Category: New Delhi

Sonia Gandhi invites TRS, TDP, YSRC for May 23 meet

In a move clearly aimed at strengthening opposition unity and to checkmate the Narendra Modi-led NDA, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi has written to all UPA allies and non-NDA parties namely the BJD, the YSR Congress, the TRS and the TD inviting them for a meeting on May 23 to discuss the future course of action.

The meeting, which has been called on the day when the Lok Sabha election results are to be announced, holds significance as sources point out that the message sent out by Ms Gandhi is that all UPA and non-NDA parties need to rally together after the verdict.

With the UPA chairperson personally writing to all UPA allies and non-NDA parties, the meeting could discuss the roadmap for the future political course of action, in case the final numbers are not in favour of the NDA.

While the UPA allies are on board, sources said that special efforts have been made to bring on board the non-NDA entities like the BJD, YSR Congress and the TRS for the proposed meeting.

When Mr Rao met M.K. Stalin in Chennai on Monday, the DMK chief reportedly explained his party’s firm stand against the BJP and suggested that instead the Talangana Chief Minister should support the UPA to form government at the Centre.

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath is learnt to have personally spoken to his Odisha counterpart Naveen Patnaik, requesting him to attend the May 23 meeting. Both the leaders have known each other personally. Mr Modi’s recent meeting with Mr Patnaik after both of them conducted the aerial survey of the cyclone-affected regions of Odisha, had given a lot of grist to speculations regarding the BJP sending signals to the BJD in case there is a case of an alliance after the results. Ms Gandhi’s outreach to the Odisha Chief Minister therefore, holds a lot of significance.

Whether Mr Patnaik attends the May 23 meeting, along with YSR Congress’ Jagan Mohan Reddy and TRS chief K. Chandrasekhar Rao, would depend entirely on the poll results.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, TD supremo N. Chandrababu Naidu termed Congress president Rahul Gandhi a “good leader who has concerns for the nation” and asserted that unlike 1996, non-BJP parties won’t commit the mistake of keeping the Congress out if such an alliance forms a government at the Center.

Utmost caution was taken to prevent civilian casualties: Rajnath on Balakot strike

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Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday said that India conducted action on the Pakistan-based terror training camp in Balakot on February 26 with utmost caution and responsibility to ensure only terrorists were impacted and no civilian was harmed.

In an exclusive interview to ANI, Rajnath Singh underlined the fact that India had no intention to cause civilian casualties or get into direct confrontation with Pakistani forces while carrying out air strikes on Balakot.

“Indian Air Force only attacked terrorist camps. We made sure that there should be no attack on Pakistan’s sovereignty and integrity. We did not kill any innocent human in our strikes. We only attacked terrorist training centres,” the Home Minister said.

The Home Minister’s remarks come amid heightened tension between New Delhi and Islamabad following February 14 Pulwama terrorist attack by Pakistan-backed Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist on a security convoy in which 44 CRPF personnel were killed.

The two countries were close to having dangerous confrontation following Balakot airstrikes of February 26, when the Indian Air Force aircraft crossed the Line of Control to attack the JeM base camp in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.

On being asked, how correct it is to demand proof from armed forces about the air strikes, Rajnath Singh said: “Why should one ask for proof from IAF, who bombed the terrorist centre only. Should they count the bodies and give proof? As a Home Minister of the country I am saying that the operation in Balakot took place on the basis of credible intelligence input.”

When asked that the international community is still not accepting India’s stand that Pakistan used F-16 to attack Indian Air Force, Rajnath Singh said: “No international community has denied it. Pentagon itself has contradicted it. They have denied any reports (published in Foreign Policy magazine) and said no research was done and no US general has made these comment.”

“In addition to that Air Vice Marshal have presented all the proof yesterday that Indian Air Force has downed Pakistan F-16 during a retaliatory firing,” he added.

The Home Minister also made it clear that India was ready to hold talks with Pakistan provided Islamabad “commits” itself to take strong steps to stop terrorism emanating from its soil.

“Whosoever will come from Pakistan, we are ready to talk. But Pakistan has to decide that terrorism and talks cannot proceed together. Pakistan has to commit that it will stop terrorism, and that they will not allow anyone to use their soil to train terrorists,” Rajanth Singh said.

On asking for proof of Balakot strike:

Singh said that it is fair to raise questions in a democracy and there is no harm in asking for details or proof from a government with regard to actions taken by it but it is unfair to ask security forces to give proof.

