Sat, 17 March 2018
Maha farmers `reclaim' land acquired by Nirav Modi's firm

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21:13   Maha farmers `reclaim' land acquired by Nirav Modi's firm
Farmers in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra on Saturday claimed that fugitive jeweller Nirav Modi, prime accused in the alleged Rs 11,400 crore Punjab National Bank fraud, had acquired their lands at less than prevailing
A group of over 200 farmers, who arrived in bullock carts at the tract of land at Khandala in Karjat tehsil, ploughed a part of it using a tractor as a symbolic reclaiming of possession.
They will start cultivation on the full 125 acres of the acquired land soon, farmers said.
Saturday's protest was meant to show that farmers have reclaimed their land, which was acquired on behalf of Nirav Modi's Firestar company some years ago, they said.
The land is among the properties attached by the Enforcement Directorate as a part of its probe against Modi who has fled the country, said a farmer activist.
Protesting farmers also carried the tricolour and portraits of King Shivaji and Dr B R Ambedkar. They carried the banner of 'Kaali Aai Mukti Sangram', a local farmers' organisation.
"The land was acquired from farmers at around Rs 15,000 per acre, whereas the government rate for land compensation in the area is around Rs 20 lakh per acre now," lawyer and activist Karbhari Gawli, who was part of today's protest, told PTI over phone from Ahmednagar.
A police official from the Karjat police station said no "untoward incident" was reported from Khandala village Saturday . -- PTI 
20:45   Punjab AAP MLAs called for meeting with Kejriwal in Delhi
The AAP's central leadership has called the party's Punjab leaders, including MLAs, for a meeting with its national convener Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi tomorrow, after a majority of its MLAs in the state yesterday discussed the option of splitting and forming a separate unit.
Kejriwal's apology to SAD leader and former Punjab minister Bikram Singh Majithia for accusing him of being involved in drugs trade pushed AAP's state unit into a crisis as its Punjab unit president Bhagwant Mann and co-president Aman Arora resigned from their posts yesterday.
The state leadership had said the "meek surrender" was painful and very unfortunate.
In a further jolt, the Lok Insaf Party, AAP's ally in the state, announced to break its alliance with the party in the wake of Kejriwal's apology.

Senior leader and AAP MLA Kanwar Sandhu today said, "We have got a message and call from Delhi education minister Manish Sisodia for a meeting tomorrow in Delhi. We were told that Arvind ji will also be in the meeting."

Sandhu, however, said that he would not attend the meeting.
"It was yesterday decided by a majority of MLAs that future meetings with the central leadership should only be held in Chandigarh," he said.
Leader of Opposition in Punjab Assembly Sukhpal Singh Khaira also said that he would not go to Delhi to attend the meeting.
"I think a vast majority of MLAs will not attend this meeting," he said.
A two-round marathon meeting was held yesterday by the Punjab unit of the AAP here in which a resolution on splitting from the Delhi unit and forming a separate unit was discussed, though a final decision on this was deferred. -- PTI
20:40   Now, Nehru's statue blackened in West Bengal
India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru's statue with its face blackened, was found in Katwa town of West Bengal today, the police said.
The Congress has blamed the BJP for the incident, but the saffron party denied any involvement in it.
The statue at Telephone Maidan at Katwa town in East Burdwan district with its face blackened was found this morning by the locals, who then informed the police about it.
Following this, Congress workers held a demonstration in front of the police station demanding immediate arrest of those responsible for the act.
A complaint was lodged by them, the police said, adding investigation into the incident was underway.
Chairman of the Trinamool Congress-run Katwa municipality Rabindranath Chattopadhyay condemned the blackening of Nehru's statue and said it was cleaned by the civic body later in the day.
Katwa Town Congress secretary Subhashish Samanta has alleged that BJP workers were behind the incident, while the saffron party's rural district secretary Sandip Nandy has said the party had no role in it.
A bust of Jan Sangh founder Syama Prasad Mookerjee was vandalised on March 7 in Kolkata by seven persons, including a woman.
Statues of communist leader Vladimir Lenin, social reformer Ramasamy Periyar and that of Bhimrao Ambedkar were vandalised in Tripura, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh respectively in recent days. -- PTI
20:35   Fire breaks out at army building in south Mumbai
Fire broke out at a four-storey army building in south Mumbai's Colaba area this evening, a civic official said.
An official of the Disaster Management Cell of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation said the fire started at around 7 pm.
Four vehicles of the fire brigade were rushed to the spot, he said.
A defence spokesperson confirmed that fire had broken out at one of the army buildings near Afghan Church in Colaba.

