Archive for ‘West Bengal’

19/05/2019

Lok Sabha election 2019: Vandalism, rigging reported from Bengal in last phase of polling

The seventh and the last phase of Lok Sabha election in West Bengal was hit by vandalism and rigging on Sunday amid polling in nine parliamentary constituencies with the ruling Trinamool Congress and the BJP locked in a bitter battle for power.

LOK SABHA ELECTIONS Updated: May 19, 2019 11:19 IST

HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
Lok Sabha elections,Lok Sabha polls,Lok Sabha Bengal
Kolkata Police personnel leaving for polling booth on the eve of final phase of Lok Shabha election from a Polling distribution center in Kolkata on Saturday . (ANI photo for representation)
Crude bombs were hurled at two places on Sunday in West Bengal, where polling is underway in nine constituencies in the last phase of polling of the Lok Sabha election amid reports of vandalism and malfunctioning EVMs.
Reports of bombs thrown in Gilaberia area in Deganga of North 24 Parganas district under Barasat constituency and in Raidighi of South 24 Parganas district under Mathurapur constituency came in as voters queued up in polling booths.
There were allegations that BJP supporters were beaten up and its camp office vandalised allegedly by TMC workers in Kultoli in Jaynagar Lok Sabha constituency as 14.17% polling was recorded till 9am from across the state.
Sayantan Basu, the BJP’s candidate for Basirhat constituency, alleged rigging in several areas and said police was doing nothing to stop it.
“People have queued up from as early as 4:30am to vote. But there are a lot of allegations of muscle flexing and rigging in areas such as Sandeshkhali, Hingalganj and Baduria. The inspector-in-charge of Shashan police station is virtually helping to rig in favour of the TMC,” Basu said.
“About 150 complaints were lodged with the EC (Election Commission) in the first three hours. I have not seen effective steps of the poll panel so far,” Basu, also the general secretary of the Bengal unit of the BJP, alleged.

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Mala Roy, the TMC’s candidate in Kolkata South constituency, alleged that central force personnel did not allow her to enter booth number 72 in a polling station in Mudiali under her constituency. Roy said she went after learning that polling was stopped for 45 minutes. She said she will lodge a complaint with the poll watchdog.

Trinamool Congress’ Rajya Sabha member Sukhendu Sekhar Ray alleged Electronic Voting Machines in all the parliamentary constituencies were not working as he questioned the EC over the EVMs.

“Hundreds of EVMs found to be dysfunctional from the very start of poll in various booths of the 9 Parliamentary Constituencies Of West Bengal where elections are being held today,” Ray wrote on Facebook.

“Rs 3,173 crores sanctioned by the Government in April 2017 for purchase of 16 Lakh new EVMs. It seems that old and junk machines have been put on service in these 9 constituencies with the evil design to delay the process of voting,” he said.

“Because if the voters after waiting for hours together fail to cast their votes will leave the polling stations in disgust, which will affect percentage of polling severely. Shame Election Commission,” Ray said.

Widespread violence

Before this, the state witnessed numerous incidents of violence in the last six rounds of polling, which included vandalism, attacks on candidates, party workers, security officials and the media, and those of stopping voters from voting.

Sporadic incidents of booth capture, smashing and malfunctioning of electronic voting machines (EVM), intimidation of voters have also been reported from West Bengal in all these phases. Several workers of both the parties have also been killed in violence reported from across the state.

The past week also saw a high-pitched battle between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the TMC, during and in the immediate aftermath of BJP president Amit Shah’s roadshow in Kolkata, which included the vandalising of a bust of 19th century Bengali icon Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in an educational institute.

This led to the Election Commission bringing forward the campaign period by 19 hours, a move that received all-round criticism from opposition leaders.

The eastern state is important for both the TMC and the BJP as 42 seats are on offer — the third highest after Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra — which the ruling party at the Centre is eyeing to offset possible losses in northern India, and which are crucial for chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s national political ambitions.

Candidates, as well as party workers, of both the TMC and BJP have accused each other of violence throughout the six phases of polling in the state.

During the sixth phase on May 12, the BJP’s candidate from Ghatal constituency Bharati Ghosh alleged she was heckled at a polling booth and pushed by some women supporters of the Trinamool Congress. The former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, once considered close to chief minister Mamata Banerjee, also said stones were thrown at her convoy and that crude bombs were hurled at her car.

Also read: Poll violence at several places in Bengal, BJP to meet EC in Delhi

In Barrackpore parliamentary constituency, the BJP’s candidate Arjun Singh alleged he was “attacked by goondas” of the Trinamool Congress in the fifth phase on May 6. On the same day, at Bongaon Lok Sabha seat, one TMC worker and one cop were injured in the violence.

In Hooghly district, which borders Kolkata, the rented accommodation of BJP’s women’s wing chief Locket Chatterjee, an actor-turned-politician who is also the party’s candidate from the Hooghly Lok Sabha constituency, was allegedly vandalised on May 6 by TMC workers.

A complaint was also filed against Chatterjee for allegedly threatening a presiding officer at a poll booth in Hooghly constituency during the same phase.

Sporadic clashes were reported in West Bengal, especially from Asansol, in the fourth phase of the general election. The BJP’s sitting member of Parliament and candidate Babul Supriyo’s car was vandalised in Asansol allegedly by stone-throwing Trinamool Congress supporters. The minister escaped unharmed with only the rear glass of the vehicle being damaged.

On April 18, the second phase of polling, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) candidate and Raiganj sitting MP Mohammed Salim’s car was attacked when he went to a polling booth on Islampur. Reports of sporadic violence came from Darjeeling constituency as well.

Places such as Nalhati (Birbhum), Nanoor (Bolpur), Barabani (Asansol) and Suri (Birbhum) saw pitched battles between political workers involving knives and long sticks.

Crude bombs were hurled by unidentified men outside polling stations at Tiktikipara in Domkal, Murshidabad, and Kaliachawk in Malda South.

The Election Commission has deployed hundreds of security personnel forces to cover the booths in the battleground eastern state to ensure free and fair polling.

The votes will be counted on May 23.

Source: Hindustan Times

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18/05/2019

Narendra Modi attends first press conference but takes no questions

Mr Modi said the Congress should be ashamed of the 1984 anti-Sikh riotsImage copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Mr Modi said he will not forgive Pragya Thakur

India is in full election mode: voting began on 11 April, and the final ballot will be cast on 19 May with results out on 23 May. Every day, the BBC will be bringing you all the latest updates on the twists and turns of the world’s largest democracy.

What happened?

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has attended first ever press conference at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) head office in Delhi – days before Indians take part in the final stage of voting.

But journalists were left disappointed as he did not take any questions, and instead largely talked about his government’s achievements.

“I have come to thank the country for blessing me. I have seen a lot of ups and downs but the country stayed with me,” he said.

Mr Modi also spoke of his pride in India’s democratic process and said he needs to show the world “how diverse our democracy is”.

Mr Modi was seated next to party president Amit Shah. He said he would not take questions because the press conference was Mr Shah’s.

Earlier, the prime minister said he would “never be able to forgive” those who have “insulted” Mahatma Gandhi.

Mr Modi’s statement comes after controversial Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politician Pragya Thakur called Nathuram Godse – the man who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi – a “patriot”.

Ms Thakur apologised after several leaders, including those from the BJP, criticised her.

“Such statements should be condemned. There is no place in society for such comments. She [Ms Thakur] may have apologised, but I will never be able to forgive her,” he said in an interview to News24 TV channel.

Why does this matter?

This is the first time Mr Modi has attended a press conference as prime minister while in India. Most of his press conferences have been on state visits to other countries and often involved little more than reading out an official statement.

He has given some one-on-one interviews to Indian media, though critics say that these have largely been tightly controlled and given to journalists seen as sympathetic to him. However in recent weeks he has given a flurry of interviews to several leading publications and television channels, including those that have been critical of him.

But if people were expecting a complete about-turn in his media policy this time, they would have been disappointed.

This caused some frustration among journalists on Twitter.

