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Your Highness, cries for help are of people: Rahul Gandhi to Modi

NEW DELHI, Jan 20: Congress president Rahul Gandhi hit back at Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday over his “bachao, bachao” swipe at the Opposition, saying the cries of help were of people “begging” to be freed from “your tyranny and incompetence”.

Gandhi’s attack came a day after Modi, taking a dig at the Opposition rally organised by Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata, said the BJP had only one MLA in West Bengal, “but still they are so afraid of us, because we follow the path of truth, that they have gathered parties from across the country and are crying ‘Rbachao , bachao, bachao’ (save us)”.

“Your Highness, The cries for help are the cries of millions of unemployed youth; of farmers in distress; of oppressed Dalits & Adivasis; of persecuted minorities; of small businessmen in ruin; begging to be freed from your tyranny & incompetence. In 100 days they will be free,” Gandhi said in a tweet.

On a day when several opposition parties came together on a common platform in Kolkata, Modi had hit out at their proposed “Mahagathbandhan” (Grand Alliance), saying it was a combine of those who were angry at his stringent action against corruption as they had been stopped from looting public money.

Parrikar’s photo blitz reveals his greed for power: Ex-Goa RSS chief

PANAJI, Jan 20: Photographs of ailing Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, which are being released by the BJP and state government agencies, reveal weakness and a greed to cling to power, former Goa RSS chief Subhash Velingkar said on Saturday.

Addressing a press conference in Panaji, Velingkar also said that the populace of Goa is suffering due to chronic lack of governance, demanding that Parrikar hand over charge of at least some of the 20-odd government departments to a Deputy chief minister, in order to ensure that governance and administration is not hindered.

“May the Lord give him (Parrikar) better health and longer life, but the condition of his body is not well. He cannot even walk two steps. He has to be held from the rear. Tubes have to be slipped in his mouth. Goans cannot see him like this. He is weak and still clinging on to the chair...,” Velingkar told.

Velingkar’s comments come at a time photographs of Parrikar -- who is suffering from pancreatic cancer and has rarely attended public functions and office over the last 11 months -- were released to the media by state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) officials or government outreach agencies recently.

The photographs of Parrikar, still wearing medical paraphernelia, inspecting an under-construction bridge, speaking to officials of CMO, ministers, bureaucrats over the last few weeks during rare interactions have evoked a mixed response. While his supporters have commended him for braving his illness, the opposition has said that the photo blitz was aimed at garnering sympathy and slighted the former Defence Minister for sticking to his chair “at any cost”.

Velingkar -- who was Goa state chief of the RSS for two decades and is known to have groomed several top state BJP leaders including Parrikar -- also said that governance in Goa has become a “flop” because of the poor health of the Chief Minister.

Sadhana Singh mentally ill: BSP slams BJP lawmaker for remark on Mayawati

NEW DELHI, Jan 20: Bharatiya Janata Party’s MLA from Mughal Sarai Sadhana Singh was at the centre of a huge controversy after she attacked BSP supremo Mayawati at a rally in her constituency.

In her remarks, the UP MLA referred to Mayawati as “a person worse than a eunuch”.

Addressing the rally, she referred to an incident that took place in 1995 in which Mayawati, along with several other BSP leaders, was attacked by Samajwadi Party workers. The incident had led to years of animosity between the SP and the BSP. Singh said that a woman who had undergone a “chirharan” (disrobing) is now compromising with the perpetrators and accused her of “selling her dignity for power”. “She is worse than a eunuch,” Sadhana Singh said.

“She has no sense of self-respect. She was almost molested. In history, when Draupadi was molested, she vowed revenge. But this woman, she almost lost everything, but has still sold her dignity for the sake of power. We condemn Mayawatiji. She is a blot on womankind. A woman who gulped down insults for comfort and power is a blot on womankind,” Singh said.

Sadhana Singh’s remarks come close on the heels of the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party coming together in an alliance in Uttar Pradesh ahead of the Lok Sabha Elections.

BJP MLA Sadhna Singh says about BSP chief Mayawati, "jis din mahila ka blouse, petticoat, saari phat jaaye, wo mahila na satta ke liye aage aati hai. Usko pure desh ki mahila kalankit maanti hai.Wo to kinnar se bhi jyada badtar hai, kyunki wo to na nar hai, na mahila hai."

Reacting to Sadhana Singh’s remarks, BSP leader Satish Chandra Mishra said that Singh was “mentally ill”.

“The language used by BJP leader Sadhana Singh against our party President Mayawati shows the level of the BJP. This shows that BJP is disappointed and frustrated with the SP-BSP alliance. They have no strength to win even a single seat in Uttar Pradesh. The level of language shows their mental illness. Such people should be admitted to the mental hospital of Agra or Bareli. The people of this country this time will show BJP its real place. They have lost their mental balance in fear of losing the election in Uttar Pradesh,” Mishra said.

Sadhana Singh’s remarks also drew sharp criticism from the BSP ally Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav who took to Twitter and said that Singh’s remarks were an insult to all women.

“BJP’s Mughalsarai MLA’s objectionable remarks for Mayawati are grossly condemnable. This only shows the BJP’s political and moral bankruptcy and frustration of BJP. This is an insult to all the women of the country,” Akhilesh wrote.

Congress spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi also reacted to Singh’s statement on Twitter and said that it is disturbing “to hear a lady speak in such a derogatory way about another lady”.

“One may have differences on issues and ideas but it disturbing: -That this lady represents the ruling party in UP-BJP (not surprising) -To hear a lady speak in such a derogatory way about another lady -To see people in the audience cheering such words,” Chaturvedi tweeted.

Rahul Gandhi writes to jailed Manipuri scribe, says BJP trampling constitutional rights

GUWAHATI, Jan 20: Congress chief Rahul Gandhi has condemned the arrest and detention of Manipuri journalist Kishore Chandra Wangkhem in Imphal under the National Security Act (NSA?) last month.

“This is another attempt to use the state machinery to silence dissent. Over the past few months, we have witnessed the BJP government’s design to trample on constitutional rights of the people of Manipur,” Gandhi said in his letter to the journalist.

Wangkhem (39), who was an anchor with a local channel in Imphal, was sentenced to one-year detention under the NSA in December, nearly a month after he was taken into custody on November 27 for allegedly targeting the BJP government in the state and in the Centre and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a Facebook post.

“It is unfortunate that regressive forces continue to unleash violence with impunity, while those who seek accountability from the state are being jailed. Fascist forces have not only attempted to destroy the idea of India but attack anyone who challenges their distorted narrative”, the Congress chief wrote while promising to extend support to the jailed scribe.

Wangkhem’s wife Elangbam Ranjita, an occupational therapist said the letter was handed over to her by TN Haokip, the president of Congress Manipur unit on Friday. He also offered her support from the party.

“I want to thank Rahul Gandhi that he wrote this letter and stood up against this injustice. It was unexpected. It’s not about a political party but he took a stand on humanitarian ground,” Ranjita said.

“ How can anyone slap NSA for merely expressing one’s views?” she asked.

The Manipur government had earlier said that Wangkhem was initially detained on November 27, to “prevent him from acting in any matter prejudicial to the security of the state and maintenance of public order” after a Facebook video that showed him criticising Chief Minister N Biren Singh and Prime Minister Modi.

In the video, the journalist reportedly described the chief minister a “puppet” of Modi and criticized RSS for organising a function meant to mark the birth anniversary of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi. Wangkhem insisted that the Rani of Jhansi had nothing to do with Manipur.

Last month, members of the media fraternity across the country rallied their support behind j Wangkhem condemning his arrest and detention.

BJP government has crossed its expiry date: Mamata Banerjee

KOLKATA, Jan 19: Leaders of 18 opposition parties, cutting across regional and ideological barriers, resolved on Saturday to put up united fight against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and oust it from power in the upcoming general election, as they staged a massive show of strength at Kolkata’s Brigade Parade Ground.

