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Rahul Gandhi says will build a new Congress to fight BJP

NEW DELHI, March 18: Positioning himself as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s principal challenger in 2019, Rahul Gandhi on Sunday delivered one of his most aggressive speeches yet, with a promise to oust a “corrupt and power-drunk” Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the next Lok Sabha elections and build a new Congress with “talented youngsters”.

In his concluding speech during the 84th Congress plenary, Gandhi also admitted that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, led by the party, did not stand up to the expectations of the people in its final years.

“I don’t say it with happiness the people of this country felt let down by us,” the Congress president told his party colleagues, evoking thunderous applause and repeated slogans of “Rahul Gandhi zindabad (Long Live Rahul Gandhi)” from the Congress workers gathered at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium.

Likening the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to the Kauravas from the Hindu epic Mahabharata, he said the Congress was humble like the Pandavas and fought for the truth.

“Centuries ago, there was a huge battle on the fields of Kurukshetra. The Kauravas were powerful and arrogant. The Pandavas were humble and fought for the truth. Like the Kauravas, BJP and RSS are designed to fight for power. Like the Pandavas, the Congress is designed to fight for the truth,” he said.

Gandhi alleged that the “corrupt and powerful today control conversation” in the country and the “name Modi symbolises the collusion between crony capitalists” and the prime minister. “Modi is not fighting corruption but is corruption himself,” he said.

He hit out at the PM and his government over the Rafale deal and the failure to bring to book Indian Premier League chairman Lalit Modi and jeweller Nirav Modi, who are accused in different cases of alleged fraud.

The BJP was quick to hit back, saying the Congress, which questioned the “fundamental existence of Lord Ram today”, wanted to be identified with the Pandavas. Defence minister and senior BJP leader Nirmala Sitharaman described Gandhi’s address as the “rhetoric of a loser” and “devoid of substance.”

Seeking to reach out to the farmers and young people who formed the BJP’s core constituencies in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Gandhi urged Congress leaders and workers to set aside their differences to defeat the ruling party in 2019. “Let us put all our differences aside and work together to ensure the Congress party’s victory in 2019 elections,” he said. “If you want to fight among yourselves… after the elections please… In next 6-7 months, strict discipline is needed, there will be some setbacks but we will fight together and our workers will show India how the Congress party fights and wins the elections.”

Reconnecting with farmers, the middle-class and the youth, who had moved away from the Congress in recent years, is on top of his agenda since he took over the party reins from his mother Sonia Gandhi on December 16 last year.

“Four years ago, the youth of this country trusted Modiji but that trust has been broken. Millions of youth are jobless. All we hear today is that ours is the fastest-growing economy in the world. There is no employment, farmers are dying, and the Prime Minister says let’s do yoga in front of India Gate and tries to divert the people’s attention with fancy events,” Gandhi said in his 53-minute speech in Hindi and English, interspersed with few anecdotes of his temple visits.

Farmers and the youth also remained the focus of the party’s economic resolution and dominated the speeches of former prime minister Manmohan Singh and ex-finance minister P Chidambaram.

Gandhi stressed the need to change the Congress organisation, saying his first task will be to break the “wall that exists between the workers and senior leaders”. “Some of you might not like what I say. But this organisation needs to change, and we will do that with love.”

He asserted that party loyalists would be preferred over “outsiders who parachute” and get election tickets -- a line he has been repeatedly taking since he was anointed as the Congress vice-president in 2013.

Gandhi also launched personal attacks against BJP chief Amit Shah and finance minister Arun Jaitley.

Modi govt messed up economy, mismanaged Jammu and Kashmir dispute: Manmohan Singh

NEW DELHI, March 18: The Congress on Sunday accused the Modi government of mismanaging the Kashmir dispute, messing up the economy and following a foreign policy that was “personalised, confused and bereft of focus and direction”.

On the second day of its 84th plenary session, the Opposition kept up its attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with his predecessor Manmohan Singh questioning the government’s economic policies.

“Modi said farmers’ income will be doubled in six years, it is a jumla-type statement unlikely to be achieved,” Singh said, as he expressed doubts over the government’s key agrarian agenda of doubling farmers’ income by 2020.

Singh again came down hard on the government over its demonetisation decision and “hurried” implementation of the goods and services tax (GST). “The BJP-led government messed up the Indian economy. The ill-considered demonetisation and hastily implemented GST have destroyed small-scale enterprises,” said Singh, who is widely credited with opening up the Indian economy as the finance minister.

