delhi Fire Service Rules, 2010, by amending it to make the violations more explicit and the regulations more stringent, according to Jain, who added that the drive would be conducted across Delhi.

The North Delhi Municipal Corporation (North MCD), which approves building plans and issues health trade licenses to such hotels in the area, blamed the Delhi Fire Service (DFS) on Friday for issuing no-objection certificates (NOCs) to the Arpit Palace hotel even though it did not meet fire-safety norms. The DFS, on the other hand, blamed the corporation, which renews licenses annually, for not checking violations inside the hotel premises.

While the Delhi government is calling these buildings “hotels”, on paper they are termed “guest houses” because Karol Bagh, like the city’s Walled City area, enjoys a special status under the National Capital Territory of Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Act. No hotels can come up in the area, and only guest houses are allowed.

Jain said on Friday said that DFS, after conducting inspections in 45 hotels in the area over the past two days, has suspended fire NOCs of 30 buildings for 15 days, during which the owners will have to rectify the lapses and submit a compliance report. The NOC will be cancelled if the mandated checks are not found in place once the grace period ends.

“On 13 February, 23 hotels were inspected by the fire department. Of these, 13 were found violating fire safety norms. Next day, 17 hotels out of 22 were found to have violated rules. We have written to the North Delhi Municipal Corporation and the police to take steps to seal them. But, technically, these hotels are deemed shut as they cannot operate without a fire NOC,” the minister said.

The hotels that will be shut are small, budget hotels that cater to backpacking tourists.

North MCD commissioner Varsha Joshi said the civic agency is yet to receive a letter from DFS. “Yes, if we get a letter from DFS stating that fire NOCs have been cancelled, the MCD will have to cancel the kitchen license in all these buildings as per the rules,” she said.

Karol Bagh’s hotel and restaurant association criticised the move, calling it a “knee-jerk reaction”, and said they seek an appointment with chief minister Arvind Kejriwal or lieutenant-governor Anil Baijal to put their point across.

“Why have the authorities woken up only after this fire incident? First, the DFS suspended NOCs and then they sent the same info to the police. Today, from 7pm onwards, the licensing office’s teams have been asking owners to turn away even existing customers and not accept any new booking,” said Balan Mani, vice-president of the Delhi Hotel and Restaurant Association.

DFS chief GC Mishra said that the department was considering the “suggestions” given by the minister to amend the rules. “Currently, the fire rules do not lay down anything about materials that cannot be used in buildings or the adequate width of passages. The amendments would include making carbon monoxide detectors mandatory in hotels, standardising dimensions of ventilation, passageways, doors, gates and so on,” he said.

The DFS report on the Arpit Palace stated that the fire inside the hotel was so intense and the temperature so high that the firefighting team had to use artificial breathing equipment to move along the passageways of the hotel.

“The spread of fire was vertical and horizontal due to the presence of wooden/foam panelling and false sealing in staircases and corridors. Considerable amount of combustible material was also present near the rear staircase, which added as fuel to the fire,” the report had said.

“Due to these materials, flames and dense poisonous smoke spread very fast in entire building including common areas and exits. These flames and smoke blocked he means of escape,” it added.

What was NSA, intelligence doing, asks West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee on Pulwama terror attack

HOWRAH, Feb 16: West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday hit out at the intelligence department as she expressed her grief over the demise of 40 CRPF personnel in Pulwama terror attack on Thursday.

Addressing the media, she said: “People are asking what was NSA and intelligence doing? This is an intelligence failure. Why were so many vans going together when there is a security threat?”

Banerjee condemned the attack and asserted that if Pakistan is involved in it then strong action should be taken against it.

“We condemn any terror attack. I don’t want to discuss foreign affairs. But if Pakistan has done something, strong action should be taken,” she added.

Elaborating upon the measures taken by her government to help the families of the deceased security personnel she stated, “I spoke to one of the two family members of the deceased personnel and also sent my ministers to their house. We will give them necessary support for employment.”

Around 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed after a suicide bomber attacked a CRPF convoy in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district with a vehicle laden with explosives.

44 CRPF jawans killed in worst terror attack in Kashmir, India slams Pakistan

Feb 14: A suicide bomber driving a car packed with explosives rammed a bus carrying Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troops, part of a large paramilitary convoy, on the Jammu-Srinagar highway on Thursday, was feared to have killed at least 44 men while reducing the vehicle to a mangled heap of metal, in the deadliest terror attack in three decades of insurgency — one, which many experts said, would evoke a strong response from India.

At least 20 more were injured in the attack in the Awantipora area of Pulwama district. Terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad, which Indian authorities say is backed by Pakistan, claimed responsibility for the attack that took place in Lethpora, about 30 km from Srinagar. While the police put the official death toll at 33, security officials in Srinagar and New Delhi said at least 44 people had died.

Jaish said the suicide bombing was carried out by a local militant whom it identified as Adil Ahmad Dar of Pulwama. He joined the Jaish in 2018, unnamed officials said. The Jaish claimed in a statement that the vehicle was carrying 350 kg of explosives, which Indian authorities did not confirm.

“Attack on CRPF personnel in Pulwama is despicable. I strongly condemn this dastardly attack,” PM Narendra Modi said in a statement as political parties denounced the attack in unison. “Sacrifices of our brave security personnel shall not go in vain. The entire nation stands shoulder to shoulder with the families of the brave martyrs. May the injured recover quickly.”

Congress president Rahul Gandhi wrote on Twitter: “I’m deeply disturbed by the cowardly attack on a #CRPF convoy in J&K in which many of our brave CRPF men have been martyred and a large number wounded, some critically.” In a tweet, party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala charged the Modi government with compromising national security and said terror attacks had taken place unabated under it.

The attack may ratchet up tensions between India and Pakistan. Jammu and Kashmir governor Satya Pal Malik said the fact that Jaish owned up to carrying out the attack indicated that Pakistan may have had a hand in it. Minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office, Jitender Singh, told television channels that the attack had led to a “war- like” situation.

“This is a bigger attack than Uri. Unlike the Uri attack, a Pakistan-based terror group has claimed responsibility There will be much more pressure on Pakistan, but my hunch is, because a Pakistan-based group has claimed responsibility, New Delhi too, will have to act. The form and shape of the retaliation will be the government’s prerogative,” said General DS Hooda, former Northern Army commander.

The ministry of external affairs, while condemning the “heinous and despicable act perpetrated by Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistan-based and supported terrorist organisation proscribed by the United Nations and other countries” called for its chief Masood Azhar to be listed as a designated terrorist under the sanctions committee of the UN Security Council.

The security establishments at the Centre and in the state, which is under federal rule, were huddled in meetings to take stock of the situation following the attack that precedes general elections, likely to be held simultaneously with state elections, in the spring of 2019. National security adviser Ajit Doval was monitoring the situation and senior CRPF officials were briefing him.

The Cabinet committee on security affairs, chaired by the Prime Minister, is to meet on Friday to decide on and articulate India’s response. Home minister Rajnath Singh will be visiting Srinagar on Friday to assess the situation.

Thursday’s attack was the deadliest since insurgency broke out in Jammu and Kashmir in 1989. In the previous worst terror strike, 38 people were killed in a car bomb attack in Srinagar near the legislative assembly in October 2001.

In September 2016, four terrorists attacked an Indian Army brigade headquarters in Uri, near the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan, killing 19 army personnel.That attack was the spark for a retaliatory surgical strike on terrorist camps across the LoC by Indian forces just days later.

Near the town of Kaluchak in 2002, three militants attacked a tourist bus from Himachal Pradesh and killed seven people after which they raided the nearby army family quarters and shot 23 people to death — 10 children, eight women and five soldiers.

According to some accounts, in Thursday’s attack, the driver of the car positioned himself in the opposite direction on a lane next to the one on which the CRPF convoy was travelling on, and swerved and rammed the CRPF bus when he noticed the unarmoured vehicle.

CRPF’s inspector general (operations) Zulfiqar Hassan said the Jammu and Kashmir police had taken over the investigation of the terror attack “There were around 78 vehicles in the convoy and one of the vehicles came under attack. The convoy was on its way from Jammu to Srinagar,” he said.

The CRPF convoy of around 2,500 troopers left the Channi Rama transit camp in Jammu around 3:30am and was headed to the Bakshi Stadium camp in Srinagar when the vehicle was attacked, said Jammu-based CRPF spokesman Ashish Kumar Jha. From Bakshi Stadium, they were to have travelled to their respective camps.

Over the past week, no CRPF envoy had been able to travel on the highway because it had been blocked by snow, Jha said. “Therefore, the number of the CRPF jawans [in the convoy] swelled. The incident happened around 3.15pm,” he said.

When asked if there had been a security lapse, he said, “A thorough probe will be conducted but such a large convoy is visible from a distance itself. CRPF jawans belonged to different battalions. Points of halt and resuming journey of such convoys are always fixed”.

“The U.S. Mission in India strongly condemns today’s terrorist attack in Jammu & Kashmir. We send our heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims. The United States stands alongside India in confronting terror and defeating it,” the US ambassador to India Ken Juster tweeted.

The French government also “condemned in the strongest terms the vile attack” that struck India. Sri Lanka and Maldives, too, expressed support after Thursday’s attack.

In a message, Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina said: “Bangladesh remains steadfast in its commitment against terrorism of all forms and manifestations and maintains a zero tolerance policy against any kind of terrorist activities.”

Home minister Rajnath Singh said: “Today’s dastardly attack on CRPF in Pulwama is extremely painful and disturbing. I bow to each and every CRPF jawan who has sacrificed his life in service to the nation. I pray for the speedy recovery of the injured.”

His colleague Arun Jaitley tweeted: “Terrorists will be given an unforgettable lesson for their heinous act.”

Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s sister , Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who joined active politics last month,said in Lucknow: “We demand that this government take concrete steps to ensure such terror attacks don’t happen in the future.”

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said the attack was reminiscent of pre-2004 days in the Valley. “Jaish has claimed the blast as a suicide [fidaeen] attack reminiscent of the dark days of militancy pre-2004-05,” Abdullah wrote on Twitter, adding, “I condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms. My prayers for the injured & condolences to the families of the bereaved.”

Peoples Democratic Party?chief and former J&K?chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said: “No words are enough to condemn the gruesome terror attack. How many more lives will be snuffed out before this madness ends?”

‘Despicable act’, says India, asks UN to brand JeM’s Masood Azhar a terrorist

NEW DELHI, Feb 14: The government has strongly condemned the attack on security forces in Kashmir’s Pulwama that left 43 CRPF jawans dead and many others injured, demanding that Pakistan stop supporting terrorists and terror groups operating from their territory.

The statement, issued by the Ministry of External Affairs late on Thursday evening, also called for terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed’s leader Masood Azhar to be branded as a ‘designated terrorist’ by the UN under its provisions.

The statement says, “The Government of India condemns in the strongest possible terms the cowardly terrorist attack on our brave security forces in Pulwama, Jammu & Kashmir earlier today.”

The statement also says, “This heinous and despicable act has been perpetrated by Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistan-based and supported terrorist organisation proscribed by the United Nations and other countries. This terror group is led by the international terrorist Masood Azhar, who has been given full freedom by Government of Pakistan to operate and expand his terror infrastructure in territories under the control of Pakistan and to carry out attacks in India and elsewhere with impunity.”