While responding to a question of why people are branded as “anti-national” and “Tukde Tukde” gang, if they ask for proof of Balakot air strike and Surgical strikes, the Home Minister, said: “No one is termed anti-national for asking questions, we always give answers to relevant questions…Why should one ask for proof from Indian Air Force, who only bombed the terrorist centre. Should they count the bodies and give proof?”

He added that the air strike by the IAF in Pakistan’s Balakot took place on the basis of credible intelligence input. “During Balakot air strike, the IAF targeted terrorist training centres in Pakistan and ensured that no harm is done to civilians there. We took precautions while taking revenge of Pulwama terror attack, we made sure that Pakistan’s Sovereignty and Integrity is not compromised and only terrorists are targeted. We did not attack Pakistan’s army or harm the innocent civilians, we only targeted terrorists,” he said.

On Kashmir issue

Rajnath Singh asserted that “Kashmir is, was and will always be an integral part of India and thus it cannot have its own prime minister.”

“Kashmir will never be separated from India. Kashmir was, is and always will be an integral part of India. There cannot be two prime ministers in the country. It is absolutely clear in our election manifesto that if we form government Article 370, Article 35A will be removed,” he added.

When questioned about Mehbooba Mufti and Farooq Abdullah’s statements that tampering with Article 370 and 35A will not bode well for India, Rajnath said, “This is their frustration, let them speak what they want, we will go ahead and do what we have to do”.

Rajnath Singh further explained that during his tenure as the Home Minister he tried continuously to hold dialogues with Kashmiri leaders, who showed no inclination for talks.

On I-T, ED raids on Opposition leaders and their aides

Rajnath Singh said that the agencies are autonomous bodies and they are acting on their inputs.

Singh said, “The agencies which are conducting raids are autonomous bodies. Model Code of Conduct does not apply to them. They are acting on their inputs. How can we stop them?”

“It is unfair to hold the government responsible for the raids. This is an ongoing process. Agencies act on their own intelligence inputs,” the Minister said.

Singh maintained that autonomous central agencies will take necessary steps to stop the use of unaccounted money in the elections.

The Home Minister said, “The elections should be fought in a free and fair manner. No unethical means should be used to win the elections. If anyone has collected unaccounted money and wants to use them in elections, these autonomous bodies will act,” he said.

“We do not send forces on our own. We send them on the instructions of the Election Commission of India. The Centre has nothing to do with it and the central forces are deployed in states on EC’s orders,” Singh added.

On Mayawati’s appeal to Muslim community to vote for BSP-SP alliance

Rajnath Singh said that politics should not be done on the basis of “caste, creed and religion”.

“It is very unfortunate (what Mayawati said). Politics should not be done on the basis of Hindu-Muslim. Politics should not be done on the basis of caste, creed and religion. Our (BJP) politics is not on the basis of caste, creed and religion. It is on the basis of justice and humanity. We never say only Hindu should vote for us and not Muslims or vice versa. In a healthy democracy, you can’t even imagine this,” Singh said.

“No discrimination will be done in India on the basis of Hindu-Muslim. Whatever I am saying is our commitment. I cannot discriminate on the basis of Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian. Justice to all, appeasement of none – our party believes in this,” he added.

On promises made by BJP

Rajnath Singh said that the BJP never made promises of transferring Rs 15 lakhs into people’s bank accounts during the campaign for Lok Sabha election in 2014.

“Never said that Rs 15 lakh will come (to accounts of people). This was never said. (Bilkul nahi kaha tha ki Rs 15 lakh aenge. Ye kabhi nahi kaha tha). We had said that we will take action (karyawahi) against black money. Action is being taken against black money. It was our government which made SIT on the topic of black money,” Rajnath said.

His statement comes at a time when opposition parties have been criticing the BJP for having made “false promises” to woo the people of India ahead of 2014 general elections and now repeating it in 2019.

Amit Shah’s wife’s income grew 16-fold in 5 years

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Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah on Saturday said his wife Sonal Shah’s income grew from Rs 14 lakh annually to Rs 2.3 crore in the last five years, which is a 16-fold increase.

The declaration was made by Shah while filing his nomination papers for the Lok Sabha elections from the Gandhinagar constituency.

As per the declaration, the BJP President’s total movable and immovable assets are worth over Rs 31 crore. Shah has also shown that he inherited over Rs 23 crore from his late mother Kusum Shah in 2013.

Shah’s income for 2017-18 has been shown as Rs 53,90,970. In 2013-14, Shah’s income was Rs 41,93,218.

His wife’s income grew from Rs 14,55,637 in 2013-14 to over Rs 2.3 crore in 2017-18.