The 85-year-old Congress leader was also critical of the government’s handling of Kashmir. “The government mismanaged the Jammu and Kashmir dispute like never before. The atmosphere in the state has been deteriorating day by day,” he said.

The criticism came a few hours after five civilians were killed in Pakistani firing along the line of control in Jammu’s Balakote.

Singh said the UPA government, which he led from 2004 to 2014, could achieve a lot because of Sonia Gandhi’s guidance. Sonia Gandhi, who stepped down as the Congress president in December, continues to be the chairperson of the much-depleted United Progressive Alliance.

The party also attacked Modi for pursuing a “personalised foreign policy”, saying it was “confused and bereft of focus and direction”.

Modi’s tendency to disparage his predecessors and diminish India’s achievements since Independence had undercut the country’s credibility abroad, it said.

“It is not an insult to the Congress party or its leaders, but an insult to the nation,” senior party leader Anand Sharma said while moving a resolution on foreign policy.

“The government is carried away by its own propaganda, and has mismanaged India’s relations with major partner countries. Its foreign policy is confused and bereft of focus and direction.”

“The Prime Minister was pursuing a personalised foreign policy. The foreign policy engagements and (Modi’s) visits abroad had been reduced to “being purely transactional”.

The official Indian speeches omitted all mention of Jawaharlal Nehru’s and India’s contributions to the Non-Aligned Movement, it said.

In a rapidly changing and uncertain global landscape, national security strategy should be carefully crafted, the resolution said.

Modi pursuing personalised foreign policy bereft of direction: Congress

NEW DELHI, March 18: The Congress on Sunday attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for pursuing a “personalised foreign policy”, saying it was “confused and bereft of focus and direction”.

In its 84th Plenary session, the party noted that the Modi’s tendency to disparage his predecessors and diminish India’s achievements since Independence has undercut the country’s credibility abroad.

Moving the resolution on foreign policy, senior Congress leader Anand Sharma said the Prime Minister was known for his “propaganda” and condemned his actions of showing disrespect to the party’s predecessors saying: “It is not an insult to the Congress party or its leaders, but an insult to the nation.”

The resolution said: “Foreign policy has always been marked with continuity with the backing of a strong national consensus. Unfortunately, the BJP government has disrupted it, and its ill-advised actions have unravelled the national consensus.

“The government is carried away by its own propaganda, and has mismanaged India’s relations with major partner countries. Its foreign policy is confused and bereft of focus and direction.

“The Prime Minister has pursued a personalised foreign policy. The foreign policy engagements and (Modi’s) visits abroad, have been reduced to being purely transactional.

“The discarding of India’s historic role in the Non-Aligned Movement, and the continuous dismissal of our past accomplishments in foreign policy, led to the piquant situation of foreign leaders hailing Nehru’s contributions at the Indo-African Forum Summit and the 50th Anniversary of the Bandung Conference.

“Regrettably, the official Indian speeches omitted all mention of his (Nehru’s), and India’s, major contributions.”

The resolution added: “The world today, is going through a comprehensive transformation in international relations.

“This is a period of unusual uncertainty and unexpected changes. This poses complex challenges for our foreign policy. A rapidly transforming and uncertain global landscape, demands a carefully crafted national security strategy.”

Manmohan’s silence has done what BJP’s uproar failed to do: Navjot Sidhu

NEW DELHI, March 18: Congress leader and Punjab local bodies minister Navjot Singh Sidhu on Sunday publicly apologised to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his past remarks on him, terming him both “a Sardar and also Asardar (effective)”.

“I want to apologise to Sardar Manmohan Singh with my head hanging down... I want to say that Sardar Manmohan Singh, what your maun (silence) has done, the noise made by BJP could not do so,” he said in his address at the 84th Congress Plenary session.

“I realised it (about UPA’s achievements) after 10 years, Sir. But, you will say it is better late than never. I wish to say something about your silence,” said Sidhu and went onto recite an Urdu couplet: “Parindon ki manzil milegi hamesha, yeh phaile huye unke pankh bolte hain/Wohi log rehte khamosh aksar, zamane mein jinke hunar bolte hain (That birds will find their destination, this is their wings strewn about indicate/but the actions of those who remain silent ring around the world).”