An estimated half-a-million people were in attendance at the rally — the biggest organised at the historic venue in recent years. Political leaders from 14 states shared the stage at the event, an initiative of West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, which virtually kicked off the opposition’s election campaign.

“The BJP government has crossed its expiry date,” said Banerjee, who was the last to speak. Hardik Patel, a leader of the powerful Patidar community in Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s homestate, was the first to address the audience, which also heard BJP dissidents Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha and Shatrughan Sinha call for the ouster of the Modi government.

“Haven’t seen anyone run a country in a such a fascist manner,” said Banerjee, who ended her speech with the slogan “BJP hatao, desh bachao” (remove BJP, save the country), followed by “Jai Hind, Vande Mataram.”.

Congress veteran Mallikarjun Kharge, leader of the largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha, read out a letter from United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chief Sonia Gandhi in which she urged the people to save the Constitution and the basic ethos of the nation. Kharge represented the Congress at the rally in the absence of party president Rahul Gandhi.

Opposition leaders decided to hold at least two more such rallies -- in Andhra Pradesh and Delhi -- as the country prepares for the next general election, in which farm distress, lack of sufficient jobs for new entrants to the workforce, alleged wrongdoing in a Rs.59,000 crore deal for the purchase of Rafale fighter jets, and economic disruptions caused by the November 2016 invalidation of high-value bank notes and the July 2017 implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) are looming as the major issues.

All the issues figured in speeches at Saturday’s rally, where former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda of the Janata Dal (Secular) suggested specific action points.

“A small group of leaders must immediately be formed to draft an election manifesto and policy document. Leaders must work on seat sharing in every state. This is a Herculean task and there is little time left. BJP is saying that this alliance has no leader or agenda… we must come up with a clear-cut programme to instill confidence among the people,” said Deve Gowda.

At a press conference after a tea party attended by the invitees,,Banerjee said a four-member committee comprising the Congress’s Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav, the Bahujan Samaj Party’s Satish Mishra and Aam Aadmi Party national convener and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal will discuss the perceived vulnerability of electronic voting machines (EVMs) to tampering and draft opposition arguments against the machines.

At the rally,,former Jammu and & Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah labelled the EVM a “chor machine.”

The BJP on Saturday tried to appear unfazed by the show of Opposition unity.

"Is it a rally of ‘United India’ or of ‘Divided Leadership’?,” the party’s Rajiv Pratap Rudy asked journalists, asserting that the BJP will form the next government under Modi after winning the general election by a landslide. He termed the Kolkata rally a “summit of contradiction and conflicting ideologies”.

He also questioned who was leading the opposition’s conclave, "Is it Mulayam Singh, Akhilesh Yadav, Mamata or who?”

Speakers at the rally including Banerjee, Akhilesh Yadav, Deve Gowda and Kejriwal said there was no need to speculate on a prospective prime ministerial candidate now and the need of the hour is opposition unity.

“Your party has become leaderless,” Banerjee said of the BJP. “Therefore, you have only one Prime Minister and one (party) president. We have a lot of leaders. Collective leadership is the base of our gathbandhan (alliance). We will sit together after the elections to choose the next prime minister.”

“Nation first, individuals next,” said Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu.

“The elections are going to be the second struggle for Independence,” remarked Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief MK Stalin.

“The purpose of this rally should be to prevent a split in opposition votes,” said Yashwant Sinha.

Lok Sabha polls an election to restore nation’s faith in democracy: Sonia Gandhi

KOLKATA, Jan 19: UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi Saturday wished the opposition rally all the success and said the upcoming Lok Sabha polls will be an election to restore the nation’s faith in democracy and fight the “arrogant and divisive” Narendra Modi government.

Sonia Gandhi and her son, Congress president Rahul Gandhi, decided to give the rally in Kolkata a miss, but had sent party leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Abhishek Manu Singhvi in a show of solidarity to the gathering organised by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

Kharge read out a message sent by Sonia Gandhi who wished the opposition rally all the success.

“The upcoming Lok Sabha elections will not be ordinary one. It will be an election to restore the nation’s faith in democracy, defend our secular ethos and heritage, and defeat the forces that are trying to sabotage the Constitution of India,” she said in her message.

Sonia Gandhi described the opposition rally as an “important attempt to galvanise leaders across the political spectrum to fight the arrogant and divisive Modi-rule”.

“I wish them all the success,” she said.

Sonia Gandhi said a crisis looms over the country’s farmers and extends to the borders, adding the youth are jobless and fishermen are incurring deep losses.

The country, at large, is “under immense strain”, she said, claiming citizens have been screeched economically, institutions have been undermined politically and the pluralistic fabric has been vitiated.

Rahul Gandhi Friday had extended his support to Mamata Banerjee for her “show of unity” and hoped it would send a powerful message of a united India.

Soldiers being killed on border without war: Mohan Bhagwat

NEW DELHI, Jan 18: Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat on Thursday rued that soldiers were dying along the country’s borders when there was no war going on, but he did not refer to defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s claim at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) national convention last week that there had been no terror attacks in India in the last four years.

Addressing a gathering of students, parents and teachers at Prahar Military School at an event to mark its silver jubilee, Bhagwat sounded upset that soldiers were being martyred even though India was not at war with any country.

Without mentioning the cross-border conflict in Jammu and Kashmir, he said if soldiers were being killed on the borders without any war, it meant that “we are not doing our job properly”.

“Otherwise, if there is no war, then there is no reason why a soldier should die on the border. But it is happening,” Bhagwat continued, adding that steps must be taken as a society to stop this and “make the country great”.

At the event, which was also attended by a large number of youths and ex-army personnel, Bhagwat said the government’s policies affected every single individual.

“I do not make the policy nor do you, but we all have to bear its impact. Inflation increased, I did not increase it nor did you, but we all have to suffer. Unemployment increased, not because of you or me, but we all have to suffer. That is why we will have to learn to live for our country,” he said.

The RSS chief said it was time to make sacrifices for the country, as had been done before India gained freedom. After Independence, soldiers had to sacrifice their lives when there was a war, he said.

Bhagwat said people have to strive all the time to make their country great. “We rest easy thinking the government will do it, the police will do it, the army will do it, but it doesn’t happen that way, and all of us… the entire society must make efforts towards nation-building,” he said.

“We must connect with this country. Our youngsters must visit places in India to know the great sacrifices made by freedom fighters and their determined effort in spite of horrendous suffering.”

Girish Vyas, spokesperson of Maharashtra unit of the BJP, said Bhagwat’s statement must have been made with some references. “I have not read it so far. However, he must have made the statement to motivate the youths and students who had gathered there to listen to him,” he said.

Jammu-Delhi Duronto Express passengers robbed at knifepoint

NEW DELHI, Jan 17: Passengers on board the Jammu-Delhi Duronto Express were robbed at knifepoint on Thursday by armed men, officials said.

The matter came to light after a passenger filed a complaint through the railways’ complaints portal.

In the complaint, Ashwani Kumar claimed that passengers of B3 and B7 coaches of the train 12266 were targeted by the armed men when it neared the Delhi Sarai Rohilla station.

A Northern Railways official said the RPF had some lead in the matter and action would be taken against the culprits.

“The Railway Protection Force (RPF) has initial leads in the matter. The culprits will be nabbed soon and stern action will be taken against them,” a Northern Railway spokesperson said.

“As train number 12266, which stops only at its source and destination stations, was approaching the Delhi station, stopped at around 3.30 am awaiting signal, seven to 10 miscreants entered coaches B3 and B7 of the train,” Kumar said.

He claimed that the robbers, who were carrying sharp-edged knives, threatened the passengers to hand over their expensive items.

“They looted purses, cash, carry bags, gold chains, mobiles and many more items from multiple passengers,” he said.