"Fire-fighting operations are on," the spokesperson said, without giving more details. -- PTI
20:34   Dalai Lama in Jammu, to attend 1st convocation of CUJ tomorrow
Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama arrived in Jammu today to attend the first convocation of Central University Jammu slated to be held tomorrow. 

Minister for Cooperatives and Ladakh Affairs Chering Dorjay along with Advisor to the Chief Minister Amitabh Mattoo accorded a warm welcome to the tibetan spiritual leader. 

In a message to the people of the state, the Dalai Lama said, "I want to express special greetings and prayers for people of the state. We should always keep peace of mind and should not let anger overtake us."

"Anger always brings disaster and prevents us from using our intelligence effectively therefore preventing us from finding solutions to difficult situations," he said.

"Mentally, physically, emotionally, human beings are same everywhere. Everybody wants happiness, joyfulness. The foundation to this happiness is peace of mind,' the Dalai Lama said. -- PTI
19:31   Bring ordinance to build Ram Temple: Subramanian Swamy to PM
Bharatiya Janata Party MP Subramanian Swamy has written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, suggesting his government to use ordinance route for getting the disputed land in Ayodhya for the construction of the Ram temple, news agency ANI has reported.

Swamy in his letter said that the government can bring an ordinance on ownership of Ramjanmbhoomi land and thus pass a law to hand over the land to an eminent body of religious leaders especially those versed in Agama Sastra, with a direction to build Ram temple.

Swamy further said in his letter that the existing claimants can be duly compensated for the loss of their claim on the title of the land.

Later speaking to ANI, Swamy said, "Congress-influenced lawyers have the agenda to halt the progress in the case. Therefore I thought we must make constitution and law our weapon and bring an ordinance.

Currently, the Supreme Court is hearing the Ramjanmabhumi-Babri Masjid land dispute case. 

On Wednesday, March 14, the SC had rejected all 32 intervention petitions and posted the next hearing for March 23.

Applications of several petitions were filed earlier, including renowned filmmaker Shyam Benegal, actress Aparna Sen, columnist and writer Anil Dharker and social activist Teesta Setalvad who suggested that the disputed land be put to "secular use" rather than dividing it on a religious basis.

The apex court also rejected the plea of Swamy, who sought to intervene in the ongoing matter.

The court, however, ordered revival of Swamy's disposed of writ petition in which he had sought enforcement of his fundamental right to worship at Ram temple on the disputed site in Ayodhya.
18:52   Don't just raise slogans, help govt implement farm schemes: Agriculture minister to farmer leaders
Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh today asked farm leaders "getting into politics" not to just raise issues related to the farming community but also help the government in implementing its programmes.
"We are all farmers. Many farmers are getting into politics. I urge those political leaders to raise the farmers issues and at the same time help in implementing the government programmes," Singh said addressing the three-day Krishi Unnati Mela in New Delhi.
He asked them "not to just shout slogans".
Stating that farmers' welfare has been priority of the government, Singh said the allocation for agriculture sector has been higher at Rs 2.11 lakh crore in four years of the Modi government, when compared to Rs 1.25 lakh crore of the last regime.
He exuded confidence in achieving the target of doubling farmers' income by 2022. -- PTI 
18:02   Sukma attack: CRPF transfers Commanding Officer
The Central Reserve Police Force has transferred the Commandant of its 212th battalion whose nine personnel were recently killed in a Naxal triggered IED blast in Chhattisgarh.
Prashant Dhar, the Commanding Officer, has been transferred to the North East sector late last evening, pending inquiry, officials said.