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Also on Friday, a BJP candidate apologised for calling Gandhi’s killer a patriot

Hindu activist Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur leaving for Simhastha in Ujjain under heavy police protection on May 18, 2016 in Bhopal, India.Image copyright GETTY IMAGES

What is happening?

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politician Pragya Thakur has apologised after calling Nathuram Godse – the man who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi – a “patriot”.

Several political parties had criticised her comment and her own party demanded that she should publicly apologise.

“It was my personal opinion. My intention was not to hurt anyone’s sentiments. If I’ve hurt anyone, I do apologise. What Gandhi Ji has done for the country cannot be forgotten. My statement has been twisted by the media,” Ms Thakur said on Thursday evening.

She made the comment after actor-turned politician Kamal Haasan said Godse was India’s first Hindu “extremist” earlier this week.

Why does this matter?

The BJP as well as opposition parties immediately reacted to her comment, which also caused a storm on social media.

BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao said that the party does not agree with her statement, and asked her to publicly apologise.

The main opposition Congress party demanded an apology from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and said that the BJP should take “punitive action” against Ms Thakur.

Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said that “insulting martyrs is in the BJP DNA” and that the “soul of the nation” has been hurt by her remarks.

Congress party leader Priyanka Gandhi also lashed out at the BJP.

Political analysts also say that her comments have put the BJP in a tough spot, since Mr Modi and BJP president Amit Shah defended their decision to field her as a candidate despite terror charges against her.

Her candidature caused outrage as she is an accused of involvement in a blast that killed seven people and injured 100 others. Ms Thakur denies all charges against her.

However, Ms Thakur’s comments do reflect the views of some right-wing Hindus who support the BJP and have long seen Gandhi as too moderate.

Godse, who shot Gandhi in the chest three times at point-blank range on 30 January 1948, was also an activist with nationalist right-wing groups, including those closely associated with the BJP.

Hindu hardliners in India accuse Gandhi of having betrayed Hindus by being too pro-Muslim, and even for the division of India and the bloodshed that marked Partition, which saw India and Pakistan created after independence from Britain in 1947.

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On Thursday, a ruling party candidate called Gandhi’s killer a patriot

What happened?

Controversial Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politician Pragya Thakur made headlines again. This time it was for calling Nathuram Godse – the man who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi – a “patriot”.

Her comment was made in response to a statement by southern actor-turned politician Kamal Haasan who had said India’s first “extremist” was a Hindu”, referring to Godse.

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His statement, made on Monday, was heavily criticised by the BJP, which accused him of indulging in “divisive politics” and filed a complaint against him with the Election Commission of India.

Why does this matter?

The BJP responded by criticising Ms Thakur and asking her to publicly apologise.

“BJP does not agree with this statement, we condemn it. Party will ask her for clarification, she should apologise publicly for this statement,” party spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao told reporters.

Mahatma Gandhi (Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi,1869 - 1948), Indian nationalist and spiritual leader, leading the Salt March in protest against the government monopoly on salt production.Image copyright GETTY IMAGES

Ms Thakur has seen her fair share of controversy. Her candidature caused outrage as she is an accused of involvement in a blast that killed seven people and injured 100 others. On 18 April, she said that police officer Hemant Karkare had died in the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks because she had “cursed” him. She was then banned from campaigning for 72 hours as a result.

A team led by Mr Karkare had arrested her for questioning in connection with the Malegaon blast.

During her campaign, she also said she was “proud” of her part in the demolition of the 16th Century Babri mosque. In 1992, right-wing Hindu mobs razed the mosque to the ground, claiming it was built on the site of a temple destroyed by Muslim rulers. The site, which is in the city of Ayodhya, has been a religious flashpoint for Hindus and Muslims for decades.

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Campaigning ended in West Bengal a day before deadline

What happened?

The Election Commission (EC) told political parties to end their campaigning in West Bengal state, a day before the deadline in the wake of poll-related violence.

The campaign will end on Thursday at 10pm local time, and voting will be held on Sunday.

The decision comes after clashes broke out between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers and protesters believed to be from the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) on Tuesday.

It happened during a roadshow of BJP chief Amit Shah. Several people were injured and vehicles were set on fire. A statue of renowned Bengali reformer Iswarchandra Vidyasagar was also vandalised in the clashes.

Both parties have accused each other of starting the violence.

Why does this matter?

Violence took place during BJP chief Amit Shah's rally in Kolkata on TuesdayImage copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Violence took place during BJP chief Amit Shah’s rally in Kolkata on Tuesday

The BJP welcomed the decision, saying it validated their argument that the state had “descended into anarchy” under the leadership of chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

Ms Banerjee said that the move was “undemocratic” and “it had insulted the people of Bengal”.

“Tomorrow, [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi has two meetings in Bengal. When he finishes, the campaigning also ends… Instead of punishing Amit Shah, the Election Commission has given a gift to the BJP,” she said.

This photo taken on May 14, 2019 shows supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) facing off with Indian police next to torn down barricades during clashes between rival groups during a campaign rally event held by BJP president Amit Shah in KolkataImage copyright AFP
Image caption Several people were injured and vehicles were set on fire during the violence

Both parties are locked into a fierce election battle to win most out West Bengal’s 42 seats. Ms Banerjee has ambitions of becoming the prime minister in case a nationwide coalition of regional parties wins enough seats.

The state has also become crucial for the BJP as it’s trying to expand its reach in the eastern state. It won only two seats in the 2014 election.

The BJP performed well in northern states like Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan in 2014, but this time it’s expected to suffer loses against a coalition of regional parties and the main opposition Congress.

So the party is trying to make up for the losses in West Bengal.

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On Wednesday, the TMC and the BJP accused each other of poll violence

West Bengal chief minister Mamata BanerjeeImage copyright GETTY IMAGES

What happened?

The war of words between West Bengal state chief minister Mamata Banerjee and the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) intensified ahead of voting on Sunday.

The latest verbal duel comes after violence was reported during BJP chief Amit Shah’s roadshow in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) on Tuesday.

Clashes broke out between BJP supporters and protesters who were holding “Amit Shah go back” posters.

Some people suffered minor injuries and a few vehicles were set on fire.

The BJP said the protest was “orchestrated” and called it an “attempt to strangulate democracy”.

Why does this matter?

The eastern state has become politically crucial for the BJP as it has intensified campaigning in the past few days.

And that has sparked a feverish electoral battle between the BJP and Ms Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC).

“What does Amit Shah think of himself? Is he above everything? Is he god that no one can protest against him?” Ms Banerjee said.

In reply, Mr Shah accused the TMC of not following democratic norms during elections.

“Have faith in the people of Bengal that they’d face the TMC goons,” he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to hold more rallies in the coming days, so one can expect more verbal fireworks from the two leaders.

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On Tuesday, the saga of the morphed Mamata meme continued

What happened?

India’s top court stepped in to release an activist belonging to India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who was sent to prison for sharing a doctored image of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

Priyanka Sharma was sentenced to two weeks in prison on 10 May after she shared a picture of Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra and her husband Nick Jonas at the Met Gala – but with Ms Banerjee’s head superimposed on to Chopra’s body.

Earlier the court had said Ms Sharma could be released only if she apologised to Ms Banerjee, but later waived this condition.

Why does this matter?

The battle for West Bengal in this general election has been absolutely bruising.

The BJP, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, has been campaigning hard for votes in the state. This has brought them toe-to-toe with the state’s feisty chief minister. The fact that voting for West Bengal’s 42 seats has been split across all nine phases of voting has meant that the battle has been long and drawn-out.

And with just one phase to go before voting finally ends, the gloves are well and truly off. The two parties have traded insults on the campaign stage, their workers have attacked each other, and the violence on the ground has intensified. And now the battle has spread to cyberspace as well.

The country’s finance minister Arun Jaitley jumped at news of Ms Sharma’s release to call Ms Banerjee a dictator.

Analysts say that this political row is so bitter because the BJP has clearly identified West Bengal as one of the states where they may be able to make gains this election. This becomes more important for the party in the context of their fight in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, which sends the most number of MPs (80) to parliament.

They are up against a powerful coalition of regional parties there, and many expect them to lose seats as a result.