He claimed that the incident took place within 10 to 15 minutes when the train stopped there.

“The irony is that neither staff nor security personnel were available there at the time of the mishap,” the passenger claimed.

He said the passengers tried to reach the train attendant and TT after the incident and found them after 20 minutes.

The complainant claimed that when he could not find the TT or the attendant, he contacted Delhi Police after which an FIR was registered at the destination station.

“...The attendant told us that there was no security personnel available in the train. We are not safe even in AC coaches and imagine the security in sleeper class and general coaches where passengers enter the train even without tickets...,” Kumar wrote in his complaint.

Centre cuts short tenure of CBI special director Rakesh Asthana, three officers

NEW DELHI, Jan 17: Rakesh Asthana, who was once seen to be in line for the CBI director’s post, was moved out of the investigating agency on Thursday evening, capping a bitter tug of war between Asthana and his ex-boss who was sacked this month, Alok Verma.

A government order said Asthana’s tenure at the CBI was being curtailed. The same order also named three more CBI officers who were being shown the door.

Joint Director Arun Kumar Sharma and Deputy Inspector General Manish Kumar Sinha, who were seen to be close to Alok Verma and had investigated Asthana were also removed. A Superintendent of Police-rank officer Jayant J Naiknavare has also been sent out of the agency.

Asthana’s exit comes days before the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led selection panel is to decide on the agency’s next full-time boss. M Nageswara Rao has been heading the investigating agency as an interim measure, triggering howls of protest from the Congress which alleged the government did not want a CBI chief who could act independently.

Last week, Alok Verma, the first director of the agency to be removed by a PM-led panel, refused to take up his next assignment and resigned from service. Verma, who was not allowed to represent before the three-member committee, said “natural justice was scuttled and the entire process was turned upside down in ensuring that the undersigned is removed from the post of the Director”.

Verma and Asthana had been engaged in an internecine battle that roiled the agency and almost split it down the middle. The government had cited this rivalry to defend its decision to send both officers on leave.

In a ruling on January 12, the Delhi high court refused to quash a bribery and extortion complaint registered by the CBI against Asthana in October, saying the allegations against him “cannot be conclusively ruled out at this stage.”

Both Verma and Asthana were stripped of their powers on the intervening night of October 23-24 after they accused each other of corruption in a feud that became increasingly public, splitting the CBI down the middle. Verma was conditionally reinstated by the Supreme Court on Tuesday but removed from the agency again on Thursday.

The CBI booked Asthana on October 15 on the basis of a complaint by businessman Sana Satish Babu. Babu had been facing a probe in a 2017 case of tax evasion and money laundering involving controversial meat exporter Moin Qureshi.

Babu alleged that Dubai-based brothers Manoj Prasad and Somesh Prasad claimed that they were acting on behalf of the CBI special director and allegedly struck a deal for Rs 5 crore to protect him (Babu) in a case that the agency registered against Qureshi in 2016.

Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim sentenced to life imprisonment in 2002 journalist murder case

CHANDIGARH, Jan 17: A special CBI court in Panchkula on Thursday sentenced Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim and three others to life imprisonment for the murder of journalist Ramchandra Chhatarpati more than 16 years ago in Haryana.

The sentencing was delivered via video conferencing. The court has also imposed a fine of Rs 50,000 on each.

The 51-year-old Dera head is already serving a 20-year prison term in Rohtak’s Sunaria jail for raping two of his women followers.

Chhatarpati’s son said “This is the triumph of truth, I feel relieved today. The prosecution had demanded capital punishment but we are satisfied with the punishment.”

Security had been stepped up in parts of Haryana and Punjab ahead of the sentencing. Strict vigil was being kept near the court complex in Sector 1 of Panchkula, adjoining Chandigarh.

Security measures were also ensured in Haryana’s Sirsa town, where the sect’s headquarter is located. Most shops remained shut around the headquarters of Dera Sacha Sauda

Ram Rahim, the main accused, Kuldeep Singh, Nirmal Singh and Krishan Lal were convicted by the special Central Bureau of Investigation court last Friday for the murder of Ramchandra Chhatrapati in 2002. Ram Rahim appeared through video conferencing for the hearing.

The Haryana government had filed a plea on Tuesday seeking that the Dera chief should be allowed to appear through video conferencing during the pronouncement of the quantum of the sentence as his movement could lead to law and order situation. The court accepted the petition on Wednesday.

Violence had erupted in Panchkula and Sirsa in Haryana in August 2017 following the conviction of Dera sect head in the rape cases, leaving more than 40 people dead and scores injured.

Chhatrapati was shot at a point-blank range at his Sirsa home on October 24, 2002, months after his newspaper ‘Poora Sach’ published an anonymous letter alleging women sadhvis or followers were sexually harassed and raped by Ram Rahim in the Dera headquarters in Sirsa. Three weeks later, Chhatrapati succumbed to his injuries.

Chhatrapati’s family had approached the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 2003, seeking a transfer of the case to the CBI. The probe in the case was later handed over to the CBI, which filed a charge sheet in July 2007.

The agency said in its chargesheet in the case that Dera manager Krishan Lal had given his licenced revolver and a walkie-talkie to the two shooters, Kuldeep Singh and Nirmal Singh, in the presence of Ram Rahim.

Congress seeks RBI probe into Ajit Doval’s son’s tax haven hedge fund

NEW DELHI, Jan 17: Seeking investigation by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval’s son Vivek Doval’s Cayman Islands hedge fund, senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh on Thursday said the central bank must publish the source of funds received from tax havens.

“Within 13 days of PM Modi announcing demonetisation, Vivek Doval opened a hedge fund in Cayman Island, which is a tax haven. Opening funds there is not illegal, but questions must be raised on how as per RBI data from 2000 to 2017, India received Rs 8,300 crore FDI from Cayman, but post demonetisation, India received approximately the same amount in just one year alone,” Ramesh said at a press conference in New Delhi.

Referring to the Bhartiya Janata Party’s (BJP) committee formed in 2011 on “Indian Black Money Abroad: Secret Banks and Tax Havens”, which included RBI director S Gurumurthy, Doval, IIM-Bangalore professor R Vaidyanathan and senior advocate Mahesh Jethmalani, the senior Congress leader said. “In his own report, Doval had said that details of FDI from tax havens must be made public. We are just asking them to adhere to their own report.”

Ramesh added that Doval also needs to answer about how “Don W Ebanks, a man named in both Panama and Paradise Papers, was made a director in Vivek Doval’s company”. He also alleged that there were links between Doval’s other son Shaurya Doval’s company Zeus Strategic Management Advisors Pvt Ltd and GNY Asia.

BJP has failed people: Mayawati

LUCKNOW, Jan 15: BSP chief Mayawati, who has struck an alliance pact with Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, on Tuesday asked her party workers to ensure victory for the alliance, saying it will be a gift for her birthday, which she and her party workers are celebrating today.

“I appeal BSP and SP workers to forget their differences and ensure victory of alliance. It will be gift on my birthday,” she said at a press conference in Lucknow.

Invoking her core vote bank, the Dalits, BSP chief Mayawati, who has struck an alliance pact with Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, today celebrated her birthday, asking party workers to mark it as Jankalyankari Diwas (public welfare day) and help the needy.

“Today is my birthday. I request BSP workers in their respective areas to assist the needy on my birthday,” she said in Lucknow.

Hitting out at Congress and the BJP, she said due to their wrong policies, people are suffering.

“The people have taught BJP a lesson in the recently concluded five states. It’s a lesson for Congress as well. People are raising question over Congress government in the three states since it has not fulfilled it’s promises,” she said.

She said the loan waiver policy, which has been launched by the Congress in states, for farmers was wrong. “The relief provided to the farmers who have taken loan from bank is inadequate. Majority of the farmers take loan from money lenders. The central and state govt should make policy to provide them a relief.”

