With The Biggest Dalit Outreach, PM Modi Demolishes Congress Hopes Of Opposition Unity

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Updated: Mon, 19 Jun 2017 19:52:11 IST Updated: Mon, 19 Jun 2017

It’s now clear that the more the UPA tried to stitch together a ‘Mahagathbandhan’ to put up a united opposition candidate for the presidential elections, quietly and unknown to them, the Narendra Modi-led NDA was chipping away bit by bit at the UPA.

The writing on the wall was clear to all, save the blind, as early as last month when after the first luncheon meeting hosted by Sonia Gandhi for the 17 anti-Modi party representatives to stay united would prove to be an uphill task.

Three days before Congress president's lunch for non-BJP leaders -- a meeting which was billed as the biggest anti-BJP grouping after the 2014 debacle -- Ahmed Patel, Sonia Gandhi's personal emissary and trusted man, called up Bihar chief minister and JD (U) chief Nitish Kumar to invite him for the luncheon. Kumar wriggled out citing scheduled appointments in Patna. Sensing that all's not well, Sonia Gandhi herself phoned the Bihar chief minister. And again, Kumar asked that he be excused, citing commitments that he had and senior party leader Sharad Yadav would represent the JD(U).

The ‘commitment’ he had given was of course to Narendra Modi who had invited the Bihar chief minister to attend a banquet he was hosting in honour of the visiting Prime Minister of Mauritius, the tiny Indian Ocean nation, over 50 per cent of whose population is of Bihari origin.

Later, Nitish would duck direct questions from the media stating, “This was an appointment fixed much earlier. As all of you know, there are many people of Bihari origin in that island nation and I considered it a privilege to be invited to meet him over lunch.”

But a clear signal had already gone down the Opposition line: Nitish Kumar was in the process of mending his relations with Modi even as corruption charges against his ally in the government, Lalu Yadav, mounted to dizzying heights. He could not be counted upon to quietly sign on the dotted line on a presidential candidate proposed by the rest of the anti Modi Opposition led by the Congress.  

Sonia Gandhi’s disappointment with Nitish’s response turned into despair as Sharad Pawar, the NCP chief also played hookey. Sonia had tried, time and again, to try and convince him to take the lead on the panel to craft a consensus among the anti-Modi Opposition on a commonly agreed presidential candidate.

Though some parties were keen on another term for Mukherjee, the Congress itself was not and thus had to come up with a name that would fit everyone's bill. At the same time, it did not want to be seen as pushing a name down the throats of the other parties in the group. Pawar, with his vast personal connection with leaders of all the parties, was seen as the ideal person to cull a consensus. Especially since party Vice President Rahul Gandhi had earned his spurs already as a somewhat brash and immature leader incapable of the superior persuading skills and patience imperative for the task at hand.

Pawar, however, flatly refused, preferring instead to launch a broadside on Rahul’s “Here Now, Where Tomorrow” attitude to politics. In a TV interview, Pawar couched his irritation with soft words but pretty much managed to convey the message that to lead the anti-Modi pack, Rahul had a very long way to go. He needs to get more serious, needed to work terribly hard and junk, first of all, his somewhat nonchalant attitude to politics, Pawar asserted. It was the Maratha strongman’s way of saying that Rahul needed to reinvent himself, shed everything about himself that makes people in general refer to him as Pappu. 

His party, the NCP, had earlier sent out feelers to the BJP in Maharashtra, indicating that should the Shiv Sena play difficult and withdraw support, the NCP was not averse to giving support. That eventuality did not arise at the time and, more recently, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis openly dared the Sena by stating that, should there be need for a mid-term poll, he was fully ready for it. Given that backdrop, Pawar let Sonia Gandhi know, in no uncertain terms, that not only did Modi have the numbers firmly on his side and ample public popularity, but also advised that the best course for the Opposition to show maturity would be to pro-actively attempt a consensus with the BJP on its candidate. 