Heaping further praise on the former PM, Sidhu said: “Sir, you can become an astrologer, you had predicted a 2% fall in the GDP and it did. And during your time, economy was galloping like a ‘Arbi ghora’ (Arabic steed). Now the GDP is growing at a turtle’s pace.”

“The BJP people should listen. An Arbi ghora can become weak and old, but is much better than a pack of donkeys. It was like taking a dip in Ganga bowing in front of you. You are a Sardar and also Asardar,” he added.

When a BJP MP, Sidhu had called Manmohan Singh “a pappu PM” and that he may be a “sardar” but he was not “asardar”.

Congress for ‘pragmatic approach’ on alliances, says elections must go back to the ballot

NEW DELHI, March 17: Setting the tone for the next Lok Sabha elections a year before they are due, the Congress on Saturday said it will adopt a “pragmatic approach” on alliances with compatible parties to defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and demanded the reintroduction of ballot papers to check what it called the manipulation of poll outcomes through misuse of electronic voting machines (EVMs).

On the opening day of the party’s 84th plenary session, Congress president Rahul Gandhi accused the BJP of “dividing” the country by spreading hatred and anger. His mother and predecessor Sonia Gandhi termed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pre-poll promises “dramebazi ,” or theatrics.

The BJP dismissed the remarks as “mere political rhetoric” that the people of the country have rejected repeatedly. “Both mother and son have been making same baseless allegations since 2014. People of India have rejected them and brought BJP to power in state after state, while the Congress has become politically extinct,” the ruling party’s spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao said.

In a political resolution adopted on the opening day of the plenary session, the main opposition party said Modi’s pitch for simultaneous polls was “misplaced, impractical and incompatible” with the Constitution. “There are apprehensions among the political parties and the people over the misuse of EVMs to manipulate the outcome contrary to the popular verdict,” it said.

The resolution on agriculture and employment talked about imposing a 5% cess on the incomes of the top 1% richest Indians to create a national poverty alleviation fund.

The key takeaway from day one was the Congress party’s resolve to evolve a common workable programme with like-minded parties to defeat the BJP in the 2019 elections. While the party has decided to continue with the alliance strategy adopted at its Shimla conclave in 2003, a year before it led the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to power, it did not insist on leading a coalition this time.

The Shimla declaration had rejected the 1998 Pachmarhi resolution that laid special emphasis on following the ‘ekala chalo (go it alone)’ line.

The stage for a broader understanding against the BJP has already been set with Sonia Gandhi, chairperson of the UPA that lost power in 2014, hosting a dinner for leaders of 20 parties at her residence on March 13. This was followed by a series of meetings between Rahul Gandhi and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar.

Supreme Court indefinitely extends Aadhaar linking deadline of March 31

NEW DELHI, March 13: The Supreme Court extended on Tuesday the March 31 deadline to link Aadhaar with various government services, bank accounts, Permanent Account Numbers for filing tax returns and even mobile phone connections indefinitely until after it delivers a final verdict on petitions questioning the validity of the unique identification number.

Extension of the deadline offers relief to consumers bombarded by messages from service providers including banks and mobile phone companies asking them to link their accounts to Aadhaar before the deadline.

A five-judge bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said the extension will not apply to government services and benefits like pensions and scholarships, subsidised foodgrains under the Public Distribution System, subsidised cooking gas and the flagship job guarantee plan for rural households.

Such benefits are covered by Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act, which deals with the delivery of financial benefits and subsidies and services under government welfare programmes.

Those drawing such benefits will be required to provide the biometric ID details and number assigned to them by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).

The court restrained the authorities from insisting on Aadhaar for issuance of tatkal passports, which are processed faster.

The exemption was made after senior advocate Arvind Datar complained that the government had amended passport rules in breach of the court directive not to make Aadhaar mandatory. He showed the court his colleague Vrinda Grover’s passport, which was cancelled because she refused to part with her Aadhaar details.

“It is also directed that the same shall also control and govern the Passports (1st Amendment) Rules, 2018,” the court ordered, saying its directive shall also apply to state governments.

In December last year, the top court extended until March 31, the December 31, 2017 deadline for mandatorily linking various services with their Aadhaar number, which has become the bedrock of government welfare programmes, the tax administration network and online financial transactions.

The bench is currently hearing petitioners who have questioned the validity of Aadhaar and subsequent rules making the number mandatory for such services. The government will respond after the petitioners present their case.

A final judgment is unlikely before the end of this month.

