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Jammu and Kashmir Police arrest three Jaish militants

SRINAGAR, March 24: Jammu and Kashmir police on Sunday said they have arrested three Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terrorists in Kashmir.

“Three terrorists affiliated with the proscribed terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) were arrested today based on a credible input. Incriminating material including ammunition and live rounds recovered. A case has been registered,” Jammu and Kashmir police said in a tweet late Sunday evening.

It was not immediately clear where and how the three were arrested but residents in city’s outskirts near Parimpora witnessed security forces intercepting and detaining some youth from a vehicle during the day.

Security forces have been aggressively pursuing JeM terrorists after a suicide car bomber of the outfit rammed a truck in a CRPF convoy in south Kashmir’s Pulwana on February 14 killing 40 troopers.

Since then many JeM members have been killed in various gunfights across the valley.

Eight JeM members were killed since Thursday in four gunfights with security forces.

Goa CM minister Manohar Parrikar no more

PANAJI, March 17: Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar died at his residence in Panaji on Sunday, prompting the Centre to announce a national mourning even as tributes flowed in from across the political spectrum for the 63-year-old former defence minister who was widely considered the tallest Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader from the state.

Parrikar was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer in February last year and was repeatedly admitted to hospitals in Goa, Mumbai, New Delhi and New York. His mortal remains will be cremated in Panaji on Monday evening after they are kept at the BJP’s state headquarters for political leaders and the public to pay their finals respects, according to an official statement.

Shortly after the Goa CM’s Twitter handle announced on Sunday evening that he was “extremely critical” and that doctors were trying to improve his condition, President Ram Nath Kovind announced that the senior BJP leader had passed away.

“Extremely sorry to hear of the passing of Shri Manohar Parrikar, Chief Minister of Goa, after an illness borne with fortitude and dignity. An epitome of integrity and dedication in public life, his service to the people of Goa and of India will not be forgotten #PresidentKovind,” President Kovind tweeted a little before 8 pm.

After the President’s tweet, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi led a chorus of tributes to Parrikar, calling him an “affable leader” and “admired” leader.

“My condolences to his family in this time of grief.S hri Manohar Parrikar was the builder of modern Goa. Thanks to his affable personality and accessible nature, he remained the preferred leader of the state for years. His pro-people policies ensured Goa scales remarkable heights of progress,” the Prime Minister tweeted.

Gandhi said he was “deeply saddened by the news of the passing of Goa CM… who bravely battled a debilitating illness for over a year.” “Respected and admired across party lines, he was one of Goa’s favourite sons,” the Congress president added.

Parrikar is survived by two sons – Utpal and Abhijeet. He lost his wife to cancer in 2001.

Goa appeared headed for political turmoil after Parrikar’s death, with the BJP’s strength in the state assembly going down to 12 MLAs. The Congress staked its claim to the government in Goa a day earlier on Saturday, as reports of Parrikar’s deteriorating health prompted the BJP to go into an emergency huddle to consider alternatives.

The Congress said on Saturday that the BJP’s strength had diminished to 13 following the death of its legislator Francis D ’Souza last month. After Parrikar’s death on Sunday, the BJP’s strength in assembly stood at 12.

The Congress has 14 MLAs in the assembly that has a current effective strength of 37. Since the state elections in 2017, three Congress legislators have resigned and joined the BJP. One of them was re-elected on a BJP ticket and bypolls for other two seats are still to be held.

Parrikar, who was an Indian Institute of Technology graduate, made a mark as chief minister of Goa when the politics in the state was hit by defections and unstable governments. He became the Goa CM for the first time in October 2000 after a split in the ruling Congress. Parrikar projected himself as a leader who reached out to people across religious boundaries, attempting to woo the state’s 26% Catholic community.

He was appointed the country’s defence minister between November 2014 and February 2017. However, Parrikar returned to Goa politics after the BJP failed to win a majority in the state assembly in 2017. In the 40-member assembly, the Congress emerged as the largest party with 17 MLAs and the BJP stood second with 13.

However, regional parties Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and Goa Forward Party (GFP) – both with three MLAs each – and three independent legislators decided to support the BJP on the condition that Parrikar would head the coalition government.

In February 2018, the Goa CM was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was treated at hospitals in India and the United States. Despite his failing health, Parrikar continued to head the fragile coalition government as there was no consensus on a leader for the post of the CM.

After the Goa CM’s death was announced on Sunday, BJP MLAs in the state held a meeting along with party leaders from Delhi at a Goa hotel, a person with knowledge of the developments said on condition of anonymity. The agenda of the deliberations, however, was not immediately known.

There was no response from alliance partners MGP and GFP till the time of going to press.

The Union home ministry has announced national mourning on Monday and a state funeral will be accorded to Parrikar. Top BJP leaders from across the country including Modi and BJP president Amit Shah are expected to be present for the last rites.

Will reach out on boat, bus, train: Priyanka’s letter ahead of Ganga yatra

LUCKNOW, March 17: A day before she begins her river journey from Prayagraj to Varanasi to launch poll campaign, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra targeted BJP government for ‘neglecting’ youth, women, farmers and working class and said she was reaching out to people with the help of Ganga that was a support to people of Uttar Pradesh.

“As a soldier of Congress my responsibility is to join hands with you to change the politics of Uttar Pradesh. The youth, farmers and working class are facing problems and they want to share their pain. In the din of political calculations the voice of youth, women, farmers and workers has disappeared from state’s policies,” said Priyanka, the AICC general secretary for east UP in an open letter to people before the scheduled launch of her poll campaign.

She is embarking on a river journey from March 18 to 20 and will travel from Prayagraj to Varanasi beginning Monday.

Priyanka arrived here this morning to interact with partymen, meet delegations and get feedback about the prevailing political situation.

“I will undertake journey by river route, bus, train and also go on padyatra and reach out to you through all the means. Ganga is a symbol of truth and equality and is an embodiment of ganga-jamuni culture. Ganga does not discriminate among the people. Ganga is a support for people of Uttar Pradesh and I am taking help of Ganga to reach out to you,” she said in her letter.

“I am closely attached to this land of UP. I am reaching out to you for a direct dialogue as no political change can begin without listening to you and sharing your pain. I assure that we will bring this change on the foundation of truth and your resolve and move ahead together to solve your problems,” said Priyanka.

Congress’ alliances firmed up, united against Modi govt: Rahul Gandhi

CHENNAI, March 13: Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday said his party is firming up its alliances with different parties in various states to “defeat” Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Lok Sabha election. Gandhi asserted that the opposition is “united” against the Narendra Modi government.

“Alliances have firmed up in a number of states like Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Jharkhand. Talks on alliance in Bihar have practically concluded. Conversation on alliance in J&K is close to the final stages,” Gandhi told a press conference in Chennai.

“Entire opposition is united and fighting Narendra Modi and the RSS…We will defeat Mr Narendra Modi,” Gandhi said.

This comes on a day when the leaders from the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal are holding talks in New Delhi to reach at an agreement for the parliamentary polls. The Congress and the RJD are alliance partners in Bihar, where they had defeated the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in 2015 assembly polls. The Janata Dal (United) of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was then part of the grand-alliance.

Since the JD(U) parted ways with the grand-alliance in 2017 and went to go back to the NDA fold, the RJD-Congress alliance have cobbled up tie-ups with the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party of former Union minister Upendra Kushwaha, the Hindustan Awam Morcha-Secular of former Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, the Loktantrik Janata Dal of Sharad Yadav and Vikassheel Insan Party of Mukesh Sahni.