Stating that the government of India is “equally resolved to fight against the menace of terorrism”, the statement says, “We demand that Pakistan stop supporting terrorists and terror groups operating from their territory and dismantle the infrastructure operated by terrorist outfits to launch attacks in other countries.”

It also goes on to say, “We strongly reiterate our appeal to all members of the international community to support the proposal to list terrorists, including JeM Chief Masood Azhar, as a designated terrorist under the 1267 Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council and to ban terrorist organisations operating from territories controlled by Pakistan.”

India wants United States to address concerns over talks with Taliban

NEW DELHI, Feb 14: India has conveyed to the US that its concerns regarding the talks with the Afghan Taliban must be addressed, people familiar with developments said on Thursday as reports emerged of Taliban negotiators’ plans to meet American and Pakistani officials in Islamabad next week.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Wednesday the group’s negotiators will meet Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and US officials in Islamabad on February 18 during a visit at the invitation of the Pakistan government.

The US special representative for Afghan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, is expected to be in Islamabad next week as part of a six-nation tour that includes Qatar and Afghanistan. The meetings in Islamabad will be held ahead of the next round of US-Taliban talks in Doha on February 25, Mujahid said.

“We have conveyed our position to the US. Our concerns have to be addressed,” said an official on condition of anonymity. During a regular news briefing, external affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said India is closely following developments related to reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan involving different stakeholders, and is also “in very regular contact with all other players, including Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia”.

“Last week, our ambassador in the US had a meeting with Mr Khalilzad, where he was briefed on the US efforts in the region and we did agree that we will continue to maintain close contact with each other...” he said.

India has conveyed to the US that its concerns regarding the talks with the Afghan Taliban must be addressed, people familiar with developments said on Thursday as reports emerged of Taliban negotiators’ plans to meet American and Pakistani officials in Islamabad next week.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Wednesday the group’s negotiators will meet Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and US officials in Islamabad on February 18 during a visit at the invitation of the Pakistan government.

The US special representative for Afghan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, is expected to be in Islamabad next week as part of a six-nation tour that includes Qatar and Afghanistan. The meetings in Islamabad will be held ahead of the next round of US-Taliban talks in Doha on February 25, Mujahid said.

“We have conveyed our position to the US. Our concerns have to be addressed,” said an official on condition of anonymity. During a regular news briefing, external affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said India is closely following developments related to reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan involving different stakeholders, and is also “in very regular contact with all other players, including Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia”.

“Last week, our ambassador in the US had a meeting with Mr Khalilzad, where he was briefed on the US efforts in the region and we did agree that we will continue to maintain close contact with each other...” he said.

17 die in fire at Delhi’s hotel fire

NEW DELHI, Feb 12: At least 17 people, including a child and a woman, were killed in a massive fire at a hotel in Delhi’s congested Karol Bagh area on Tuesday as authorities blamed building owners of flouting construction regulations.

The latest incident prompted the Delhi government to order a probe into the fire reported early in the morning when most guests were sleeping. Delhi minister Satyendar Jain said “strict action” will be taken against those found guilty of negligence after the fire swept through Hotel Arpit Palace. He made the comments after visiting the accident site.

“Seventeen people have died and two others have been injured. Most of the people died due to suffocation. Strict action will be taken against those found guilty of negligence. The district magistrate has ordered inquiry,” Jain, who holds multiple portfolios including home, industries and urban development, said.

The hotel has a basement, a ground floor and four other floors and the fire was reported on third and fourth floors but the blaze spiralled down as well. The basement and ground floors, however, were not affected.

“There has been visible violations of building bye laws. The building has six storeys, including one temporary floor instead of permissible four floors. I have ordered fire inspection of buildings in the area,” Jain said.

Most damages were reported between the second and the fourth floor. The fire has been controlled and the cooling process is underway.

Reports said a woman and a child were among the dead, who tried to escape by jumping from a window of the six-story hotel located in the busy shopping area of the Capital.

Fire officer Vipin Kental said the two people had jumped off the Hotel Arpit Palace on Gurudwara Road out of panic when the fire broke out.

“There was wood panelling on the corridor because of which people couldn’t use the corridors to get out. The two jumped off the building,” Kental said.

Delhi Fire Service officials said they received a call at 4:35am about the fire at Hotel Arpit Palace on Gurudwara Road of Karol Bagh area.

At least 35 people were rescued from the hotel located in the popular shopping district of the national capital, news agency Reuters reported quoting fire brigade official Virendra Singh.

According to deputy chief fire officer Sunil Choudhary, 26 fire tenders were rushed to the spot.

Authorities have launched raids to enforce building regulations, fire safety measures and evacuation procedures but these steps have failed to check rampant violations by builders in a rapidly expanding Capital, the home to more than 18 million people.

However, Delhi Hotel Association vice-president Balan Mani all rules and regulations were followed in the hotel.

“It was due to a fire in ducting because of which it spread to the hotel rooms. All norms were followed here. A license is issued only after inspection. Mishaps can occur in a house as well,” Mani said.

Last week, a fire broke out in a hospital in Noida, forcing an emergency evacuation of scores of patients and other people. Nobody was injured.

Four people were killed in November last year in a factory fire in Beadonpura area in Karol Bagh after a solvent used for laundering clothes spilt out on the floor accidentally.

PM Modi acted like a spy, says Rahul Gandhi in new Rafale attack

NEW DELHI, Feb 12: Congress president Rahul Gandhi launched yet another scathing attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Rafale deal case on Tuesday alleging that the irregularities happened on three fronts of “compromising national security, procedural lapses and corruption” in the multi-billion defence contract with France. Gandhi demanded probe in the Rafale deal challenging PM Modi to “an investigation if you have not done anything wrong.”

“His chief negotiator was sitting in the French denfence minister’s office and telling them that draft of the contract was being prepared,” said Gandhi citing an email to up his ante against PM Modi. Earlier, a media report claimed that industrialist Anil Ambani held a meeting with French defence ministry officials a fortnight ahead of the announcement of new Rafale deal during PM Modi’s visit to France in 2015.

Stepping up the attack on the prime minister, Gandhi said, “This is now treason. Mr Narendra Modi is doing what spies do. He is informing somebody of a defence matter. He is under oath to protect these secrets.”

He alleged that it is now in “black and white” that the prime minister shared defence secrets with a “private person” in order to benefit him.

Responding to the charge by Gandhi, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad accused the Congress president of “working as a lobbyist” for a competitive defence supplier. “Rahul Gandhi is working as a lobbyist for competitive aircraft supplier companies,” news agency ANI quoted Prasad as saying,

The Union minister further said, “Rahul Gandhi has quoted an email from airbus. It is about the helicopter not Rafale… From where did he get the email of Airbus? Airbus itself is under clouds for deals during UPA regime.”

Gandhi said, “Prime Minister compromised national security. He has given defence secrets to a private person. The second irregularity was procedural lapses, where he bypassed the defence ministry. And, the third issue is of corruption.”

“Narendra Modi ji is acting as the middleman of Anil Ambani,” said Gandhi showing a copy of the email. “This email is clear. An Airbus executive wrote that Mr Anil Ambani met the French Defence Minister and told him 10 days before the Rafale deal was signed that he was going to get it,” Gandhi said.

“Now the prime minister needs to answer how did Anil Ambani know 10 days in advance of the Rafale deal? Defence Minister, HAL, Foreign Secretary didn’t know but Anil Ambani knew about it. If this is true then the prime minister is in violation of the Official Secrets Act. A criminal action must be initiated on this basis,” the Congress president said.

“Action will be taken and no one will be spared (if the Congress is voted to power in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections),” Gandhi said at a press conference in New Delhi.

Prasad dismissed the allegations levelled by Gandhi as “irresponsible” statements. “What Rahul Gandhi said in a press conference is irresponsible. He called the prime minister a traitor, but we don’t expect anything else from a jhoot ki machine,” ANI quoted Prasad as saying.

Gandhi also dismissed the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report on the Rafale deal which is expected to be tabled in Parliament soon. He said, “The CAG report is a worthless report. I would term it as a ‘Chowkidar Auditor General Report’. It is Narendra Modi’s report, written for the Chowkidar, on behalf of the Chowkidar, for the Chowkidar by the Chowkidar.”

The Congress had earlier questioned the CAG report on Rafale deal citing “conflict of interest”. The party said Rajiv Mehrishi, the current CAG of India, was part of the decision making process for the Rafale deal. Mehrishi was the finance secretary when the Rafale deal was signed.

The BJP retorted to the charge accusing the Congress of attacking the institution of the CAG. At his media briefing, Gandhi defended his party’s stand saying, “We are not questioning the institution. But the gentleman who is preparing CAG report was part of this decision making process.”

Gandhi also said the Supreme Court ruling on Rafale deal process in December last year has come under “question” in the light of new evidence. He alleged that the government “did not give all the information” to the apex court. “The Supreme Court judgment is open to question now,” he said.

Hearing a bunch of public interest litigations (PILs) seeking probe into the Rafale deal, the Supreme Court had sought the details pertaining to the decision making process and examined the documents submitted to it by the government. In its ruling the Supreme Court said the due process was followed and ruled out any commercial favouritism.

However, the opposition parties mounted attack on the government over a reference to the CAG report on Rafale deal in the Supreme Court judgment. Congress leader in the Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge contended that the CAG report was not yet ready and not tabled in Parliament. The government subsequently moved for a correction in the apex court ruling blaming the “factual error” on “misinterpretation” in the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence has said the email referred to by Gandhi in his latest charge against the Modi government over Rafale deal has “no connection” with the inter-governmental agreement between India and France for the purchase of 36 fighter jets from the French company Dassault Aviation.

Reliance Defence Spokesperson said, “The purported email being referred to by the Congress party is regarding the discussion between Airbus and Reliance Defence, pertinent to Civil and Defence Helicopter Programs under the ‘Make in India’ program. Discussions on the proposed MoU were clearly held with reference to cooperation between Airbus Helicopter and Reliance. It had NO connection whatsoever with the Government-to-Government Agreement between France and India for 36 Rafale aircraft.”

“Also, for the record, the MoU for Rafale aircraft was signed between France and India on 25 January 2016, and not in April 2015,” the spokesperson said adding, “From the above, it is evident that the facts are being deliberately twisted and reality being ignored.”

Congress part of alliance, says Akhilesh Yadav; sparks buzz about nuanced shift

LUCKNOW, Feb 12: Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav has said the Congress is part of the opposition alliance that his party has stitched in Uttar Pradesh against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led coalition for the upcoming Lok Sabha election. He said two seats were given to the Congress in the alliance.

“The SP and BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) are in alliance. Other parties are also part of the alliance. These parties have been allocated seats in the alliance. The SP and the BSP have kept them (the Congress) in the alliance. They have been given two seats,” Akhilesh Yadav said at a press conference in Lucknow on Tuesday.