Attorney General KK Venugopal, who appears for UIDAI, left it to the court to extend the interim order. However, he urged the bench not to disturb the arrangement under section 7 of the law.

On March 7, the bench indicated the possibility of extending the deadline. It had expressed displeasure over banks, mobile phone companies and financial institutions continuing to coerce people to link their Aadhaar number for uninterrupted services. A delay in extending the deadline would have implications on financial institutions, banks and stock exchanges.

The order to postpone the linkage indefinitely brings relief to consumers bombarded by telemarketting messages, said Vipin Nair, advocate for petitioner Kalyani Sen Menon. “The order came from the bench because they felt the uncertainty is causing havoc. The messages should stop now. If they don’t then we will seek a specific order.”

Venugopal had said the Centre was not averse to extending the deadline, but there was no immediate requirement for an extension and advised the bench to see how the case progresses.

SC on March 7 stopped the Central Bureau of Secondary Education (CBSE) from making Aadhaar compulsory for students writing the National Eligibility and Entrance Test for admission to medical and dental colleges.

Meanwhile, senior advocate P Chidambaram concluded his arguments in the case. He appeared for Congress leader Jairam Ramesh whose petition talks about the “illegality” committed in passing the Aadhaar law as a money bill.

Ramesh has claimed that the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016 was certified as a money bill to avoid its scrutiny by the Rajya Sabha, which does not have any say on such legislation.

Chidambaram cited several SC judgements to press his point that judicial intervention is permitted in cases where an unconstitutional act is committed by Parliament. Passing the law as a money bill strikes at the root of federalism and to ignore the violation of a constitutional mandate will be an inexcusable error, he argued.

Rahul Gandhi says he, his sister have ‘completely forgiven’ father’s killers

SINGAPORE, March 10: Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Saturday said that he and his sister Priyanka Gandhi have “completely forgiven” his father Rajiv Gandhi’s killers.

During his interaction with IIM alumni in Singapore, Gandhi, when asked if he and his sister Priyanka had forgiven his father’s killers, said: “We were very upset and hurt and for many years we were quite angry. But, somehow, fact, completely (forgiven).”

“We knew that my father was going to die. We knew that my grandmother was going to die. In politics, when you mess with the wrong forces, and if you stand for something, you will die. That’s pretty clear,” Gandhi said.

“There is a history that when one realises that when these events take place, it’s collision of ideas, forces, confusion. That’s where you get caught. I remember when I saw Mr Prabhakaran on TV lying dead, I got two feelings - one was why they are humiliating this man in this way.

“And second was I felt really bad for him and for his kids and I did that because I understood deeply what it meant to be on the other side of that thing. So to me when I see violence regardless of who it is, I know that there is a human being behind that, there is a family behind that, a kid crying behind that. I have been through a lot of pain to get this and it is something I consider very valuable. I find it difficult to hate people, even my sister does,” he said.

Former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a female suicide bomber of LTTE, the terrorist group in Sri Lanka led by Prabhakaran, on May 21, 1991 at an election rally in Tamil Nadu.

Gandhi, who is on a five-day trip to the Southeast Asian countries, also said: “We knew that my father was going to die. We knew that my grandmother was going to die. In politics, when you mess with the wrong forces, and if you stand for something, you will die. That’s pretty clear.”

Asked if he thinks he had a privilege life being the son and grandson of former prime ministers, he said, “It depends which side of the coin you are...of course there are a number of privileges where I sit, but I would not say that I haven’t been through a rough ride.”

“I was 14 when my grandmother was assassinated. I used to play badminton with those who killed my grandmother. After that my father was killed. So you live in a particular environment...surrounded by 15 guys from morning noon and night, I don’t thinks that’s a privilege. I think that’s quite a hard thing to deal with,” he said in a video shared by the Congress party on its Twitter handle.

Supreme Court approves passive euthanasia, upholds right to die with dignity

NEW DELHI, March 9: In a landmark verdict, the Supreme Court ruled on Friday that in specific circumstances, a person has the right to decide against artificial life support by creating a living will. The apex court held that the right to life and liberty, enshrined under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, also includes the right to die peacefully and with dignity.

A five-judge constitutional bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra upheld a person’s right to choose passive euthanasia by creating an Advance Medical Directive—commonly referred to as a living will—in the eventuality of a terminal illness with no hope of recovery, an irreversible coma or a permanent vegetative state.