The Congress and the RJD are yet to finalise a seat sharing pact for the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar among the alliance partners. AICC general secretary KC Venugopal and senior Congress Ahmed Patel are expected to seal the seat sharing deal with Tejashwi Yadav of the RJD, Kushwaha, Manjhi, Yadav and Sahni at their Delhi talks.

The Congress intends to contest 12 to 13 seats in Bihar. In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the Congress had contested on 12 Lok Sabha seats. The RJD had fielded its candidates on 27 seats while one seat was given to the Nationalist Congress Party, whose Tariq Anwar had won from the Katihar Lok Sabha constituency. Anwar is now with the Congress.

Congress Will Reserve 33% Government Jobs For Women: Rahul Gandhi

CHENNAI, March 13: Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday said the UPA will reserve 33 per cent government jobs for women and pass the Women's Reservation Bill giving 33 per cent of seats in the Lok Sabha if it wins the Lok Sabha battle.

Interacting with students of Stella Maris College for Women here, Mr Gandhi also said that the UPA government would simplify the procedures in the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and have a low single tax rate.

Wearing a jeans and T-shirt, Mr Gandhi faced a range of questions from the students about the Congress-led UPA's plans for economic growth, bringing peace in Jammu and Kashmir, on charges against his brother-in-law Robert Vadra, views about the Modi government and the reason for hugging Modi in Parliament.

To a question on the status of women in the country, he said the situation was better in south India than in north India. There was the cultural aspect, he said.

"There is still a lot needed to be done in Tamil Nadu," he quickly added.

He said that if the UPA formed a government, the Women's Reservation Bill would be passed and 33 per cent of jobs in central and state governments would be reserved for women.

The Congress leader said he had no hatred towards Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

"Love is the foundation of every religion whether it is Hinduism, Islam or Christianity. I was watching the Prime Minister speech in Parliament where he was criticizing my father, grandmother, great grandfather and the Congress," he said.

"Inside me, I was feeling affection for him. He was so angry that he was not able to see the beauty of the world."

Mr Gandhi said he felt that Modi didn't have the love he wanted. "I wanted to show affection and hugged him."

He said the UPA defeat in 2014 taught him several lessons.

"I learn from Modi. I don't hate him. Do you hate the person who teaches you?" Gandhi asked to students and got a big "No" as the answer.

"The biggest teacher are the people who attack. The more you are attacked, the more you give love and affection back."

On bringing peace back in Jammu and Kashmir, he said the first step was to build the bridge to the people there. It was built between 2004 and 2014 during the UPA government.

As a result, terror attacks came down drastically and power was given to the people by holding elections.

Pakistan will carry out terror attacks, he said. "But we have to engage with the people of Jammu and Kashmir."

He criticized the central government for facilitating businessmen like Nirav Modi, Vijay Mallya and others to leave the country after defrauding the banks.

"The money deposited in the banks by people during demonetization was given to these businessmen," he said.

When a student queried why he did not mention the name of Robert Vadra along with these businessmen, Gandhi said: "The government has the right to investigate. The law must not be applied selectively. I am the first person to say investigate Vadra."

He asked the students how many times they had seen PM Modi taking any question.

According to him, the current central government was North India centric and he believed that all parts of India should have an equal say.

Gandhi said the world was moving from being US centric to US-China-Russia centric and India should not lean right or left but should stand straight.

The Congress President said that the biggest hindrance for economic growth was crony capitalism and corruption.

On the education system, Gandhi said there should be space for the government and everything cannot be left to the hands of the private sector.

There were lighter moments during the interaction with Gandhi asking the students to address him as Rahul and not as sir -- which was applauded by the students.

Mr Gandhi maintained that he was still a young politician.

Modi tags top politicians, industry leaders and actors urging them to spread awareness about voting

NEW DELHI, March 13: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday tagged top politicians including Congress president Rahul Gandhi and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, celebrities including Alia Bhatt and Ranveer Singh, and other prominent personalities on Twitter urging them to “encourage” people to vote in record numbers in the upcoming Lok Sabha election.

“I appeal to @RahulGandhi, @MamataOfficial, @PawarSpeaks, @Mayawati, @yadavakhilesh, @yadavtejashwi and @mkstalin to encourage increased voter participation in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. A high turnout augurs well for our democratic fabric,” reads one of the tweets posted by Modi.

Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav responded to Modi’s tweet with a dig urging people to elect a new prime minister in the Lok Sabha election. “I felt happy that the prime minister appealed to mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) for mahaparivartan (grand change). I will also appeal to all Indian citizens to vote in large numbers and elect a new prime minister,” Yadav said in his post.

The prime minister also tagged actors Deepika Padukone, Alia Bhatt, Anushka Sharma, Ranveer Singh and Varun Dhawan among others saying, “I am sure their message will have a positive impact on our citizens.” He also urged actors Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Aamir Khan, and filmmaker Karan Johar to “creatively ensure high voter awareness and participation in the coming elections.”

He also named industry leaders Ratan Tata and Anand Mahindra in his posts on the micro-blogging site for “ensuring maximum participation in voting.”

Modi reached out prominent personalities from a wide spectrum of society soon after posting a blog in which he made “four requests for democracy”. This comes barely four weeks ahead of the first phase of the Lok Sabha election.

In his blog, PM Modi said election is an “occasion for celebration” while asserting that “not voting causes great anguish”.

“Would you want a situation where something happens in the country that you disapprove of and you are forced to think - because I did not go vote that day, this unfortunate situation has arisen and the nation is suffering,” reads PM Modi’s latest blog.

“Spare yourself from that regret and go vote,” advises the prime minister, who also said that by voting, people connect themselves with the country’s dreams and aspirations.

The “four requests”, as put out by PM Modi, are for the eligible voters to get themselves registered, make sure their names figure in the list of electoral rolls, plan their voting schedule to make sure they use franchise and to mobilise friends and families to vote in large numbers.

“Dear @srikidambi, @Pvsindhu1 & @NSaina, The core of badminton is the court and the core of democracy is the vote. Just like you smash records, do also inspire a record-breaking voter turnout. I request you to increase voter awareness & motivate youth to vote in large numbers,” reads another tweet of PM Modi

He also sought participation of spiritual gurus Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Sadhguru for “greater voter awareness.” The prime minister also tagged chief ministers of several states in his series of tweets seeking support for “improving voting across the country”.

Nitish Kumar of Bihar, Naveen Patnaik of Odisha, HD Kumaraswamy of Karnataka, N Chandrababu Naidu of Andhra Pradesh and Pawan Chamling of Sikkim are among the chief ministers PM Modi tagged in his posts on Twitter.

“Higher voting means a stronger democracy and a stronger democracy means a developed India,” writes he prime minister. The Lok Sabha election will be held for 543 seats between April 11 and May 19. The counting of votes would take place on May 23.

Secret documents in Rafale review plea jeopardize national security: Centre to Supreme Court

NEW DELHI, March 13: The widely-circulated review petition against the Supreme Court’s December verdict in the Rafale deal that includes leaked defence ministry documents jeopardizes national security and should be dismissed, the defence ministry has told the Supreme Court in an affidavit filed on Wednesday

The Centre has also argued that the documents presented a “selective and incomplete picture of internal secret deliberations” on a matter relating to national security and defence.