In 2014-15, Sonal Shah’s income was Rs 39,75,970, which grew to over Rs 1 crore in 2015-16. Income sources have been shown as income from rent and agriculture and dividends from share investments.

As per the affidavit submitted by Shah, there are four criminal cases pending against him.

The first case linked to inciting inflammatory oration is pending before the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate of Contai in West Bengal, while the second case for defamatory speech is in the Metropolitan Magistrate’s court in Kolkata.

The other two cases are related to wearing footwear while hoisting the national flag and calling Lalu Prasad a “chara chor” in 2015.

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No leader matches stature of Modi, who’s your leader?: Thackerey to Oppn

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Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray Saturday said although there were differences between his party and the BJP earlier, all the issues have been resolved now.

He also said the two parties had similar goals and their ideologies and hearts were woven together. Thackeray also praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying the opposition had no leader that matches his stature. He was speaking at a rally here ahead of filing of nomination by BJP chief Amit Shah for the Gandhinagar Lok Sabha seat.

Apart from Thackeray, Union ministers Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) supremo Parkash Singh Badal and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) founder Ram Vilas Paswan were present on the stage. Thackeray said he took part in the rally to give his best wishes to Shah. “Many people will raise eyebrows why I am here, many people are happy that I am here, but some have stomach pain due to it,” Thackeray said. “Some people were rejoicing that the two parties with the same ideology are fighting with each other.

We had some manmutav (bad feeling) and matbhinnata (difference of opinion). But when Amit Shah came to my house and we sat and held talks, all the issues were resolved,” he said. “We have similar goals. Our ideologies and hearts are woven together. We have come together because Hindutva is what binds us,” he added. “My father (Bal Thackeray) taught us that whatever we do, we should not do it from behind. We had raised people’s issues. We have never back-stabbed and never will,” he said. “Shiv Sena and BJP have the same ideology of Hindutva. My father used to say Hindutva is our breath. But if our breath stops how can we survive?” he asked.

Thackeray said whatever happened in the last five years between the Sena and the BJP was past now. “We should not forget our history of partnership of 25 years that preceded these five years. We were just two parties carrying the saffron flag, nobody was ready to align with us except Badal sahib. “We were nowhere, but started walking, taking the saffron flag with us. Twenty-five years passed and our dream of hoisting the saffron flag in Delhi was realised. Today, our thinking is one, our ideology is one and our leader is also one,” he said.

The Shiv Sena and the BJP were engaged in a bitter war of words in Maharashtra for the last five years of the NDA rule, though they were sharing power both at the Centre and state levels. Before the 2019 election, there were doubts whether the two parties would join hands or not. However, finally both the saffron parties decided to patch up and fight the elections together. He said the opposition parties might have joined hands, but the Shiv Sena and the BJP are joined by hearts. “They have 56 leaders in a rally joining hands. It’s good…they should join hands, even if they do not get along well.

But Shiv Sena and BJP we are joined by hearts,” he said. “They (opposition) have started pulling each others’ legs even before the polls as everyone wants to become the prime minister and I am not sure how long it will go,” he said. He said the opposition has no leader that matches the stature of Modi. “I would like to ask who their leader is. If they organise a rally, will their supporters shout one name like you people shout,” Thackeray said, following which people started shouting ‘Modi, Modi’. “Who is against us (in opposition)?…Nobody in this election. You will only see saffron saffron and saffron,” he said.

Indian-origin leader makes history in Canada Parliament

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Indian-origin Jagmeet Singh created history in Canada when he made his debut in the House of Commons as the first non-white leader of a major opposition party in the country.

The arrival of the leader, wearing a turban, into the house on Monday, cheered by all members, coincided with the induction of a senior woman member into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet.

Singh, 40, the leader of the New Democratic Party, placed his hand over his heart as he walked into the House of Commons, the lower of house of Parliament, before the daily question period.

He was elected in federal by-elections held on February 25.

Singh, as an elected lawmaker, talked about last week’s terrorist attack on two mosques in New Zealand.

“I want to begin by expressing our solidarity with the people of New Zealand who are mourning the attack on Muslim brothers and sisters… in Christchurch,” he said.

About 50 people were killed last week in the Pacific country’s worst-ever mass shooting.

He then launched his first question about housing in Burnaby-South.

“I met a mom in Burnaby. She bought a home, but cannot afford to live there anymore. Her daughter has a good job, but only gets by because she lives in the basement. Her son does not see a future. Like too many Canadians, he has lost all hope,” Singh said.

“However, the prime minister is telling families like theirs to wait for help. I believe that better is possible. Will the government commit to building half a million new affordable homes?” he asked.

