The Statesman – Modi’s hate-mongering won’t work in UP: Rahul Gandhi

New Delhi, 23 February 2017. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is spreading hatred in Uttar Pradesh but the voters of the state will elect the Congress-Samajwadi Party (SP) alliance, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi said on Thursday.

“Modi ji has lost the elections (UP), he can spread hatred as much as he wants but UP won’t pay heed. Congress and SP will form the government here,” Rahul Gandhi said while the addressing the voters of his Lok Sabha constituency of Amethi.

The Gandhi scion went on to quote a few lines of a famous Hindi film song: “I have a message for those spreading hatred, you will neither become a Hindu nor a Muslim, you are a human being’s child and you will become a human being”.

Polling is on for 53 assembly constituencies spread over 12 districts, including the backward Bundelkhand region in the fourth phase of polling in UP.

Assembly segments in Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s Rae Bareli Lok Sabha constituency are among the seats where the electoral exercise is taking place. However, in a first since 1998, Gandhi gave campaigning a miss in her constituency.

Elections for UP legislative assembly are being held in seven phases, with three more on February 27, March 4 and 8 to follow after today’s polling. Election results will be out on March 11.

The Statesman – Palaniswami takes oath as Tamil Nadu CM

New Delhi, 16 February 2017. Loyalist of jailed AIADMK General Secretary VK Sasikala, E Palaniswami was on Thursday sworn in as the new Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, bringing an end to weeks of political turmoil.

The AIADMK Legislature Party Leader, Palaniswami will retain most of the ministers from outgoing Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O Panneerselvam’s cabinet in his 31-member ministry.

Among others, Palaniswami will hold portfolios of Home and Finance, besides Public Works, Highways and Minor Ports, which he had managed as a minister in the Jayalalithaa and Panneerselvam cabinets, sources said.

Governor C Vidyasagar Rao had invited Palaniswami, 64, earlier elected by AIADMK MLAs backing Sasikala as their legislature party leader, to form a ministry “at the earliest” and win a trust vote within 15 days.

The move came a day after Palaniswami met the Governor and submitted a list of legislators backing him.

The Governor’s invitation set off celebrations in the Sasikala camp even as outgoing acting Chief Minister O Panneerselvam pledged to continue his fight against “one family” taking over the AIADMK.

Panneerselvam said people were angry that a new government was being formed with the support of legislators who, he said, were held for days in captivity at a resort near here.

The Statesman – Punjab Polls: High Court directs EC to ensure safety of EVMs

Shiv Rawal

Chandigarh, 9 February 2017. Taking up a petition moved by the Punjab unit of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the Punjab and Haryana High Court here on Thursday directed the Election Commission (EC) to take all possible steps to ensure complete safety and security of the electronic voting machines (EVMs) used in February 4 polls for the state Assembly.

While disposing of the petition, the Division Bench headed by Justice Mahesh Grover directed that said that security of the EVMs is necessary to instill the confidence of the public and to enhance the credibility of election process so inherent to democracy.

The AAP had submitted that the petition has been necessitated on account of the “lackadaisical and casual approach” of the EC towards the EVMs used in the Punjab Assembly elections and in ensuring apposite protection and proper security arrangements for the safe custody of the EVMs.

It was submitted that the Punjab has been struck with peculiar circumstance in this election in as much as the polling was held on February 4 and he EVMS were transferred in the strong room the same day, however the counting will be held after more than a month on March 11.

It was further alleged in the petition that the EC and the chief electoral officer of Punjab have grossly failed in their duty to security the EVMs.

Through the petition, the AAP Punjab unit has sought that no unauthorized person (including the staff) be allowed in the middle perimeter of the Strong Rooms and in the outer perimeter, only persons with valid identity cards and authorization be allowed to enter.

Further it was sought that to make suitable arrangements for CCTV monitored any entry and exit from the outer perimeter inwards, which should be visible to candidates or their agents.

Suitable arrangements were also requested to enable candidates or their authorized representatives to be stationed within visible distance and straight vision from the seal of the inner perimeter.

The Statesman – Rahul shares ‘dal-sabzi’ meal with Punjab villagers

Chandigarh, 2 February 2017. Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi on Thursday shared a meal of ‘dal-subzi’ with villagers and interacted with them in Sangrur district, on the last day of campaigning for the Punjab Assembly polls.

Dressed in blue denims, white kurta and a half jacket, Gandhi sat on a wooden cot, flanked by the village headman and council members, and interacted with the residents of Baliyan village, 145 km from here.

He later shared a traditional meal with commoners and party leaders at the ‘Sanjha Chulha’ (common kitchen) put up by the villagers.

The Congress Vice President sat on the floor and was served the lentils and vegetables from steel buckets along with rotis (flat bread).

A number of village elders, women, youth, including girls, sat down to share the meal with Gandhi.