It reasoned that the petition should be dismissed and the documents removed from the top court’s records.

The government also claimed privilege over the documents presented under the evidence law for courts and insisted that the court could not take them into consideration without the government’s permission.

Defence Secretary Sanjay Mitra told the top court that the petitioners had attached documents relating to war capacity of India’s combat jets. “This information is now available to our adversaries...This puts the national security in jeopardy,” the top defence ministry official said.

The government also told a bench headed by Chief Justice of India Rajnan Gogoi that an internal inquiry into the leaks had started.

The petitioners are guilty of leakage of sensitive information, which offends the terms of the agreements for purchase of the fighter jets, the government said. Additionally, those who have conspired in this leakage are guilty of penal offences under the Indian Penal Code including theft by unauthorized photocopying and leakage of sensitive official documents affecting national security.

In the last Supreme Court hearing, the Centre’s top law officer, attorney general KK Venugopal, had asked the court to reject petitions seeking review of the Rafale verdict claiming that the petitioners’ case rested on stolen papers acquired from “present or former employees” of the defence ministry.

Brandishing the British-era Official Secrets Act, Venugopal had said that it was a “criminal act” on the part of petitioners to bring the documents with them. “They have come with unclean hands,” he had said.

In today’s India, SC judges seek justice: Rahul Gandhi

GANDHINAGAR, March 12: Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday targeted Prime Minister Narendra while addressing a public rally in his home state, Gujarat saying the institutions of the country are being attacked under the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre. Gandhi said the judges of the Supreme Court are seeking “justice” complaining that they are not being allowed to function.

“In today’s India the judges of the Supreme Court seek justice in front of people…This is not happening only with the Supreme Court…The institutions are under attack everywhere,” said Gandhi hitting out at the Modi government.

“For the first time in history, four judges of the Supreme Court went to the press and said we are not being allowed to work, and take the name of judge (Brijmohan) Loya immediately after that,” Gandhi said at the Jan Sankalp rally of the Congress in the Gujarat capital.

CBI judge Loya was hearing a case pertaining to alleged fake encounter of Sohrabuddin Sheikh at the time of his death in 2014. His death led to a huge political row last year following a media report claiming foul play behind his death. BJP president Amit Shah was an accused in the case.

The Congress president said the government doesn’t talk about the real issues. “The biggest issue in the country is unemployment, which is at 45-year high but the government doesn’t talk about this,” he said.

Gandhi made the remarks at an election rally in Gujarat’s Gandhinagar after attending the Congress Working Committee meet at Ahmedabad. He said the decision to hold CWC meet in Gujarat after nearly six decades was taken in the view of the “fight between two ideologies” in the country.

“Both ideologies are seen here in Gujarat. On the one hand, there is an ideology of Mahatma Gandhi that ideology has built this nation…Today, the other powers are trying to weaken this country,” said Gandhi.

The highest decision making body of the Congress met in Ahmedabad earlier in the day to prepare final strategy for the Lok Sabha elections that will be held between April 11 and May 19 spread over seven phases. This was the first CWC meeting in Gujarat since 1961. It was also the first CWC meeting attended by Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.

At the Congress strategy meet, the party leadership decided to corner the BJP-led ruling National Democratic Alliance over the issues of demonetisation, GST (goods and services tax) rollout, unemployment, agrarian distress and corruption. The Congress has alleged corruption in Rafale deal.

At his election rally, Gandhi reiterated his charge that Modi scrapped the Rafale deal being negotiated by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government and signed a new agreement with France to “benefit his friend Anil Ambani”. Both the government and Reliance Defence have, on several occasions, denied the allegations levelled by the Congress and Gandhi.

Your vote is a weapon. Use it: Priyanka Gandhi debuts at Gujarat rally

GANDHINAGAR, March 12: Priyanka Gandhi Vadra launched her first ever political rally after taking over as Congress general secretary with a stinging attack on the ruling national coalition led by BJP and a concerted effort to steer the public debate ahead of the Lok Sabha elections to bread and butter issues.

This election, she said in an eight-minute speech at the Congress’s anniversary event of the Dandi March in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state Gujarat, is in no way less than the struggle for Independence. “In this, you are going to decide your future,” she said, urging people not to get distracted by “needless issues”.

“I want to speak from my heart. There is no bigger patriotism than to be an aware citizen, your awareness is a weapon, your vote is a weapon… Only you can protect the country”, the Congress leader, who recently joined active politics as general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh East, said. But this weapon, she added, is not used to harm anyone.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi were also present at the event in Gandhinagar district hours after the Congress Working Committee meeting.

In a resolution, the party’s top policy panel had resolved “to defeat the RSS, BJP ideology of fascism, hatred, anger and divisiveness”.

“No sacrifice is too great in this endeavour, no effort too little, this battle will be won,” Rahul Gandhi tweeted hours after the strategy meeting started.

At the rally, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra accused the BJP of practicing divisive politics.

“What is happening in country today makes me sad,” she said, accusing the BJP of spreading hatred and destroying institutions.

“Our institutions are being destroyed. Wherever you see, hatred is being spread. Nothing matters more to us that you and I protect this nation, work for it and move forward together,” she said.

Priyanka Gandhi said there will be attempts to distract the electorate but people must ask the right questions.

“Think hard before taking a decision,” she said.

Priyanka Gandhi also gave her audience a few questions that they should be asking.

“Those who talk big in front of you, where are the 2 crore jobs he promised? What about the Rs 15 lakh he promised? What about women’s safety?” she said.

Met Rakesh Asthana in Dubai, he threatened to make my life hell: Christian Michel tells Delhi court

NEW DELHI, March 12: Christian Michel, the alleged middleman in AgustaWestland chopper scam case, claimed in a Delhi court Tuesday that former CBI special director Rakesh Asthana met him in Dubai and threatened to make his life hell inside jail if he did not toe the line of the agency in its investigation in the scandal.

“Sometime back Rakesh Asthana met me in Dubai and threatened that my life would be made hell and that’s what is going on. My next door inmate is (gangster) Chotta Rajan... I don’t understand what crime I have committed to be put along with those who have killed several people,” he said.

Michel, who was present in the courtroom, also told the court that he was put in the prison with 16-17 Kashmiri separatist leaders.

The statements were made by Michel before Special Judge Arvind Kumar allowed the Enforcement Directorate to interrogate him inside Tihar Jail in Delhi.

The court said the agency will quiz him tomorrow and the day after.

A jail official will remain present and Michel’s lawyer is also allowed a limited access during interrogation, for half an hour in the morning and in evening, it said.

The court took note of Michel’s submission alleging mental torture inside the jail and directed Tihar jail authorities to produce the CCTV footage and reports by Thursday based on which he was shifted to a high-security ward.

On Monday, the court asked the jail authorities to submit their reply on the agency’s plea and issued a production warrant for Tuesday for Michel after his lawyer alleged mental torture inside the jail.

Michel was arrested by ED on December 22 last year after his extradition from Dubai.

The court previously lashed out at the jail authorities for failing to justify the shifting of Michel to a high-security cell in isolation, saying it will start an inquiry if it does not get a proper response.

Michel is among the three alleged middlemen being probed in the chopper scam by ED and Central Bureau of Investigation. The others are Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa.

Rahul Gandhi says Congress to win all 7 seats in Delhi

NEW DELHI, March 11: Congress chief Rahul Gandhi on Monday scotched any hopes of a tie-up with the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi for the Lok Sabha elections as he urged booth level workers to win all seven seats in the capital.