The prime Minister got another shot in the arm when all MPs and an overwhelming share of MLAs of the AIADMK pledged support to the PM's choice. Party leader Thambi Durai told the media outright, “Amma always stood by the BJP and had warm personal relations with former Prime Minister A B Vajpayee. More recently, she has had good relations with PM Modi although they may not have seen eye to eye on Tamil Nadu-related issued. The AIADMK will continue with that position.” Both TRS chief K Chandrashekar Reddy and Jaganmohan Reddy of the YSR Congress, as well as the TDP's Chandrababu Naidu and others have thrown their eggs in the NDA's basket on this issue. 

On Monday morning, Modi tweeted greetings to Rahul who was in distant Italy celebrating his 47th birthday in the company of his maternal grandmother. A few hours later, he got on the phone to Sonia and personally informed her about Kovind’s choice. The Bihar governor’s name was one that the prime minister kept close to his chest until this afternoon.

Suddenly, the Congress, struggling to stitch together an Opposition unity under its baton on the choice of President in a sort of dummy run for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, was outmanoeuvred by PM Modi. 

Despite being a governor, when Kovind’s name was first announced, the general reaction was: Kovind Who? That may be because despite being in politics for decades, there has not been a single controversy surrounding him. A senior advocate at the Allahabad High Court, he is well-versed in constitutional law, was a two-term MP of the Rajya Sabha. He is from the Koli Dalit community and even served as the head of the BJP's SC panel. Kovind, considered close to former PM A B Vajpayee, had never flaunted the strident Hindutva image on his sleeve although he is a hard-core partyman, representing all the ideological touch stones associated with the party's Hindutva worldview. 

The choice of Kovind is as blatant an in-your-face taunt from the ruling party. The Opposition will make all the right noises and give sound-bytes about not being consulted, but at the end of the day, they can do no more than grin and bear it.

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Washington Rolling Out Red Carpet For ‘Special Visitor’ Modi

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Updated: Sat, 24 Jun 2017 10:02:06 IST Updated: Sat, 24 Jun 2017

The White House is looking forward to robust discussions taking place between U.S. President Donald Trump and visiting Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It will be Modi's first meeting with the President though the two leaders have spoken over phone at least thrice since the latter assumed office.

"President Trump and Indian Prime Minister Modi will discuss ongoing cooperation, including counterterrorism, defence partnership in the Indo-Pacific region, global cooperation, burden-sharing, trade, law enforcement, and energy. I think it's going to be a very robust discussion," news agency ANI quoted the White House spokesman Sean Spicer as saying during a press briefing on Friday.

"The White House is very interested in making this a special visit. We're really seeking to roll out the red carpet. In fact, the two (leaders) will have dinner, a working dinner at the White House. This will be the first dinner for a foreign dignitary at the White House under this administration. So, we think that's very significant," a senior administration official was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.

This meeting comes at a time when Trump made critical comments about India while announcing America's decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. President Trump has accused India and other countries of trying to extract "billions and billions and billions" of dollars in foreign aid from the developed world to sign up for the climate accord.

In spite of the difference on some issues, Prime Minister Modi's discussions with Trump are likely to find a common approach on matters related to South Asia, particularly the rise in infiltration from neighbouring Pakistan, terrorism and India's case for a seat in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Modi has reiterated India's support to the Paris Agreement and said he is willing to go further than what has been committed under the Paris accord. 

Modi's three-nation tour started today with Portugal being the first stop to be followed by the US on June 25 and 26, and the Netherlands on June 27. The Prime Minister yesterday said that he intends to strengthen ties with all the three nations. "My USA visit is aimed at deepening ties between our nations. Strong India-USA ties benefit our nations & the world,” he said. “My visit to Netherlands seeks to boost bilateral ties & deepen economic cooperation," he added.

He is expected to hold talks with his Portuguese counterpart Antonio Costa.

"We are working on several documents to strengthen India-Portugal economic, scientific and cultural engagements and we expect to finalise and sign these documents essentially which are in the nature of memorandum of understanding," External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Gopal Baglay said yesterday.