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And PM Modi said Rahul Gandhi should be ashamed of 1984 riots

What happened?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that main opposition Congress party chief Rahul Gandhi should be “ashamed of himself” over his colleague’s remark on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

Mr Modi was replying to a controversial statement made by Sam Pitroda, who is a strategist of the Congress party.

In his reply to a question about the Congress’ role in the riots, Mr Pitroda had said “so what?”.

“I don’t think so, this is also another lie, and what about 1984? You speak about what you [Mr Modi] have done in five years. It [the riots] happened in 1984, so what?” he said.

Mr Gandhi said he was “ashamed” of Mr Pitroda’s statement, and asked him to apologise.

Mr Pitroda later said his statement was “twisted” and he did not mean to hurt sentiments.

But Mr Modi said the Congress chief “must apologise”.

“I was watching that naamdar [the dynast] told his guru that he should be ashamed of what he said. I want to ask naamdar, you pretended to scold your mentor for what? Because he exposed what was always in the Congress’s heart, and in the discussions of the naamdar family? Because he made public a family secret? Naamdar, it is you who should be ashamed,” Mr Modi said.

Why does this matter?

The controversy matters because it comes days ahead of voting for the 13 seats in the northern state of Punjab.

The BJP, which has formed a coalition with regional Shiromani Akali Dal, is locked in a bitter electoral battle with the ruling Congress in the state.

Sikhs are a majority in the state and the 1984 riots is still an emotional issue for many of them.

More than 3,000 Sikhs were killed in 1984 after the assassination of former prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.

They were angry at her decision to send the army into the Golden Temple – Sikhism’s holiest shrine – to flush out militants earlier in the year.

The killing of Mrs Gandhi, who belonged to the Congress, saw mobs attack and murder members of the Sikh community across the country.

And both parties appear to be trying to come across as pro-Sikh ahead of the vote on 19 May.

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On Sunday, Delhi voted but not enthusiastically

A voter in Delhi in the general electionImage copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Delhi’s voter turnout was lower than in 2014

What happened?

Sunday saw India’s capital Delhi vote along with several other states in the polls – the penultimate phase of the country’s mammoth general election.

Voters turned out to vote, but in fewer numbers than they did in 2014. The election commission said that around 60% of the capital’s registered voters had actually cast ballots, which was about a five percent drop from 2014.

Delhi Chief Electoral Officer Ranbir Singh expressed disappointment, saying that the turnout did not match expectations.

Why does this matter?

The election commission is right to be disappointed – it had run a series of campaigns in the city, encouraging more people to vote.

But it was not as though polling in Delhi was an entirely smooth process. Some voters complained that their names were missing from electoral lists even though they had all the necessary documents. There were also reports that around 1,200 Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) had malfunctioned across the city, delaying the polling process.

The fact that Delhi became a three-cornered contest after the main opposition Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which controls the Delhi state assembly, failed to stitch up an alliance may also have put voters off. Many analysts believe that this failure will only split voters who were against prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and effectively hand them victory.

So they may have decided to just stay home, and not bother queuing up in the blistering heat – it touched 40C on Sunday.

Source: The BBC

16/05/2019

Gandhi killer ‘patriot’ comment by BJP candidate draws outrage

Mahatma Gandhi (Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi,1869 - 1948), Indian nationalist and spiritual leader, leading the Salt March in protest against the government monopoly on salt production.Image copyright GETTY IMAGES

India is in full election mode: voting began on 11 April, and the final ballot will be cast on 19 May with results out on 23 May. Every day, the BBC will be bringing you all the latest updates on the twists and turns of the world’s largest democracy.

Ruling party candidate calls Gandhi’s killer a patriot

What is happening?

Controversial Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politician Pragya Thakur has made headlines again. This time it was for calling Nathuram Godse – the man who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi – a “patriot”.

Her comment was made in response to a statement by southern actor-turned politician Kamal Haasan who had said India’s first “extremist” was a Hindu”, referring to Godse.

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His statement, made on Monday, was heavily criticised by the BJP, which accused him of indulging in “divisive politics” and filed a complaint against him with the Election Commission of India.

Why does this matter?

The BJP has responded by criticising Ms Thakur and asking her to publicly apologise.

“BJP does not agree with this statement, we condemn it. Party will ask her for clarification, she should apologise publicly for this statement,” party spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao told reporters.

However, Ms Thakur’s comments do reflect the views of some right-wing Hindus who support the BJP and have long seen Gandhi as too moderate.

Godse, who shot Gandhi in the chest three times at point-blank range on 30 January 1948, was also an activist with nationalist right-wing groups, including those closely associated with the BJP.

Hindu hardliners in India accuse Gandhi of having betrayed Hindus by being too pro-Muslim, and even for the division of India and the bloodshed that marked Partition, which saw India and Pakistan created after independence from Britain in 1947.

Ms Thakur has seen her fair share of controversy. Her candidature caused outrage as she is an accused of involvement in a blast that killed seven people and injured 100 others. On 18 April, she said that police officer Hemant Karkare had died in the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks because she had “cursed” him. She was then banned from campaigning for 72 hours as a result.

A team led by Mr Karkare had arrested her for questioning in connection with the Malegaon blast.

During her campaign, she also said she was “proud” of her part in the demolition of the 16th Century Babri mosque. In 1992, right-wing Hindu mobs razed the mosque to the ground, claiming it was built on the site of a temple destroyed by Muslim rulers. The site, which is in the city of Ayodhya, has been a religious flashpoint for Hindus and Muslims for decades.

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Campaigning ends in West Bengal a day before deadline

What happened?

The Election Commission (EC) has told political parties to end their campaigning in West Bengal state, a day before the deadline in the wake of poll-related violence.

The campaign will end on Thursday at 10pm local time, and voting will be held on Sunday.

The decision comes after clashes broke out between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers and protesters believed to be from the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) on Tuesday.

It happened during a roadshow of BJP chief Amit Shah. Several people were injured and vehicles were set on fire. A statue of renowned Bengali reformer Iswarchandra Vidyasagar was also vandalised in the clashes.

Both parties have accused each other of starting the violence.

Why does this matter?

Violence took place during BJP chief Amit Shah's rally in Kolkata on TuesdayImage copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Violence took place during BJP chief Amit Shah’s rally in Kolkata on Tuesday

The BJP welcomed the decision, saying it validated their argument that the state had “descended into anarchy” under the leadership of chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

Ms Banerjee said that the move was “undemocratic” and “it had insulted the people of Bengal”.

“Tomorrow, [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi has two meetings in Bengal. When he finishes, the campaigning also ends… Instead of punishing Amit Shah, the Election Commission has given a gift to the BJP,” she said.

This photo taken on May 14, 2019 shows supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) facing off with Indian police next to torn down barricades during clashes between rival groups during a campaign rally event held by BJP president Amit Shah in KolkataImage copyright AFP
Image caption Several people were injured and vehicles were set on fire during the violence

Both parties are locked into a fierce election battle to win most out West Bengal’s 42 seats. Ms Banerjee has ambitions of becoming the prime minister in case a nationwide coalition of regional parties wins enough seats.

The state has also become crucial for the BJP as it’s trying to expand its reach in the eastern state. It won only two seats in the 2014 election.

The BJP performed well in northern states like Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan in 2014, but this time it’s expected to suffer loses against a coalition of regional parties and the main opposition Congress.

So the party is trying to make up for the losses in West Bengal.

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TMC, BJP accused each other of poll violence

West Bengal chief minister Mamata BanerjeeImage copyright GETTY IMAGES

What happened?

The war of words between West Bengal state chief minister Mamata Banerjee and the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) intensified ahead of voting on Sunday.

The latest verbal duel comes after violence was reported during BJP chief Amit Shah’s roadshow in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) on Tuesday.

Clashes broke out between BJP supporters and protesters who were holding “Amit Shah go back” posters.

Some people suffered minor injuries and a few vehicles were set on fire.

The BJP said the protest was “orchestrated” and called it an “attempt to strangulate democracy”.

Why does this matter?

The eastern state has become politically crucial for the BJP as it has intensified campaigning in the past few days.