She also said that BSP supports farmers’ demand for implementation of Swaminathan Commission report for hiking crop prices. “Marginal and landless farmers have also taken loan, but there is no policy to provide them relief. Demonetization and GST has added to their woes,” she said.

She said the government must do an absolute farm loan waiver, in entirety, without any cut off dates or slabs and this absolute waiver should be backed up with farm policies that farmers need not need any loans.

Hitting out at the BJP, she said the rich are benefitting from their policies. “To make arms deal transparent, the central government should take opposition into confidence and make long term policy.”

“The BJP’s communal policy has led to discontenment among people. Saffron leaders are dividing Gods along caste lines. The minority community are not allowed to offer Friday prayer,” she said. “The BJP government has failed to fulfill promises made to the people. The farmers, youths and trades are feeling cheated. These days BJP leaders are busy giving clarifications.”

To create an atmosphere in their favour, Narendra Modi is making several promises in the rallies, she said. “It had announced 10% reservation for upper caste. BSP welcomes it. The minorities should be also given benefit of reservation,” she said, urging the people to vote for SP-BSP alliance in Uttar Pradesh and other states.

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leaders and workers are celebrating her 63rd birthday as ‘Jan Kalyankari Diwas’ (public welfare day). The workers will cut 63 kg cake, distribute sweets, fruits and pledge to make Mayawati the next PM in the programme organised by the district units in all the 75 districts of the state.

The main birthday celebration programme was organised in the state unit office on Mall Avenue. Mayawati released the fourteenth volume of ‘A Travelogue of My Struggle-Ridden Life and BSP movement’.

A BSP spokesperson said the party supporters would assist the poor on the occasion. In Lucknow, the party’s district unit will celebrate the birthday at Gandhi Bhawan.

Alliance partner and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav is likely to visit Mayawati’s residence on 9 Mall Avenue with senior party leaders to greet her. She will leave for Delhi in the evening for celebrations with leaders of other political parties, party office-bearers and family members.

Announcing her party’s alliance with the SP on Saturday, Mayawati had said the BSP and SP had finalized 38 seats each on which both the parties will field candidates from Uttar Pradesh in the Lok Sabha elections.

She might release the 38 candidates’ list on Tuesday or do so after another round of meetings with SP leaders in Delhi on January 16-17, he said.

Jaitley may hike IT exemption limit to Rs 5 lakh

NEW DELHI, Jan 15: With middle-class apathy on the rise, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley may double the income tax exemption threshold for the salaried from the present Rs 2.5 lakh to Rs 5 lakh while also reinstating tax-free status for medical expenses and transport allowance, providing some relief to the section already under strain since demonetisation.

Though propriety demands that not too many policy changes should be made in a vote on account budget, the BJP government is apprehensive of the possibility of a middle-class backlash in the impending general elections.

Hence the plan to streamline tax slabs, which in any case are in consonance with the coming Direct Tax Code, according to government sources.

The problem that may manifest itself is that the Union Budget will precede the unveiling of the Direct Tax Code Report on February 28. Tinkering with the tax rates before the release of the report will make it contentious.

The new Direct Tax Code will try to bring more assessees into the tax net, make the system more equitable for different classes of taxpayers, make businesses more competitive by lowering the corporate tax rate and phase out the remaining tax exemptions that lead to litigation. It will also redefine key concepts such as income and scope of taxation

At the moment, income up to Rs 2.5 lakh is exempt from personal income tax. Income between Rs 2.5-5 lakh attracts 5 per cent tax (see table), while that between Rs 5-10 lakh is levied with 20 per cent tax. Income above Rs 10 lakh is taxed at 30 per cent. Rs 5 lakh exemption is only applicable to individuals of over 80 years.

Also, tax free medical expenses up to Rs 15,000 and transport allowance up to Rs 19,200 per annum has been replaced with a Rs 20,000 standard deduction for those earning above Rs 5 lakh last year. This will benefit tax payers to the tune of Rs 12,500 annually which is not much but can be viewed as a sentiment buster.

A fatigued BJP dispensation realises that as the incumbent it will have to fight off varied challenges.

With acute farm distress, middle class backlash, massive spike in unemployment data and rising Dalit anger taking its toll on the BJP, it would like to unleash a slew of course correctives. The 10 percent quota for upper castes was part of this process to appease vote banks. But this was an executive decision adopted by parliament, tinkering with the tax structure similarly is a legislative decision.

Sacked CBI chief Alok Verma resigns, says natural justice was scuttled

NEW DELHI, Jan 11: Alok Verma, the first CBI director to be removed by a PM-led panel, refused to take up his next assignment and resigned from service on Friday. Verma, who was not allowed to represent before the three-member committee, said “natural justice was scuttled and the entire process was turned upside down in ensuring that the undersigned is removed from the post of the Director”.

Verma, who had been ordered to take over as director general of fire services, said he was transferred on the basis of “false, unsubstantiated and frivolous allegations” made by only one person, who was inimical to him.

Rao assumed charge of the agency on Thursday at 9 pm, an internal order of the CBI said.

Breaking his silence, Verma, in a statement said late on Thursday night that the CBI, being a prime investigating agency dealing in corruption in high public places, is an institution whose independence should be preserved and protected.

“It must function without external influences. I have tried to uphold the integrity of the institution while attempts were being made to destroy it. The same can be seen from the orders of the central government and the CVC dated October 23, 2018 which were without jurisdiction and were set aside,” he said.

Verma said it was “sad” that he was transferred to another post pursuant to the orders of the committee on the basis of “false, unsubstantiated and frivolous allegations made by only one person, who was inimical to him”.

In the statement, he said the committee was assigned the task of deciding his future course of action as the CBI director.

Special Director Rakesh Asthana, with whom Verma had a public feud, had given a complaint against him to the cabinet secretary in August which was referred to the Central Vigilance Commission. The report given by the commission carried most of the allegations which led to the ouster of Verma.

According to Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, who was the dissenting voice in the three member committee also comprising Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Justice A K Sikri, there were 10 allegations.

Six were false, four needed further investigations, and four had circumstantial evidence and were “unflattering” to Verma, he said in his note to the committee.

Asthana was booked by the CBI on October 15, 2018 on the basis of a magisterial statement recorded by a businessman Sathish Babu Sana who had claimed that two businessmen brothers had sought bribe of Rs 5 crore from him to get relief to him in a CBI case against him using their contacts with the special director.

Verma, a 1979-batch IPS officer, was transferred as Director General Fire Services after the high-powered selection committee decided to remove him from the post of the CBI director. “I have stood up for the integrity of the institution, and if asked will do it again in order to uphold the rule of law,” he said.

Delhi high court refuses to cancel bribery case against CBI No. 2 Rakesh Asthana

NEW DELHI, Jan 11: The Delhi High Court court has refused to cancel bribery case against CBI No. 2 Rakesh Asthana and ordered the invest. The court has directed the CBI to complete the investigation within 10 weeks and file a charge sheet.

The high court also rejected the contention that the CBI should have taken the government’s sanction before registering the case, underlining that when a cognisable offence is alleged to have been committed, there must be a probe.

In his petition, Asthana had challenged the FIR saying it was motivated at the behest of his boss, CBI director Alok Verma who was sacked by the government on Thursday.

Justice Najmi Waziri had reserved the order on December 20 after hearing arguments from all sides, including Asthana, ousted CBI director Alok Verma, deputy superintendent of police Devender Kumar and the agency. Asthana, Kumar and an alleged middleman Manoj Prasad had moved court seeking the quashing of the FIR against them.

The case was lodged against Asthana and Kumar on the complaint of Hyderabad-based businessman Sana Satish Babu, who contended that the two demanded a bribe to get relief in a case related to meat-exporter Moin Qureshi.

The investigation was led by Asthana, who along with Verma was sent on forced leave on October 23.