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UPA Prez Pick Meira Kumar Is A Prime Squatter In Lutyens’ Delhi

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Updated: Sat, 24 Jun 2017 09:45:43 IST Updated: Sat, 24 Jun 2017

Should Meira Kumar get the better of Ram Nath Kovind in the presidential elections---- chances of that are as remote as June snowfall in Delhi----controversy will hound her right into the Rashtrapati Bhavan. 

RTI activist Subhas Chandra Agrawal is getting set to ask the Union Government to regenerate and recover a rent-bill of Rs 1.98 crores due from Kumar, the UPA’s presidential candidate. The unpaid bills were due for utilities and rent for the sprawling bungalow at 6, Krishna Menon Marg in Lutyens’ Delhi. 

Not only were the dues waived but, Agrawal's petition says, the bungalow was “kept forcibly and illegally occupied as an unofficial memorial of the late Babu Jagjivan Ram after the death of Indrani Devi, his widow.” 

Agrawal learnt, in response to a query under the RTI, that the UPA government waived Rs 1.98 crore rent bill of former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar for the 6 Krishna Menon Marg bungalow she occupied. The response from Directorate of Estates said subsequent to a CIC-verdict with both Directorate of Estates and the Lok Sabha Secretariat confirming a rent bill of Rs 1.98 crore against Kumar was cancelled, curiously enough, without any request on record. Given that, Agrawal, has in his petition demanded that the Central government should re-generate the rent-bill for recovery because the bungalow was "forcibly and illegally" occupied by Kumar. She had converted it into an unofficial memorial of late Babu Jagjivan Ram after the death of his wife, Smt Indrani Devi. 

Worse, she was granted a 25-year lease on the bungalow, allowing her to squat on prime property in the middle of the sylvan and uppity part of the Capital until, hold your breath, 2038. Her father Jagjivan Ram, former deputy PM and Congress leader from the Dalit community, had lived in that bungalow until his death in 1986. 

According to Agrawal, the UPA regime had allotted this bungalow to the Babu Jagjivan Ram Foundation in order to justify its decision to let the bungalow at Krishna Menon Marg remain occupied well after Jagjivan Ram's demise. Earlier, the Vajpayee government had prohibited any further conversion of government-bungalows in the Lutyens’ zone of New Delhi into memorials. However, the UPA government headed by Manmohan Singh had deliberately not allotted the bungalow to anyone officially for a prolonged period, he argued, so that it could allow the occupants to continue in the building without any legal glitches.

To make that act of the government appear further justified, prayer meetings were regularly held on the birth and death anniversaries of Babu Jagjivan Ram. However, none of these activities had the official permission of relevant authorities. In fact, Meira Kumar, at the time that she was Lok Sabha Speaker, had issued press releases for prayer meetings with impunity and invited top ranking government officials.

Agrawal, in his petition, noted that the Modi government had firmly turned down demands of Ajit Singh, son of Chowdhury Charan Singh, to convert 12 Tughlaq Road, also in Lutyens’ Delhi, into a memorial for his father. He has demanded that the government cancel the 25 year long lease-deed of 6 Krishna Menon Marg granted to Meira Kumar in 2013 which allows her to keep possession of the bungalow way past 2030. 

Kumar was the last occupant of the bungalow as minister in the UPA I government in 2004. After she became Lok Sabha Speaker in 2009 in the UPA-2 regime, she moved home to the Speaker's residence at 20, Akbar Road. But she continued to occupy the Krishna Menon Marg bungalow, according to records kept by CPWD which is responsible for maintenance of government property. 

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Nitish To Oppn: Why Didn’t You Respect Bihar Ki Beti in 2007 and 2012? Why Nominate Her Now To Lose?

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Updated: Fri, 23 Jun 2017 21:35:45 IST Updated: Fri, 23 Jun 2017

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Friday firmly rebuffed opposition entreaties to change his mind in favour of Meira Kumar for the presidential elections. To Lalu Yadav and others who dangled the Bihar Ki Beti card to seek his support, the JD(U) leader said he doesn’t want to be a party to making her a sacrificial lamb. 