“Congress has to win all the 7 seats in Delhi. The booth level workers have to ensure it,” he said.

The grand old party had drawn a blank in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in Delhi with the BJP sweeping all seven seats.

Earlier Monday, AAP leader Gopal Rai said that his party is not in talks with the Congress for an alliance in Delhi and it will contest all seven seats in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections on its own.

Rai said Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supremo Arvind Kejriwal will hold a meeting with all state unit chiefs of the party and MLAs to discuss the strategy for the parliamentary polls later in the day.

“The party is not in talks with the Congress for an alliance in Delhi and it will contest all the seats on its own,” the AAP’s Delhi unit convenor said. “Kejriwal would be holding a meeting this evening at his residence to discuss the strategy for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.”

Talks of an alliance between the Congress and the AAP evaporated last week after Delhi Congress chief Sheila Dikshit announced that the party will not form an alliance with the AAP in the national capital and contest the Lok Sabha polls alone.

Delhi votes on May 12, the sixth phase of the seven-phase general elections.

Sharad Pawar exits Lok Sabha race, makes way for family’s generation next

PUNE, March 11: Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar on Monday stepped back from his earlier decision to contest the Lok Sabha elections from Madha in Maharashtra and has decided to make way for his grand nephew to fight the polls.

Announcing his decision in Pune after meeting senior party members, the 78-year-old NCP boss said he has decided not to contest Lok Sabha polls after discussing the issue within the family.

“After holding talks with family, we were of the opinion that next generation members should be given a chance. There is demand from various party leaders and workers for Parth Pawar’s candidature from Maval,” said Sharad Pawar, clearing way for Parth, his grand nephew and son of Ajit Pawar.

Sharad Pawar said that he felt it was the right time to take decision to not contest since he already contested 14 times in the past. “I thought that already two members of my family are contesting polls this time, ” he said. Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule, a sitting MP, will contest the Lok Sabha polls. Parth Pawar, the son of Sharad Pawar’s nephew Ajit, is the second family member contesting the elections.

Last month, Sharad Pawar had said that besides him, his daughter Supriya Sule would also contest the Lok Sabha polls. “Parth, Rohit and Ajit will not contest the election. I am going to contest,” Pawar said, in response to a question that suggested he was drawing criticism from other political parties for “dynastyic politics”. Rohit Pawar is the grandson of Sharad Pawar’s elder brother Appasaheb and is a member of the zilla panchayat.

Sharad Pawar is a three-time chief minister of Maharashtra and a former union agriculture minister in the UPA government.

India polls start from April 11 in 7 phases, results on May 23

NEW DELHI, March 10: Voting for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections will start on 11 April, the Election Commission said on Sunday, announcing a 7-phase schedule for the world’s biggest democratic exercise. Four states, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, will also vote for new provincial governments.

The contest for 543 Lok Sabha seats pits the ruling BJP’s Narendra Modi against Rahul Gandhi-led Congress party which is attempting to work with regional parties to try stopping Modi’s return to power. Modi - the second non-Congress Prime Minister after Atal Bihari Vajpayee to complete a full term in office – is making a strong pitch for his re-election.

How it pans out in the end, will be known on 23 May when the Election Commission says, the votes will be counted. Nearly 900 million voters are entitled to vote, many of them will be voting for the first time in the national elections and have been the focus of Modi and Rahul Gandhi’s campaigns.

“The festival of democracy, Elections are here,” tweeted Narendra Modi minutes after the Election Commission announced the poll schedule, urging people to participate in the poll process. “I hope this election witnesses a historic turnout. I particularly call upon first-time voters to vote in record numbers,” Modi said, reinforcing his outreach to young voters.

The Election Commission said 91 constituencies spread across 20 states will see polling on April 11, 97 constituencies in 13 states on April 18, 115 seats in 14 states on April 23, 71 seats in 9 states on April 29, 51 seats in 7 states on May 6, 59 seats in 7 states on May 12 and 59 constituencies in 8 states on May 19.

The poll process will be stretched across seven phases in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. In 22 states, it will be held on a single day.

“While finalizing the election dates, exam schedules of state examination boards, CBSE, various festivals including festivals which have religious, harvest season in other department are also adequately factored in,” said Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora at a media conference.

The announcement of the poll schedule kicks in the ground rules for the contest, called the model code of conduct designed to create a level-playing field for opposition parties.

The code prohibits governments from making any announcement that could influence the voters and gives the poll panel, the power to transfer any official associated with the election process across India.

Rajesh Griglani exhorts Congress workers to expose BJP lies

By Deepak Arora

AMBALA, March 10: The Congress organised a workers meet to boost the morale of booth level workers at BPS planetarium here on Sunday.

Rajesh Griglani, a Master Trainer, who reached here from Delhi to motivate the party workers, said Prime Minister Narender Modi and the BJP had been doing the politics of lies.

Rajesh Griglani exhorted the Congress workers to expose the BJP lies with all might. He also asked them to focus in strengthening their respective booths.

He said that the BJP was playing the victim card with the help of the media.

Rajesh Griglani said the BJP has been trying to show that the Congress government was corrupt and also defame it.

Citing a conversation with a CBI officer, Rajesh claimed that the officer told him that there was no coal scam and it was just the propaganda of the BJP during the previous Lok Sabha elections.

He called upon the workers to decrease the credibility of sold (refered to as Godi) media. Following these comments, a section of media boycotted the event.

Later on, Rajesh claimed that he was not referring to the entire media but the only media "which was and is corrupt".

Congress leader Nirmal Singh, who had organised the event, said "it was a workers meeting and such thing (criticising the media) was unfortunate.

He said "the prime objective of the meeting was to boost the morale of the workers and the Congress workers would expose the lies of BJP in the ensuing elections."

Who freed Masood Azhar, asks Rahul Gandhi

BANGALURU, March 9: Congress chief Rahul Gandhi Saturday asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to tell the nation that it was the BJP government which released terror outfit JeM chief Masood Azhar from an Indian jail.

Addressing a public rally in north Karnataka, Gandhi said, “Let Modi make me understand who sent Masood Azhar from Indian jail to Pakistan.” The Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) had claimed responsibility for the Pulwama terror attack in which 40 CRPF men were killed.

“I have a small question for Modi. Who killed CRPF jawans? What is the name of JeM chief? His name is Masood Azhar,” the Congress chief said, adding it was the BJP government in 1999 that sent him from Indian jail to Pakistan through Kandahar in Afghanistan.

“Why are you not speaking about it. Why are you not saying that the person who killed CRPF jawans was sent to Pakistan by BJP... Modiji we are not like you. We don’t bow in front of terror. Make it clear to people to India who sent Masood Azhar,” he said.

Pakistan-based Azhar was released by India in exchange of passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines plane IC-814 in 1999 during the Vajpayee government.

Gandhi also alleged that while Modi talked about corruption, the whole country knew he was corrupt.

He said the ruling alliance of Congress and JD(S) in Karnataka would fight the Lok Sabha elections together and win it.

Gandhi also accused Modi of “fooling” the people of the country for the last five years with his programmes like “Make in India, Stand Up India and Sit Down India”.

We kept quiet, but Pakistan began crying at 5am: Modi on Balakot strike

NOIDA, March 9: Prime Minister Narendra Modi said it was Pakistan which “cried” after the Indian Air Force (IAF) carried out a strike at terror camps of Jaish-e-Mohammed deep across the Line of Control. He said Pakistan had done its preparation after Pulwama attack expecting a post-Uri style surgical strike, but “we went by air”.