This is not the first time that Akhilesh Yadav has talked about alliance with the Congress for the Lok Sabha elections. On Monday, he had said the Congress was very much part of the alliance’s consideration. His remark came in the backdrop of a roadshow organised by the Congress on Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s first visit to the state after her appointment as the party general secretary in-charge of eastern UP. Priyanka Gandhi was accompanied during the roadshow by party president Rahul Gandhi and Jyotiraditya Scindia, the other general secretary in-charge for Uttar Pradesh,

Akhilesh Yadav said, “The SP’s alliance is not only with the BSP but the Congress is also a part of it.” He went on to include the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), which he said, has been given three seats in the Lok Sabha polls, the Nishad Party and the Peace Party in the alliance. He said the alliance will have different seat sharing formulae for the Lok Sabha and the next UP assembly elections.

He, however, did not speak about the number of seats that the SP-BSP “gave” to the Congress as part of the alliance in the state. He emphasised “the sacrifice” made by both the SP and the BSP for the Lok Sabha polls. “The SP and BSP sacrificed 40 seats each in Uttar Pradesh,” Akhilesh Yadav said.

The Congress, on the other hand, has decided to go full throttle in Uttar Pradesh. Party president Rahul Gandhi said the Congress will contest all 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh indicating that the “part of the alliance” talk by Akhilesh Yadav was not a consideration for the grand old party.

Gandhi also set an ambitious target for the Congress party to form a government on its own in the next state assembly election. He had earlier said reviving the Congress party in the most populous state was a “task” that Priyanka Gandhi and Jyotiraditya Scindia have to accomplish.

Akhilesh Yadav and BSP chief Mayawati announced their electoral arrangement in January stating that the parties would contest 38 parliamentary seats each in the state. UP sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha. They had announced not to put up candidates at Amethi and Rae Bareli, the Lok Sabha constituencies represented by Rahul Gandhi and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi respectively.

At the time of announcing the SP-BSP alliance, Mayawati had criticised the Congress saying that the party is “no different” from the BJP. She said all sections of people are “unhappy” with both these parties.

Akhilesh Yadav, who had joined hands with Rahul Gandhi for the UP assembly election last year, had later said the Congress was kept out of the SP-BSP alliance due to “poll arithmetic” with the aim of defeating the BJP in the parliamentary polls.

Stopped at Lucknow airport by cops, Akhilesh Yadav pans UP’s ‘roko, thoko neeti’

LUCKNOW, Feb 12: Alleging that he was stopped from boarding a plane from Lucknow to Allahabad, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav lashed out at the Yogi Adityanath government on Tuesday. He said this government believes in “roko, thoko neeti” (policy of stop and encounter).

Yadav claimed that he was prevented from participating in a function at the Allahabad University, where he was scheduled to attend an event of the students’ union. In December last year, Samajwadi Party backed candidate Uday Yadav had won the union poll.

Yadav said that he had informed the Yogi government in December about his visit to Allahabad University. “We sent the first programme on December 27…A detailed programme was sent on February 2 so that so that the administration could make necessary arrangements in the view of the Kumbh,” Yadav said at a press conference in Lucknow.

“But this government believes in ‘roko, thoko neeti’. It stopped me from boarding the plane. This government is scared of students,” he said adding, “I was also invited by a seer at Kumbh over lunch but this government led by a yogi has problem with that also.”

“I was prevented from boarding the airplane without any written orders. Currently detained at Lucknow airport,” the former chief minister tweeted earlier.

“It is clear how frightened the govt is by the oath ceremony of a student leader. The BJP knows that the youth of our great country will not tolerate this injustice anymore!” Akhilesh posted.

Coming out in support of Akhilesh Yadav, BSP chief Mayawati slammed the BJP government asking if it is “so scared” of the her party’s alliance with the SP. She said, “Is BJP government so scared of SP-BSP alliance that they have started banning political events? They seem to be using Kumbh for political agenda. Not allowing Akhilesh Yadav to go to Prayagraj proves that.”

The SP and the BSP announced their alliance for the Lok Sabha elections in January. The two parties had joined hands last year to hand over an embarrassing defeat to the BJP in Lok Sabha bypolls after the party formed its government with huge majority in the state.

The Samajwadi Party leader also posted a series of photographs from the Lucknow airport showing an official standing at the stairs of the aircraft apparently blocking his path. Akhilesh Yadav was seen in another photo surrounded by a sea of people, including policemen.

Officials from the police and administration were already present when Akhilesh reached the airport to board the plane for Prayagraj. The moment Akhilesh stepped out the car, the officials made a ring around him.

“Do not touch me. Keep your hands off me,” he said.

Akhilesh said the officials did not have any written orders and failed to explain the reason behind their action.

I was stopped at the airport without any written order. The officials could not clear the issue despite being asked. The only motive behind stopping me from going to the students union programme was to suppress the socialist thoughts amongst the youth,” Akhilesh tweeted in Hindi.

Yogi Adityanath said that Akhilesh’s visit would have sparked a row in Prayagraj.

“Samajwadi Party should do away with its negative activities. At Prayagraj, Kumbh Mela is going on and Akhilesh’s visit could have created chaos there. Therefore, his visit was cancelled. The party is known for creating the ruckus,” he told newspersons in Lucknow.

Yogi Adityanath and the Bharatiya Janta Party slammed Akhilesh’s allegation that his government had stopped him from attending a swearing-in ceremony of the students union at Allahabad University. A leader of the Samajwadi Party Chatra Sabha, the student’s wing of the Samajwadi Party, holds the post of president of the university’s students’ union.

“Barely 10 days back Akhilesh Yadav had visited Kumbh and taken bath at Sangam. He has been detained to ensure that the situation remains peaceful as Kumbh is on in Prayagraj,” Adityanath said in Lucknow soon Akhilesh accused his government of vendetta.

“The Samajwadi Party should stop indulging in negative activities,” Adityanath said.

BJP leader Chandramohan said the party cadre had checked and exposed what he called “Yadav’s lie.” He said, “It is clear that the Samajwadi Party is frustrated. The BJP is going to resist such tactics.”

The Samajwadi Party also released the videos of Akhilesh Yadav’s detention at the airport. The Samajwadi Party workers, who were waiting for him at the Prayagraj airport, created a ruckus.

Samajwadi Party legislators also tried to raise the issue in the Uttar Pradesh assembly during Question Hour.

Anticipating law and order problem at the Allahabad University due to animosity between rival student groups, the university administration has not permitted any political programme to be held on campus and intimated them accordingly.

Accordingly, the administration in Prayagraj has informed the chief minister’s office and Lucknow’s district magistrate, said principal secretary (home) Arvind Kumar.

Is BJP so afraid of SP-BSP alliance, asks Mayawati after Akhilesh stopped at Lucknow airport

LUCKNOW, Feb 12: Hours after Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav claimed that he was stopped at Lucknow airport on Tuesday while on his way to Allahabad, BSP supremo Mayawati said it was extremely condemnable and asked whether the ruling BJP was afraid of their alliance because of which it is “resorting to anti-democratic methods”.

Mayawati described the episode as “an example of total dictatorship of BJP government”.

“This is very unfortunate and this undemocratic step will be fought at all levels,” she said.

“Is the BJP government at the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh so afraid of BSP-SP alliance that it is resorting to anti-democratic methods to curb our political activities,” she asked.

The SP and the BSP recently forged an alliance for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Akhilesh claimed he was stopped at Chaudhary Charan Singh International Airport in a bid to prevent him from visiting Allahabad to attend an oath-taking ceremony at Allahabad University.

“The government is afraid of oath ceremony of a student leader and is stopping me at the airport to prevent me from visiting Allahabad,” Yadav claimed.

He also posted photographs on his official Twitter handle in which he was seen talking to police officers inside the airport.

The matter rocked the Uttar Pradesh legislature.

CBI’s Nageswara Rao fined for SC contempt, to sit in corner of courtroom

NEW DELHI, Feb 12: M Nageswara Rao, the CBI’s ex-interim director who apologized to the Supreme Court for transferring a CBI officer AK Sharma probing the Bihar shelter home, committed contempt of court, a bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi ruled on Tuesday, rejecting the apology sent by two senior CBI officials.

The top court ordered Rao and the CBI legal adviser to pay Rs 1 lakh fine within a week and sentenced them till the rising of the court. This means, they have to sit in a corner of the Chief Justice’s court until the end of the court proceedings for the day.

As CBI’s interim chief earlier, Rao had signed off on the transfer orders of CBI AK Sharma who was supervising the investigation into the abuse of inmates at Bihar’s shelter homes. Chief Justice Gogoi said there were explicit orders by the top court not to move out officers leading the Bihar probe without its permission.

But the government transferred several officers last month, some of them out of the agency after cutting short their tenure in view of the clash between two top CBI officers, ex-CBI director Alok Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana. AK Sharma was one of them.

Last week, a bench of Chief Justice Gogoi and justices L Nageswara Rao and Sanjiv Khanna had asked Nageswara Rao to explain if he informed the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet that AK Sharma could not be transferred without the top court’s approval.

Nageswara Rao, staring at contempt of court punishment, had filed an affidavit in his response. He apologized profusely, insisting that he could not even dream of disobeying the court order.

Attorney General KK Venugopal asked the judges to accept his apology and let him off the hook.

But Chief Justice Gogoi would have none of it.

The judge, who looked at the files, pointed to the sequence of events and the file notings that pointed that Nageswara Rao, who was holding interim charge as CBI director, and the legal adviser did agree that they should take the Supreme Court into confidence before implementing the transfer.

But when the file eventually came to him again, the legal adviser opined that they could skip this step. And the interim CBI director played along.

“Would heavens have fallen” if the transfer order was issued a day later, the CJI asked the government’s top officer.

Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said that in his 20 years as a judge, he had not compromised on the dignity and honour of the court.

KK Venugopal told the judges that the former CBI interim chief did not “do it willfully and throws himself to the mercy of the court. “Holding him guilty of contempt would result in his career being ruined,” the government’s top law officer pleaded.

An angry CJI Gogoi said, “Mr Attorney General, let us be very clear. I don’t think any of us ever had the occasion to invoke a contempt power. But it has to be the first time. Speaking for myself, I believe dignity and majesty of court should be maintained and this is blatant.”

AK Sharma, a joint director in the CBI, was the senior-most supervising officer in the Bihar shelter home case and the court, in two orders dated October 31 and November 28, said he should not be transferred.

After his transfer, Sharma was appointed the additional director general in the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). Records placed before the court indicated that agency’s acting director of prosecution S Bhasuran had given an opinion favouring the transfer.

Bhasuran had also apologised to the top court.

A report by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) had highlighted that dozens of girls lodged at a government funded-shelter home in Muzaffarpur were allegedly being sexually assaulted.

What goes around comes around, says Robert Vadra before ED questioning

JAIPUR, Feb 12: Ahead of deposing in front of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Tuesday, Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s brother-in-law Robert Vadra wrote an emotional Facebook post expressing his firm belief in God which will help him tide over tough times ahead.

Vadra, along with his 75-year-old mother, Maureen Vadra, was in Jaipur to depose in front of the Enforcement Directorate.

“Not understanding the lows of this vindictive government to be harassing a senior citizen,” Vadra said, describing how his mother had lost her daughter in a car crash, her ailing son to diabetes, and her husband as well.

“Three deaths and all I did was to ask her to spend time with me in my office, so I could look after her and we both could grieve on our losses,” the 50-year-old businessman said, adding that now his mother was paying the price of “spending time in my office” by “being accused, maligned and called to be interrogated”.

Vadra was earlier interrogated for three days in the ED headquarters in Delhi for over 24 hours in a separate money laundering case on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.