Kumar poured scorn on those who are raising the Bihar ki beti slogan now saying that the same parties had two occasions in the past to get anyone of their choice as the president. “In both 2007 and 2012, current opposition people had the majority to get any person of theirs as the President. Why dint they think of Bihar Ki Beti then?” He said the opposition instead of pointing fingers should draw up a roadmap to strengthen parties and win the elections in 2019. “Then we can respect the Bihar ki beti by getting her elected as the President of India in the 2022”. 

Kumar justified his decision to back NDA's presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind and said his decision was taken after intense consultations with everyone concerned and weighing all aspects of the matter. "It's a presidential poll, let's not draw political battlelines.” he said and added, “I have a lot of respect for Meira Kumar ji, but 'Bihar ki beti' has been nominated only to lose?"

Kumar was speaking to reporters after meeting his ally in Bihar Lalu Yadav who had warned him that his decision to back the NDA candidate was "a historic blunder". The RJD chief pointed out that during the first two meetings of the Opposition on a presidential nominee, the JDU had declared its support to putting up a joint candidate. When reminded about Lalu’s “historic blunder” remark, all Kumar said was “so be it”. 

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Pak blames India for Balochistan blast deaths, after putting out fake video on Jadhav

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Updated: Fri, 23 Jun 2017 21:31:13 IST Updated: Fri, 23 Jun 2017

India is to blame for the attack in Balochistan province by a suicide bomber who blew up his explosive-laden car near the office of the regional police chief, the regional government in Pakistan said today. Spokesperson Anwarul Haq Kakar blamed India for the blast that killed at least 13 people, including six policemen and injured 20 others.

The powerful blast took place near Inspector General of Police Ehsan Mehboob's office on Gulistan Road area of the provincial capital, Quetta. Thirteen people, including six policemen, died in the suicide car bombing, officials said.

The accusation comes after India, following preliminary testing of the new nine minute video on Kulbhushan Jadhav put out by Islamabad, maintained that the video was a fake one put together with multiple cameras and editing virtually every six seconds to make it appear that Jadhav had confessed to charges of being a spy and fomenting trouble in the Balochistan province that led to many deaths and destruction of property.

According to Indian experts, this is the first time they have seen a confession and mercy plea being made on serious charges on video. Jadhav, according to the Pakistani authorities had accepted all charges and had once again appealed to the Pakistani army chief for mercy so that his life could be spared. A military court had weeks ago sentenced Jadhav, an ex-Navy official, to death. 

Pakistan is yet to respond to multiple requests by India for consular access to Jadhav and to the request put in by his mother in the courts there. The ICJ, to which India took the case, has said that Jadhav cannot be sentenced to death until it gives its final ruling.

Balochistan government spokesperson Anwarul Haq Kakar told Geo News that the suspected bomber in the car tried to break a security perimeter to target the police offices but blew up after policemen standing guard attempted to stop him. Officially, no group has claimed responsibility for the blast, leaving the field open for Kakar to blame India. Balochistan has also been facing insurgency by Baloch nationalists and Islamist militants.

Security officials confirmed that the blast was the result of a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device which exploded after the "suspicious" driver was spotted by policemen. DIG Quetta Abdul Razzaq Cheema, addressing the media, said they are examining CCTV footage to determine the details of the incident. Security forces cordoned off the site of the blast and began investigating after rescue services shifted the injured and deceased to the hospital. Officials said body parts of the suspected bomber, strewn across the site of the blast, were being collected along with other evidence for forensic examination.

An initial investigation report by Civil Defence Director Aslam Tareen revealed that 75 kilograms of explosives were used in the blast. Footage of the incident showed two vehicles badly damaged in the explosion, while debris lay scattered on the street. Officials said the explosion was loud enough to be heard from a distance and shattered windows of nearby buildings.

Earlier this year, on February 13, a blast took place near the Saryab Bridge in Quetta killing two personnel of the bomb disposal squad and leaving 11 injured.

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