“When surgical strike happened, we informed the country about it. After Pulwama, we did what we had but we were keeping quiet. It was Pakistan that started crying at 5 am on Twitter. Pakistan started crying ‘Modi ne maara, Modi ne maara’ (Modi hit us, Modi hit us)…But some people, who eat of India but make statements to help Pakistan,” Modi told a public rally here.

The prime minister said, “After Pulwama attack, the brave soldiers of India did what had not been done in decades. They hit the terrorists and their patrons.”

“Pakistan expected that Modi will carry out another surgical strike. They made heavy deployment along on the ground. But we went there by air,” he said.

Modi targeted the opposition leaders once again for seeking clarification from the government over the IAF strike in Balakot terror camps belonging to Jaish-e-Mohammed, the terror outfit which claimed responsibility for attack in Pulwama killing 40 CRPF jawans on February 14.

He said, “Pakistan has admitted that IAF strike happened there. The IAF has stated that they carried out a strike at terror camp. But some people still have doubts and raise questions…They are just helping Pakistan.”

“Should they have any doubt who have Indian blood flowing in their veins?...Should they have any doubt who chant Bharat Mata ki jai (Hail Mother India)? Who are these people who raise doubts? Will you trust the words of these people,” Modi said in his speech after inaugurating development projects from Noida.

Modi blamed the previous governments for adopting policies that allowed the menace of terrorism turned into a “naasur” (canker).

“After the surgical strike and air strike, the patrons of terror have understood this is not the India of old…Terror attacks and blasts even earlier were linked to Pakistan. But the previous governments just changed the home minister. Should such situations be dealt with by changing home minister or policy? We changed the policy,” Modi said.

Stating the terrorists are in panic after strict action taken by India, Modi said it is the time to stay “alert” against those “trying to break the nation”.

Election strategist Prashant Kishor, JD(U) exchange fresh fire after ‘kingmaker’ remark

PATNA, March 9: Two days after telling a youth gathering that he had helped “people make CM and PM”, JD(U) national vice-president Prashant Kishor has again set off a minor storm in the party by saying he did not concur with party chief Nitish Kumar’s method of realigning with the BJP and the exit from the Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance), which should have ideally been followed by a fresh mandate.

The poll strategist-turned-politician made the observations during an interview with a news portal, which uploaded the over-an-hour video on Thursday. Kishor’s remarks have ruffled some feathers within his own party as the interview went viral on the social media on Friday.

In the interview, Kishor has, however, pointed out that U-turns by politicians were not unique to Kumar.

“You can look at Chandrababu Naidu, Naveen Patnaik and parties like the DMK. Looking back further, we have the example of the V P Singh government, which was supported both by the Left and the BJP,” he said.

Kishor also said there was no yardstick to measure if Kumar was right in taking the drastic decision of walking out of the “Mahagathbandhan,” comprising the RJD and the Congress, in July, 2017.

“For those who saw in him (Kumar) a potential challenger to (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi, the move was a let-down. But those who were of the view that he had begun to compromise on governance in his zeal to take on Modi would feel he was right,” he said.

Asked to comment on the episode, Kishor said, “Keeping in view the interests of Bihar, I think it was okay. But I do not agree with the method adopted. I have said this earlier and I still hold the view, upon taking the decision to return to the BJP-led coalition, he should have ideally sought a fresh mandate.”

Kishor had earlier worked with Kumar as a poll strategist during the 2015 Bihar Assembly election, wherein the latter was the chief ministerial candidate of the Mahagathbandhan, which came into being as a result of his forging an alliance with arch rival Lalu Prasad’s RJD.

Corruption cases against Prasad’s younger son Tejashwi Yadav, then the deputy chief minister, made Kumar queasy and he ultimately resigned as chief minister, but was sworn in again in less than 24 hours as the BJP?came up with its offer of support on a day of dramatic developments.

Reacting to Kishor’s remarks, RJD MLA and the party’s chief state spokesman Bhai Virendra said, “The JD(U) national vice-president’s statement is tantamount to admitting what has been our charge. Nitish had got the mandate as a candidate of the Grand Alliance, which comprised the RJD as well as the Congress, and his act of crossing over to the NDA without seeking a fresh mandate was tantamount to stabbing the Mahagathbandhan in the back.”

JD(U) MLC and party spokesman Neeraj Kumar sought to remind Kishor, who was inducted into the party in September last year and elevated to the post of national vice-president weeks later, that he was taking baby steps in politics.

“I do not wish to comment on his utterances but would like to show him the mirror,” he said.

“He is offering ‘pravachan’ (discourse) on seeking a mandate. Where was his ‘gyan’ (wisdom) when the party took the decision to realign with the BJP? Moreover, does he not remember that his own formal entry into the JD(U) came after the development which he is raising questions about now,” the JD(U) leader said.

Ensure India’s forces aren’t used for political gains: Ex-navy chief to EC

NEW DELHI, March 9: Former chief of naval staff, Admiral L Ramdas (retired), has written to the Election Commission of India (ECI) expressing “concern” and “dismay” over what he sees as the misuse of the air strike in Pakistan to “influence the electorate”.

Admiral Ramdas led the Indian Navy from 1990 to 1993 and was part of naval blockade of East Pakistan during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. The operation, one of the most effective naval blockades, prevented Pakistan from evacuating over 90,000 soldiers from Bangladesh. They eventually surrendered before the Indian Army. Ramdas was awarded the Vir Chakra for his role in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War.

Criticising the use of armed force to garner votes, the former admiral has said the “recent instances of using the Armed Forces for political gains, especially in the aftermath of both Pulwama [in which 40 CRPF jawans lost their lives] and the strikes in Balakot” is against the ethos of the armed forces.

The armed forces, Ramdas has said in the letter, are “a-political” and have always followed “secular” ethos.

He has also asked the Election Commission to ensure that armed forces are not used for political gains. “With elections due a few weeks from now, it is particularly important that there should not be any misuse of these recent events by any political party to send triumphalist or jingoistic messages,” Admiral Ramdas has said in his letter.

SC sends Ayodhya case to 3 mediators

NEW DELHI, March 8: The Supreme Court on Friday ordered mediation in the Ayodhya title suit. A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi passed the order to this effect.

Mediation will start within a week at Faizabad and state of UP has to make arrangements, the Supreme Court ruled. Mediation panel has to give its report within four weeks.

The mediation will be done by a three-member panel, which the Supreme Court said, will be at liberty to induct more mediators or seek legal assistance. Justice FM Khalifulah, the retired Supreme Court judge is the chairman of the panel.

Art of Living head Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and senior advocate Sriram Panchu are the other mediators on the panel. Panchu is a trained mediator.

The top court directed both parties to maintain utmost confidentiality during the process of mediation, which will be held in-camera. There ought not to be any reporting in print or electronic of the mediation process, the court said.

The mediation panel will revert to the Supreme Court registry if there are any hurdles in the process of mediation, the five-judge bench ruled. The other judges on the bench are justices SA Bobde, DY Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and SA Nazeer.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved its order after hearing both sides on the proposal to try out mediation as an alternative to litigation to settle the decades-old dispute.