“If there was any issue or any illegality, which was found by the government, why did it take them four years and eight months to call me a month before campaigning begins for the general elections,” said the husband of Priyanka Gandhi, who was launched as the Congress General secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh east just days back.

“Do they think people in India do not view it as an election gimmick?!” said Vadra, whose wife accompanied him to the Jaipur ED office earlier in the day before leaving for Uttar Pradesh to meet party workers, after a roadshow in Lucknow on Monday.

Vadra said: “I always have adhered to rules and overall being a disciplined person, I have the ability to sustain any amount of hours of questioning and having nothing to hide, I will answer every question with respect n dignity.

“This too shall pass and will make me stronger.”

He ended his post with: “What goes around comes around. God is with us.”

At Priyanka Gandhi’s mammoth road show, Rahul says time to win UP back

LUCKNOW, Feb 11: Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Monday underlined his party’s ambitions in Uttar Pradesh saying the party cannot afford to be weak in the state.

‘Congress started in UP and it cannot stay weak here. Priyanka Gandhi and Jyotiarditya Scindia will make Congress strong in UP again,’ Rahul said at headquarters in UP unit of the Congress in Lucknow at the end of a mammoth road show that his sister Priyanka launched in her first visit to the state since her appointment as general secretary in charge of eastern U.P.

While the roadshow marked Priyanka’s formal entry into active politics, Rahul set his sight beyond the upcoming general elections to regain power in U.P.

The Congress president reiterated that the party will fight the elections on its own in India’s most populous state which sends 80 lawmakers to the Lok Sabha. The Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party which announced an alliance last month, left the Congress put of it but said they would not contest from Rae Bareilly and Amethi - the Lok Sabha seats of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.

‘I respect Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, but Congress will fight with all its might in Uttar Pradesh,’ Rahul said.

The Congress won two Lok Sabha seats in U.P. in 2014.

Rahul Gandhi also brought up the Rafale aircraft deal to attack Prime Minister Narendra Modi, accusing him once again of manipulating the contract to benefit Anil Ambani.

“In every defence deal there is a clause against corruption. Narendra Modi scrapped the corruption clause to benefit Anil Ambani,” he said.

He also accused the Prime Minister of ignoring farmers and favouring industrialists.

“Modi’s empty slogans are there before the people to see Chowkidar waived Rs 3.5 lakh crore of loans for industrialists but not farmers.”

The Congress has consistently attacked the Modi government for not addressing farm distress in the country and the issue was one of the main election planks for the grand old party in the recent assembly elections in five states.

Congress, BJP battle it out in Uttar Pradesh

LUCKNOW, Feb 11: The Congress will play “on the front foot” for the Lok Sabha elections and fight to form Uttar Pradesh’s next government, the party’s president Rahul Gandhi said on Monday during a roadshow in Lucknow that drew thousands of people and marked the political debut of his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.

The two siblings and Congress general secretary incharge for western Uttar Pradesh Jyotiraditya Scindia travelled for six hours on the top of a vehicle after arriving at the airport in Lucknow, crossing roughly 15 km through streets flooded by excited supporters and lined with posters welcoming Priyanka Gandhi.

“I have told both of them [Priyanka Gandhi and Scindia] that the Congress began from UP, and it cannot be weak here. The two have to strengthen the party here to first perform well in Lok Sabha elections and then form the government in UP after 2022 assembly elections,” Rahul Gandhi said at what has been billed as the party’s biggest event yet in the run-up to the general elections due this summer.

Priyanka Gandhi’s entry into active politics, which had been a subject of much speculation for years, comes at a time the Congress is aiming for a turnaround in Uttar Pradesh, which sends more members (80) to the Lok Sabha than any other state in the country.

Party leaders and political leaders see her entry – she has been designated the general secretary incharge for UP east — as a crucial boost to cadre morale at a time when two regional powerhouses decided to keep the Congress out of a formidable coalition.

While she did not make any comment during Monday’s event, she had on Sunday sent an audio message to party workers, saying: “I wish together we will begin a new politics and you be a part of it. Youth, women and marginalised, everyone’s voices will be heard. Let’s establish a new future and politics.”

On Monday, as she stood atop a bus carrying images juxtaposing her with former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, she waved at supporters and the Lucknow public jostling to get a glimpse.

The images drew on the striking resemblance that Priyanka shares with her grandmother Indira. A majority of the hoardings also read “Indira Is Back”.

Political analysts said Priyanka Gandhi’s entry will help energise the party. “Yes, Monday’s roadshow will help in rejuvenating the Congress now. In the long run, Priyanka and Jyotiraditya’s challenge will be to strengthen the party at the grassroots,” said SK Dwivedi, former head of the department of political science, Lucknow University.

Congress president Gandhi touched on the issue when he told the incharges: “Give a push to workers at the grassroots. This is your responsibility. Those who fly high will not work and if you push the grassroots level workers, the Congress will gain strength.”

Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee (UPCC) president Raj Babbar, senior UP leaders RPN Singh, Anu Tandon, and others accompanied the three leaders on the roadshow that went through the state capital’s arterial roads.

Using the campaign to target the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government on the Rafale deal, the Congress president held up a cardboard cut-out of the Rafale jet to the crowd, which shouted back: “Gali gali mein shor hai, chowkidar chor hai (the watchman is a burglar, it is known)”, a reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has on several occasions sought to describe himself as a chowkidar to signal his fight against corruption.

The purchase of the Rafale fighter aircraft is mired in a controversy, with Opposition parties saying the new deal is more expensive and was struck to enrich industrialists “friendly” to the PM.

BJP leaders hit back, saying the roadshow was a “chor show” (a show of burglars). “People of UP, especially Lucknow, will come to see the corrupt faces of those who looted ₹12 lakh crore of this nation,” said UP minister Siddharth Nath Singh, who later described the roadshow as a ‘flop’.

Gandhi also spoke about the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party (SP-BSP) alliance, saying, “I respect Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati, but the Congress party will fight with full force. The party will fight for its ideology. It will fight to change Uttar Pradesh.”

SP chief Yadav welcomed the Congress roadshow in Lucknow and said parties should continue organising such events. “We are in alliance with BSP, but we do have other parties too with us, including the Congress, the Rashtriya Lok Dal and regional parties like the Nishad Party,” he said in Firozabad.

Congress will take on the ruling BJP as well as the SP-BSP coalition that is expected to sweep pockets determined by complex caste calculations.

From 21 seats in Uttar Pradesh in the 2009 general election, Congress’s tally fell to just two in 2014. It had a vote share of 10% in UP east in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, and 4.9% in the west.

The BJP swept all parts of the state when it won 71 of the 80 seats with a vote share of 42.6%, and the 2017 assembly elections when it won 312 of 403 seats with a vote share of 40%.

According to an analysis, had the BSP and SP fought the elections together in 2014, their combined vote share was more than that of the BJP in 41 out of 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh.

Late on Monday, Priyanka Gandhi went to Jaipur where her husband Robert Vadra will on Tuesday appear for questioning by the Enforcement Directorate over allegations of money laundering in connection with a land allotment matter in Bikaner.

She will fly back to Uttar Pradesh on Tuesday, and will remain in the state till Thursday to hold meetings with party workers.

In a Facebook post on Monday, Vadra issued an appeal for Priyanka Gandhi’s safety, saying the political atmosphere is “vindictive and vicious”.“My best wishes to you P [Priyanka] on your new journey of working in UP and serving the people of India,” he said in the post.

‘It’s like Indira has come back’: Priyanka Gandhi makes political debut with roadshow

NEW DELHI, Feb 11: Priyanka Gandhi Vadra made her political debut on Monday with a roadshow drawing thousands in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, months before the parliamentary election due by May.

Congress President Rahul Gandhi pulled a surprise last month by appointing his younger sister a party general secretary. She will also be its face in UP, the state that sends the highest number of lawmakers to the Lok Sabha and is currently dominated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

But a string of BJP defeats in state elections late last year and rising discontent over a weak farm economy and lacklustre jobs growth have weakened the ruling coalition’s position, which an increasingly aggressive Congress is looking to capitalize on.

The 47-year-old Priyanka—she is usually referred to by just her first name—bears a striking resemblance to her grandmother, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and is known for her gifts as a speaker able to connect with voters. Congress hopes that the eyeballs she’s able to generate will turn into votes.

“It’s like Indira Gandhi has come back,” said Fuzail Ahmed Khan, 45, a Congress supporter. “The state’s farmers want Rahul Gandhi to be prime minister, Priyanka to be chief minister.”

Posters of Priyanka lined the streets of the state capital, Lucknow, and hundreds of Congress supporters, accompanied by drummers, chanted her name after she emerged from the airport with her brother. Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi later waved at supporters from atop a bus as it slowly made its way out of the airport for the 20 km roadshow.

Congress officials hope Priyanka’s entry into politics will improve its chances across Uttar Pradesh, a vast agrarian state of 220 million people that the BJP nearly swept in in 2014 elections, winning 73 of the 80 seats.

Although Priyanka has helped manage elections for her brother and her mother, former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, she has never held an official party post until now.

“I hope that we can together start a new kind of politics,” she said in an audio message shared by Congress.

Since the announcement of Priyanka’s entry into politics, India’s financial crime-fighting agency Enforcement Directorate has questioned her husband, Robert Vadra, for several hours in a case relating to alleged ownership of 1.9 million pounds ($2.45 million) of undisclosed assets abroad. His lawyer and Congress have dismissed the charges as politically motivated.

At Chandrababu Naidu’s Delhi fast, united colours of opposition on show

NEW DELHI, Feb 11: Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu’s daylong fast demanding special status for his state on Monday became a rallying point for various opposition leaders who visited the protest venue to back him and attack the central government.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi, National Congress chairperson Farooq Abdullah, NCP’s Majeed Memon, Trinamool Congress’ Derek O’ Brien, DMK’s Tiruchi Siva and Samajwadi Party founder Mulayam Singh Yadav were among those who met the TDP chief to express their support.

The TDP president is demanding that the Centre fulfil promises made during Andhra Pradesh’s bifurcation in 2014 and alleges that Modi is not following ‘raj dharma’ by denying the state special status. “The PM has stolen from the people from Andhra Pradesh and given it to his industrialist friends,” Gandhi alleged at the protest venue Andhra Bhavan in an apparent reference to the Rafale fighter jet deal with France.

The government and Ambani have rejected Gandhi’s allegations of corruption in the deal.

O’Brien recalled Modi’s speech in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, on Sunday and said he didn’t talk about development or special category status but “started a personal attack”. “Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones at others,” he said. The PM said in his rally that Naidu was indeed a senior, but only in losing elections, switching alliances and ditching his father-in-law N T Rama Rao.

Lashing out at the prime minister, Abdullah said, “Modi has stooped so low, he’s making personal attacks against Naidu, who is doing a great service to the country. The Jammu-Srinagar highway is closed for six days. They cannot clear the 30-km road, but they want to rule the country,” he added.

Adding his voice to the chorus of criticism, Memon alleged that the Central government was meting out step motherly treatment to the state and the BJP was attacking Naidu because he has taken the lead in uniting rival parties against it. “We will show the BJP its place in the elections. I assure you on behalf of Sharad Pawar ji,” Memon stated. Mulayam Yadav said he was not well but had come to show endorse Naidu’s stand.