As the villagers highlighted the problems they were facing, Gandhi also took the opportunity to urge them to vote for the party to form the next government in the state saying the Congress cared for their needs and problems.

“Do not fall into the trap of parties which are allied with radical elements,” he said.

Campaigning in Punjab ends at 5 pm on Thursday. Polls for the 117 Assembly seats are scheduled for Saturday.

The main contest is among the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine, Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

The Statesman – ‘BJP doesn’t understand the meaning of womanhood’

New Delhi, 26 January 2017. Hitting out at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over its MP Vinay Katiyar’s alleged sexist remarks against Congress star campaigner Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the Congress on Thursday said “BJP doesn’t understand the meaning of womanhood in India”.

“Being respectful of women should have been embodied in the DNA of people who talk about Indian culture and ethos. India considers womanhood in the light of Ardhanareshwar, combination of Shiva and Durga.

“If this concept is not embodied in the so-called cultural bodies and organisations, who do not respect women, then there is a serious problem,” said Congress spokesperson Tom Vadakkan.

“You need to examine them very closely because they are doing all these for the sake of vote. Without learning to respect women, I don’t think anywhere in this country or globally can any political party progress,” he added.

Vadakkan added: “They need to learn and go back to the cultural ethos to understand womanhood which is missing in the present set up of these cultural orgnaisations.”

Katiyar on Wednesday courted controversy for saying that his party had “prettier star campaigners” (than Priyanka), inviting flak from her and the Congress over the comments that she said exposed the “BJP’s mindset”.

Katiyar’s comments attracted condemnation from his own party as well as the Delhi Commission for Women.

The Statesman – Decision on alliance with Congress soon: Akhilesh Yadav

New Delhi, 17 January 2017. A day after bagging the ‘cycle’ symbol, Samajwadi Party (SP) chief and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav on Tuesday said the decision to form an alliance with the Congress party ahead of the state polls will be taken in day or two.

“Decision on alliance (with Congress) will be taken in a day or two,” Akhilesh said adding that ties with his father and SP patriarch Mulayam Singh yadav were “unbreakable”.

“We will take netaji (Mulayam Singh Yadav) along, ties with him are unbreakable,” he said.

The Election Commission (EC) on Monday recognised the faction led by Akhilesh Yadav as the Samajwadi Party and allotted it the ‘cycle’ symbol.

Leaders like Lalu Prasad and Mamata Banerjee, who had expressed sympathy and support for Akhilesh Yadav in the family feud, expressed satisfaction with the development while the Congress spoke of a possible alliance with the state’s ruling party, a sentiment reciprocated by a vocal Samajwadi Party MP.

Meanwhile, Congress’s UP Chief Ministerial candidate Sheila Dikshit is willing to step down if an alliance between the two parties is finalised.

The Samajwadi Party formally split on January 1 when Ram Gopal Yadav, as the party’s General Secretary, called the national convention of the party where Akhilesh Yadav was declared the party chief in place of his father Mulayam Singh.

Subsequently, both factions then petitioned the Election Commission to allot it the party symbol.

The Statesman – ‘US challenging India’s solar policy sent message to world’

Washington, 6 January 2017. The US successfully challenged India’s local content conditions in its solar policy which sent a message to the rest of the world that it would not tolerate “new form of protectionism”, outgoing American Trade Representative Mike Froman said on Thursday.

Further, this also helped the US to get India to open up its market worth $1 billion, Froman said in an exit-memo released by the White House on eight years of the outgoing Obama Administration.

USTR, he said, filed as many as 24 cases against other countries before the World Trade Organization.

The US has focused in particular on bringing cases which have broad, systemic benefits, he argued.

“Challenging India’s local content requirements was not just about increasing solar panel exports to India, but was intended to send a message to governments all over the world that the United States would not tolerate this new form of protectionism to exclude our products from their markets, contrary to their WTO commitments,” Froman said.

Similarly challenging China’s use of export restrictions on rare earth materials not only provided important relief to US manufacturers dependent on those materials as inputs, but also provided an opportunity to send a message to China’s government and other governments not to use such restraints in any sector to gain a trade-distortive advantage over US competitors, he said.

Of the 24 enforcement actions, 15 have targeted China’s unfair and WTO-illegal policies, ranging from illegal barriers to auto imports, agricultural subsidies to grain producers, discriminatory taxes, barriers to services trade, and barriers to US exports of high-tech steel, Froman said.

“We also brought economically significant cases against India’s illegal, non-science-based ban on US poultry, European subsidies to civil aviation, and Argentina’s import restrictions,” he said.

“Our trade enforcement successes have positively affected billions of dollars of US exports,” Froman said, adding that the US’ case against China for illegally imposing anti-dumping duties opened up that market to $5 billion of auto and auto parts exports.