The suggestion was opposed by the Uttar Pradesh government and the Hindu parties, except the Nirmohi Akhara, a religious denomination that is one of the main parties to the civil suit, but was welcomed by the Muslim side.

The court is hearing petitions challenging a 2010 Allahabad high court order that trifurcated the 2.77-acre-site between the Nirmohi Akhara, the Sunni Central Waqf Board, and Ram Lalla (the child deity).

The court is also considering a petition by the Centre, which wants to release 67.7 acres of land acquired in 1993 around the site — except for .303 acres on which the actual disputed structure stood — to its original owners.

The court mentioned mediation as a possibility to resolve the contentious dispute in a hearing on February 26. The judges suggested an amicable resolution while telling the parties that they were seriously “giving a chance for mediation” in an attempt to “heal relationships”.

The verdict may assume political signifiance because it comes just weeks ahead of the general elections this summer. With the dispute having been referred to mediation, the outcome is likely be known only after the polls.

Many of the Hindu parties opposed mediation saying it would only delay the case, and that previous attempts to mediate the dispute had failed.

In its last hearing on Wednesday, the judges urged lawyers on both sides to exercise restraint and not argue on history.

“Don’t tell us history. We have also read history. Do not tell us what we already know. We have no control over what happened in the past...we have no control over the past. We can only undo the present, which is the dispute before us,” Justice Bodbe said.

Justice Chandrachud, however, aired his doubts over the binding nature of mediation and whether it would work in a dispute that has taken the nature of a representative suit.

“It’s no longer a dispute between just two parties but a wider dispute between two communities. Even if we go through mediation how would it be binding on all?” he asked.

In Congress first list, Sonia to contest from Rae Bareli, Rahul from Amethi

NEW DELHI, March 7: The Congress on Thursday released a first list of 11 candidates, including Congress president Rahul Gandhi and United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi, for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from Uttar Pradesh at a time when functionaries say back-channel talks are on over joining the Samajwadi Party (SP)-Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) alliance in the state.

The re-nomination of Sonia Gandhi from Rae Bareli ends speculation that she may sit out of the elections to make way in the Gandhi family bastion for party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who is also the party’s east Uttar Pradesh incharge. The Congress also announced four candidates from Gujarat.

While Rahul Gandhi will contest from Amethi, the party will field former Members of Parliament Salman Khurshid (Farukkhabad), Anu Tandon (Unnao), RPN Singh (Kushi Nagar), Jitin Prasada (Dhaurahra), Nirmal Khatri (Faizabad), and Salim Iqbal Shervani (Badaun).

The party has also named Rajaram Pal as its candidate from Akbarpur, a seat won by BSP supremo Mayawati in 2004; Imran Masood from Saharanpur, and Brij Lal Khabri from Jalaun, a reserved constituency for Scheduled Caste candidates.

Party functionaries, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the 11 candidates from UP have still left scope for the possibility of some understanding between the Congress and the SP-BSP combine, which now also includes the Rashtriya Lok Dal.

A senior Congress leader indicated that the last word on the arrangement was yet to be said. Though the BSP and the SP did not tie up with the Congress over an apparent disagreement over how seats should be shared, back-channel talks are on between them to prevent division of anti-BJP votes through triangular contests after the February 14 Pulwama terror attack, he added.

In any case, the SP-BSP combine left Rae Bareli and Amethi for the Congress. “This shows the Congress is a part of the mahagathbandhan (grand alliance),” SP leader Akhilesh Yadav said on Tuesday, when asked of a possibly of a larger alliance.

The Gujarat list includes Raju Parmar from Ahmedabad West, former state Congress president Bharatsinh M Solanki from Anand, Prashant Patel from Vadodara, and Ranbjit Mohansinh Rathwa from the reserved tribal seat of Chhota Udaipur.

Political analyst N Bhaskara Rao said the move could be pressure tactics on the part of the Congress to force a tie-up with the SP-BSP in the politically important state of UP.

“Congress has given a message that it is a serious player in UP and that it has some winnable candidates to force the SP and BSP to reconsider their decision,” he said.

Why MLA Baghel getting all contracts, asks BJP MP Tripathi after shoe fight

GORAKHPUR, March 7: A day after BJP MP Sharad Tripathi and party MLA Rakesh Singh Baghel were involved in a shoe fight during a meeting in Sant Kabir Nagar district of Uttar Pradesh, the two leaders engaged in a fierce war of words on Thursday.

Before leaving for Lucknow after being summoned by the party high command, Sant Kabir Nagar MP Sharad Tripathi, who is also the son of former BJP state president Ramapati Ram Tripathi, alleged that Mehndawal MLA Rakesh Baghel was involved in illegal activities.

“All contracts, including those of sand mining and road construction, are awarded to him (Baghel) or his men as he resorts to pressure tactics. Why only he is getting contracts? Are other contractors dead?” Tripathi asked and said he would report the Baghel’s illegal activities to the leadership.

Baghel, a former member of the Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV) and a prominent Thakur leader considered close to CM Yogi Adityanath, however refuted the allegations and said: “All charges against me are baseless. You can check with the officials that I have never forced them for anything.”

Attacking Tripathi, he said there are four MLAs in his parliamentary constituency.

“You ask the MLAs how much work has been done in my area and in his (Tripathi’s) constituency,” he said.

When asked why the tension escalated so much over the mention of names on the stone plaque, Baghel said: “The plaque was for a two-lane road worth Rs 25 crore which was inaugurated on March 5. The plaque was not even put up as its inauguration was to be done by the CM (Yogi Adityanath). Tripathi did not attend the programme. He wants his name but does not want to work.”

Baghel said the MP’s words at the meeting showed his arrogance.

UP BJP president MN Pandey said both the leaders have reached Lucknow. “I will try to make them understand about the indiscipline that we witnessed there and give them strict directions on how to behave.”

One killed, 32 hurt in Jammu grenade attack; Hizb suspect caught

JAMMU, March 7: The Jammu Police, with the help of CCTV footage and eye-witness acounts, arrested terrorist Yasir Javeed Bhat, who had lobbed a grenade at the Jammu Bus Stand around 11.50 am on Thursday.

Bhat is also known as Yasir Arhan of Kulgam.

Addressing media persons here, Jammu region IGP, MK Sinha said, “Around 11.50 am on Thursday, a grenade blast took place at the bus stand in which civilians were injured.”

Sinha said that as soon as the police got the information, they rushed to the spot and shifted the injured to the Government Medical College and Hospital where one of the injured - 17-year-old Mohammed Sharik from Haridwar - succumbed to his injuries.

The IGP said that of the 32 people who were injured in the attack, 10 belonged to Jammu, 11 to Kashmir and nine were from other states. “Two of the injured are still unidentified,” he added.

“During evacuation of the injured, some police teams were tasked with collecting information from witnesses. We also accessed CCTV footage from the area. Based on the CCTV footage and oral testimonies, we identified a man who was wearing jeans and a jacket and had a red rucksack,” said the IGP.

“He was seen fleeing the area immediately after the blast. We immediately shared the CCTV footage and other details of the suspect with the police check posts and instructed them to thoroughly check the vehicles leaving Jammu City. The man was spotted at the Ban Toll Plaza and was immediately apprehended,” said Sinha.

During preliminary questioning, the man identified himself as Yasir Javeed Bhat, son of Javeed Ahmed Bhat of Kulgam in South Kashmir. “He is also known as Yasir Arhan,” said Sinha.