They said the role of the officer is under scrutiny for alleged lapses that led to the killing of the nine CRPF jawans in Sukma district on March 13 as their mine protected vehicle was blown off by the Maoists.
Dhar, officials said, was directed by the CRPF Director General R R Bhatnagar, through field commanders, to exercise caution and not allow any movement on the 5-km under-construction Kistaram-Palodi road after an encounter between the Maoists and security forces had taken place in the morning on the fateful day.
But, they said, Sukma district Superintendent of Police Abhishek Meena visited the area and the CRPF, state police and district reserve group contingents accompanied him and Dhar for their onward movement to some newly established security camps in the area including Palodi.
At this juncture, they said, it was decided to take out not one but two MPVs. Under what circumstances Dhar allowed this movement is part of a court of inquiry.
The directions issued by the CRPF DG against making any movement, standing instructions to very sparingly use MPVs and largely in reinforcement jobs and the alert generated after the early morning encounter in the same area were overlooked and troops allowed to board the MPV are some of the glaring lapses, they said.
Bhatnagar had yesterday told PTI that the incident was very much "avoidable".  -- PTI
17:47   Rohingyas a security threat, deport them: RSS
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh today supported the demand for deportation of illegal migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh, saying their presence in Jammu and Kashmir posed a security threat to the country.
"We do not consider them (Rohingyas and Bangladeshis) as refugees as they are foreigners and have entered in our country illegally," RSS Prant Sanghchalk, Brig (Retd) Suchait Singh told reporters in Jammu.
Singh, who was flanked by Prant Kariwah Parshotam Dadichi, said the state and the central governments should identify the illegally settled foreigners and sent them back.
"Why should we tolerate them when they pose a security threat to the nation as well as the state," he said.
Criticising the previous UPA government at the centre and National Conference-Congress coalition government in the state for allowing them to settle down in Jammu, he said they are totally responsible for the present situation(agitation over the deportation of Rohingyas and Bangladeshis in Jammu).
"What is their motive behind settling them in Jammu is best known to them We see their presence as a threat and want their early eviction," the former army officer said.
Dadichi said there are about 300 shakhas in the state and "we are waiting for the day when the shakhas are opened in Kashmir valley as well". 
"We are waiting for the day when the people in the valley will come forward and reach us to open our units. We are sure that day is not far," he said, adding "we want peace to return to the valley as soon as possible". -- PTI
17:26   Verdict against Lalu, Mishra in 4th fodder scam case deferred till Mar 19
A special CBI court has deferred till March 19 the judgement against former Bihar chief ministers Lalu Prasad and Jagannath Mishra in the fourth fodder scam case pertaining to alleged withdrawal of Rs 3.13 crore from the Dumka treasury over two decades ago, a lawyer said today.
This is the second time that the verdict in the case has been postponed, RJD chief Prasad's counsel Prabhat Kumar said
The court of special judge Shiv Pal Singh had yesterday fixed today as the date for the pronouncement of the order,  he said.
"The special CBI judge is on a training programme. The judgement will be pronounced on March 19, the lawyer said.
The court had postponed the verdict on March 15 till the next day in view of a petition being filed on behalf of Prasad seeking three officials in the office of the accountant general in the 1990s be made a party to the case, according to Kumar.
Besides Prasad and Mishra, 29 others are accused, including former IAS and animal husbandry department officials, in the Dumka treasury case.
The 69-year-old RJD chief has been in Birsa Munda jail at Ranchi since December 23 last year after being convicted in the second fodder scam case pertaining to illegal withdrawal of Rs 89.27 lakh from the Deogarh treasury 21 years ago.