The CBI versus CBI case turned vicious after Asthana complained to the cabinet secretary against Verma last August. The CBI had, however, filed an FIR against Asthana on October 15. Asthana has alleged that a bribe of Rs 2 crore was paid to Verma by Sana, who is also a co-accused in several cases under probe against Qureshi.

Asthana’s counsel Amarendra Sharan had contended in the high court that prior sanction was required under section 17A of Prevention of Corruption (PC) Act to act against the official.

He also maintained that the agency registered the FIR despite Central Vigilance Committee (CVC) directions not to take any action.

The CBI, represented by ASG Vikramjit Banerjee, had submitted that the sanction was not required. It said legal opinion was taken from several persons before registration the FIR.

Meanwhile, CBI DSP Devender Kumar moved the HC against the reversal of transfer orders by Verma. Kumar, who is out on bail, was arrested over allegations of fabricating a witness’s statement.

On his last day as the CBI chief, Verma on Thursday ordered seven more transfers; in all he ordered over two dozen transfers in the two days he spent as CBI director after being reinstated by the Supreme Court.

On Wednesday, he revoked all transfers, barring two, ordered by interim director M Nageswara Rao.

It in effect meant that all the officials who were probing corruption charges against his deputy Rakesh Asthana prior to October 24, when both were sent on leave by the government after an internecine feud, were back to complete the investigation.

With Thursday’s transfers, Verma ensured that the two supervisory officials – joint director V Murugesan and deputy inspector general Tarun Gauba – will continue to supervise the probe against Asthana. But he changed the lead investigator in the case and brought in superintendent of police Mohit Gupta.

Verma was transferred from the CBI on Thursday based on a CVC inquiry report which recommended a criminal probe against him and termed his conduct suspicious in the Moin Qureshi case.

Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim convicted for journalist’s murder

PANCHKULA, Jan 11: Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim was on Friday convicted by a special CBI court for the murder of a journalist in 2002.

The special CBI court in Panchkula convicted Ram Rahim and three others in the case. The quantum of sentence will be pronounced on January 17. Ram Rahim appeared through video conferencing for the hearing.

Chhatrapati was shot at point-blank range at his residence in Sirsa on October 24, 2002, months after his newspaper ‘Poora Sach’ published an anonymous letter alleging how women finding solace in the dera as sadhvis were sexually harassed and raped by Ram Rahim.

Three weeks later, Chhatrapati succumbed to his injuries. According to the CBI chargesheet, dera manager Krishan Lal had given his licenced revolver and a walkie-talkie of the dera to two shooters — Kuldeep Singh and Nirmal Singh — in the presence of the dera chief.

The 51-year-old sect head is currently serving a 20-year prison term in Rohtak’s Sunaria jail for raping two of his women followers. Security had been beefed up in Haryana and parts of Punjab ahead of the court’s verdict with the court complex turning into a fortress.

Violence had erupted in Panchkula and Sirsa in Haryana in August 2017 following the conviction of Dera sect head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, leaving over 40 persons dead and scores of people injured.

Modi can’t sleep: Rahul Gandhi tweets on CBI chief sacking

NEW DELHI, Jan 11: Congress president Rahul Gandhi continued to attack Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the sacking of CBI chief Alok Verma and the Rafale row on Thursday, saying fear had gripped Modi and he couldn’t sleep.

“Fear is now rampaging through Mr Modi’s mind. He can’t sleep. Sacking the CBI Chief #AlokVerma twice in a row, clearly shows that he is now a prisoner of his own lies,” he said in a tweet, hours after a PM-led panel sacked Verma.

Verma, who was sent on leave by the government in October, was reinstated by the Supreme Court on Tuesday, but with limited powers.

However, the PM-led selection committee, comprising Justice AK Sikri and Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, which was tasked by the SC to take a call on his future within a week, ordered his shunting out in two days.

In the meeting, Kharge opposed the order and gave a dissent note, news agency Press Trust of India said.

Congress soon targeted Modi for not giving Verma a chance to present his case and said the Prime Minister was “too afraid of an investigation” into the controversial Rafale deal.

Verma was removed from the high-profile post on charges of corruption and dereliction of duty. He was earlier sent on leave following an internal feud with his deputy Rakesh Asthana, as a fallout of which he was accused of corruption.

Earlier, Rahul Gandhi had taken a swipe at Modi over the Rafale deal, accusing him of being in a ‘tearing hurry to sack the CBI chief’.

“Why is the PM in such a tearing hurry to sack the CBI Chief? Why will he not allow the CBI Chief to present his case in front of the selection committee?” Gandhi tweeted.

The Congress president, who has led the opposition offensive against PM Modi over the Rafale deal, then went on to answer the questions himself. “Answer: RAFALE,” he tweeted.

In his speeches, Rahul Gandhi has suggested that PM Modi had attempted to remove Alok Verma because the CBI director wanted to probe the Rafale deal. Gandhi and other opposition parties allege that the government bought overpriced fighter jets from French aviation firm.

Farmers Showed PM Their Strength In Recent Assembly Polls: Rahul Gandhi

JAIPUR, Jan 9: JAIPUR: Rahul Gandhi said on Wednesday that farmers, troubled by the agriculture distress, showed Prime Minister Narendra Modi their strength in the recent assembly elections in three Hindi heartland states including Rajasthan, in which the BJP lost power to the Congress.

Addressing a farmers' rally in Jaipur - the first after Congress formed the government in Rajasthan - he also promised to waive farm loans in every state if the Congress is voted to power in 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The Congress president, however, said waiving farm loans is a small step towards addressing the agriculture distress and "a new green revolution (harit kranti) is needed to address the problem."

Attacking Modi for not participating in the debate on the multi-crore Rafale jet deal, Gandhi said, "Chowkidaar could not stand in Lok Sabha for a minute during the debate on Rafale issue."

Gandhi has been playing on the word "chowkidaar", used by Modi after his election to say that he will not allow corruption under his watch, to target the prime minister.

"We demand a JPC probe of the Rafale deal," Gandhi said, asserting that Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman could not reply to his questions during the debate on the issue in Lok Sabha.

The Congress wrested power from the BJP in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in December.

CBI chief Alok Verma rolls back most transfer orders

NEW DELHI, Jan 9: CBI director Alok Verma, who took charge of his office Wednesday after being reinstated in the post by the Supreme Court, rolled back most of the transfer orders of 13 officials shifted out after he was sent on forced leave last October.

On October 23, the Centre had divested both Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana of their powers after a feud had broken out between the two officers who had accused one another of corruption.

Joint director M Nageswara Rao, who was appointed interim director on October 24, had immediately ordered transfers and postings of 13 officials including the agency’s powerful joint director (policy) AK Sharma, deputy inspectors general MK Sinha, Anish Prasad, KR Chaurasia, and Tarun Gauba, additional superintendent of police SS Gurm and deputy superintendent of police AK Bassi.

The Supreme Court, while hearing the case filed by Verma, had set aside the government order that divested him of his powers and sent him on forced leave. It, however, barred him from taking any major policy decisions till the selection committee, comprising the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India and the leader of the largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha, met and decided on his continuation.

According to agency officials, Verma went ahead with rolling back the transfer orders of some of his key people, considering that transfers are seen as administrative and not policy decisions.

PM-led panel discusses probe report against CBI boss

NEW DELHI, Jan 9: The selection committee on CBI chief comprising Prime Minister Narendra Modi, chief justice of India and leader of largest opposition party in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge met on Wednesday evening to discuss the case of reinstated director Alok Verma.

Senior Supreme Court judge, Justice AK Sikri is part of the selection committee in place of the chief justice Ranjan Gogoi. Chief Justice Gogoi stayed away from the meeting as he authored the judgement by which Verma was on Tuesday reinstated as CBI Director and his powers were restored albeit with a rider that he would “cease and desist” from taking any “major policy” decisions and only attend routine functions.