Prime Minister Trudeau responded by congratulating Singh for his entry into the Commons, before touting the government’s record on fighting poverty.

Singh’s remarks echoed the mood of the House on a crucial day when the prime minister was beleaguered by the resignations of his two key cabinet colleagues.

NDA will marginally fall short of majority

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The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) will fall marginally short of a majority in the Lok Sabha but will comfortably form the government with post poll tie-ups.

In the eventuality of no Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance of opposition parties) in Uttar Pradesh, the Narendra Modi-led NDA will walk home with over 300 Lok Sabha seats.

According to the latest State of the Nation opinion poll conducted by CVoter for IANS, the battle in Uttar Pradesh will largely decide the complexion of the next Lok Sabha.

The poll was conducted in the month of March when the Modi government took the bold decision of carrying out aerial strike on Jaish-E-Mohammad (JeM) terror camp in Pakistan, leading to a new wave of nationalism across the country.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is hoping to ride on this wave to drown the opposition and the opinion poll confirms that Prime Minister Modi is leading the race.

The poll has projected that the NDA will get 264 seats while the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is expected to reach a tally of 141 and all other parties are expected to get 138 seats.

If there is no Mahagathbandhan in Uttar Pradesh, the NDA will get 307 seats and the UPA will settle for 139 and all other parties are expected to get 97.

In terms of seats, the BJP is expected to get 220 seats on its own and the allies are likely to get 44.

If NDA gets into a post poll alliance with parties like YSR Congress, Mizo National Front (MNF), Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and Telangana Rashtriya Samiti (TRS), the NDA tally will go up to 301.

In the UPA camp, the Congress is expected to get 86 and other partners will add up another 55.

If the UPA goes for post-poll alliance with parties like All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), Left Democratic Front (LDF), MGB (Mahagathbandhan in UP), Trinamool Congress (TMC), its tally will go up to 226.

The BJP’s tally in Uttar Pradesh is likely to come down to 29 from 71 if it is pitched against a Mahagathbandhan. If there is no such grand alliance, then the BJP is expected to match its 2014 performance and get 72 seats.

The BJP is expected to make major chunk of seats from Bihar (36, up from 22 in 2014), Gujarat (24, two down from all 26 seats in the state bagged by the BJP), Karnataka (16, one down from 2014), Madhya Pradesh (24, two down from 26 won last time), Maharashtra (36, 13 more than 23 won in 2014), Odisha (12, against only 1 last time) and Rajasthan (20, four down from 2014).

The Congress will improve its 2014 tally of 44 by getting most of the seats from Assam (7, up from 3 in 2014), Chhattisgarh (5 against only 1 in last election), Kerala (14, one more than 2014), Karnataka (9, same as last time), Jharkhand (5, a seat less than last time), Madhya Pradesh (5, against 3 last time), Maharashtra (7, a marginal improvement from 4 in 2014), Punjab (12 against 3 last time), Rajasthan (5, up from nil in 2014), Tamil Nadu (4 against nil last time) and Uttar Pradesh (4, up from 2).

In terms of vote share, the NDA is likely to get 31.1 percent of votes against 30.9 for the UPA. The other parties are likely to get 28 percent.


Ex-Army chief says ‘not to misuse the armed forces’ for political gains

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Former Navy chief Admiral L Ramdas (retired) has asked immediate intervention of the Election Commission in stopping political parties from using the Pulwama attack, Balakot air strike and Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman’s operations to influence the electorate.

In an open letter to Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora, Admiral Ramdas expressed concerns on “recent instances” of parties using armed forces’ heroics for political gains.

“With elections due in 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 which can influence the electorate,” he said.

In his two-page letter, the former Navy chief said the armed forces have always prided themselves on belonging to a structure, an ethos and an environment which have been both apolitical and secular.

“And it is in this context that as a responsible citizen and a proud veteran of the Indian Armed Forces, I share our collective sense of dismay and deep concern at how some political parties are brazenly pushing their agenda using images, uniforms and other examples, showing pictures of the armed forces with political figures, in public spaces, in media, election rallies and so on,” he said.

The former Navy chief said it was completely unacceptable since it has the potential to destroy the very foundations and value system of the armed forces, drawn from the vision, the spirit and intent of the Constitution.

He said he could not circulate the open letter for more signatures “although many veterans are duly agitated by these attempts to compromise the integrity and secular nature of the Indian Armed Forces”.

“We, therefore, urge the Election Commission to immediately intervene and send a strong message to the political parties that there should be no misuse of the photographs as indeed any other material/reports or other information pertaining to the armed forces for electioneering in any way,” he said.