“He disclosed that Farooq Ahmed Bhat, district commander of Hizbul Mujahideen in Kulgam, had given him the task and had provided him a grenade. On Wednesday, Yasir left Kashmir and reached Jammu in the morning where he lobbed the grenade at the bus stand,” Sinha said.

The officer also said that it was not possible to say at the moment if any other person was also involved with Yasir.

Decide on meeting to select first Lokpal in 10 days, Supreme Court tells Centre

NEW DELHI, March 7: The Supreme Court on Thursday directed Attorney General KK Venugopal to submit with 10 days the date of meeting of the prime minister-led panel on the appointment of Lokpal and at the same time it turned down advocate Prashant Bhushan’s plea to make public the names proposed by the search committee.

Turning down Bhushan’s plea to put the proposed names in the public domain, the bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said the matter should be left to the search committee.

“We have considered the provisions of the act and it’s our considered view that no directions are required by this court and the matter should be left to the search committee,” it said.

Bhushan submitted that further steps were required to be taken for the constitution of the Lokpal and at this stage the names of the panel should be put in public domain. Bhushan said it was the government’s duty to provide the names to the court today.

The Chief Justice of India, however, said that the court cannot perform the job of the selection committee.

“Transparency is a subjective term. You have done good work but there has to be a limit somewhere. You have to stop. We don’t think the names are required to be put in public domain,” the Chief Justice of India told Bhushan.

“As and when we have the names we will give them to you,” the Supreme Court told Bhushan orally.

Attorney general KK Venugopal told the court that he was informed by the chairman of the search committee that three names had been forwarded on February 28 to the selection committee that comprises the chairperson, a judicial member and a non-judicial member.

The attorney general told the court that the search committee’s deliberations had been completed and that the matter now rested with the selection committee. The attorney general also said that the search committee needed another 10 days’ time to finalise the names.

Earlier, at the onset of the hearing, Prashant Bhushan had asked Justice Arun Mishra to recuse from hearing the contempt case against him. The judge asked Bhushan and those who have filed applications in his support to move a proper application. The contempt case was initiated on complaints by the attorney general and the Union of India over Bhushan’s tweets allegedly criticising Court on appointment of M Nageswara Rao as interim CBI Director.

Jay Panda joins BJP

NEW DELHI, March 4: Former Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MP Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda, who was first suspended and then quit the party last year after being marginalised in the organisation, has joined BJP on Monday.

Panda took to Twitter to announce his joining BJP, saying he had made the decision after nine months of introspection and widespread consultations with colleagues and the public. He would now work under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

He joined the ruling party in the presence of Union minister and BJP leader Dharmendra Pradhan in New Delhi. He later met BJP president Amit Shah at the BJP headquarters in the capital.

At a press conference, Panda tore into his former party, saying the governance under Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik had deteriorated sharply in recent years.

“I have admired Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership and direction in which he is taking the country and also BJP president Amit Shah’s leadership that has made this party not just the largest in the country, but the largest and the most effective party in the whole world,” he said.

“In the early years, when it (BJD was an ally of the BJP, there were certain norms that had been followed which have been lost in the recent years,” he said.

Panda stressed on the crimes against women and children and corruption in Odisha and recalled “disappointing sights” which needs changing and said BJP is the only party that can change this.

Panda, who won from Kendrapara Lok Sabha constituency in 2014 on BJD ticket, was first suspended in January last year over charges of anti party activities. He subsequently resigned from the party as well as Lok Sabha in May and June last year following serious differences with chief minister.

The articulate and widely networked MP became the most visible face of BJD’s dissenters in mid 2017 after he called for ‘introspection’ in the wake of BJP’s sterling performance in 2017 panchayat elections. Since Modi became PM, Panda has been heaping praise on him while questioning Patnaik’s working style.

The BJP has identified Odisha as one of the priority states ahead of the polls. The assembly polls and the parliamentary elections will be held simultaneously, and the BJP hopes that Panda will brighten its prospects, especially in coastal Odisha.

Odisha has 21 parliamentary constituencies and the BJD had won 20 of them in 2014. The BJP had won only one seat — Sundargarh, represented by Union minister for tribal affairs Jual Oram.

IAF’s Sukhoi shoots down Pakistani military drone in Rajasthan near border

NEW DELHI, March 4: A fighter jet of the Indian Air Force on Monday shot down a Pakistani military drone in Bikaner sector of the Indo-Pak border using an air-to-air missile, government sources said.

The Pakistani drone was shot down by a Sukhoi-30 aircraft at around 11:30 AM, minutes after a ground-based radar station detected the flying machine, they said.

It was the second unsuccessful attempt by Pakistan to send a spy drone inside India in the last six days.

The radar station in the area detected the enemy drone following which one of the fighter jets deployed in the area shot it down, they said. The downing of the drone came in the midst of heightened tension between India and Pakistan after IAF struck a terrorist training camp in Pakistan’s Balakot and subsequent retaliation by Islamabad.

A Pakistani drone was shot down by India on February 27 along Indo-Pak border in Kutch in Gujarat.

Store nation’s urine, end urea import: Nitin Gadkari

NAGPUR, March 4: Lamenting that his out-of-box proposals often find no takers, Union minister Nitin Gadkari Sunday voiced another such idea: make urea from urine.

If it is done, India will not need to import fertiliser, he claimed, addressing a gathering of young innovators at the Mayor Innovation Awards function of the Nagpur Municipal Corporation.

Talking about importance of innovation, he gave the example of how bio-fuels can be extracted from natural waste.

Even human urine can be useful for making a bio-fuel and it can also yield ammonium sulfate and nitrogen, he said.

“I have asked for storage of urine at airports. We import urea, but if we start storing urine of entire country then we will not need to import urea, so much potential it has, and nothing will be wasted,” the minister said.

“Other people do not cooperate with me because all my ideas are fantastic,” the minister, known for his outspoken ways, said.

“Even the (municipal) corporation will not help, because in government, people are trained to be like (blinkered) bulls who walk in the rut, not looking here and there,” he said.

Some years ago, Gadkari had created a flutter by saying that he stored his own urine and used it as fertiliser for the garden at his official bungalow in Delhi.

Speaking at the function, he also gave the example of use of amino acid extracted from human hair waste, which can be used as a fertiliser.

It boosted production at his farms by 25 per cent, he claimed.

Because he could not get adequate hair in Nagpur, he had to purchase “five trucks of hair” from Tirupati (where devotees shave their head which are later sold) every month, Gadkari said.

“We are selling amino acid abroad and have order of about 180 containers of bio-fertiliser from the Dubai government,” the Union minister, who controls Purti Group of Industries, said.

On Rahul Gandhi turf, Modi’s jibe with ‘Made-in-Amethi AK-203’ rifles

AMETHI, March 3: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday stormed into the Lok Sabha constituency of Congress president Rahul Gandhi with a slew of projects and accused the Congress leadership of compromising on national security.

Announcing the launch of a joint venture between India and Russia for the manufacture of AK 203 Kalsahnikov assault rifles in Amethi’s Ordnance factory, Modi said Amethi was the perfect example of the BJP’s policy of ‘Sabka saath, sabka vikas’.

“Now, Amethi will not be known for a famous family but for AK 203, ‘Made in Amethi’. These rifles will help our jawans in encounters with naxals and terrorists,” he said and added that those who cheated Amethi also ignored the country’s defence needs.

The PM alleged that the Rafale deal was bitterly opposed by the Congress for the sake of commission and added that the first Rafale jet would be seen flying on Indian skies soon.