According to reports, the panel is reported to have decided to hold a second meeting tomorrow, according to TV reports.

Kharge had earlier asked the government to defer the meeting since he had been busy with the Lok Sabha proceedings and hadn’t studied the Supreme Court’s order on Alok Verma. In his letter, he had asked for the meeting to be held on January 11, giving him enough time to study the judgment. He said that he would be able to put forth his party’s point of view only after studying the judgment.

The Supreme Court had on Tuesday conditionally reinstated Verma as the CBI chief a day earlier, months after the government divested him of the duties of the director following an internal feud with his deputy Rakesh Asthana in the agency.

Verma took charge as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director on Wednesday and is expected to rescind the transfer orders of some of his key people, sources familiar with the matter said.

The top court has given the selection committee one week to meet and discuss whether Verma needs to be removed or not.

“The transfer of the director without the consent of the selection committee negates the legislative intent that is to ensure independence of CBI,” the court said.

“Within a week, the selection committee, led by the PM, will meet and look into the aspect of whether Verma needs to be removed or not,” it said.

That bench of the court had chief justice Ranjan Gogoi and that is why he is believed to have dropped out of the selection committee on the CBI director.

Alok Verma was divested of duties shortly after midnight on October 23 following a feud with his deputy Rakesh Asthana. Verma had contested his removal in the Supreme Court, saying due procedure was not followed in taking the action, which should have been done by the selection committee. The court reinstated him and asked the selection panel to take a call.

The government had however claimed that the decision to send Verma and Asthana on leave was taken on a report by CVC following corruption charges against both the officials in connection with cases being probed by the agency.

While opposition claimed victory over the SC order, with Congress president Rahul Gandhi saying “some justice has been done”, government defended itself. Finance minister Arun Jaitley said the removal of the two officials was necessary “in the larger interest of fair and impartial investigation and credibility of CBI”.

Kashmir’s IAS topper Shah Faesal resigns to protest ‘unabated killings’ in state

NEW DELHI, Jan 9: Shah Faesal, the outspoken IAS topper whose success inspired many young Kashmiris to join the civil services, announced on Wednesday that he has decided to resign from the government and join electoral politics. Faesal, 35, attributed his decision to protest what he described as “the unabated killings in Kashmir and absence of any credible political initiative from Union Government”.

“I have decided to resign from IAS. Kashmiri lives matter,” Faesal said in a Facebook post that was severely critical of the central government.

Faesal, a 2010-batch IAS officer, was the first Kashmiri to top the civil services examination held by the Union Public Services Commission, or UPSC. His appointment was then seen to reflect the changing mindset of Kashmiris.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Faesal, however, said he will announce his plans on Friday. He is expected to join the National Conference and contest the Lok Sabha polls from Barmulla in north Kashmir.

Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah welcomed Faesal to politics.

“The bureaucracy’s loss is politics’ gain. Welcome to the fold @shahfaesal,” Abdullah tweeted.

Abdullah refrained from outlining any more details, saying Shah Faesal’s “future political plans are his to announce”.

Omar Abdullah has supported Shah Faesal on social media more than once, particularly when Faesal was trolled for his blunt remarks. He was as scathing in his Facebook post announcing his decision to resign.

“I wish to reiterate that voices of reason in this country cannot be muzzled for long and the environment of siege will need to end if we wish to usher in true democracy,” he wrote.

Faesal, from Jammu and Kashmir’s Kupwara district, got into trouble with the government last year and was issued a show-cause notice for tweeting a comment on a story of a man raping his mother.

“Patriarchy+Population+Illiteracy+Alcohol+Porn+Technology+Anarchy = Rapistan!,” Faesal had tweeted in April over a story titled “Porn addict rapes 46 year old mom, arrested in Gujarat”.

In August last, he said repealing of Article 35A of the Constitution would end Jammu and Kashmir’s relationship with the rest of the country. “I would compare Article 35A to a marriage-deed/nikahnama. You repeal it and the relationship is over. Nothing will remain to be discussed afterwards,” he said in a tweet.

“Let’s not confuse the issue. Sovereignty and integrity of India can’t be challenged. Not at all. But the Constitution has kept some special provisions for J&K state. It’s a unique arrangement. It isn’t a threat to India’s integrity at all,” he said.

Article 35A empowers the Jammu and Kashmir state’s legislature to define “permanent residents” of the state and provide special rights and privileges to those permanent residents.

BJD will not be part of mahagathbandhan: Naveen Patnaik

BHUBANESWAR, Jan 9: A day after saying that he needs time to think over the possibility of joining an opposition grand alliance, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Wednesday made it clear that he won’t be a part of it.

“As far as the mahagathbandhan is concerned, the BJD is not a part of it,” said the Biju Janata Dal chief, adding that his party will maintain equidistance from both the BJP and the Congress.

The talk of a grand alliance has gained momentum after Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party suggested that they have firmed up a seat-sharing deal minus the Congress. Rahul Gandhi was earlier keen to join the alliance but has now accepted the idea of the Congress going it alone in 2019 polls. He even said the Congress may surprise people with results in UP.

In this backdrop, Telugu Desam Party chief Chandrababu Naidu met Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday to cement an opposition alliance against the BJP in 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Naidu has taken a lead role in building an opposition front against the BJP.

Many parties are trying to court Naveen Patnaik as the Lok Sabha polls draw closer. A fortnight ago Telangana Rashtra Samithi chief and Telangana CM K Chandrashekar Rao met him in Bhubaneswar to discuss the possibility of forging a non-Congress, non-BJP federal front.

There have also have been speculations of the Odisha CM joining the NDA in the event of its failure to get a clear majority in the 2019 polls. The rumours were fuelled when Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not utter a word against the BJD chief in two public meetings—Khurda and Baripada—while he was all fire and brimstone against him just 3 months ago in a meeting in Jharsuguda district.

State Congress chief Niranjan Patnaik said Naveen Patnaik’s equidistance policy is only for self-preservation. “BJD not joining mahagathbandhan does not bother us. We have always known BJD as a party of opportunists,” he said.

BJP national secretary Suresh Pujari said for his party, BJD not joining the grand alliance makes no difference. “Naveen Patnaik works in myterious ways. Even God would be unsure about his next step. For us, both BJD and Congress are rivals,” said Pujari.

Fled open book exam, says Rahul Gandhi in fresh attack on Modi over Rafale

NEW DELHI, Jan 3: A day after holding a heated debate with the BJP on the Rafale fighter jet issue in Lok Sabha Congress president Rahul Gandhi once again took to Twitter to continue his attack. The Congress president had posed four questions on Twitter for Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the purchase of the 36 Rafale fighter jets and had referred to the questions as an “open book Rafale exam”. “So it seems our PM has fled Parliament & his own open book Rafale exam & is instead lecturing students,” Rahul tweeted.

Rahul Gandhi had after the heated debate, gone on to address a press conference where he dared Prime Minister Narendra Modi to a 20-minute one-on-one debate on the purchase of the 36 Rafale fighter jets. Minutes later, he had taken to Twitter and posed three questions which he referred to as an “open book exam Rafale exam” for the prime minister.

Not letting go of the issue, Rahul Gandhi took to Twitter once again on Thursday.

“So it seems our PM has fled Parliament & his own open book Rafale exam & is instead lecturing students,” Rahul tweeted.

He wanted the students to ask Prime Minister Narendra Modi the questions he had raised on Twitter since the PM would be in their proximity.

In the same tweet, he also wrote, “I request the students there to, respectfully, ask him to please answer the 4 questions posed to him by me, yesterday.”

Rahul’s tweet on Thursday comes a day after he posed a bunch of questions on twitter for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying, “Tomorrow, the PM faces an Open Book #RafaleDeal Exam in Parliament,” Gandhi tweeted, and put out what he called, were “the exam questions in advance”.

