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BJP names Ram Nath Kovind as presidential candidate

NEW DELHI, June 19: The NDA’s presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind on Monday expressed the hope that all political parties will back his nomination in the July 17 election.

“I appeal to all members of the electoral college who are MPs and MLAs from all political parties. I will appeal to them, I will meet them and take their blessings,” Kovind told the media on his arrival from Patna.

Asked whether Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar extended his support when he called on him, the Bihar governor said the Janata Dal-United leader had made a courtesy call.

“As I am the governor of Bihar, Nitishji made a courtesy call when he came to know about my nomination.”

Asked if the opposition will field a candidate against him, Kovind said: “I think I will have the support and blessings of every citizen of India.”

He thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP family for reposing trust and entrusting such a big responsibility on “an ordinary citizen”.

On his arrival in Delhi airport, Kovind was greeted by a host of union ministers and BJP leaders including Thawar Chand Gehlot, JP Nadda, Bhupendra Yadav, Kailash Vijayvargiya and Manoj Tiwary.

Earlier, in Patna, Kovind said about his nomination: “It is a duty. Let us take it as a duty.”

He said he had a lot of good wishes for Bihar, which he added had “rich culture, rich traditions and lot of heritage”.

Congress clears decks for Rahul’s elevation

NEW DELHI, June 6: The decks have been cleared for the elevation of Rahul Gandhi as party president later this year in a uniquely Congress way. The subject did not come up during the two-hour discussions of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) here, but the minutes of the last CWC meeting in November 2016 — at which all the members had unanimously asked Mr. Gandhi to take over the reins of the party after senior CWC member A.K. Antony made the proposal — were “approved” on Tuesday, according to a senior CWC member.

What was officially “discussed and approved was the schedule for the organisational elections,” that will conclude with the election of the new president in October this year. After Tuesday’s meeting, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad answered in the negative when he was asked whether Mr. Gandhi’s elevation as president of the party was discussed. To a question about the last CWC meeting that asked Mr. Gandhi to take over the reins of the party, he said, “That was not discussed.” But evidently, the minutes of that meeting were approved.

The upcoming presidential and vice-presidential elections were briefly discussed, as was Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s initiative on bringing the Opposition parties together on the issue.

Sonia Gandhi who chaired the CWC meeting at her residence, 10, Janpath had a strong message for the party: “..in Manipur and Goa, we failed to convert our winning numbers into forming a government. The outcome reminds us that the BJP will use their enormous resources and muscle power to steal mandates from us, just as they did in Arunachal and earlier in Uttarakhand. We cannot let this happen again.”

During the discussions, the consensus was that Kashmir was too important an issue for party members to speak in different voices. The party committee that was set up recently under former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Kashmir, it was decided, would formulate a position for the party and everyone must abide by that.

Briefing journalists on the discussions, Mr. Azad accused the Modi government of “crushing voices of dissent.”

“Whether it is political parties, print media or electronic media, the government does not respect voices of dissent. It seems it does not respect democracy,” he said.

Tuesday’s CWC meeting was attended, among others, by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former central Ministers P. Chidambaram and A.K. Antony, and general secretaries Kamal Nath, Digvijaya Singh, B.K. Hariprasad, Mukul Wasnik and Ambika Soni.

Oddly, though Mr. Chidambaram, Mr.Antony and Mr. Wasnik accompanied Mr. Azad to the press briefing, none of them spoke.

Demonetisation Slowed Down Economy: Manmohan

NEW DELHI, June 6: Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday said the country's growth has slowed down mainly due to demonetisation and the economy was running on just one engine of public spending.

The status of the economy was discussed at the meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the highest decision- making body of the main opposition party in New Delhi.

Sonia Gandhi, who chaired the meeting, talked about the failure of demonetisation, saying it has affected the country's growth.

She highlighted that Manmohan Singh had predicted a fall in growth due to the note ban announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 8 last year.

She said the GDP figures proved that the former prime minister's forecast that demonetization would slow down economic growth was correct.

Singh, in his intervention at the meeting, talked about the decline in the economic growth as depicted in the last quarter GDP numbers.

He said the slowdown was primarily due to demonetisation and expressed serious concern over the situation, particularly the impact of the growth slowdown on job creation.

The former Prime Minister, an acclaimed economist himself, said the Gross Value Addition (GVA) is the true sub-measure of economic activity and it has experienced a steep and sustained fall.

"Private sector investment has collapsed and the economy is running on just one engine of public spending," he said at the meeting.

Singh said the GVA growth of industry has fallen from 10.7 per cent in March 2016 to just 3.8 per cent in March 2017, a decline of nearly seven percentage points of growth.