By contrast, active euthanasia in which death is medically administered using a lethal injection, continues to be illegal in India. The Central government, the respondent in this matter, opposed recognition of a living will and said patients may not be aware of medical advancements that could cure them.

The judgment was delivered on a Public Interest Litigation filed by Delhi-based non-governmental organization Common Cause in 2005, pleading for an individual’s right to make a living will document for passive euthanasia.

“Everybody will breathe a sigh of relief, because people were earlier apprehensive that if they withdrew life support, they could be prosecuted for culpable homicide,” said Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who argued on behalf of Common Cause.

The apex court found that refusal to take treatment and allowing disease to take its natural course is not suicide. It addressed the concerns of doctors who find it difficult to take a decision to withdraw life support in terminal cases, as it goes against their Hippocratic Oath. “When the sanctity of life is destroyed should we not allow them to cross the door and meet death with dignity? For some, even their death could be a moment of celebration,” Justice Misra’s judgment stated.

The bench laid down strict conditions for creating and executing a living will. For one, it must be made by an adult “in his normal state of health and mind”. The document should indicate the circumstances when treatment which will “only delay the process of death that may otherwise cause him or her pain, anguish and suffering and leave the executor in a state of indignity” may be withdrawn. Unclear and ambiguous living wills would not be executed, the bench said. The living will should also name a guardian, who can be a relative or a friend, to give consent for stopping the treatment. It should be ratified by a judicial magistrate.

The bench also stipulated strict conditions for the execution of the living will, which includes the setting up of two medical boards and certification by the judicial magistrate. It also directed high courts to maintain a record of all living will documents prepared within the state.

The bench comprising justices AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan said that its guidelines shall remain in force till a law is enacted to regulate passive euthanasia. The government has proposed a bill to legalize passive euthanasia, after two law commission reports of 2006 and 2012. The Medical Treatment of Terminally Ill Patients (Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners) Bill (2016) however, is yet to be tabled before the Parliament. Additional solicitor general PS Narasimha, who represented the government in the case, said that the bill was at initial stage. “It’s a tentative bill. The process of legislation will take into account the suggestions given by the court.”

The national debate over the legalization of passive euthanasia was sparked by a favourable 2011 Supreme Court judgment in the case of 66-year-old Mumbai nurse Aruna Shanbaug, who was in a permanent vegetative state for more than 40 years after being sexually assaulted.

Sonia Gandhi says ‘Acche din’ will boomerang on Modi like India Shining on Vajpayee

NEW DELHI, March 9: The Congress will return to power in 2019 and “Achhe Din” will be to this government what “India Shining” was to the previous NDA government (1999-2004), UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi said on Friday, referring to the NDA’s surprise defeat in the 2004 parliamentary elections which paved the way for the UPA’s decade-long rule.

Speaking at the India Today Conclave, Gandhi launched a blistering attack on PM Narendra Modi and his government, alleging the country was being led by a “regressive vision” and wondered if India was really a “giant black hole” till the BJP came to power at the Centre in May 2014, as has been claimed by the party and its supporters.

“Achhe Din will soon be India Shining,” she said. India Shining was the NDA’s platform ahead of 2004; Achhe Din was the NDA’s ahead of 2014.

In response, a BJP spokesperson hit out at Gandhi, saying India “got defamed internationally for corruption” when the UPA was in power.

“As the party president, Sonia Gandhi presided over the Congress’s decline to 44 seats and its decimation across states. And as an opposition leader, she is practising the politics of fear and deception. She has taken both the country and her own party down,” said Anil Baluni, the national head of the BJP’s media department. He added, “Democracy and institutions are safe. The Congress is in danger. She should worry about that.”

Gandhi claimed that freedom of the people was “under systematic and sustained assault” and the provocative statements from the ruling side were neither random nor accidental — the usual defence put forth for such statements — but “part of a dangerous” design.

Gandhi, 71, who demitted the Congress president’s office on December 16 last year after remaining at the helm for more than 19 years, described the current environment as one in which history is being rewritten and facts being falsified, fanning “prejudice and bigotry”.

“There is a rewriting of history, falsifying facts and fanning prejudice and bigotry,” she said.

In recent weeks, Gandhi has stepped up attacks on the Modi government, alleging that institutions such as Parliament, judiciary, media and civil society had faced systematic assault after the BJP came to power in 2014.