“Naidu is fighting the battle for the poor, the farmers and all those who are oppressed,” he added.

Stating that Naidu was fighting for a just cause, DMK leader Siva said the Modi government would be ousted in three months. “The powers of the state are being encroached upon... rights of the minorities are being violated.” The TDP had walked out the BJP-led NDA last year protesting the “injustice” done to Andhra Pradesh after its bifurcation.

The Constitution is being systematically destroyed, added former Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Gegong Apang, who gave the BJP its first government in the Northeast 16 years ago.

Congress leaders Anand Sharma, Ahmed Patel and Jairam Ramesh were also at the venue to express their support. Naidu’s ‘Dharma Porata Deeksha’ (a day-long protest for justice), which began at 8 am, is likely to end at around 8 pm. He will also submit a memorandum to President Ram Nath Kovind on February 12.

Naidu paid tributes to Mahatma Gandhi at Raj Ghat and also to the Ambedkar Statue at the Andhra Pradesh Bhavan before sitting on the hunger strike.

Hooch tragedy toll crosses 100 in UP, Uttarakhand

LUCKNOW, Feb 10: The Uttar Pradesh government on Sunday constituted a special investigation team (SIT) to probe the hooch deaths that shocked the state and took action against two police officers on charges of dereliction of duty.

The probe team has been directed to submit its report within 10 days to the state government even as Ram Krishan Tiwari, the deputy superintendent of police (DSP) in Kushinagar district’s Tamkuhriaj, and Siddharth Deputy, the superintendent of police in Saharanpur’s Deoband, were suspended.

Tiwari and Siddharth are accused of failing to take effective measures to check the manufacture and sale of the illicit liquor. The Uttar Pradesh government has also ordered a magisterial inquiry into the tragedy.

The death toll in the twin hooch tragedies in Uttar Pradesh and neighbouring Uttarakhand has risen to 108, with dozens of people still recuperating in various hospitals, officials said on Sunday.

A total of 73 deaths have been reported in Uttar Pradesh — 62 in Saharanpur and Meerut districts, and 11 in Kushinagar. As many as 35 deaths have been reported in Uttarakhand’s Haridwar, according to excise department officials.

The victims in Uttar Pradesh visited Balupur in Uttarakhand’s Roorkie on February 7 for a funeral after which they consumed the illicit liquor, police officials said.

A total of 215 persons have been arrested, and cases have been filed against 297 people. Forty-nine cases have been registered in Uttarakhand. In a crackdown, the police have seized 9,269 litres of hooch in UP, while 1,066 litres have been recovered in Uttarakhand.

Over 200 people, including the father-son duo who had supplied the tainted drink, were held during a joint operation by the Haridwar and Saharanpur police.

On Sunday, angry family members of the victims came out on the streets and blocked roads in protest, alleging negligence by officials in providing medical treatment to those who have taken ill.

Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra demanded that the BJP governments in the two states should ensure strict punishment to those responsible for the tragedy and provide proper compensation to the families of the deceased.

Priyanka Gandhi, who took charge as the AICC general secretary incharge of eastern Uttar Pradesh last week, said it was unimaginable that the business of illegal liquor was being run on such a large scale.

“I am extremely distressed to hear about such a tragic incident and express my deepest condolences to the family members of the deceased persons,” she said in a statement.

Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati came down heavily on the government. “The tragedy is not only unfortunate but also heart-rending and shameful,” she tweeted.

Grilled for 14 Hours So Far, Robert Vadra Appears Before ED Again

NEW DELHI, Feb 9: Robert Vadra, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi's brother-in-law, on Saturday appeared before the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for the third time in connection with a probe into allegations of money laundering in purchase of assets abroad.

Vadra arrived at the central probe agency's office at Jamnagar House in central Delhi at about 10.45 am in his private vehicle. Officials said the investigating officer (IO) of the case required Vadra to answer more questions in connection with the case and hence was asked to depose on Saturday, after his two sessions of questioning on February 6 and 7.

While Vadra was grilled for the first time for about five-and-a-half hours, he was questioned the second time for about 9 hours. It is understood that the last time Vadra was "confronted with" documents that the agency had obtained or seized as part of its probe in the case, including those linked to absconding defence dealer Sanjay Bhandari.

Vadra has also shared documents with the investigating officer of the case and has assured some more will be provided as and when he gets them, official sources had said.

The ED case against Vadra relates to allegations of money laundering in the purchase of a London-based property located at 12, Bryanston Square worth 1.9 million GBP (British pounds), which is allegedly owned by him.

The agency has told a Delhi court that it has received information about various new properties in London which belong to Vadra. These include two houses, one worth 5 million GBP and the other valued at 4 million GBP, six other flats and more properties.

Vadra has denied the allegations of possessing illegal foreign assets and termed them a political witch hunt against him. He said he was being "hounded and harassed" to subserve political ends.

Sources said Vadra's statement is being recorded under Section 50 (powers of authorities regarding summons, production of documents and to give evidence) of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, as was done the last two times.

His appearance before the ED acquired political overtones after his wife Priyanka Gandhi, recently appointed Congress general secretary in-charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh, accompanied him to the investigating agency's office on Wednesday while she picked him up after questioning on Thursday.

Vadra is also expected to depose before the ED on February 12 in Jaipur in an another money-laundering case related to a land scam in Bikaner. The Rajasthan High Court has directed him to cooperate with the agency in the case

Vadra was earlier quizzed on Wednesday and Thursday at the ED office in Jamnagar House in central Delhi. On day one, he was grilled for five-and-a half hours. Officials said that Vadra had to rejoin the probe on Thursday as he needed to answer more questions on allegedly acquiring immovable assets in United Kingdom. His questioning continued for nearly nine hours that day.

Visuals showed Priyanka Gandhi going to the ED office to pick and drop her husband before and after his questioning. This was her first appearance as a politician after being appointed the Congress general secretary for UP east.

When News18 asked Gandhi about Vadra being questioned, he said, “I don’t have a problem. Let them investigate Vadra or Chidambaram. But they should investigate Rafale as well.”

On Rahul Gandhi’s Rafale attack, BJP’s 10-point rebuttal

NEW DELHI, Feb 9: The BJP has tweeted a series of counter-attacks over Rahul Gandhi’s pointed jibes on the controversial Rafale fighter jet deal, accusing the Congress president of “peddling lies”.

Ahead of the Lok Sabha election in summer this year, Rahul Gandhi has stepped up his line of questioning of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government over the Rs 59,000-crore Rafale deal.

And, a new report has added fresh ammunition to Gandhi’s attacks. The report had said that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) had conducted parallel talks with the French government over the Rafale jet fighter deal and had prompted the ministry of defence to protest that the PMO was undermining India’s negotiating position.

Gandhi has reiterated his demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe of the Rafale deal after the report published in The Hindu. The Bharatiya Janata Party, on its part, tweeted a 10-point lie versus fact rejoinder to defend the Rafale deal on Saturday.

“While you are starting a new day of honesty and hard work, #LiarRahulGandhi is preparing to peddle more lies. It’s difficult to track all his lies, but we’ve tried to track major lies peddled by him on #Rafale. A heads up before his today’s quota!” the BJP tweeted from its official handle.

“Lie No.1: #LiarRahul tried to twist some report in a French media house to say making Reliance an offsets partner was a tradeoff for Dassault to get the deal with India. Fact: Both Supreme Court & Dassault CEO said Indian govt had nothing to do with choosing of offsets partners,” it tweeted.

“Lie No.2: #LiarRahul tried to create false impression that SC has found grave irregularities with the deal. Indulged in third grade level propaganda on a sub judice matter,” it went to say.

The ruling party tweeted memes, photographs of documents and videos to point out, what it said, holes in Rahul Gandhi’s attacks over the Rafale deal, which was signed between India and France in 2016 for the purchase of 36 fighter jets.

It also attacked The Hindu over its report that claimed “the French side took advantage of parallel parleys by the PMO that weakened Indian team’s position” in negotiating the Rafale deal with France as it cited a November 24, 2015 note of the defence ministry.

“If #LiarRahul and his partner in crime, The Hindu, really had faith in their ‘discovery’ they should’ve ideally wanted to approach Hon’ble SC with these ‘discoveries’. But they know they won’t stand a chance. Even now, we challenge liar to approach SC with his new ‘evidence’,” the BJP tweeted.

“We have tried to document most of Rahul Gandhi’s #RafaleLies. But given his superhuman capabilities of lying, we realized it’s humanly impossible to document it all. We hence invite you to tweet with #LiarRahul and further this cause of exposing the pathological liar!” ruling party signed off by tweeting.

Probe anyone, but investigate Rafale too: Rahul Gandhi

NEW DELHI, Feb 8: Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Friday said he had no problem if the government investigated his brother-in-law, Robert Vadra, or former Union minister P Chidambaram, but it should also answer questions on the Rafale fighter jet deal.

“Whatever inquiry you want to do, you do it. You implement the law. Robert Vadra, P Chidambaram -- you implement the law on everyone. No problem. But you also give answers on the Rafale matter,” he said, addressing a news conference at the Congress headquarters in Delhi.

Gandhi was referring to Vadra’s interrogation by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) over allegations of money laundering for purchase of property abroad.

Vadra was questioned for nine hours on Thursday, the second successive day, and is set to appear before the ED again on Saturday.

The ED questioned Chidambaram on Friday in connection with a money laundering probe in the INX Media case. His son, Karti, was questioned on Thursday for about six hours.

“You do whatever inquiry about Mr Chidambaram you want. He will face any inquiry. You do any inquiry on anybody you want, anybody in the Congress party, no problem, but please do an inquiry on Rafale. Please explain to us why the defence ministry is saying that the Prime Minister has carried out a parallel negotiation, answer that,” Gandhi said.

“I am telling you that whatever investigation you want to do, you should do it. You are the one who is in government. But then investigate Rafale too,” he added.

‘If you take panga...’: Mamata Banerjee riposte to Modi’s attack

NEW DELHI, Feb 8: Soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi attacked West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on her home turf, she returned the favour in the same measure saying she becomes better if someone picks up a fight with her.

“If you take ‘panga’ (fight) with me, I will become ‘changa’ (better),” news agency ANI quoted Banerjee as saying in Kolkata. She also used “chaiwala” reference, often made by Modi to reflect his humble economic background, to corner the prime minister on the Rafale deal.

“During the election, he (PM Modi) becomes ‘Chaiwala’. He becomes ‘Rafalewalla’ once election is over,” Banerjee said.

Friday saw return of fresh Rafale charge against the Narendra Modi government following a report in The Hindu that cited a note written by defence ministry officials in November 2015 objecting to “parallel parleys” by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) at a time when the Indian Negotiating Team was in talks with the French team.

The report gave a shot in the arm to opposition. Congress president Rahul Gandhi mounted his attack on Modi alleging that the defence ministry note makes it “crystal clear” that the prime minister bypassed the due process for finalising the Rafale deal. He repeated his charge that “chowkidar chor hai (the watchman is a thief).”

The government rejected the allegations with Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman giving a suo motu statement in the Lok Sabha where she said that raising the Rafale issue again on the basis of a media report is like “flogging a dead horse.”

On Thursday in Parliament, PM Modi had responded to the Rafale charge leveled by the opposition with a counter-allegation that the Congress doesn’t want to see a strong Indian Air Force.