And that has sparked a feverish electoral battle between the BJP and Ms Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC).

“What does Amit Shah think of himself? Is he above everything? Is he god that no one can protest against him?” Ms Banerjee said.

In reply, Mr Shah accused the TMC of not following democratic norms during elections.

“Have faith in the people of Bengal that they’d face the TMC goons,” he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to hold more rallies in the coming days, so one can expect more verbal fireworks from the two leaders.

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On Tuesday, the saga of the morphed Mamata meme continued

What happened?

India’s top court stepped in to release an activist belonging to India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who was sent to prison for sharing a doctored image of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

Priyanka Sharma was sentenced to two weeks in prison on 10 May after she shared a picture of Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra and her husband Nick Jonas at the Met Gala – but with Ms Banerjee’s head superimposed on to Chopra’s body.

Earlier the court had said Ms Sharma could be released only if she apologised to Ms Banerjee, but later waived this condition.

Why does this matter?

The battle for West Bengal in this general election has been absolutely bruising.

The BJP, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, has been campaigning hard for votes in the state. This has brought them toe-to-toe with the state’s feisty chief minister. The fact that voting for West Bengal’s 42 seats has been split across all nine phases of voting has meant that the battle has been long and drawn-out.

And with just one phase to go before voting finally ends, the gloves are well and truly off. The two parties have traded insults on the campaign stage, their workers have attacked each other, and the violence on the ground has intensified. And now the battle has spread to cyberspace as well.

The country’s finance minister Arun Jaitley jumped at news of Ms Sharma’s release to call Ms Banerjee a dictator.

Analysts say that this political row is so bitter because the BJP has clearly identified West Bengal as one of the states where they may be able to make gains this election. This becomes more important for the party in the context of their fight in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, which sends the most number of MPs (80) to parliament.

They are up against a powerful coalition of regional parties there, and many expect them to lose seats as a result.

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And PM Modi said Rahul Gandhi should be ashamed of 1984 riots

What happened?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that main opposition Congress party chief Rahul Gandhi should be “ashamed of himself” over his colleague’s remark on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

Mr Modi was replying to a controversial statement made by Sam Pitroda, who is a strategist of the Congress party.

In his reply to a question about the Congress’ role in the riots, Mr Pitroda had said “so what?”.

“I don’t think so, this is also another lie, and what about 1984? You speak about what you [Mr Modi] have done in five years. It [the riots] happened in 1984, so what?” he said.

Mr Gandhi said he was “ashamed” of Mr Pitroda’s statement, and asked him to apologise.

Mr Pitroda later said his statement was “twisted” and he did not mean to hurt sentiments.

But Mr Modi said the Congress chief “must apologise”.

“I was watching that naamdar [the dynast] told his guru that he should be ashamed of what he said. I want to ask naamdar, you pretended to scold your mentor for what? Because he exposed what was always in the Congress’s heart, and in the discussions of the naamdar family? Because he made public a family secret? Naamdar, it is you who should be ashamed,” Mr Modi said.

Why does this matter?

The controversy matters because it comes days ahead of voting for the 13 seats in the northern state of Punjab.

The BJP, which has formed a coalition with regional Shiromani Akali Dal, is locked in a bitter electoral battle with the ruling Congress in the state.

Sikhs are a majority in the state and the 1984 riots is still an emotional issue for many of them.

More than 3,000 Sikhs were killed in 1984 after the assassination of former prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.

They were angry at her decision to send the army into the Golden Temple – Sikhism’s holiest shrine – to flush out militants earlier in the year.

The killing of Mrs Gandhi, who belonged to the Congress, saw mobs attack and murder members of the Sikh community across the country.

And both parties appear to be trying to come across as pro-Sikh ahead of the vote on 19 May.

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On Sunday, Delhi voted but not enthusiastically

A voter in Delhi in the general electionImage copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Delhi’s voter turnout was lower than in 2014

What happened?

Sunday saw India’s capital Delhi vote along with several other states in the polls – the penultimate phase of the country’s mammoth general election.

Voters turned out to vote, but in fewer numbers than they did in 2014. The election commission said that around 60% of the capital’s registered voters had actually cast ballots, which was about a five percent drop from 2014.

Delhi Chief Electoral Officer Ranbir Singh expressed disappointment, saying that the turnout did not match expectations.

Why does this matter?

The election commission is right to be disappointed – it had run a series of campaigns in the city, encouraging more people to vote.

But it was not as though polling in Delhi was an entirely smooth process. Some voters complained that their names were missing from electoral lists even though they had all the necessary documents. There were also reports that around 1,200 Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) had malfunctioned across the city, delaying the polling process.

The fact that Delhi became a three-cornered contest after the main opposition Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which controls the Delhi state assembly, failed to stitch up an alliance may also have put voters off. Many analysts believe that this failure will only split voters who were against prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and effectively hand them victory.

So they may have decided to just stay home, and not bother queuing up in the blistering heat – it touched 40C on Sunday.

Source: The BBC

29/04/2019

Police break up clashes in West Bengal, Mumbai votes in fourth phase of massive poll

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Police broke up clashes between rival groups of voters in West Bengal on Monday as some of India’s richest families and Bollywood stars also cast their ballots in Mumbai during the fourth phase of a massive, staggered general election.

In West Bengal, a populous eastern state crucial for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election bid, supporters of his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) clashed with others from the regional Trinamool Congress, police said.

TV footage showed armed security forces chasing away people wielding sticks, although it was initially difficult to determine the scale of the clashes.

There were no immediate reports of any poll-related injuries in West Bengal, where at least one person was killed and three injured during the third phase of voting last week.

The BJP is in a direct, and sometimes bloody, fight in West Bengal with Trinamool, whose chief Mamata Banerjee is one of Modi’s biggest critics and a potential prime ministerial candidate.

More than 127 million people are eligible to vote in this round of the seven-phase election held across 71 seats in nine states. Modi’s coalition won more than 75 percent of the seats in the previous election in 2014.

Many of the constituencies are in Uttar Pradesh in the north and western India’s Maharashtra, where the financial capital Mumbai is located. Uttar Pradesh elects the most lawmakers, with Maharashtra next. Both states are ruled by the BJP and its allies.
However, political analysts say the BJP may struggle to repeat its strong showing this time due mainly to a jobs shortage and weak farm prices, issues upon which the main opposition Congress party has seized.

‘SOME PROGRESS’

First-time voter Ankita Bhavke, a college student in Mumbai, said she voted for economic development.

“I want the country to be at par with the best in the world,” she said. “There’s been some progress in the last five years.”

India’s financial markets were closed on Monday for the election.

Mumbai is home to the massive Hindi film industry, as well as Asia’s wealthiest man, Mukesh Ambani, and India’s richest banker, Uday Kotak.
Ambani, who heads Reliance Industries, and Kotak, managing director of Kotak Mahindra Bank, created a stir this month by publicly endorsing an opposition Congress party candidate from their upscale South Mumbai constituency.
Mumbai, which has six seats, is India’s wealthiest city but ageing and insufficient infrastructure is a major concern. Six people were killed last month when part of a pedestrian bridge collapsed, recalling memories of a 2017 rush-hour stampede that killed at least 22 people on a narrow pedestrian bridge.
The election, the world’s biggest democratic exercise with about 900 million voters, started on April 11 with Modi in the lead amid heightened tension with long-time enemy Pakistan.
The last phase of voting is on May 19, with results released four days later.
There are a total of 545 seats in the Lok Sabha.
Modi sent warplanes into Pakistan in late February in response to a suicide attack by an Islamist militant group based there that killed 40 Indian police in the disputed Kashmir region.
Modi has sought votes on his tough response towards militancy and in recent days has evoked the deadly Easter Sunday bombings in nearby Sri Lanka.
Maidul Islam, a professor of political science at Kolkata’s Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, said long queues outside polling stations would indicate whether Modi’s national security pitch was working.
“Whenever there is a BJP kind of a wave, you see a higher voter turnout,” he said.
Source: Reuters
18/04/2019

India election 2019: Can West Bengal’s female candidates win?