“Our case against India’s local content requirements for India opened up an estimated $1 billion market. And our case against China’s illegal duties on US poultry is worth an estimated $1 billion,” Froman wrote in his exit memo.

The Statesman – Farooq bats for resumption of India-Pakistan dialogue

Jammu, 28 December 2016. Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah on Tuesday urged the Centre to resume dialogue with Pakistan to resolve all pending disputes “amicably”.

He appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to initiate a process for addressing the internal and external dimensions of problems in Jammu and Kashmir, saying that dialogue is the only option to steer the state away from the present morass.

“Peace and cooperation forms core of neighbourly relations and therefore India and Pakistan must resume dialogue,” he said while addressing party workers in Kathua.

The former chief minister invoked the Vajpayee doctrine and said: “If neighbours cannot be changed, what stops the two countries to talk to each other and resolve their problems amicably.”

Farooq hoped hostilities will give way to better understanding between the two nations, saying peace is imperative for prosperity in the subcontinent and bringing relief to the people of Jammu and Kashmir, who have been the the victims of animosity.

He made a mention of border skirmishes over decades and said that these were detrimental for both India and Pakistan, as any full-fledged conflict between the nuclear states will lead to devastation and destruction in the entire region.

The National Conference chief also urged New Delhi to address the political issue of Kashmir by talking to all shades of public opinion on priority “as further delay will only worsen the situation”.

He said that everyone needs to be talked to, be it Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, if end goal is to herald peace in the state.

On PDP holding National Conference responsible for the Kashmir unrest, he said: “Those blaming us are conveniently forgetting the historical role of National Conference in upholding the unity of the state and safeguarding interests of its people.”

Farooq said Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti “must shun petty politics for concealing the failures of her government”.

He cautioned against the machinations of divisive forces, who, he said, were trying to divide people on one or the other pretext.

“Unity and amity are the strongest tools to isolate such elements, whose politics is based on whipping up passions by exploiting public sentiment,” he said.

The former CM said the PDP-BJP coalition cannot hide its failures by indulging in blame games.

“They will have to account for mis-governance and the mess created across the state by non-performance during past over one-and-a-half year,” he said.

The Statesman – Jammu & Kashmir government hits back at Omar for remarks on Article 370

Jammu, 20 December 2016. Asserting that the Constitution of India is supreme, the Jammu and Kashmir government on Tuesday hit back at National Conference for accusing the PDP of allowing erosion of Article 370 which grants special status to the state, saying it was the opposition party which was responsible for it.

“The Constitution of India is supreme. Do you disagree with this that (Constitution of India) is supreme? And we have another Constitution, the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir.

“I am a minister and I take oath under the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir and swear by the Constitution of India.

There is no contradiction in it,” the state’s Education Minister Naeem Akhtar, who is also the official spokesman of the coalition government, told reporters here on Tuesday.

With regard to NC leader Omar Abdullah accusing PDP of “allowing step-by-step erosion of Article 370 through a series of politically patronised cases and litigations”, the senior PDP leader said it was in fact the party of the former Chief Minister which has eroded the article.

Omar had made the allegation after the Supreme Court ruled that Jammu and Kashmir has “no vestige of sovereignty outside the Constitution of India”.

“I am not accusing them of anything, I am just stating the fact that whatever has happened to the Article 370 so far, it is because of them (National Conference),” Akhtar said.

He said that the allegations levelled by National Conference would not stick.

“That is a charge that will never stick because it has always been the other way round. It is the National Conference which has utilised this Article for their political gains and been a party to its dilution, the PDP leader said.

He said PDP will never allow erosion of Article 370 as it was a commitment in the Agenda of Alliance of the government and a national consensus has emerged amongst all the political parties but NC was playing politics over it.

Commenting on Omar’s remarks, Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh said the opposition was desperate and was leveling such allegations.

“Actually they (NC) are desperate, they are referring to the stand taken by the state government. I think whatever the Supreme Court has said it is not a new thing. The same thing is there in the Constitution and (defines) our state and central relations, so they are only making an issue out of it, I think which is not proper, Singh said.

The Statesman – 70 trains delayed, 38 cancelled due to fog

New Delhi, 14 December 2016. Thousands of passengers were stranded on Wednesday as 70 trains were delayed and 38 cancelled due to dense fog in parts of north India.

According to a Northern Railway official, the Bhubaneswar-New Delhi Rajdhani Express was running 25 hours behind schedule and the Islampur-New Delhi Magadh Express was running 18 hours behind schedule.

While the Nandankanan Super Fast was 26 hours late, the Guwahati-Anand Vihar North-East Express was delayed by 10 hours.

The official said that 46 trains were rescheduled as the visibility dropped to 400 metres on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, according to the Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL), which manages operations at the Indira Gandhi International (IGI) airport here, no flight was cancelled on Wednesday, but a few international flights arriving in Delhi were delayed.