On January 6 this year, the CBI court judge had sentenced Prasad to three-and-a-half years in jail and imposed a fine of Rs 10 lakh on him in the Deoghar treasury case.
The CBI court had on January 24 this year sentenced Prasad and Mishra to five years in jail in a fodder scam case in connection with fraudulent withdrawal of Rs 37.62 crore from the Chaibasa treasury.
In 2013, Prasad was convicted in the first fodder scam case involving withdrawal of Rs 37.7 crore from the Chaibasa treasury and sentenced to five years in jail while Mishra was given a prison term of four years.
Prasad has already been convicted in three fodder cases while Mishra was convicted in two cases.
The fifth case relating to fraudulent withdrawal of Rs 139 crore from the Doranda treasury in Ranchi is pending with the court.
The over Rs 900-crore fodder scam cases relate to illegal withdrawal of money from government treasuries in different districts of the animal husbandry department in undivided Bihar in 1990s when the RJD was in power in the state and Prasad was the chief minister. -- PTI
16:45   UP bypoll results won't happen again: Rajnath Singh
Home Minister Rajnath Singh today said that the Bharatiya Janata Party had taken lessons from its defeat in Uttar Pradesh Lok Sabha bypolls and would work to ensure that such a result is not repeated.
"Ho gaya, aage nahin hoga. Humein pata chala ki aisa bhi ho sakta hain (It has happened, it will not happen again. We have learnt that even this could happen), Singh, a senior BJP leader, said at the News18 Rising India Summit in New Delhi.
The BJP lost to the Samajwadi Party in the byelections held for Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha seats, vacated by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and his Deputy Keshav Prasad Maurya respectively.
Adityanath had said the results were a "lesson" and cited overconfidence and inability to understand the SP-BSP tie-up.
Asked to comment on Rahul Gandhi, the home minister said despite the Congress president's attacks on the government, only "time will tell against whom India was rising".
"He is our opposition leader and he will keep saying things. But only time will tell against whom the country is rising," Singh said.
Taking a dig at the prime minister after his speech at a meet, Gandhi tweeted, "Modi Ji, those were some fancy power point slides. A quick word of advice: You're right about Rising India. One small issue - it's rising against you."
Asked what he would do if he becomes the prime minister, Singh said he was not an overambitious person. "I am not overambitious. But if anyone is given the opportunity, they must fulfil it. Our Prime Minister is doing a very commendable job," he said.  -- PTI
15:58   No one can stop Rahul from becoming PM after 2019 polls: Siddaramaiah
Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah today said the state assembly elections will see a "secularism versus communalism" contest and the Congress will emerge victorious.
He also said the poll results will work as a "stepping stone" for the 2019 general elections.
The chief minister was speaking at the Congress' plenary session in New Delhi ahead of the Karnataka polls, the dates for which are yet to be announced.
"No one can stop Rahul Gandhi (Congress president) from becoming the country's prime minister after the next general polls," Siddaramaiah said.
"It is going to be a secularism versus communalism contest (in Karnataka). The Congress is confident that under Rahul ji's leadership, we will come back to power with a thumping majority in Karnataka.
"It will be a big boost and work as a stepping stone for the coming Parliamentary elections," he said.
The greater part of Siddaramaiah's speech was on the welfare programmes undertaken in Karnataka.
Campaign for the upcoming Karnataka election is already underway with national leaders of the Congress and BJP canvassing in the state.
The H D Deve Gowda-led Janata Dal-Secular is the other major party contesting the elections. -- PTI 
Sonia Gandhi gets a hug from son Rahul Gandhi after completing her speech.
15:39   Modi's promises were all 'dramebazi', says Sonia
Former Congress president Sonia Gandhi addresses the 84th party plenary session in New Delhi.  