"The most worrisome aspect of all this is the impact on job creation. Jobs have been extremely hard to come by for the youth of the nation," he said.

Gandhi in her speech said, "The government's experiments and policies are characterized by poor planning and shoddy implementation. They have been disastrous for our social and economic fabric."

She said demonetisation was touted as a great success, but till today the government refuses to disclose how much of the demonetised currency in circulation was actually returned to banks.

"It isn't that the Reserve Bank of India has forgotten how to count money; it is that the actual numbers show that the scheme was a disaster," she said.

Gandhi also attacked the 'Make in India' campaign saying it failed to create jobs or attract investment and unemployment was rampant in the country.

The former Prime Minister noted that the construction industry, which is one of the largest employment generators in the country, has suffered contraction.

This, he said, "implies loss of millions of jobs for the nation's workforce".

At the party briefing after the CWC meet, senior spokesperson Ghulam Nabi Azad said the Congress had raised the issue of demonetisation both outside and inside Parliament.

Azad said Manmohan Singh and former Finance Minister P Chidambaram had said that note ban will have a bad effect on the economy and will affect GDP.

"But the government rejected all our claims and it has to now admit within a year that the GDP has suffered a loss and how much loss the country has to suffer in last three years," said the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha.

Hizbul Commander Sabzar Bhat killed in Kashmir

SRINAGAR, May 27: A top Hizbul Muhajideen commander and his associate were killed by security forces in Kashmir on Saturday, police said, sparking violent protests across the valley that left one civilian dead and many others injured.

Sabzar Ahmad Bhat, 27, believed to be the successor of slain Hizbul commander Burhan Wani, was gunned down in an overnight raid at a hideout in Tral.

The incident came within of hours of the army killing six suspected militants trying to infiltrate from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

Pakistan described the incidents as “extra-judicial killings” and asked the international community to stop the “ruthless killing of defenceless Kashmiris”. India accuses Pakistan of waging a proxy war in Kashmir by sending trained militants.

Kashmir is on the boil since the killing of Wani -- a poster-boy of homegrown militancy -- deepened anti-India sentiments in the valley. Nearly 100 people were killed in street protests and hundreds of others were blinded or maimed by pellets fired by forces.

Recent videos of alleged human right violations by forces, including the parading of a Kashmiri man tied to an army vehicle, have also fanned public anger.

On Saturday, the government cut mobile internet as protests spread to capital Srinagar where people rushed to stock fuel fearing prolonged unrest. The separatist Hurriyat Conference called a two-day shutdown starting Sunday.

“Two militants were killed in the encounter, one has been identified as Sabzar Bhat, commander of Hizbul Mujahideen,” said SP Pani, South Kashmir director general of police. Bhat carried a reward of Rs 10 lakh on him.

Reporters saw smoke billowing from the burnt out, two-storey house where Bhat was killed. One jawan was seen carrying what appeared to be two assault rifles of the slain militants.

The bearded Bhat – a contrast to the clean-shaven Wani -- was among a group of young, tech-savvy militants who used social media to spread their ideology and woo the youth to their cause.

After Wani’s death, the HM named one Mehmood Gaznavi as the new Kashmir commander. It was widely believed it was an alias of Bhat.

The news of Bhat’s death triggered widespread protests in Pulwama, Shopian, Anantnag, Sopore, Kupwara and Srinagar, and large parts of the valley shut down. In many places, protesters pelted stones at forces, who retaliated with pellets and bullets, sources said.

A senior Pulwama district official confirmed the death of the civilian in “crossfiring” by security forces near the encounter site in Tral in south Kashmir, which has emerged as a hotbed of militancy. Tral is around 45 km from Srinagar

Three other civilians were reportedly injured.

Hurriyat leaders said in a joint statement the strike was to protest “state terrorism” unleashed by forces on civilian protesters.

The army’s Northern Command said the encounters were a result of “relentless operations” by security forces to “defeat desperate attempts by Pak and Pak-sponsored agents to spread terror in the state in the run up to the holy month of Ramzan”.

It said six militants were killed in the Rampur sector of the LoC when they were trying to enter India. On Friday, forces killed two members of a Pakistani border action team known as BAT, also along the LoC.

Police sources said Bhat’s killing could hurt the Hizbul Mujahideen, coming within weeks of another influential commander Zakir Musa severing ties with the outfit.

“They (HM leadership) will have to send someone from Pakistan to take charge of the organisation, which is not possible,” a police official said.

The outfit – designated a terrorist outfit by India, the United States and the European Union – has mostly locally-trained militants who are facing shortage of arms and ammunition. The organisation was involved in several recent incidents of arms snatching.

HM’s top leader Syed Salah-ud-din is based in PoK.

 



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