In Bengal, Banerjee renewed the Rafale charge against PM Modi while targeting his government over a range of issues. “He is a master of Rafale. He is a master of demonetisation... He is a master of corruption. He is matter of arrogance,” she said.

Earlier in the day, PM Modi launched scathing attack on Banerjee alleging that “middlemen and syndicate” run the Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal while the chief minister eyes the seat of power in New Delhi. PM Modi was in Jalpaiguri in North Bengal, where he inaugurated a bench of the Calcutta High Court.

Banerjee took a potshot at PM Modi for allegedly not inviting anyone from the TMC government or the high court. “Nobody from Calcutta High Court was present. All infrastructure was paid for by us. The land is ours. The circuit bench is of the high court but nobody from them was there. It means the bride-bridegroom wasn’t there but the band party was there.”

Dismissing PM Modi’s charge that Banerjee is afraid of electoral loss in West Bengal during upcoming Lok Sabha polls, the Trinamool Congress chief said, “He is afraid because we are working together. I was never scared. I have always fought my way out.”

The prime minister had said that Banerjee was nervous and acting in desperation fearing that the BJP would outperform her TMC in the parliamentary polls, likely to be held in April-May this year. PM Modi said the TMC has lost mass support in Bengal.

Banerjee responded to PM Modi throwing a question as to “why everybody, from RBI to CBI, is saying bye-bye to him (PM)?”

Acrimony between the Centre and the TMC government of West Bengal has escalated since Banerjee held a ‘United India’ rally in January in Kolkata giving a call to “vote the Modi government out” in the Lok Sabha polls. The rally was attended by leaders from 23 opposition parties including the Congress.

The tussle took an unexpected turn on Sunday when Banerjee staged a sit-in protesting action by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) against Kolkata police commissioner Rajeev Kumar in connection with chit fund scam cases. Banerjee called it a case of “political vendetta”.

Modi, at his Jalpaiguri rally, slammed Banerjee saying the dharna was an act in protection of “those who looted money” of the poor.

Modi is a coward: Rahul Gandhi

NEW DELHI, Feb 7: With the country hurtling towards Lok Sabha elections, Congress president Rahul Gandhi in a frontal attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi challenged him to a “debate on national security and Rafale”. He said Modi “will run away” from debate.

“Narendra Modi is a coward, he will run away from debate,” Gandhi said at the national convention of the AICC minority department in New Delhi on Thursday.

“Narendra Modi is a ‘darpok’ (coward) person. He will run away from debate on national security,” he said adding, “If someone stands up to him, Modi runs away.”

The Congress president also accused the government of eroding the authority of key institutions. Gandhi was speaking at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in the national capital where the minority department of the party held a convention.

“The institutions in India do not belong to any party, they belong to the country, and to protect them is our responsibility, be it Congress or any other party. They (BJP) think they are above the nation, in 3 months they will understand that nation is above them,” he said.

Gandhi said that he has “understood” the prime minister as he is “fighting Narendra Modi for five years”. He challenged the prime minister to a 10-minute debate on Rafale deal saying that “Modi will run away” from it.

The Congress president reiterated his party’s promise to ensure assured minimum income to “every poor person in the country” if it win the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. He said the party discussed this scheme over the last six months and decided that if “Narendra Modi can give Rs 3.5 lakh crore to his 15 industrialist friends, the Congress will guarantee minimum assured income to the poor of the country.”

“We will credit the money under minimum income programme directly to the bank accounts of the poor,” he said.

He alleged that during Doklam crisis, when the troops of India and China were engaged in a face-off on the western border of Bhutan, Modi “flew to Beijing” to hold talks with Chinese leadership “without any agenda” and “folded hands” in front of them.

“Chinese government realised Mr 56 inch is not even 4 inches. This is Mr Modi’s character, he bowed down to China in Doklam issue,” the Congress president said.

“In 2014, Narendra Modi’s image was such that they said he will rule for 15 years…In five years, the Congress has exposed him on every front, be it the issue of farmers, corruption or national security…The Congress will defeat Narendra Modi, the BJP and the RSS in 2019,” he said.

“When you see Mr Modi’s face today, you can see fear. He has realised that by dividing the nation he cannot govern the country, and people will remove him, if he does,” Gandhi said.

The Congress president alleged that the BJP-led government at the centre is being “remote-controlled” by the RSS, which he said, “wants to run the country from Nagpur”. Gandhi said, “Narendra Modi is the front face, Mohan Bhagwat (RSS chief) is the remote control.”

19-year-old allegedly raped by 6 men in Bihar, father forced to watch

PATNA, Feb 7: In a shocking incident, a teenaged girl was gang-raped in front of her father by six youths in a village in Bihar’s Kishanganj district, police said on Thursday.

According to police officials, the 19-year-old victim lodged a police complaint on Wednesday that six youth of her village under Kodhowadi police station knocked at her door late on Tuesday night asking for water to drink, but forcibly entered her home and dragged her outside.

Her complaint said they took her to a deserted field near her house and gang-raped her in front of her father, who was taken hostage and tied to a tree.

The victim also informed the police that the accused threatened her and father not to approach the police.

A case has been lodged against all the named accused, Kishanganj Superintendent of Police Kumar Ashish said.

Ashish said the accused are absconding and no arrest has been made so far.

“I am personally monitoring the case and they will be arrested soon,” he said.

God help you: SC says CBI’s Nageswara Rao in contempt of court

NEW DELHI, Feb 7: The Supreme Court on Thursday summoned senior CBI officer M Nageswara Rao over the transfer of officer A K Sharma, who was probing the Bihar shelter home cases, calling it a contempt of court.

The court has asked Rao, the former interim director of CBI, and other officers to be present on February 12 and directed the agency to identify officers who were involved in the transfer of Sharma.

“We are going to take it very very seriously. You have played with order of Supreme Court of India. God help you. Never play with the Supreme Court’s order,” news agency ANI quoted the Chief Justice as saying after the CBI counsel informed the court that two officials including M Nageswara Rao were involved in transferring Sharma.

Sharma, joint director, CBI was the senior most supervising officer in Bihar Shelter home cases and court had in its previous orders said that he should not be transferred.

But on January 17 2019, Sharma’s tenure in CBI was curtailed and he was moved out as ADGP CRPF capping a long-drawn internal feud in the agency.

A bench, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, said transferring the CBI officer probing the sexual assault case amounted to a violation of its order. A bench asked the investigating agency to file an affidavit giving an explanation.

“Enough is enough. Children cannot be treated like this. You cannot let your officers treat children this way. Spare the children,” the top court told the Bihar government.

The top court asked whether the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) was informed by the government that there was an embargo on Sharma’s transfer.

The plight of the Bihar shelter homes was exposed in a report of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). According to an FIR in the case, the TISS put 17 shelter homes in Bihar under the category of ‘Grave Concerns’.

Handing over the cases to the CBI, the bench had noted that one of the 17 — the Muzaffarpur shelter home case — has already been transferred to the CBI, and “the remaining should also be looked into by the CBI… all ‘grave concerns’ cases will be investigated only by CBI.”

Mamata makes history with cabinet meeting in traffic outpost

KOLKATA, Feb 4: History and histrionics blended on Monday as Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee became the first head of a government in the country to hold a cabinet meeting in a traffic police outpost on a pavement in the heart of Kolkata to pass the state budget.

The full cabinet comprising more than 50 ministers huddled in the room as the cabinet led by the chief minister passed the budget in a few minutes on Monday afternoon. The budget was later placed in the state Assembly in the absence of the chief minister.

As the 64-year-old Banerjee seamlessly slipped into the role of street fighter opposition leader, the dharna turned into a platform that drew not only party leaders but also artists who performed on the dais to keep the crowd engaged.

On Monday evening, a smaller stage was erected beside the main dais to conduct the investiture ceremony of the West Bengal Police and Kolkata Police that was originally supposed to take place at a state government auditorium in Alipore.

Kolkata Police commissioner Rajeev Kumar, state director general of police Virendra, state security advisor Surajit Kar Purakayastha and home secretary Atri Bhattacharya were on the dais with the chief minister to present policemen with medallions.

“The entire scene is unprecedented and was unimaginable. A cabinet meeting in a traffic police outpost and an investiture ceremony virtually on a pavement was the last thing one could dare to imagine,” said psephologist Biswanath Chakraborty, a professor of political science at Rabindra Bharati University (RBU).

During the day, poets Joy Goswami, Subodh Sarkar, singers Shibaji Chattopadhyay, Saikat Mitra, Shantanu Raychowdhury, apart from the singer-turned-minister Indranil Sen, were present on the dais. The singers sang a few numbers each and said they were lucky to have the chief minister as their leader in fighting ‘fascist regimes’.

The areas remained constantly crowded and had to be barricaded to ensure traffic flow from one side of the road.

The chief minister spent Sunday night sitting on a chair.

Sometime between 4 and 5 am on Monday morning, she stepped off the main stage but instead of going to her home just 3 km away she went to a traffic guard office to freshen up and perhaps to drink a cup of tea.

About three hours later, she was back to resume her protest.

Brimming with energy, on Sunday night she asked her supporters to go home assuring them that she would hold the fort herself.

A few dozen policemen stayed by her side to ensure her security through the night.

Clad in a thin elaborately embroidered kantha shawl to protect herself from the chill, Banerjee kept herself busy through the night holding telephonic conversations with various political leaders who kept calling her to extend their support to her, and checking messages and news sites on her phone and, all the while intermittently interacting with ministers such as Firhad Hakim and Arup Biswas.

Incidentally, Banerjee sat on a 26-day hunger strike at Esplanade in 2006 against the erstwhile Left Front government’s land acquisition drive in Singur and then a 16-day dharna in front of the Tata Nano plant in Singur, about 50 kilometres from Kolkata in 2008 that ultimately forced the Tatas out of the project.

“Today, I’m constantly reminded of days of struggle for the Singur farmers,” Banerjee said, while asking her Rajya Sabha MP Dola Sen to sing a few songs that she had during the dharna in Singur.

Yes, BJP used me in 2014: Anna Hazare

AHMEDNAGAR, Feb 4: Fasting activist Anna Hazare said on Monday that he was “used by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)” to win the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

“Yes. The BJP used me in 2014. Everybody knows that it was my agitation for Lokpal that catapulted the BJP and also the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to power. Now I have lost all regards for them,” Hazare told the media in his Ralegan-Siddhi village.

He said the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi “is only misleading the people of the country and leading the country to autocracy” and added that the BJP-led Maharashtra government was speaking “lies” over the past four years.

“For how long will the lies continue? This government has let down the people of the country. The state government’s claims that 90 percent of my demands have been conceded are also false,” the 81-year old said.

He rued that now the very same people who benefitted from his agitations in 2011 and 2014 had turned their backs on his demands and nothing had been done to implement them in the past five years.

“They keep saying that central and state government ministers will come and discuss the issues with me. But I say no to them as it would confuse the people... (Let) them take firm decisions and give me everything in writing as I have lost faith in their assurances.”

To a question, Hazare said that his former associate Arvind Kejriwal - now the Delhi Chief Minister - was welcome to join his current agitation. “But I will not permit him to share the dais with me.”