Here are the highlights. 

- First of all, I congratulate Rahul Gandhi, he took up this responsibility (of party president) at a very challenging time 

- The party's victory will be the nation's victory. It will be the victory for each one of us. The Congress is not a political term, it is a movement 

- Today only one things matters -- how to strengthen the great party with which we have relations which goes back in time 

- 40 years back Indiraji's stunning victory in Chikmagalur turned around Indian politics, once again our party must give a similar performance 

- You all know how due circumstances I entered the public sphere but when I realized that the party is weakening, keeping in mind sentiments of Congressmen, I entered the political arena

- Under Manmohan Singh's government economic growth was at its highest. Today, I feel disappointed and sad that the Modi govt is weakening UPA's welfare schemes

- In last four years, this arrogant govt has left no stone unturned to destroy Congress. But Congress has never cowered down and it will never cower down

- PM Modi's promises of combating corruption, ensuring inclusive development were all 'dramebazi', a trick to grab power

- We are exposing fraud and corruption by PM Modi and the people with him, using proof 

- It is the beginning of a new chapter, the challenges we are facing are not usual ones. We need to make an India free of corruption and vendetta, under President Rahul Gandhi, let us pledge that we will make all efforts to to do this
15:08   UP bypoll loss effect? Yogi govt transfers 37 IAS officers
In an administrative reshuffle, the Uttar Pradesh government has transferred 37 IAS officers including the Gorakhpur district magistrate, a spokesperson said today.
Among the Indian Administrative Service officers transferred, as many as 16 are district magistrates.
The transfers were ordered late last night.
Rajiv Rautela who was the district magistrate of Gorakhpur has been made the new divisional commissioner of Devipatan division.
K Vijayendra Pandiyan has been made the new district magistrate of Gorakhpur.
Rajiv Kapoor, who was awaiting posting, has been made chairman of the Pradeshiya Industrial & Investment Corporation of UP Ltd, while Alok Sinha has been made additional chief secretary of commercial and entertainment tax.
Anoop Chandra Pandey, who is IIDC commissioner and Additional Chief Secretary Institutional Finance department and also Chairman, Greater Noida, has been given additional charge of additional chief secretary infrastructure and industrial development and NRI department.
District Magistrate of Bareilly Raghvendra Singh has been made a special secretary. -- PTI 
14:07   As tensions simmer, Pak's envoy to India may not return soon: Report
Pakistan's High Commissioner to India Sohail Mahmood is unlikely to return to New Delhi any time soon, an official of the Pakistan foreign office, was quoted, as saying by the Express Tribune, on condition of anonymity.

The daily further quoted the unnamed official of the foreign office, as saying that Islamabad has decided not to send High Commissioner Mahmood back to New Delhi until the overall situation regarding treatment of diplomatic staff and their families is resolved.

"Our high commissioner will not return to India anytime soon," the senior foreign office official was quoted by the Express Tribune, as saying just hours after Mahmood returned from New Delhi on Friday.

The official told the daily that the high commissioner would stay back for an indefinite period. 

The external affairs ministry in New Delhi has described the Pakistan envoy's return to Islamabad as a routine affair.

It may be recalled that in 2002, high commissioners of Pakistan and India were recalled to their respective countries following the December 13, 2001 terror attack on the Indian parliament.

Tensions between both countries are already running high because of frequent ceasefire violations along the Line of Control.

According to the Express Tribune, the immediate fallout of ties taking a turn for the worse is reportedly not allowing about 500 Pakistani pilgrims to attend the annual Urs of revered Sufi saint Hazrat Khawaja Moinuddin Chisti in Ajmer Sharif, Rajasthan. 

They were supposed to travel to India on March 18, but have reportedly not been granted visas by the Indian high commission in Islamabad.

The annual Urs is scheduled to start on March 19 and continue till March 29. -- ANI
13:57   Tripura CM to meet PM to seek special financial package
Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi soon to seek a special package to tide over financial crisis in the state.
 Deb will also meet Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley with the same proposal, Transport Minister Pranajit Singha Roy told reporters in Agartala.
"The state's financial condition was reviewed in a meeting of the council of ministers yesterday. The state is reeling under deep financial crisis. The budget deficit in the current financial year is Rs 1,588.19 crore," he said.
Finance department officials have been asked to put forward a comprehensive report on the state's fiscal condition in the next three days and after getting the report, the chief minister will leave for Delhi, he said.
The state's revenue generation is poor while fiscal deficit is on the rise. The state's own revenue is currently able to manage only 12.94 per cent of its expenditure, he said.
To a question, Singha Roy said agriculture, tourism and many other sectors needed immediate financial attention.
He said the cabinet meeting also laid importance on austerity measures and the state's own revenue generation. The government would implement all its poll pledges including 7th Pay Commission benefits, higher wages for labourers, social welfare benefits for distressed people and free smart phones to the youth.
The chief minister will visit Delhi with his proposal before the assembly session begins on March 23.
Deb took oath as the first BJP chief minister of Tripura on March 9, ending the 25-year rule of the Left Front. -- PTI 
13:11   J&K: Forces launch search op after terrorists fire at SSP's cavalcade
Security forces have launched a search operation in south Kashmir's Shopian district today after suspected terrorists attacked a senior police officer's cavalcade.