“Our country, our society, our freedom are now all under systematic and sustained threat… Today we are presented with an alternative and indeed regressive vision,” she said.

“Was India really a giant black hole before May 2014 and start marching to progress only four years ago? Is this not an insult to the intelligence of our people? It is not a matter of taking credit but acknowledging India’s strength,” she added.

Gandhi’s attack came a day after her son and Congress president Rahul Gandhi alleged that there exists a general atmosphere of “intimidation” in India where a“nasty form of politics” aimed at dividing people was being practised to win the elections.

Gandhi echoed that sentiment on Friday: “Alternate voices are being silenced. Freedom to think, marry according to one’s wishes is under attack. Religious tensions are being fuelled, vigilante mobs and private armies have been let loose.”

The former Congress chief said the Modi government lacked “accommodative spirit” and that has led to an ongoing stalemate in Parliament. “The opposition is not allowed to speak in Parliament. People are angry with Congress for disruptions. But there are serious reasons for it. Parliamentary rules are not followed. There is no accommodative spirit. The opposition has a right to speak in Parliament.”

She also said callous remarks about changing the Constitution were deliberate attempts to subvert the essence of India it enshrines. “Long standing principles that have stood the country well are being violated. Parliamentary majority is being interpreted as a licence to stifle debate and bulldoze legislations. Political opponents are being targeted through misuse of investigative agencies.”

Sitanshu Kar new PIB chief, Frank Noronha to retire in April

NEW DELHI, March 8: The Press Information Bureau (PIB), the central government’s publicity wing, will get a new chief from May 1.

Incumbent Frank Noronha, who took over in 2014 after the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government came to power, will retire on April 30. Sitanshu Kar will replace him as principal director general of PIB, according to a statement from the information and broadcasting ministry.

Kar was serving as director general, news services division, at All India Radio. Kar, an old PIB hand, has been posted back in the PIB “so as to familiarize himself for taking charge,” the I&B ministry said.

Kar was spokesperson of the defence ministry from 2005 to 2015 and worked with four defence ministers – Pranab Mukherjee, AK Antony, Arun Jaitley and Manohar Parrikar. During his stint in all India radio, Kar stated the social media unit of the broadcaster.

Noronha played a key role during the initial phase of the new government and led PIB’s social media drive.

Gautam Adani 'biggest NPA trapeze artiste', has Rs 72000 Cr in NPA: Subramanian Swamy

NEW DELHI, March 6: BJP MP Subramanian Swamy on Tuesday called industrialist Gautam Adani the "biggest NPA (Non-Performing Asset) trapeze artiste in PSUs".

Adani, who controls India's largest private port in Gujarat, saw his wealth grow by 109 per cent to $14 billion, according Hurun's Global Rich List 2018.

Known for his blunt talk, Swamy said, "It is time he is made accountable or a PIL is inevitable."

"There are a number of things he is getting away with and nobody is questioning him. It may become an embarrassment for the government as he portrays himself as close to it," Swamy claimed.

Adani runs India's largest private port the Mundra Port and has interests in Power Generation, Transmission, coal trading, mining, oil and gas among other areas.

According to the Harun Global Rich List 2018 published a few days ago, the 55-year-old business tycoon's wealth doubled in the last one year to US $ 14 billion (over Rs 91000 crore).

It is another chapter in the meteoric rise of Ahmedabad's richest man, whose wealth stood at US $ 1.9 billion, when Narendra Modi was named the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) Prime Ministerial candidate in September 2013. Adani's stock more than tripled in value by the time Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014 when Adani was valued at $6 million. The last three years had seen Adani add only $ 1 billion in value to that fortune, but 2017-2018 has, if we are to go by the Harun Rich List, fuelled another surge.

Swamy though refuses to be impressed by all this and says he has information that makes him believe that almost US $ 12 billion (Rs 72000 crore) of Adani's fortune needs to go towards paying NPAs of PSBs.

The 78-year-old Harvard-educated economist and ex-Union Minister said ""I tweeted that he (Gautam Adani) seems to be like a trapeze artiste. Information came to me that he may be having as much as Rs 72000 crore in NPA. This will be clear only after investigation.That's why I raised this question. As far as corruption is considered, party has no role."

According to Bloomberg data to peg the Adani Group's total debt at Rs 99181.09 crore split in this manner: Adani Power - Rs 47609.43 crore; Adani Transmission - Rs 8356.07 crore; Adani Enterprises - Rs 22424.44 crore and Adani Ports Rs 20791.15 crore.