“Q1. Why 36 aircraft, instead of the 126 the IAF needed? Q2. Why 1,600 Cr instead of 526 Cr per aircraft. Q4. Why AA instead of HAL? Will he show up? Or send a proxy?” he said.

When someone pointed out that Rahul had missed out on listing Question no 3, the Congress wrote back that Question 3 was for the public to decide.

However, Rahul tweeted once again after this saying that he had held back the third question since the Lok Sabha Speaker Sushmita Mahajan had said, “no talking about the tape”.

“I had held back Q3 because Madam Speaker had said, “no talking about the Goa tape”! But the missing Q3 has become as controversial as Rafale:) So on popular demand:

“Q3. Modi Ji, please tell us why Parrikar Ji keeps a Rafale file in his bedroom & what’s in it?” he wrote.

Sena attacks Modi over Ram Mandir remark

MUMBAI, Jan 3: The Shiv Sena attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi over his statement that any decision on an ordinance for the construction of Ram Mandir in Uttar Pradesh’s Ayodhya can be considered only after the judicial process is over.

The Sena said in an editorial in the party mouthpiece Saamana on Thursday that Prime Minister Modi spoke the truth for the first time in the last four-five years.

Uddhav Thackeray-led Sena, a cantankerous ally of the BJP, has demanded an ordinance to pave the way for the temple’s construction in Ayodhya, arguing that the matter has been dragging in courts for decades. It has been taking on the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the Ram temple issue and is attempting to corner its ally over its poll promises.

“We have said in our BJP manifesto that a solution would be found to this issue under the ambit of the Constitution,” the Prime Minister said when asked whether the Ram Mandir issue had been relegated as merely an emotive issue for the BJP.

“Let the judicial process be over. After the judicial process is over, whatever will be our responsibility as the government, we are ready to make all efforts,” Modi said in an interview to a news agency.

The Sena said it was expected the Prime Minister would make some important announcement about the Ram Mandir and “bring back Lord Ram from the exile”.

“But Modi adopted a completely opposite stance,” it said.

“The Ram Mandir issue is in the Supreme Court. A decision on an ordinance can only happen after the Supreme Court verdict is out on the case. This is the first time in the last four to five years that he has spoken the truth... The Ram temple was an election jumla and it will remain one in the next election as well, his statements have made it clear,” the Sena said.

The Sena said the Prime Minister’s 95-minute interview was “a storm in a teacup” and he appeared to be in defensive mode.

“…The interview was akin to his election speeches. The worry of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls was evident on his face and his body language.”

There has been a renewed pitch within the BJP as well as organisations affiliated to its ideological mentor Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) for expediting the process of the construction of the temple.

The organisations have expressed unhappiness over the delay in resolving the matter and there have been demands to promulgate an ordinance, similar to the one issued on triple talaq, to facilitate the temple’s construction.

The Supreme Court will hear the matter on January 4. Petitions have been filed in the top court for day-to-day hearings in the case.

It will be Janta vs gathbandhan in 2019: Modi

NEW DELHI, Jan 1: The 2019 Lok Sabha elections will be a “public versus coalition” contest, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Tuesday, while ridiculing the alliance proposed to be formed by anti-BJP parties.

In an interview to ANI, he dismissed claims by some political pundits that the BJP might not get more than 180 out of 543 seats in the Lok Sabha elections, saying there were a similar “set of persons” who echoed a similar narrative even in 2014.

The Prime Minister was responding to a question whether people had now considered the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ to be an alternative to Modi. He expressed confidence that people will again repose faith in the BJP considering the work done by his government over the last four and a half years.

“I believe, this election is going to be a contest between those who fulfil and take forward the aspirations of the people and those who stop these aspirations. There is experience of 70 years. Public is the decider,” the PM said when asked if the 2019 polls were heading towards a US Presidential style of elections between Modi and Rahul.

Asked whether the upcoming Lok Sabha polls would be “anybody but Modi’ contest as projected by the opposition parties, he said, “It is going to be ‘janta (public) versus gathbandhan (coalition). Modi is just a manifestation of public love and blessings,” he added.

Reposing faith in the “intelligence” of the voters, Modi said, “The Indian public will decide the course of elections. The public will decide the agenda, who is for the aspirations of the people, who is against the aspirations of the people. This is going to the yardstick for the elections.”

Ridiculing the coalition sought to be formed by some anti-BJP parties, he said, “The public knows that earlier it was decentralised corruption — those who sat in the states looted the states, those who were in the Centre looted at the Centre... People will decide whether or not they should ally with forces of corruption who are coming together.”

The PM‘s attention was drawn to the “180 club” claim by some sections, inferring that the BJP might not get more than 180 seats in the Lok Sabha polls. In his response, he said, “Is there any scientific study? In 2013 too, the same set of persons used to talk the same thing about BJP getting less than 180 seats. That narrative continues.”

He went on to add, “If they do not spread such things, how will people join their ‘gathbandhan’? They will have to talk big to attract people.”

Asserting that BJP has no reason to “mistrust the intelligence of the common man”, Modi said, “I keep telling all political pundits let us trust the common man’s intelligence. After all, what did the common people experience from this government that they will go away from us? I have faith in the public, their intelligence.”

Attacking the anti-BJP parties who are trying to firm up an alliance, he said there is no unity among them in any way, nor any joint articulation about what they would do for the country.

To press his point, he said if media reports of last five years are analysed, there is nothing concrete that the ‘gathbandhan’ has said or done unitedly.

“They still speak in different voices. Who are these people? They are looking for each other’s support to save themselves... They hold each other’s hand, so that they are saved. That is the game,” Modi said.

“Their single point agenda is Modi, do this to Modi, do that to Modi...There is no articulation on what they would do for the nation and why they will do it,” the Prime Minister said.

He said the anti-BJP coalition had failed already during its experiment in Telangana Assembly elections and local polls in states like Assam and Jammu and Kashmir. “At the top, these (coalition) leaders may get together for their safety but that does not mean that public is joining them,” Modi said.

Modi’s attention was drawn to allegation by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and TDP leader Chandrababu Naidu that the efforts being made by Telangana Chief Minister and TRS supremo K Chandrashekar Rao to form an alliance has the blessings of Modi. “I am not aware that some coalition is being made by KCR,” Modi replied.

The Prime Minister was also asked about the unhappiness expressed by some of the BJP allies, like Shiv Sena, from time to time and whether they were indulging in “muscle flexing”.

His attention was particularly drawn to Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s apparent attack on him when he said that ‘chowkidar chor hai (guard is the thief), echoing Rahul Gandhi’s oft repeated line of attack on Narendra Modi.

In his response, he said, “Sometimes, some expectations are not met” and some allies feel that they “could benefit by putting pressure” on the BJP. “Some (allies) feel that such issues could be resolved through discussions.... But our effort is to take everyone along and listen to everyone,” Modi added.

He emphasised that he was “committed to give importance to regional aspirations” as he believes that the country cannot be run by ignoring regional aspirations. “That is why BJP is more successful.”

The Prime Minister noted that the BJP, despite getting full majority in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, took every ally along, adhering to the coalition dharma. “Even today when we run the government, there is consensus in decision-making,” he said.

“It is true that states have their own level of politics. Our allies wish to grow and we too want them to grow. We do not want that we should grow at the cost of allies,” Modi added.

Making a comparison with the Congress, he said “it is speciality of Congress-led alliance that all allies are those who have come out of the Congress after raising their voice against the Congress or emerged because of Congress-opposition. So when they approach the Congress, Congress usurps them.

“We are different. Those who associate with us, they prosper. So our effort remains that our allies blossom.”

Asked whether he expected more parties to join the NDA, Modi said that process has been continuing since 2014 and referred to the small parties of North East which had joined the BJP-led coalition.