The terrorists fired at the cavalcade of senior superintendent of police of Shopian A S Dinkar in Harmain area of the district, a police official said.

He said the firing was retaliated by police personnel, forcing the terrorists to flee.
There are no reports of loss of life on either side, the official said, adding further details are awaited. -- PTI 
12:48   Rahul Gandhi is no longer 'OfficeofRG' on Twitter
Congress president Rahul Gandhi's Twitter followers today woke up to a surprise.

The Gandhi scion has changed his Twitter handle from '@OfficeofRG' to '@RahulGandhi'. 

Not only the name, the account is now carrying a dimpled Rahul Gandhi as a profile photo.

Rahul's updated Twitter look coincided with the Indian National Congress 84th Plenary Session which is currently being held in New Delhi.

The Congress chief took time before he joined Twitter in 2015, but over the last year, especially around Gujarat assembly polls, he not only impressed all with his wisecracks and filmy analogies, his aggressive use of the platform to reach out to the masses was seen both as effective and refreshing. 

Last November, he joked on the microblogging site that his dog 'Pidi' handles his tweets.

"People (have) been asking who tweets for this guy... I'm coming's me..Pidi..I'm way smarter than him. Look what I can do with a tweet..oops..treat!," Rahul had tweeted. 

Image: Rahul Gandhi's new Twitter profile photo. Photograph: Kind courtesy @RahulGandhi/Twitter
12:10   Give more autonomy to northeastern people: Tharoor
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor has called for giving more autonomy to the northeastern people and not adopting a one-size-fits-all approach as different areas of the region have different problems.
Speaking at the launch of Avalok Langer's book on the Northeast, 'In Pursuit of Conflict', at Oxford Bookstore in New Delhi on Friday, Tharoor also voiced support for amending the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act as, according to him, it does more harm than good.
"I have a clearly point of view for as much autonomy as possible for the local people (of the northeastern states)," Tharoor said, calling for much attention to the needs and sensitivities of each area in the region.
Rather than an umbrella look, the Congress leader said it would be better to have at least half-a-dozen different perspectives of the area as the problems are not the same, even within the states.
There is a general miasma of ignorance, but beyond that ignorance, the specific area need to be dealt with specifically, he added.
"Increasingly, we're gonna have to have a decentralised democracy. More areas that are distant from Delhi -- to the north, northeast or south -- are going to feel that it's not possible for them to have every decision having being taken in Delhi.
"I think it becomes rather important that we start defining the contours of autonomy and giving the details a substantive meaning," the Thiruvananthapuram MP said.
The former Union minister clarified that he was against self-determination as the northeastern states cannot function independently, broadly due to their small geo-economics.
Describing the language of the provisions in AFSPA as "offensive" to the sensibilities of any democrat, he said, "I think a significant section of the political establishment, certainly speaking for my party, would be in favour of amending (the) AFSPA."
The provision for arrest without warrant are far too blanket. But, the revocation of the Act may be a step that would be politically difficult, the 62-year-old MP said.
"My understanding is that attempts that were made at a very high political level were essentially thwarted by the vehement opposition of the army," he said. -- PTI
11:35   BJP uses anger, we use love: Rahul slams Modi govt at Cong plenary
Congress president Rahul Gandhi targeted the Bharatiya Janata Party in his first address to the party plenary today, saying the saffron party "uses anger" to divide the country.

Pitching the Congress as the only alternative to the Narendra Modi government, Rahul said "The nation is tired and looking for a way out, only Congress can show the way ahead... They (BJP government) use anger, we use love. This country is ours. The work Congress does, it will do for the country."