Adani Group in a statement, though, admitted to only Rs 34000 crore in long-term borrowings, which it claimed was being "regularly serviced".

"The singular critical test for debt is its regular servicing - something which the Adani Group has implemented diligently, since its inception," the company Said in an official statement.

"Adani Group has created world class assets and aggregate net asset block of Indian operations stands at over Rs 110000 crore. Aggregate net worth of the listed entities stands at over Rs 40000 crore and aggregate EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation) stands at Rs 24000 crore," the statement underlined.

‘DemocracyDemonetised’: Rahul Gandhi accuses BJP of ‘usurping’ power in Meghalaya

NEW DELHI, March 5: Breaking his silence on the defeat in three northeast states, Rahul Gandhi on Monday said the Congress was committed to winning back the people’s trust and hit out at the BJP, accusing it of “usurping” power through proxy in Meghalaya and using “big money” to create an “opportunistic alliance”.

“The Congress party respects the mandate of the people of Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya,” Gandhi said on Twitter two days after results of assembly elections were declared. The Congress lost Meghalaya, though it emerged as the single largest party, and failed to open its account in Tripura and Nagaland.

The Congress chief alleged that the BJP is “obsessed” with “grabbing” power and has shown “utter disregard” to the mandate of people in Meghalaya.

Top party leaders Ahmed Patel and Kamal Nath were rushed to Shillong to talk to regional parties in a bid to form a government but to no avail.

“We are committed to strengthening our party across the North East and to winning back the trust of the people.

“My sincere thanks to each and every Congress worker who toiled for the party,” the Congress president tweeted after his return from Italy, where he had gone to meet his 93-year-old grandmother.

The Congress emerged as the single-largest party in the state winning 21 seats, but failed to cobble up a coalition with other regional outfits.

Meghalaya had been under Congress rule and after losing the state, the party is now in power in three other states, including Karnataka where elections are slated next month, and Puducherry.

“With just 2 seats, the BJP has usurped power in Meghalaya, through a proxy.

“Like in Manipur and Goa, showing utter disregard for the mandate of the people. Obsessed instead with grabbing power, using big money to create an opportunistic alliance,” Gandhi tweeted.

He also used the hashtag “DemocracyDemonetised” with his tweet to target the BJP.

BSP extends support to Samajwadi Party candidates in UP bypolls

LUCKNOW, March 4: Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati announced tacitly on Sunday her party’s support to the Samajwadi Party (SP) in bypolls to a couple of Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh and two more important elections this year, indicating a joint push by the rivals to fight the ruling BJP.

But she made it clear that the understanding for the bypolls, the biennial election to the Rajya Sabha and the UP legislative council elections in March-April should not be read as an alliance for the 2019 parliamentary polls.

Mayawati said she had told her cadre to exercise their franchise and support the strongest candidate positioned to defeat the BJP.

Party leaders Ghanshyam Chand Kharwar and Ashok Gautam gave ample indication about the “strongest candidate” earlier in the day when they announced that the BSP will support the Samajwadi nominees in the Gorakhpur and Phulpur seats, where bypolls are slated for March 11.

The BSP has not put up candidates in the two constituencies that Yogi Adityanath and Keshav Maurya represented respectively in Parliament. They vacated the seats when the BJP high command made Adityanath the chief minister and Maurya his deputy after the party’s emphatic victory in the 2017 assembly elections.

A senior BSP leader, who did not wish to be named, said the understanding was reached after several rounds of talks between BSP national general secretary SC Mishra and his SP counterpart Ram Gopal Yadav.

The deal — extended to the Rajya Sabha and legislative council elections — was sealed after the approval of Mayawati and SP national president Akhilesh Yadav on Thursday, he said.

The BSP-SP understanding apparently could not develop into a partnership for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls as the two sides failed to agree on sharing seats. It was decided to hold fresh talks after the Lok Sabha bypolls, according to the BSP leader.

Mayawati said: “I will like to make it clear that if there is a pre-poll alliance between BSP and SP for the general elections, it will not be a hush-hush affair. It will be an open one.”

According to Samajwadi leader Prahlad Yadav, the current understanding could repeat a feat that a pre-poll alliance between SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav and BSP founder Kanshi Ram achieved in the 1993 assembly polls. The two parties defeated the ruling BJP.