A supporter throws marigold petals at Mahua Moitra
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Women make up nearly half of India’s 900 million voters, but they are still poorly represented in the country’s law-making bodies. One political party is trying to correct the balance by nominating 41% female candidates. The BBC’s Geeta Pandey travelled to the state of West Bengal to see how they are faring.

On a bright sunny morning, as an open jeep decorated with bright yellow and orange flowers hurtles along the dirt track from one village to the next, women in colourful saris and men rush to greet Mahua Moitra.

They shower bright orange marigold petals on her, place garlands around her neck and many reach out to shake and kiss her hands. She waves at them, greeting them with her palms joined: “Give me your blessings.”

Young men and women whip out their smartphones to take photos and selfies. On the way, she’s offered coconut water and sweets.

Ms Moitra, who is contesting the general election as a candidate of the state’s governing Trinamool Congress Party (TMC), is campaigning in her constituency Krishnanagar.

Women offer sweets to Mahua Moitra
Image caption On the campaign trail, women offer coconut water and sweets
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Women throw marigold petals at Mahua Moitra
Image caption Supporters throw marigold petals at Mahua Moitra
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In one village, party workers tell her about an old man who’s too ill to come to meet her, so she walks to his home to greet him.

Her jeep is followed by dozens of bikes and their riders, all young men, chanting slogans like “Long live Trinamool Congress, Long live Mamata Banerjee.”

The loud, colourful procession is led by a small truck, fitted with loudspeakers, from which announcements asking people to vote for Ms Moitra are played on a loop.

With the election season well under way in India and political leaders criss-crossing the length and breadth of the country, addressing rallies, I’m travelling across the country to see if the high-decibel campaigns are addressing the real issues that actually affect millions of people. One of them is getting more women into parliament.

In India, only 11% of members of parliament are women, and in state assemblies it’s 9%. In a list of 193 countries this year, India was ranked 149th for female representation in parliament – below Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

A bill to reserve 33% of seats for women in parliament and regional assemblies has been pending since 1996, so the decision by the TMC – led by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee – to give 41% of her party nominations to women has created a huge buzz.

Mahua Moitra during her road show
Image caption Ms Moitra quit her banker’s job in London to return to India and enter politics
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Ms Banerjee, who set up the TMC in 1998 after falling out with the Congress party, is a feisty politician who was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2012.

Her female candidates, says my BBC Bengali colleague Subhajyoti Ghosh, are an “interesting mix” of career politicians and first-timers. They include actors, doctors, a tribal activist and the 25-year-old widow of a recently-murdered politician.

Ms Moitra, the TMC’s national spokesperson and a member of the state assembly since 2016, is among 17 women who have made it to the party’s list of 42 general election nominees.

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Read more from Geeta Pandey

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A former investment banker with JP Morgan, she gave up a well-paying job in London in 2009 to return to the heat and dust of Indian politics.

Her decision left her family aghast. Her parents, she told me, thought she was “insane”. Some party workers too had their doubts – “she’s a memsahib”, they said at the time, “she won’t survive”.

A poster of Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal
Image caption Mamata Banerjee was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2012
Presentational white spaceBut she has survived – and thrived. In 2016, she won the Karimpur assembly seat that no non-Left party had won since 1972 and has now set her eyes on the national parliament.

She’s agreed to let me follow her on the campaign trail, so for two days I’ve been a “fly on the wall” – standing behind her in her jeep, travelling in her car, watching her strategise with party workers, aides and confidants.

The previous evening, I had watched her be the chief guest at a college cricket match and address a gathering at the local market in Plassey.

A four-hour drive from Kolkata, Plassey is the site of the famous 1757 battle between the British East India Company and the local ruler supported by the French.

Ms Moitra takes her spot to speak and clearly takes aim at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as she talks about a deadly suicide attack in Kashmir and India’s subsequent air raid in Pakistan.

The bike riders
Image caption Her jeep is followed by dozens of supporters on bikes
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Women shaking hands
Image caption Many women reach out to shake hands with Ms Moitra

“What’s the point of saying you killed all those terrorists in Pakistan? It’s not important who you killed in Pakistan or how many. What’s important is you failed to protect our soldiers.”

She talks about how the government has failed to create jobs and accuses the BJP of trying to divide Hindus and Muslims.

“You have taken away our livelihoods and you’re trying to teach us about [the Hindu god] Ram and [Muslim saint] Rahim? I don’t have to write my religion on my forehead,” she declares to loud claps from her supporters.

Elections in the past were to change the government, she says, but this election is to save the constitution of India. “It is no ordinary vote.”

Her main rival is the BJP’s Kalyan Chaubey, a former footballer who played in goal for India. So drawing a football analogy, she declares: “I’m an A-league centre-forward player, stop my goal if you can. I am here to win.”

Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, a founder member of the TMC and two-term MP, says to nominate so many women is part of a “continuous process” followed by Mamata Banerjee because “you can’t develop a society without uplifting the status of its women”.

In the last general election in 2014, she points out that the party nominated 33% women and 12 of their 34 MPs in the outgoing lower house were women.

Ms Banerjee, she says, believes that gender sensitive laws will come only if more women are in power.

At a campaign rally that Dr Ghosh Dastidar addresses in Kumhra Kashipur village in her constituency Barasat, women are seated in the front rows.

Their opinion though is divided over whether having more women in parliament will actually benefit other women.

Dr Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar being welcomed in her constituency
Image caption Dr Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar is among the founder members of the TMC and a two-term MP
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Supriya Biswas says it’s easier if their MP is a woman because then it’s easier to approach her. “For, who can understand a woman better than a woman?”

Archana Mallick and Meena Mouli, who live just across from the rally ground, point to the broken roads near their homes and complain about poor medical facilities in their village. They say that the candidate’s gender is “inconsequential” and what’s important is “who works for our benefit”.

Studies, however, show that female representatives bring economic growth to their constituencies because they are more concerned than men about issues such as water supply, electricity, road connectivity and health facilities.

Saswati Ghosh, professor of economics at Kolkata’s City College, says that politics in India is “still very patriarchal” and it’s “absolutely necessary” to elect more women MPs.

“It is important to have more women in lawmaking bodies because I think after a certain number, you’ll reach the threshold level and that will lead to change. I don’t know if 33% is the magic number that will change the quality of discourse, maybe 25% can do the trick?”

Archana Mallick and Meena Mouli say a candidate's gender is "inconsequential"
Image caption Archana Mallick and Meena Mouli say a candidate’s gender is “inconsequential”

Critics, however, question whether celebrities are the right candidates to bring about that change.

Prof Ghosh says actors and celebrities make for “winnable candidates” and that’s why all parties choose them even though sometimes they may not be the right candidates to reach that threshold.

But, she says that Ms Banerjee is a strong leader who’s regarded by many women as “a role model who inspires more women to come into politics”.

And that’s something that many Indians think the country sorely needs.

In their manifestos, the main opposition Congress party has promised to pass the women’s reservation bill, if elected to power. So has the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, although it had made similar promises in its last manifesto and did nothing about it.

By allotting 41% seats to women, Ms Banerjee has shown that one doesn’t need to set artificial quotas to elect more women.

Source: The BBC

13/03/2019

India’s main opposition promises jobs for women amid heated election campaign

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s main opposition Congress party will reserve a third of federal government jobs for women if it comes into power, its chief Rahul Gandhi said on Wednesday, in a sign women’s rights are rising up the political agenda for next month’s election.

Over the last week, two powerful parties from eastern India said they would field women in a third of parliamentary races, putting pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other big parties to follow suit.

India ranks at 149 out of 193 countries – worse than neighbouring Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Pakistan – for the percentage of women in national parliaments, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, an independent organisation promoting democracy.