Hazare’s strong remarks came on the sixth day of his indefinite hunger strike and a day after he threatened to return his Padma Bhushan - India’s third highest civilian honour - if his demands were not conceded by the government soon.

Last weekend, Nationalist Congress Party spokesperson Nawab Malik called Hazare an “RSS and Sangh Parivar agent”. Hours later, senior NCP leader and former Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar apologized for the remarks.

Amid rising concern over his frail health, Hazare said: “Don’t worry. I am fine. The Almighty is with me. Nothing will happen to me for another five days.”

Don’t need your certificate: Nitin Gadkari to Rahul Gandhi

NEW DELHI, Feb 4: Union minister Nitin Gadkari on Monday hit back at Rahul Gandhi, saying he did not need a certificate of courage from the Congress president after the latter had described him as the only person in BJP with guts over a comment on “domestic responsibilities”.

Rahul Gandhi’s remarks had come in response to Gadkari’s address to former workers of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), student wing of RSS, to fulfil their domestic responsibilities before working for the party or the country and that those who cannot do deliver at home, “cannot manage the country”.

Rahul Gandhi said in his tweet: Gadkari Ji, compliments! You are the only one in the BJP with some guts. Please also comment on: 1. The #RafaleScam & Anil Ambani
2. Farmers’ Distress 3. Destruction of Institutions …

One who can not take care of home, can not manage country: Nitin Gadkari
He said I have closed my shop as it was not doing well....there is wife at home, children," Gadkari said.

Gadkari said Rahul Gandhi was relying on “twisted” media reports to attack the Narendra Modi government, which he said would come back to power again after the Lok Sabha elections and work with full strength to take the country forward.

“Rahulji I don’t need a certificate of courage from you, but I am surprised that as president of a national Party, you are referring to twisted reports filed by the media to attack our government,” he said in a series of tweets in Hindi.

“This is the strength Modi and our government that you have to take the support of others’ shoulders,” he said.

In another tweet, Gadkari sought to respond to the Congress president’s request to speak up on three topics that he wanted the minister to speak about?— the Rafale scam and Anil Ambani, farmers’ distress and destruction of institutions.

“On the issues you have raised, I would like to say that our government has made the Rafale deal keeping the country’s interests in front. Modiji’s honest policies have been to bring farmers out of the crisis that your (Congress’s) policies had put them in.

“You are not able to bear that Modi has become the Prime Minister, so you are getting dreams of intolerance and attacking of constitutional institutions,” Gadkari said, hoping that Rahul Gandhi would behave with rationality and responsibility in the future.

In another tweet, which came after Gadkari’s response to his first, Rahul Gandhi asked the minister to speak up on the issue of jobs generation too. This time, Rahul, in a jab, issued a “huge apology”for having forgotten the most important issue.

Rahul Gandhi said in his twee: Oops, Gadkari Ji. Huge apology. I forgot the most important one....JOBS! JOBS! JOBS! JOBS!

Earlier, the BJP had attacked Rahul Gandhi after the Congress president extended his support to West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s unprecedented protest over the showdown between the CBI and Kolkata Police, referring to his speech from 2016 when he had attacked the Bengal chief minister.

BJP worker in Bihar arrested for vulgar post against Priyanka Gandhi Vadra

PATNA, Feb 4: The Bihar police arrested a BJP worker on Sunday in Katihar for allegedly posting a vulgar message on social media against newly inducted Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.

Yogi Sanjay Nath, a resident of Binodpur in Katihar, was arrested on the directive of cyber crime investigation department, Patna. He was later sent to judicial custody for 14 daya.

Ranjan Kumar, station house officer of Town police station said a case had been lodged against Yogi on the basis of the statement of social activist Shaheen Syed, who took up the matter with the economic offence unit (EoU) through an email and also shared Yogi’s Twitter link with the authority concerned.

Following her email, Town police station lodged a case on February 2 under Sections 420/29 (A) and IT Act 67 against Yogi.

The Congress party had on January 23 announced induction of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as general secretary in charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh which boosted the confidence of party workers.

However, ever since her entry, Priyanka has faced a barrage of misogynistic attacks and sexist remarks from prominent politicians as well workers of rival parties, particularly the BJP.

Parrikar’s resignation will spark political crisis in Goa, says BJP leader

PANAJI, Feb 4: Goa will plunge into a political crisis the day Manohar Parrikar steps down as chief minister, BJP legislator and deputy speaker of the legislative assembly Michael Lobo warned on Monday.

Lobo, who was full of praise for Congress president Rahul Gandhi for calling on Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar also said that Parrikar is surviving on ‘God’s blessings’ in combating the ailment that “has got no cure.”

“As long as Manohar Parrikar is the Chief Minister there will be no crisis. The day Manohar Parrikar steps down as chief minister or if something happens, the day he leaves the job, there will be a political crisis,” Lobo told reporters at a function.

“He is very unwell, people have to understand that he’s sick. His ailment has go no cure. With God’s blessings he’s still living,” Lobo said.

Parrikar who is currently admitted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi for what his office described as a routine medical check-up tweeted a combative message on the occasion of World Cancer Day.

“Human mind can overcome any disease,” Parrikar said.

With the BJP in Goa dependent on the support of allies and independents and unable to agree on an alternative leader, Parrikar has ploughed on despite initially agreeing to shed his workload if not his post.

Late last week, the Congress leader Reginaldo Lourenço called on Parrikar to gracefully step aside.

“The Chief Minister should honourably resign or give charge to somebody. I’m not here to dictate terms to him, his party will dictate terms to him, but as a leader who has some class… he should take care of his health. I feel Manohar Parrikar has lost out on the opportunity,” Lourenço said.

The Congress has also said that they anticipated the government would make an attempt to dissolve the Goa Legislative Assembly pointing to the fact that the government only sought a ‘vote-on-account’ when it could have sought a full budget.

However, the Chief Minister has told the alliance partners that there will be no premature dissolution of the house with the ruling party saying that the government is stable and faced no threats.

Crores for the corrupt but pennies for farmers: Rahul Gandhi

PATNA, Feb 3: The NDA government’s budget announcement to provide income support to farmers came under attack from Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Sunday. In his budget speech, finance minister Piyush Goyal had said that 12 crore farmers would be given Rs 6,000 cash benefits every year.

“The Modi government gives crores of rupees to the corrupt but only announces Rs 17 per day for poor farmers,” Rahul Gandhi said.

Addressing Congress’s first rally at Patna’s Gandhi Maidan after 28 years, the Congress chief announced that Patna university will be granted the status of central university if the Congress comes to power after 2019 polls.

Rahul Gandhi said the BJP makes promises while Congress keeps them. “Within days of coming to power in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh we announced farm loan waivers. In MP, we did it in hours,” he said.

Tejashwi Yadav Conditionally Backs Rahul Gandhi For PM

PATNA, Feb 3: PATNA: Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav today made a pitch for making Congress president Rahul Gandhi the next prime minister if an alliance led by the Congress came to power after the Lok Sabha elections, but on one condition.

"You have all the qualifications to be the next PM, abut onus also lies in you and the Congress party to take along all the other parties," Yadav said at the opposition's election rally at Patna's Gandhi Maidan today.

Allies of the Congress have often asked it to treat them as equals in running coalition governments. They don't want to get a lesser role if they are helping the Congress come to power with filling the last-mile gaps, as Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party did in Madhya Pradesh.

But in the final plans for Uttar Pradesh, the state with the highest number of Lok Sabha seats at 80, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party did not invite the Congress to join their alliance.

"There is not much benefit to us from allying with the Congress. We have decided that we will not tie up with a party like the Congress across the country where they can't transfer votes to us," Mayawati had said while announcing the alliance in January, shutting the doors on the Congress weeks after reluctantly supporting it in Madhya Pradesh.

MK Stalin of the DMK has also endorsed Rahul Gandhi for prime minister. Stalin referred to the DMK's history with the Gandhi family to make his point. In 1980, he said, his father and DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi's call to Indira Gandhi led to her victory. "In 2004, Congress captured power after Karunanidhi endorsed Sonia Gandhi," he had said.

The NDA government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken potshots at the opposition's grouping that it cannot make up its mind on who they want to project as the prime ministerial candidate.

6 killed as Delhi-bound Seemanchal Express derails

PATNA, Feb 3: At least six passengers died and over 25 others injured after 11 coaches of the superfast Seemanchal Express heading to Delhi derailed in Bihar’s Vaishali district early on Sunday morning. Three of the deceased are women.

Officials said the number of dead is likely to go up. All the injured passengers have been moved to nearby hospitals. The accident took place on the Barauni- Bachhwara-Hajipur Single Line in Sonpur division of the East Central Railways.

The derailment took place around 3.58 am at Sahadai Buzurg. One general coach, one AC coach B3, three sleeper coaches - S8, S9, S10 - and four more coaches have derailed, East Central Railway spokesperson Rajesh Kumar said. Initial investigation into the accident has found that the train derailment took place due to a rail fracture.

The railways has announced an ex gratia compensation of Rs 5 lakh to the kin of those deceased. “Railways would give ex-gratia of Rs 5 lakh each to the kin of every deceased. Rs 1 lakh would be given to the grievously injured and Rs 50,000 to those who suffered simple injuries. All medical expenses will also be borne by Railways,” Piyush Goyal’s office tweeted.

The Bihar government has announced a compensation of Rs 4 lakh to the kin of the deceased and Rs 50,000 compensation to the injured.

Apart from railway administration, the Bihar government and the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) were also assisting the rescue and relief operations.

Many passengers were still trapped and rescuers with help from local villagers were taking them out from the mangled bogies. Locals broke glass windows of air-conditioned bogies and pulled several passengers out.

Niraj Kumar, Ravindra Mahato and Mohammad Ismail were among those who narrowly escaped from the derailment. “We were asleep when we suddenly woke up to a loud noise followed by the derailment. As the bogie derailed, we fell from our beds. Loud screams of injured passengers broke the early morning silence. I escaped with minor injury. Villagers arrived and pulled us out,” said Mahato.

All passenger trains on this route have been cancelled. The superfast train, heading from Jogbani to Anand Vihar Terminal in New Delhi, was reportedly running at full speed when the accident took place. Of the 11 affected coaches, three coaches capsized while the remaining coaches are reported to have gone off the track.

“The unaffected 12 coaches of the train are being moved to Hajipur where additional coaches will be attached and the train will move for Anand Vihar Terminal in New Delhi,” Rajesh Kumar said.

A team of doctors has been rushed to the accident site from Sonpur and Barauni. A railways accident medical van has also reached the site of the accident to provide medical aid to the injured passengers. The railways have set up helpline at Hajipur and Patna.

Tenure ends in a month but Modi not mentally prepared to go: Mamata Banerjee

KOLKATA, Feb 2: West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee lashed out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi minutes after he finished his speech in Durgapur and said his tenure will end in a month but he is not mentally prepared to go out of power.

Speaking to a TV channel, the Trinamool Congress supremo fumed at the attack by the prime minister and launched a counter-attack with allegations against Modi over 2002 Gujarat riots.

She also rejected PM Modi’s appeal that Trinamool Congress should support the Citizenship Amendment Bill. “We are opposed to this Bill. They have to withdraw it,” said the West Bengal chief minister.

Banerjee, who convened a meeting of two dozen opposition leaders on January 19 in Kolkata’s Brigade Parade ground, repeated her earlier stand that the Centre is trying to unleash the investigative agencies against anyone who dared to oppose him.