Queried whether BSP would be joining the NDA, he said, “I don’t think any sensible person will spell out such things on TV, as to who will join and who cannot.”

Asked whether there was any move of film stars-turned-politicians Rajnikanth and Kamala Hassan to join the NDA and improve the NDA’S footprint in South India , he said, “We are continuously striving to expand our base. We are ready to take everyone along, those who want to come with us, those with whom we can walk. It is linked to our strengthening the regional aspirations.”

‘I, me, mine and myself’: Congress critiques PM’s interview

NEW DELHI, Jan 1: Minutes after a 95-minute interview with Prime Minister Narendra Modi was aired on TV channels, the Congress fired 10 questions that the opposition party said, should have been answered by him.

“The whole summary of PM Modi’s interview was - ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘mine’, and ‘myself’,” said the Congress’ Randeep Singh Surjewala at a Press conference, asserting that the PM should instead have detailed progress on “10 promises that he made,” including the one to deposit Rs 15 lakh in every bank account and bringing back black money from abroad.

Surjewala described the PM’s interview to news agency ANI as a “monologue.”

Modi answered questions on range of issues ranging from the government’s stand on the Ram Temple to Urjit Patel resignation from the RBI. He also made sharp attacks on the Congress and the Gandhi family, which he said had run the country for four generations and were facing charges of financial irregularities and are out on bail.

Surjewala said the Prime Minister “had only peddled lies” at the interview about his government’s 55 months in power. The Congress spokesman also reminded him about the Rafale fighter jet deal and its demand for a probe by a parliamentary panel. “Why are you running away from a probe,” he underscored, listing what he said, were the government’s “broken promises”.

Modi, in course of the interview, had counted the Congress campaign against him over the Rafale deal as an attempt to weaken the army and stressed that he would not stop him from expediting the procurement process so that the country’s security is not compromised.

“Should I worry that they are making personal attacks on me, or whether my country’s needs should be met?.... I will continue on the path of honesty and give primacy to the country’s security,” he told ANI.

“In Parliament, I have spoken elaborately on this and whichever public forum I got, I spoke about this. The matter has been cleared even by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court scrutinised it threadbare. The French President has spoken,” Modi said.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi has accused Prime Minister Modi of favouring Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group in the Rafale deal by pushing Dassault Aviation to have a tie up with it through an offset clause, an allegation denied by both the Indian government and Dassault.

‘They’ve entered our homes now’: Mehbooba Mufti opposes BJP on triple talaq bill

SRINAGAR, Jan 1: Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) leader Mehbooba Mufti on Monday accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led-central government of attempting to break Muslim homes through the Triple Talaq Bill and warned against creating a “Zia-ul-Haq’s Pakistan in (Mahatma) Gandhi’s India”.

The PDP leader said that she was speaking against the bill as “a Muslim and a woman who has also gone through a broken marriage”, at a time when there is an “assault on the family structure of Muslims”.

Mehbooba said that Muslims take pride in “our family structure and bonding” which is very strong and is also true of other religions in the east unlike west.

“Unfortunately after the economic onslaught on Muslims through curbs on meat and leather which has ruined the economic state of Muslims, they have entered our homes now, by bringing the Triple Talaq Bill. It not only disturbs our family life but will also affect the economic state of Muslim women and men,” Mehbooba said, while addressing a press conference here.

Married to a relative, Mehbooba, 59, was divorced early in her life and brought up her two daughters, both in their twenties, alone.

Mehbooba said that the biggest challenge for a woman after a broken marriage is her economic well being and the upbringing of her children.

“When we talk with the BJP about reservation for Muslims, they reject any reservation whether in education or jobs on religious lines, but when it comes to this kind of law made on religious lines, they go to the parliament,” she said.

The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2018, which proposes to criminalise the practice of Muslim men giving divorce to their wives by uttering the word “Talaq” thrice in quick succession, was passed by Lok Sabha on Thursday. However, a united opposition on Monday, thwarted the government’s attempt to push the instant Triple Talaq Bill in the Rajya Sabha.

“An attempt to pass this bill; what message are you sending to 25 crore Muslims in the country. You have already cornered them enough by putting a ban on beef and leather. Now by breaking their homes what message are you conveying to them,” Mehbooba said.

“Not a single Muslim MP has supported this bill in parliament. The BJP has majority but it is not about brute majority, there should a consensus,” Mehbooba said.

She also warnedagainst interfering into Muslim lives. “Don’t interfere in our religion and if you do, you will face the consequences in coming time”.

The former CM also accused the BJP of not following the legacy of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

“BJP always claims that they want to further the legacy of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, they claim of humanity and ‘sab ka sath sab ka vikas’ but this kind of bill and entering the homes of Muslims for their division is awful,” she said.

Mehbooba said all Muslims including those of Jammu and Kashmir have stayed in India because of “Gandhi’s secular India”.

“I want to tell the government at the Centre that you are not doing any service either to your country or to Hindus. We do not want to create a Zia-ul-Haq’s Pakistan in Gandhi’s India,” she said.

“Muslims want to abide by Supreme Court rulings whether in Babri Masjid case or on this issue, we are ready to abide by that. On the other hand, they don’t abide by the Supreme Court decision on Sabarimala Temple issue. And on Babri Masjid they say whatever the decision of SC, thetemple will be built there,” she said.

Central Delhi gridlocked, exits at 4 metro stations closed by police

NEW DELHI, Jan 1: Commuters are likely to face a harrowing time on the evening of the first day of 2019 as traffic started swelling in major roads leading to Connaught Place and India Gate from Tuesday afternoon.

Jams were reported near Rithala Metro Station, GPO New Delhi roundabout, at Najafgarh market’s outer road, near Savitri while going towards Kalkaji Mandir, outside Bangla Sahib Gurdwara and near the Jhandewalan metro station.

Traffic on the route to Kalkaji Mandir from Savitri Cinema was also jammed with the Delhi Traffic Police tweeting that due to heavy turnout of people coming to Kalkaji Mandir, traffic would remain restricted from Chirag Delhi to Kalkaji.

At the same time, it also tweeted that traffic would remain restricted around Kashmere Gate, Yamuna Bazaar and Hanuman Setu.

Exit from Central Secretariat, Mandi House, Pragati Maidan and Udyog Bhawan metro stations was closed by the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) from 2.50pm on orders by the police to stop people from gathering in central Delhi.

Despite heavy deployment around C-Hexagon, revellers began gathering around India Gate, and the numbers are likely to go up further, the police said.

“By evening, looking at the crowd we will decide on traffic diversions are whether roads leading to India Gate and CP need to be closed for traffic,” said joint commissioner of police (traffic) Alok Kumar.

Traffic police have advised commuters to avoid central Delhi, especially in the evening hours, to avoid getting stuck in traffic. An advisory issued by the department asked people to resort to public transport instead of using their personal vehicles.

Areas with entertainment hubs and restaurants also started witnessing the New Year’s rush early. Roads around South Extension, Defence Colony, Khan Market and Vasant Kunj saw slow movement on traffic on Tuesday afternoon.

Traffic police have advised commuters to avoid central Delhi, especially in the evening hours, to avoid getting stuck in traffic. An advisory issued by the department asked people to resort to public transport instead of using their personal vehicles.

Last year, on New Year’s, over 2.5 lakh people reportedly gathered around CP and India Gate leading to snarls that lasted hours. Revellers also hit the road making it difficult for traffic to be navigated.

Expecting a large number of people to gather around key points, Delhi Traffic police has put in place diversions from Sunheri Masjid near Udyog Bhawan, Janpath, Rajpath, Rafi Marg, Windsor Place, Rajindra Prasad Road, Kasturba Gandhi Marg, Ferozeshah Road, Mandi House, W-Point, Mathura Road-Purana Qila Road, Mathura Road-Sher Shah Road, Zakir Hussain Marg, and Pandara Road.


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