“For how many generations have people talked about reservation in party positions, reservation for elections, reservation in jobs? But it doesn’t seem to happen,” BJP spokesperson Shaina N.C. said.
There are currently 66 women out of a total 543 elected members in India’s lower house of parliament. At 12 percent, this is the highest ever proportion of women in the Lok Sabha.
Women make up nearly half of all voters in the country of 1.3 billion people, according to the Election Commission of India. Based on recent state polls, women will likely head to voting stations in droves for the elections due by May, surpassing male turnout, analysts predict.
On Tuesday, Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal state, said her All India Trinamool Congress party would field 17 women candidates across 42 seats.
Earlier, on Sunday, the Biju Janata Dal, which rules Odisha state in eastern India, said it would reserve seven of 21 seats it is contesting for women candidates.
“33% reservation in parliament will give them bigger role in highest policy making body,” Naveen Patnaik, leader of the BJD and Odisha’s chief minister, said in a tweet.
“Women of our nation rightfully deserve this from all of us.”
Source: Reuters
12/03/2019

Two dead after Chinese navy plane crashes

  • No other injuries reported following accident on southern island of Hainan
  • Military is currently intensifying training for pilots as it looks to strengthen capabilities

Mobile phone footage believed to be taken from the crash site. Photo: Handout
Mobile phone footage believed to be taken from the crash site. Photo: Handout
A Chinese navy plane crashed in Hainan province on Tuesday killing two crew members, the military said.
A short statement said the crash happened during a training exercise over rural Ledong county in the southern island province.
No one else was reported to have been injured after the plane hit the ground and the cause of the incident is being investigated.
Footage that purported to be taken from the crash site started circulating on social media after the accident.
Footage apparently taken at the crash site. Photo: Handout
Footage apparently taken at the crash site. Photo: Handout

The PLA’s official statement did not specify the type plane that crashed, although unverified witness account online said it was a twin-seat Xian JH-7 “Flying Leopard”.

The JH-7, which entered service with the navy and air force in the 1990s, has been involved in a number of fatal accidents over the years.

The country’s worst military air accident in recent years happened in January 2018. At least 12 crew members died when a PLA Air Force plane, believed to be an electronic reconnaissance aircraft, crashed in Guizhou in the southwest of the country.

Between 2016 and 2017, there were at least four accidents involving the navy’s J-15 “Flying Sharks”, one of them resulting in the death of the pilot.

Military commentators have previously said that China’s drive to improve its combat readiness, which includes the building of new aircraft carriers and warplanes, has resulted in a serious shortage of qualified pilots.

To fill the vacancies the Chinese military has started a major recruitment drive and intensive training programme for pilot pilots.

One unverified report said the plane that crashed was a JH-7 “Flying Leopard”. Photo. Xinhua
One unverified report said the plane that crashed was a JH-7 “Flying Leopard”. Photo. Xinhua

Currently China has one aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, in service, which can carry a maximum of 24 J-15s as well as other aircraft.

Meanwhile, the new home-grown carrier Type 001A will soon be commissioned, which is designed to accommodate to carry eight more fighters.

In addition, construction is believed to have started on another carrier that will be able to carry heavier and more advanced warplanes.

Chinese navy veteran warns training, not hardware is key to military preparedness
According to figures from the end of 2016, there were only 25 pilots qualified to fly the J-15 while 12 others were in training.
Most of the Chinese navy’s pilots have been redeployed from the air force, which is itself in need of more trained pilots.
This year the navy for the first time began a nation-wide programme to scout out potential pilots.
Speaking on the sidelines of the ongoing legislative meeting in Beijing Feng Wei, a PLA pilot from the Western Theatre, said the military was currently intensifying its pilots’ training as increasing amounts of new equipment entered service.
“Personnel quality is the key to everything,” he added.
Source: SCMP
27/02/2019

Live updates| PM Modi holds key meet on Pak situation with top officials

IAF strike on Jaish camp in Pakistan updates: IAF pilot who engaged Pakistan jets missing in action, said the government. India verifying Pak claims on his custody. Follow live updates here:

Pakistani aircraft violated Indian air space in the Nowshera sector of Jammu and Kashmir’s Rajouri district on Wednesday morning. The Indian Air Force scrambled jets and pushed them back. News agency ANI has reported that a Pakistan Air Force F-16 was shot down in Indian retaliatory fire in Nowshera’s Lam valley.

The Pakistani jets had entered into Indian air space over Rajouri district this morning, sources said.

The air space violation by Pakistani jets comes a day after Indian Air Force jets flew across the Line of Control to blow up Jaish-e-Mohammed’s biggest terror camp.

Watch| India lost one MiG 21, pilot who engaged Pak jets ‘missing in action’: Govt

 

Follow live updates here:

4:55 pm IST

Army’s Eastern Command chief visits Panagarh base in West Bengal amid escalating tensions

Amid heightened tensions between India and Pakistan, Army’s Eastern Command chief Lt General Manoj Naravane visited Panagarh base in West Bengal on Wednesday and reviewed operational preparedness, a defence official said.

Lt Gen Naravane, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Command, emphasised the need for remaining alert at all times to meet the emerging security challenges, the official said.

4:50 pm IST

“Whole country is proud of this brave son,” Arvind Kejriwal tweets for IAF pilot’s safe return

“I pray for the safety of Indian Air Force pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan,” tweeted Arvind Kejriwal. “Whole country is proud of this brave son and everyone is hoping for his safe return. We all stand united to keep our country safe and strong,” Arvind Kejriwal said in the tweet.

4:35 pm IST

Pakistan has long denied its role in terror acts in India

In his last televised statement, Imran Khan appeared to ignore the claims made by Jaish. Pakistan has long denied its role in terror acts in India, which has handed it over several dossiers containing evidence of involvement of terror groups working from its soil.

4:33 pm IST

Imran Khan’s fresh call for dialogue comes in the wake of Pulwama terror attack

Imran Khan’s fresh call for dialogue comes in the wake of India’s effort to corner Pakistan among international community in the wake of Pulwama terror attack, in which at least 40 soldiers were killed. Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility for the attack.

4:26 pm IST

Imran Khan calls for talks to de-escalate rising tensions with India over Kashmir

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan calls for talks to de-escalate rising tensions with India over Kashmir.

3:57 pm IST

Better sense should prevail: Imran Khan after Pak strike

“We offered that we are ready for any kind of investigation after Pulwama attack in India. We didn’t take action on Tuesday morning because we weren’t aware of the damage caused by air strike by India. We did not want to cause much collateral damage in India when there was not much damage on our side. The only motive of Pakistan’s strike today was to demonstrate that we have the capability to hit back.

All the wars have happened due to miscalculation. With all the weapons that Pakistan and India have, can we afford to miscalculate. If we take to war neither I nor Mr Narendra Modi would be in a position to control its course. This is why I suggest that better sense should prevail,” said Imran Khan.

3:25 pm IST

IAF pilot who engaged Pak jets missing in action: Govt

IAF pilot who engaged Pakistan jets missing in action, said the government. India verifying Pak claims on his custody.

Pakistan used air force to target military installations, attempt foiled successfully, the government added.

3:20 pm IST

Foreign ministry and Air Vice Marshal brief media

Foreign ministry and Air Vice Marshal briefed the media.

3:00 pm IST

Maharashtra on high alert amid border tensions

Maharashtra and its capital Mumbai have been put on high alert’ in the wake of the rising tensions on the country’s north-west border, official sources said in Mumbai on Wednesday.

Heightened security was seen in Mumbai, the commercial capital of the country. Police vigil has been enhanced in Pune, Nagpur, Aurangabad, Nashik and Kolhapur as well. The government is ensuring there is no disturbance to the ongoing HSC (Class XII) examinations in the state, reported news agency IANS.

2:45 pm IST

Pakistan closes its airspace for commercial flights

Pakistan has closed its airspace for commercial flights, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) announced on Wednesday amid escalating tensions with India.

The aviation authority made the announcement on Twitter after Major General Asif Ghafoor, Director General of the Pakistan Army’s media wing, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), acknowledged the closure of Pakistan’s airspace due to the security situation, Dawn News reported.

2:35 pm IST

Air India avoiding route of Pakistan air space with immediate effect

Air India avoiding route of Pakistan air space with immediate effect. India use Pakistan airspace for flights to Gulf countries, Europe and USA, said an Air India official

1:25 pm IST

Pakistan says 2 IAF jets shot down, India rejects claim

There are no reports of any IAF jet suffering damage in action by India’s adversaries, defence sources said on Wednesday according to news agency PTI.