“Despite clean chits, they opposed the Rafale deal due to their own vested interests. But Rafale jets will fly soon,” the PM said as defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman applauded.

Sitharam also read out a statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin hailing the joint venture with India.

The PM flayed the Congress for misusing the country’s resources saying that the Amethi ordnance factory, launched in 2007, was supposed to begin production from 2010 but nothing happened.

“Tall promises were made. Your local MP promised that he would ensure employment to 1,500 locals in this ordnance factory but merely 200 got jobs. Imagine those who couldn’t ensure jobs to people in Amethi are now lecturing on employment,” Modi said, adding that the AK-203 would be the best publicity for Amethi.

“AK 203 is the latest derivative of the famous AK 47 assault rifles which will help in arming the security forces besides giving Amethi a new identity,” he said.

Beginning his address with ‘Jai Ramji ki’ (a common way to greet each other in rural India) after making people chant slogans hailing the country and the security forces, Modi said the Congress leadership lied on all matters, including those of national security.

“Even demands for bullet proof jackets for our security forces were ignored. It is only now that the BJP government has begun procuring these jackets,” he said.

As he paused to have water, a section in the audience began chanting, “Rahul Gandhi chor hai (Rahul is a thief)”.

The Congress has coined a similar slogan against Modi over the Rafale deal.

Virtually pitching Union textile minister Smriti Irani as the BJP candidate from Amethi in 2019, Modi said: “We lost Amethi in 2014 Lok Sabha polls but won your hearts. Smritiji has continuously worked with you and for you.”

Amid accusations by the Congress of whitewashing its slogans hailing Rahul Gandhi as future PM, the BJP peppered the Congress bastion with hoardings and other publicity material announcing in local rural dialect, “Abki baar, Amethi hamaar (Amethi ours this time)”.

Modi also raised the issue of Samrat cycle land which he alleged was taken from farmers to set up a bicycle manufacturing unit which never happened.

Modi also unveiled projects including steel processing unit worth Rs 9,200 crore and various upgradation and repair projects.

The projects included upgradation of Amethi bus station and reconstruction of depot workshop at a cost of Rs 496.80 crore, construction of rest houses and shops at Amethi bus station at Rs 139 crore and construction of main building of primary health centre at Rs 167 crore.

IAF pilot returns home from Pak custody

WAGAH, March 1: Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman returned to India on Friday night, two days after he was captured in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, potentially capping for now a week of heightened tension that threatened to snowball into a wider military conflict between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

Varthaman, dressed in civilian attire, crossed the border at Wagah a little before 9pm and walked across to the Indian side where hundreds of people had gathered since the afternoon to greet him on his return.

He was captured on Wednesday after his MiG-21 aircraft was downed in a dogfight over the Line of Control in Kashmir.

“Wing Commander Abhinandan has just been handed over to us. He will be taken now for a detailed medical checkup. This checkup is mandatory as he had to eject from an airplane which would have put his entire body under stress,” said Air Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor in a brief statement to reporters before a fleet of vehicles left the border crossing for Amritsar, from where Varthaman was set to be flown to New Delhi.

The release of the 38-year-old Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot was announced by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday in a “gesture of peace”.

This was seen as the first sign of a de-escalation after Islamabad retaliated on Wednesday to an Indian “non-military preemptive action” against a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror camp deep inside Pakistan.

Varthaman had been expected to be repatriated by evening, but his release was delayed by the Pakistani side, which did not offer an explanation, according to Indian officials.

“We had hoped he would have been handed over sooner but it was delayed for some reason by the Pakistanis. At this point, we are happy to have him back,” Amritsar district collector Shivdular Singh Dhillon said. He added that Varthaman said “it is good to be back in my country” when he stepped onto Indian soil.

His release coincided with a heavily edited propaganda video that was released to Pakistani TV channels. The video showed the Wing Commander making certain comments, the circumstances of which were not immediately clear. Social media users criticised Pakistan for the video, with some saying it cast doubt over Pakistan’s claims of the release being a peace gesture.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomed the IAF pilot’s return. “Welcome Home Wing Commander Abhinandan! The nation is proud of your exemplary courage. Our armed forces are an inspiration for 130 crore Indians. Vande Mataram!” he wrote in a tweet.

Opposition leader and Congress president Rahul Gandhi, too, welcomed Varthaman. “Wing Cdr. Abhinandan, your dignity, poise and bravery made us all proud. Welcome back and much love,” he said in a tweet, his first since Wednesday when he had last tweeted about the IAF pilot’s capture.

According to defence officials who asked not to be named, the Wing Commander was set to be flown to the Palam airbase near New Delhi in a special flight and then likely to be taken to the Army’s Research and Referral Hospital for a thorough medical examination. If his condition permits, he will then proceed to a debriefing session with senior air force officials. In between, he will get a chance to meet his family, who had earlier on Friday flown from their hometown, Chennai, to the national capital.

IAF jets on Tuesday bombed a training camp run by JeM, 12 days after the outfit claimed responsibility for a car bombing that killed 40 troopers in Kashmir’s Pulwama. On Wednesday, a fleet of Pakistani combat aircraft entered Indian territory and dropped explosives before being engaged by Indian fighter jets, including the MiG-21 flown by Wing Commander Varthaman.

According to officials who asked not to be named, the Wing Commander engaged an F-16 of the Pakistani Air Force (a jet far superior to his) and shot it down before being downed by Pakistani firing. He was captured in PoK after ejecting from his aircraft.

Shortly after Khan’s announcement of the pilot’s release on Thursday, top generals of the Indian military issued new details of the Pakistani operation on Wednesday, saying they had evidence that the targets were military installations in Kashmir. Indian and Pakistani forces are in a state of alert and both have warned of a strong retaliation if the other launches any operation. World powers have urged both to exercise restraint.

IAF pilot made to record video by Pakistan before being handed over to India

LAHORE, March 1: The handing over of IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman to India at Wagah was delayed on Friday as he was asked to record a statement on camera by Pakistani authorities before he was allowed to cross the border, according to sources.

The heavily edited video had several jump cuts apparently to fit Pakistani propaganda.

At 8.30 pm (local) time, the Pakistan government released the pilot’s video message to the local media in which he said as to how he was captured. “Recording of his video message caused delay in his handing over,” a source said.

In the video message, Wing Commander Varthaman said he entered Pakistan’s space to “find a target” but his aircraft was shot down. “I was in search of the target when your (Pakistan) Air Force shot me down. I had to eject the plane which had sustained damage… two Pakistani Army officials came and saved me. The army personnel saved me from the mob. The Pakistani army is very professional and I am impressed by it,” he said.

In the video, which has nearly 19 cuts, the IAF pilot is seen criticising the Indian media.

Wing Commander Varthaman’s plane was downed when IAF planes foiled an attempt by Pakistan Air Force to target Indian military installations in Jammu and Kashmir on February 27, a day after New Delhi had conducted counter-terror operations in Pakistan’s Balakot. He bailed out of the aircraft but drifted to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir where he was detained by the Pakistan Army.

Although there has been no official word as to what time he was brought to the Wagah border on Friday, but the sources say he reached Lahore after 4 pm. The Pakistani media reported that “his papers were being checked at the Wagah immigration” that was why he was not being “immediately” handed over to the Indian authorities. Varthaman was handed over at around 9.20 pm (IST).


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