Mayawati said an understanding with the SP was reached to thwart the BJP’s attempt to capture maximum seats in the Rajya Sabha and legisltaive council elections due to a division in opposition ranks.

The Rajya Sabha polls will be held for the 10 seats in UP. With its strength in the legislative assembly, SP is in a position to win one seat comfortably. The BSP will require the SP’s support to send its candidate to the Upper House of Parliament.

“The SP-BSP alliance will thwart BJP effort to bag the ninth seat,” the BSP chief said and extended an offer to the Congress as well. “The BSP will support the Congress’s Rajya Sabha candidate in Madhya Pradesh if the seven Congress MLAs in UP support the BSP candidate.”

The BSP’s support to Samajwadi candidates in the two prestigious Lok Sabha seats has triggered some concern within the BJP.

Chief minister Adityanath, a five-time MP for Gorakhpur, downplayed the joint effort by the two main opposition parties to defeat the BJP. He said his party is strong in both seats and will win with a comfortable margin.

Also, he reminded the BSP about the slogan raised by SP leaders that they will demolish Dalit memorials and statues built that governments under Mayawati had built in UP.

CBI gets 5-day custody of Karti Chidambaram

NEW DELHI, March 1: A day after being arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in a case of suspected corruption that the Congress party has called an instance of political vendetta, Karti Chidambaram, son of former Finance Minister P Chidambaram, was remanded to police custody for five days by a special CBI court on Thursday.

The junior Chidambaram, 46, was sent to custody until March 6 by the special court after the investigating agency sought 14 days more to question him, saying he hadn’t cooperated in its probe.

The CBI has alleged that in 2007, broadcaster INX Media, then owned by Indrani and Peter Mukerjea, received 305 crore from offshore entities by way of foreign direct investment without approval from the Foreign Investment Promotion Board, which has since been disbanded. The allegation is that Karti Chidambaram helped scuttle punitive action against INX Media by the finance ministry by using the influence of his father, who was then the finance minister.

Represented by Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, the CBI on Thursday told special CBI judge Sunil Rana that Karti Chidambaram had been “evasive” and had not answered even a single question when the CBI summoned him last year in connection with the case.

Appearing for Karti Chidambaram, senior advocate and Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi on Wednesday challenged his client’s arrest. The court granted the CBI a day’s custody following which he was produced on Thursday, when Singhvi continued his arguments challenging the arrest. The lawyer told the court that the reasons cited for Karti’s arrest were “bizarre”.

The CBI cited the grounds on which Karti Chidambaram was taken into custody. It told the court that he needed to be questioned in custody and confronted with other suspects and evidence in the form of invoices, hard disks and mobile phones collected by the investigators.

“We have emails and invoices indicating money was given to Advantage Strategic Consultancy Private Limited (ASCPL), which is related to Karti, around the time period when INX Media received favours. There is substantial evidence with the agency which needs to be confronted with Karti. Three mobile phones have been recovered from him which need to be examined. 14 days is the minimum time required to keep him in custody,” Mehta said.

Mehta told the court that Karti Chidambaram’s arrest was based on multiple reasons that included his not cooperating with CBI, frequently travelling abroad, concerns that evidence in the case will be tampered with and a confessional statement by Indrani Mukherjea in which she claimed Karti had demanded one million dollars for facilitating the overseas investments by using his influence.

Indran Mukherjea, claimed Mehta, had met Karti along with her husband Peter. The couple are currently in jail for the murder of Indrani’s daughter Sheena Bora.

CBI also questioned Karti’s motives behind travelling abroad, at one point remarking, “Ask them what he was doing abroad.” Singhvi told the judge that the prosecution was using “innuendos” based on “prejudiced documents”

Singhvi argued that Karti Chidambaram had no intention of fleeing the country, noting that he had returned from a visit to London when he was arrested. Singhvi argued that CBI had nothing left to ask his client and had even stopped summoning him six months ago. He also questioned CBI’s argument that the evidence could be tampered, saying the agency had not produced any evidence to corroborate the claim.

“There is not an iota of evidence against Karti. He is being arrested despite complying with court orders repeatedly,” Singhvi said, adding that if Karti Chidambaram had done something illegal while abroad, the CBI should have filed a contempt petition before the court, which had allowed him to travel overseas.

The Congress has alleged that Karti Chidambaram’s arrest was a case of political vendetta. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has insisted that the law is taking its course.


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