Earlier in the day, Pakistan claimed it shot down two Indian military aircraft over Pakistani air space and arrested at least one of the pilots, according to PTI.

1:20 pm IST

Army, BSF troops along IB, LoC on highest degree of alertness: Officials

The Army and BSF have been put on the highest degree of alertness along the border in Jammu after air space violations by the neighbouring country and the night-long heavy firing and shelling by Pakistani troops on forward and civilians areas across the LoC which stopped on Wednesday, reported news agency PTI.

Authorities have ordered temporary closure of educational institutions in a 5-km radius along the Line of Control (LoC) in Rajouri and Poonch districts on Wednesday amid mounting tensions between the two countries, following the Pulwama terror attack on February 14 and an Indian air strike on Jaish-e-Mohammed camp inside Pakistan on Tuesday.

1:14 pm IST

Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman chairs DAC meeting

The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) chaired by defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman met here today and accorded approval for acquisition of defence equipment for about Rs 2700 crores.

Approval was granted for procurement of three Cadet Training ships for the Indian Navy, which would be utilised to provide basic sea training for officer cadets including women officer undertrainees. The ships would be capable of undertaking Hospital Ship duties, providing Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief, undertaking Search and Rescue (SAR) missions and Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations.

1:08 am IST

China reiterates call for India and Pakistan to exercise restraint

China’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday said it reiterated its call for India and Pakistan to exercise restraint.

Ministry spokesman Lu Kang made the comment at a regular news briefing in Beijing.

1:00 pm IST

PM Modi rushes to review security situation: Report

Prime Minister Narendra Modi cut short his address at a function in Vigyan Bhawan on Wednesday and rushed to attend a meeting to review the security situation arising out of Pakistan’s attempt to violate Indian air space, reported news agency ANI.

Modi was replying to the questions from youngsters during the National Youth Festival 2019 when he was handed over a small piece of paper by an official of Prime Minister Office (PMO).

The Prime Minister immediately stopped and walked towards the panelist where Union minister Rajyavardhan Rathore was also present.

12:53 pm IST

Pakistan stops domestic, international flight operations from Lahore, Multan, Faisalabad, Sialkot and Islamabad

Pakistan immediately stops its domestic and international flight operations from Lahore, Multan, Faisalabad, Sialkot and Islamabad airports, reported news agency ANI.

12:30 pm IST

Sensex turns negative; cracks over 200 points

The benchmark BSE Sensex gave up all early gains and fell over 200 points in afternoon trade Wednesday on widespread selling after Pakistani fighter jets violated Indian air space in Jammu and Kashmir.

After dropping 238 points, the Sensex was trading 161.74 points, or 0.46 per cent, down at 35,811.97 after hitting a low of 35,735.33. The gauge rallied nearly 400 points in morning trade.

The 50-share Nifty also fell 62.55 points, or 0.58 per cent, to 10,772.75.

According to brokers, investor sentiment took a beating after Pakistan claimed that it shot down two Indian military aircraft over Pakistani air space and arrested one of the pilots.

The Pakistani fighter jets on Wednesday violated Indian air space in Jammu and Kashmir’s Poonch and Nowshera sectors.

12:08 pm IST

Rajnath reviews security situation

Home Minister Rajnath Singh Wednesday reviewed the security situation in the country, especially along the border with Pakistan, a day after Indian fighter jets bombed the biggest camp of terror group Jaish-e-Mohammad in that country, officials said.

During the meeting, attended by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval among others, a detailed presentation was given about the security situation in the country and steps taken to ensure peace in all sensitive places.

Singh directed the officials to ensure the Border Security Force, which guards the India-Pakistan border continues to remain on highest level of alertness so that any misadventure from across the border could be foiled, a home ministry official said.

12:01 pm IST

‘Don’t want to escalate tensions, but we are prepared’, says Pakistan

“Today, Pakistan Air Force undertook strikes across Line of Control from within Pakistani airspace. This was not a retaliation to continued Indian belligerence. Pakistan has therefore, taken strikes at non military target, avoiding human loss and collateral damage. Sole purpose being to demonstrate our right, will and capability for self defence.

We have no intention of escalation, but are fully prepared to do so if forced into that paradigm. That is why we undertook the action with clear warning and in broad daylight. For the last few years, India has been trying to establish what they call “a new normal” a thinly veiled term for doing acts of aggression at whatever pretext they wish on a given day.

If India is striking at so called terrorist backers without a shred of evidence, we also retain reciprocal rights to retaliate against elements that enjoy Indian patronage while carrying out acts of terror in Pakistan. We do not wish to go to that route and wish that India gives peace a chance and to resolve issues like a mature democratic nation,” read a statement released by Pakistan on Wednesday.

11:50 am IST

National Security Advisor Ajit Doval arrives at Home Ministry

National Security Advisor Ajit Doval arrived at the Home Ministry in Delhi.

11:45 am IST

Hope India, Pak conduct dialogue to establish facts through investigation: Wang Yi

“As a mutual friend to both India and Pakistan, we hope that they can conduct dialogue to establish facts through investigation to keep things under control and maintain peace and stability in the region. In this process China is playing a constructive role not the opposite,” said China’s foreign minister Wang Yi.

11:42 am IST

Russia, China and India reaffirmed strong opposition to terrorism: Wang Yi

“Russia, China and India reaffirmed strong opposition to terrorism. At the same time we (China) believe Pakistan has always been opposed to terrorism. China appreciates statements from Indian and Pak friends saying they’ll exercise restraint and avoid escalation of situation,” said China’s foreign minister Wang Yi.

11:37 am IST

Pakistani jets violate Indian air space in Nowshera

Pakistani jets violated Indian air space in Jammu and Kashmir’s Nowshera sector but were successfully confronted.

An official said the jets were immediately pushed back by Indian jets on air patrol.

10:55 am IST

Discussed establishment of UN led global counter-terrorism mechanism: Swaraj

“We need a global strategy, global cooperation. I’m happy to tell you today we discussed the establishment of UN led global counter-terrorism mechanism and finalising CCIT (Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism) proposed by India to implement it,” said external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj in Wuzhen, China.

“As far as Pulwama is concerned, I had raised this issue in the bilateral meeting with Mr Wang Yi and also at RIC (Russia-India-China) forum,” she added.

10:42 am IST

All countries need to show ‘zero tolerance’ towards terrorism: Sushma Swaraj

Terrorists attacks like Pulwama are a grim reminder for the need of all countries to show ‘zero tolerance’ towards terrorism, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said on Wednesday, a day after India conducted pre-emptive air strikes deep inside Pakistan hitting Jaish-e-Mohammad training camps.

The operation was carried out in light of Pakistan’s refusal to acknowledge and act against terror groups operating from its soil and credible information that JeM was planning attacks in India, she said.

10:10 am IST

India’s response to Pulwama attack top agenda of Opposition meet

Left parties will participate in the meeting of the opposition parties, scheduled to be held later today. They had earlier said that they will not participate in the meeting. Pulwama attack and India’s response to it are on the agenda of discussion, reported news agency ANI.

9:55 am IST

Defence minister to meet Army, IAF, Navy chiefs shortly

Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Army Chief General Bipin Rawat, Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa and Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba will attend DAC (Defence Acquisition Council) meeting shortly today.

9:35 am IST

Mumbai on high alert, govt asks schools to exercise caution

In the wake of air strikes carried out by the Indian Air Force (IAF) on terror camps in Pakistan’s Balakot, the Maharashtra government has called for office bearers of the School & Co. Bus Owner’s Association to ensure the safety of school children keeping the prevailing situation in mind, reported news agency ANI.

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis told the state legislature that security has been tightened across the city and appealed to people not to panic.

After intelligence informed Mumbai police to be on high alert, the vigilance and CCTV surveillance has been increased in places like the airport, railway stations, and other key locations.

9:22 am IST

2 Jaish terrorists killed

At least two Jaish terrorists were killed in an encounter that broke out with security forces in Shopian district of Jammu and Kashmir, officials said.