The Bengal chief minister also responded to Modi’s jibe that Banerjee is afraid as she is probably in the wrong. “Why fear if you have not done anything wrong? Even I was interrogated for nine hours,” Modi said in Durgapur.

Banerjee retorted with a counter-attack saying, “It is true that riots happened (in Gujarat). He was a culprit and, therefore, he was questioned (by the CBI). But just because he was grilled does not mean that he would also use the agencies to interrogate others?”

“I should not be saying this, but they have registered an FIR against the son of Rajnath Singh,” alleged the Trinamool Congress chief.

“In true fascist style, he (PM Modi) is trying to encircle everyone with agencies…The Union government will last for a month at the most. But it seems he is not mentally prepared for going out of power,” she said.

Mamata Banerjee also did not hesitate to go personal. “He has no allies in the country. He wraps himself in fashion. He is not capable of anything. He even delivers his speech with the help of teleprompters,” said Mamata.

Rejecting Modi’s allegations that the state government was preventing implementation of central projects in the fields of road, railways, health in the state, the Bengal chief minister asked, “Why is the Centre stalling projects such as the deep sea port and Deocha Pachami coal mine project?”

“Saradha and Narada contain no substance. Narada is a sting. People have been seen taking Rs 1 lakh for elections. Who are they to ask questions? They use hundreds of crores of rupees in elections,” alleged the Trinamool chief.

Banerjee further said Modi has never sold tea. The BJP and TMC are locked in a bitter fight for political one-upmanship in West Bengal. While Amit Shah has set a target for the BJP to win a minimum of 23 out of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee has vowed to win all 42.

Rishi Kumar Shukla is new CBI Chief

NEW DELHI, Feb 2: Former Madhya Pradesh DGP Rishi Kumar Shukla was appointed as the next CBI director on Saturday.

The Appointment committee of the Cabinet notified the name of 1983 batch MP cadre officer in the afternoon. Sources said that Shukla's strong ACR (annual performance appraisal report) and seniority went in his favour. However, the decision was not by concensus.

Sources close to Mallikarjun Kharge said that the Congress leader in Lok Sabha objected to Shukla's name on grounds that he has never served in CBI and doesn't have any experience in anti-corruption investigation.

"Kharge ji asked how can the premier anti-corruption agency be headed by someone who has no experience in anti-corruption? His choice was Javeed Ahmed, who has more than 12 years of experience in CBI," the source said.

According to reports, the leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha also wrote to PM Modi expressing his dissent. He alleged that the officer did not have experience in handling anti-corruption cases and the criterion for selection was diluted in violation of law and Supreme Court judgments.

Kharge said the criterion in selecting the CBI Director has been diluted to include investigation experience only and not experience in investigating anti-corruption cases.

"By including officers who do not have experience in investigating anti-corruption cases, committee is in violation of DSPE Act and Supreme Court judgements guiding CBI Director's appointment," he said.

According to the officials, 16 names were put before the selection committee. DG CRPF RR Bhatnagar and Rishi Shukla were the senior most in that list.

Kharge insisted on CBI experience, which would mean that BSF DG Rajnikant Mishra was best placed. But committee ultimately fixed the criteria to be ACR of 95 and above, and experience of at least 100 months in anti-corruption or investigation.

Shukla, with an ACR of 96 and seniority, made the cut and got support of both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and CJI Ranjan Gogoi.

MP cadre officials, who have worked with the newly-appointed CBI chief, told CNN-News18 that as DG Economic Offence Wing and as DGP MP, Shukla has proved his administrative and investigative mettle. "I am happy with the appointment. Will give my best for the new assignment," Shukla told CNN-News18 when asked about the challenges ahead.

Kamal Nath government had posted Shukla as DG home guards. He is likely to take charge as CBI director on Monday.

The development assumes significance as the Supreme Court had said on Friday it was "averse" to the arrangement of an interim CBI director and the Centre should "immediately" appoint a regular chief of the probe agency.

The post of CBI director is "sensitive" and "important", and it is not good to keep an interim director of the agency for longer period, the top court observed and sought to know as to why the government has not made the appointment yet.

The post of the CBI chief has been lying vacant since January 10 after the unceremonious exit of Verma, who had been engaged in a bitter fight with Gujarat-cadre IPS officer Rakesh Asthana over corruption charges. M Nageswara Rao has been working as the interim CBI chief after Verma's ouster.

Rahul Gandhi charms students during surprise dinner interaction in Delhi

NEW DELHI, Feb 2: Seven students from across the country had a "surprise" dinner interaction with Congress president Rahul Gandhi in Delhi on Friday. Over Chinese food, they shared ideas about improving lives and the leader promised that some of them may be included in the party manifesto.

From bringing out Congress manifesto in Braille, setting up gender-neutral toilets to steps for removing inequalities in education system and caste discrimination in society, the conversation touched diverse issues as the youngsters opened up to a "warm and affable" Rahul Gandhi.

The group of students was the first to interact with Rahul Gandhi under his "Apni Baat Rahul ke saath" outreach programme.

Congress has often mocked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for engaging with students, including his recent "Pariksha Pe Charcha" programme and his radio programme ''Mann ki Baat''.

"He is not an 'I know everything' kind of person and he was open to a conversation and discussion in trying to understand things," Deveshwar, a student said.

Students who interacted with Rahul Gandhi were delighted by his humility and friendly nature.

"Such a friendly humble person, he was actually serving me from his plate. You do not expect such things from a person of this stature. It really breaks the ice between the big politicians and the ''aam aadmi''," another student said.

Abhilash Karri, an IIT student from Mumbai, recalls how surprised they were when they saw a beaming Rahul Gandhi walking into the dining area of an upmarket Chinese food joint in Delhi, late Friday evening. The students had been told that will interact with the Congress party, but not that it will be the party president himself.

The meeting was informally structured with Rahul Gandhi hearing the new age voters on their priorities for themselves and their countrymen.

Among the invitees was an LGBTQ rights activist who suggested gender neutral toilets for the transgenders.

Kunal Ramteke of the prestigious Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) said he discussed caste based discrimination with Rahul Gandhi and described him as one who is sensitive towards the issue. "I hope he will implement suggestions to end caste based discrimination.... His talk was very inspirational," he said.

Congress urges Parrikar to resign gracefully, BJP says party is frustrated

PANAJI, Feb 2: The Congress party in Goa on Saturday called on chief minister Manohar Parrikar to gracefully resign in the face of his failing health.

With the chief minister once again admitted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, this time for a pending medical check-up, the opposition Congress has stepped up its attack.

“The chief minister should honourably resign or give charge to somebody. I’m not here to dictate terms to him, his party will dictate terms to him, but as a leader who has some class… he should take care of his health. I feel Manohar Parrikar has lost out on the opportunity to willingly show his true leadership qualities and let go,” Congress legislator and Reginaldo Lourenco said.

“Don’t go to the assembly like that. With that sort of a situation, where you have a pipe in your nose, where you have things coming out of your pocket (catheters) one should not come to the assembly. You (Parrikar) have ruled as a CM of your state, it does not suit you,” Lourenco also said.

Parrikar attended all three days of the recently concluded budget session of the Goa Assembly and in his brief budget speech, vowed to serve Goa till his last breath.

Late last month, Parrikar lashed out at Congress chief Rahul Gandhi after the latter claimed that the chief minister had told him that he was not involved the decision to acquire Rafale fighter places when he was the defence minister.

During the chief minister’s earlier periods of hospitalisation in Goa, Mumbai, Delhi and New York, the Congress had called on him to resign or alternatively called on the Goa Governor Mridula Sinha to dismiss the government. The Congress had also staked claim to form the government, claiming to be the single largest party. Subsequently, two of its MLAs resigned and joined the BJP.

The Congress also said that BJP’s alliance partners were afraid of deserting the coalition fearing a Jammu and Kashmir like situation.

“They (coalition partners) also might be getting worried. They know that they (BJP) is ruling at the Centre. They have seen what has happened in Jammu and Kashmir. They may be worried about that being replicated here in Goa. No one will venture into this. No MLA wants their term to be over arbitrarily,” former chief minister Digambar Kamat said.

The BJP hit back saying calls by the Congress for Parrikar’s resignation was a result of their frustration.

“It is the frustration of the Congress that the government is doing well. There are a lot of projects including bridges and hospitals that are being inaugurated, which proves that the government is functioning well,” Damodar Naik, a BJP spokesperson and former MLA said.

The Congress now has 14 MLAs in the assembly the same as the BJP which also counts on the support of three members of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, the Goa Forward Party each and the three independents.

Parrikar was widely believed to be willing to let go of the reins when his ailment was first detected in February last year, or at least hand over charge of his portfolios to another senior minister in the cabinet. However, squabbling among alliance partners put paid to such a move.

Its Account for Votes: Chidambaram on interim Budget

NEW DELHI, Feb 1: Former finance minister P Chidambaram on Friday criticised the interim Budget presented by finance minister Piyush Goyal, saying it was just rip off of the Congress party’s ideas for the poor.

“Thank you Interim FM for copying the Congress’ declaration that the poor have the first right to the resources of the country,” the senior Congress leader tweeted.

“It was not a Vote on Account. It was an Account for Votes,” he also said.

Piyush Goyal, who was given the charge of the finance ministry after Arun Jaitley went to the US for medical treatment, presented the BJP-led government’s last budget before a general election due by May.

How can a country grow without employment, asks Chidambaram

NEW DELHI, Feb 1: Former finance minister P Chidambaram on Friday raised doubts over the GDP figures, wondering how the economy is growing at 7 per cent when the unemployment rate was the highest in 45 years.

Taking a dig at the Centre, he claimed that when the government revised the GDP figures it did not realise that the unemployment figures also got revised.

Chidambaram’s remark came ahead of the interim Budget on Friday.

The government on Thursday said it has not finalised the survey on labour force which reportedly showed that the unemployment rate in the country hit a 45-year high of 6.1 per cent in 2017-18.

The National Sample Survey Office’s (NSSO’s) periodic labour force survey (PLFS), according to the Business Standard newspaper, states that unemployment was last this high in 1972-73. The unemployment rate was 2.2 per cent in 2011-12, it said.

“NITI Aayog vice-chairman asked ‘How can a country grow at an average of 7% without employment?’ That is exactly our question. With unemployment at a 45-year high, how can we believe that the economy is growing at 7 per cent,” Chidambaram said on Twitter.

“Modi Government revises GDP growth figures upward. What government did not realise was that unemployment figure was also revised upwards,” he tweeted.

On Thursday, Niti Aayog Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar, who had previously mounted a defence of lowering of UPA-era GDP growth rates, at a hurriedly called press conference said the report cited by the newspaper “is not finalised. It is a draft report”.

The report generated a lot of controversy, with Congress President Rahul Gandhi saying the Modi government had promised two crore jobs, but five years later a “leaked job creation report card” has revealed a “national disaster”.

Chidambaram also took a swipe at the government over claims of high growth despite demonetisation and asked if this time Rs 100 notes would be demonetised.

“The demonetisation year was the best year of growth (8.2%) under Mr Modi. So, let’s have another round of demonetisation.This time let’s demonetise 100 rupee notes,” he said.


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