9:20 am IST

Villagers being shifted to safer places

After cross LoC shelling and ceasefire violations , the villagers in some areas of Jammu and Kashmir’s Uri are being shifted to safer places according to officials.

9:05 am IST

Balakot camp blown up by IAF was Jaish’s preferred training spot for 18 yrs

Balakot’s Jaba Top first emerged as a preferred training ground for militants in the time of President Zia-ul-Haq. It was an ideal place for a camp for non-state actors — remote, located near a small town, yet far enough from it, on a wooded hilltop, and on Pakistani territory in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. India crossed into Pakistan’s territory in 1971 (and then again, its aircraft on Tuesday), and so the Pakistanis may have thought it was a good place to host a training camp for militants whom the rest of the world called terrorists.

8:58 am IST

Underscore priority of de-escalating current tensions by avoiding military action: Mike Pompeo to Pak foreign minister

“I spoke to Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to underscore the priority of de-escalating current tensions by avoiding military action and the urgency of Pakistan taking meaningful action against terrorist groups operating on its soil,” said US Secy of State Mike Pompeo, according to news agency ANI.

8:50 am IST

Objective was to act against terrorist infrastructure: Sushma Swaraj in China

“It wasn’t a military op, no military installation targeted. Objective was to act against terrorist infrastructure of JeM to preempt another terror attack in India. India doesn’t wish to see further escalation of situation. It’ll continue to act with responsibility and restraint,” said external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj at the 16th Foreign Ministers meeting of Russia-India-China (RIC) in Wuzhen, China.

8:45 am IST

Target selected to avoid civilian casualties: Sushma Swaraj

“In the light of continuing refusal of Pak to acknowledge and act against terror groups on its territory and based on credible info that JeM was planning other attacks in parts of India, GoI decided to take preemptive action and target was selected in order to avoid civilian casualties,” said external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj at the 16th foreign ministers meeting of Russia-India-China (RIC) in Wuzhen, China, reported news agency ANI.

8:43 am IST

Pakistan outrightly denied any knowledge of Pulwama attack: Sushma Swaraj

“Such dastardly terrorist attacks are a grim reminder for the need of all the countries to show zero tolerance to terrorism and take decisive action against it.

Following the Pulwama terrorist attack instead of taking seriously the calls by international community to act against Jaish-e-Mohammed and other terror groups based in Pakistan, it denied any knowledge of the attack and outrightly dismissed claims by Jaish-e-Mohammed,” said external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj at the 16th foreign ministers meeting of Russia-India-China (RIC) in Wuzhen, China, reported news agency ANI.

8:40 am IST

Did the US know of India’s strike on Balakot? And how much?

Asked about India’s right to self-defence, President Donald Trump told reporters last week, “India is looking at something very strong. And, I mean, India just lost almost 50 people and… with an attack, so I can understand that also.”

And his national security adviser John Bolton had on his own told reporters at a briefing that he had conveyed to his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval in a phone call “that we support India’s right to self-defence”.

8:37 am IST

Only 7 people knew of timing of air strike

On February 18, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had approved the strike. According to intelligence officials, only seven people knew of this decision – Modi, Doval, the three service chiefs, and the heads of RAW and Intelligence Bureau.

Starting February 22, the Air Force started flying night sorties from various frontline bases to confuse the Pakistanis. On February 25, intelligence inputs suggested the presence of a large number of JeM terrorists, around 300-350, at the Balakot camp. The same evening it was decided to go ahead with the strike immediately. Modi knew by late evening that an attack could happen in the next few hours.

8:31 am IST

Exercise ‘maximum restraint’: UN chief to India, Pakistan

UN chief Antonio Guterres is following the situation between India and Pakistan “very closely” and has appealed to the governments of both nations to exercise “maximum restraint” to ensure the situation does not deteriorate further, a top UN official said Tuesday.

The UN Secretary General’s remarks came after Indian Air Force (IAF) carried out a pre-dawn air strike on a terror training camp inside Pakistan.

8:27 am IST

Pak must take ‘action’ against terror groups: US after IAF strikes

Pakistan must take ‘meaningful action’ against terror groups, says US after IAF strikes on Jaish camp, reported news agency PTI

8:25 am IST

Encounter underway between militants, security forces in J-K’s Shopian

An encounter broke out on Wednesday between militants and security forces in Shopian district of Jammu and Kashmir, officials said. Security forces launched a cordon and search operation in Meemendar area of Shopian following information about presence of militants there, the officials said.

They said the search operation turned into an encounter after militants opened firing towards the security forces, who retaliated.

Source: Hindustan Times

25/02/2019

Mamata Banerjee accuses government of trying to create ‘war hysteria’ after Pulwama attack

Mamata Banerjee claimed that her party Trinamool Congress(TMC) will win all the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal in the polls.

INDIA Updated: Feb 25, 2019 16:35 IST

Press Trust of India
Press Trust of India
Kolkata
Jaish-e-Mohammed,Narendra Modi,Lok Sabha polls
Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee during a press conference at Press Club of India, in New Delhi, on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. (HT Photot)

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee Monday alleged that though the Modi government had intelligence inputs about the Pulwama attack, it did not take any step as it was more keen on “playing politics over the dead bodies of jawans”.

Banerjee, while addressing the Trinamool Congress’s extended core committee meeting in Kolkata, vowed to oust the “dictatorial Narendra Modi government” from power in the upcoming general election.

She claimed that her party Trinamool Congress(TMC) will win all the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal in the polls.

“The central government was aware that such an attack can take place, there were intelligence inputs. Then why didn’t the government take action to protect our jawans. The government allowed them to die so that they can do politics over the dead body of jawans in the elections,” Banerjee said.

They want to create a “war hysteria” ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, the TMC president alleged.

The central government is functioning in a peculiar way and union ministers are not aware of important decisions, Banerjee claimed.

“This government is being run by two brothers (Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah), who have blood of innocents on their hands,” she said.

“Our party workers and cadre should be cautious as efforts are on to tamper EVMs (electronic voting machines) during the Lok Sabha polls. You all have to thwart those efforts,” she said. On February 14, 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed in Jammu and Kashmir after a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist rammed an explosive-laden vehicle into their bus in Pulwama district.

Source: Hindustan Times

23/02/2019

Bootleg liquor kills at least 84 in northeast India, 200 hospitalised

GUWAHATI, India (Reuters) – At least 84 people have died from drinking toxic bootleg liquor in the northeastern Indian state of C, and around 200 others have been hospitalised, a state government minister said on Saturday.

The deaths come less than two weeks after more than 100 people died from drinking tainted alcohol in two northern Indian states, Uttarkhand and Uttar Pradesh.

Police have arrested twelve people in connection with making bootleg alcohol in Assam, a practice local politicians say is rampant in the area’s tea estates, where its is drunk by poorly-paid labourers after a tough day’s work in the plantations.

“Every 10 minutes we are getting reports of casualties from different places. So far about 200 people are in hospital with many of them critical,” Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told Reuters via telephone.

“Doctors from nearby districts and other medical colleges have been rushed in to deal with the crisis,” said Sarma, after visiting patients at Jorhat, located some 300 kilometres east of the state’s financial hub, Guwahati.

Deaths from illegally produced alcohol, known locally as hooch or country liquor, are common in India, where many cannot afford branded spirits.

The death tolls from the two recent incidents, however, are believed to be the deadliest since a similar case killed 172 in West Bengal in 2011.

Dilip Rajbnonshi, a doctor at the government hospital in Golaghat, located some 40 kilometres southwest of Jorhat said the deaths were due to “spurious country liquor”.

A number of women are among the casualties. Many of those that drank the liquor were tea plantation workers who had just received their weekly wages, according to another state government official.

“I asked some of the patients why they consume liquor almost everyday and they said after a hard day’s work in the plantations they drink to relieve stress and tiredness,” health minister Sarma said.

Mrinal Saikia, a local lawmaker from the Bharatiya Janata Party – which is in control of the federal and Assam state governments – said alcohol, often laced with cattle feed and battery acid, is being supplied “in gallons” to tea plantation workers.

“This is a big business in areas surrounding tea gardens where people set up illegal distilleries to make country liquor,” he said.

Source: Reuters
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