"When youths look at PM Modi, they can't see the way forward. The Congress is the only party which will take country forward," he added. 

"The Congress will move forward with the support of party veterans and the youth. My job is to take them together," he said in his short speech.
11:03   Congress plenary session begins, party to roll out roadmap for 2019
Seeking to halt the Bharatiya Janata Party's juggernaut led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Congress is set to roll out a road map for reversing its downward electoral journey and restoring its past glory ahead of the 2019 general election.

The 84th plenary of the Congress, its president Rahul Gandhi's first since his elevation to the top slot, will focus on workers as part of the leader's bid to strengthen 'The Grand Old Party organisationally'.

The meeting is being attended by the party's top leaders, including former prime minister Manmohan Singh and former party chief Sonia Gandhi, its mandarins from across the country and workers.

The party is hoping that around 15,000 party members will attend the two-day open session, beginning today.

The 'Change is Now' conclave began with party president Rahul Gandhi hoisting the party flag.

The plenary session already got underway with the party's subject committee meeting in New Delhi yesterday.

Party sources said the party would adopt four resolutions on political situation, economic front, foreign affairs, and agriculture, unemployment and poverty alleviation.

The party will highlight its vision on each sphere and compare it with the current situation.

At the two-day brainstorming session, two resolutions, including the one on political situation, will be taken up and adopted today, while two others, including the one on jobs, will be taken up on tomorrow.

The session will end with an address of the Congress president, where he would set the tone for the party's plan forward for the upcoming elections.

The political resolution, the sources say, will also indicate the party's plans for forging coalitions with like-minded parties.

The Congress is seeking to build a larger front of opposition parties to stop the BJP from coming back to power.

Former party president Sonia Gandhi has called upon them to set aside their differences to come together for a larger national cause.

"This plenary session will be very different from other sessions this time as the Congress president is seeking to accord preference to workers than leaders," a leader said, adding the focus would be shifted from the Congress chief to workers who will be allowed to speak up on the party's future strategy.

There was no confirmation on whether the Congress Working Committee would be formed during the session or after, but the sources said it would not be an elected body and the party chief will select his own team.

Gandhi, who took over the reins of the party in December last year, will present the Congress vision document and the political road map for the party and the document will act as a 'guiding light' to help party workers upstage the BJP from power at the Centre in 2019, besides in some states.

The session will also look into future alliances that the party foresees will be needed for defeating the BJP, a Congress leader said.

The sources said the party will also distribute literature and five books each on jobs and youth, SCs and STs, the economy, national security and corruption.  -- PTI

Photograph: ANI
10:26   CBI is 'Captive Bureau of Investigation' under Modi rule, says Rahul
Latching on to a media report claiming that an FIR was filed against Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad despite Central Bureau of Investigation's legal wing saying there was no proof, the Congress accused the Bharatiya Janata Party of engaging in political vendetta against its opponents to hide its 'epic failures'.

The Congress also warned that the BJP should 'count its days' as it will be in power at the Centre only for a few months and should 'be ready to face people's wrath'.

Leading the Congress' charge, party president Rahul Gandhi accused the ruling BJP of 'using' the CBI to 'harass' key opposition politicians and asked who will be Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'next target'.

Dubbing the CBI as the 'Captive Bureau of Investigation' in the hands of the Modi government, the Congress said political opponents should not be 'hounded' by misusing state machinery.

It accused the Modi government of 'leaving no stone unturned' to file a series of cases against its political opponents, and said the direct consequence of these actions is that the credibility of institutions built with decades of hard work gets denigrated.

'The BJP Govt uses the CBI to target key opposition politicians to intimidate and harass them.

'Now, a news report reveals how the CBI was pressured to file a case against @laluprasadrjd, ignoring the advice of its own legal team. Who will Modi ji target next?#VendettaPolitics,' Rahul said on Twitter.

Congress' chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala, in a statement, alleged that the BJP has 'absolutely no contribution' in establishing institutions like the CBI.

He said the ruling party will 'never realise' the price that the nation has to pay for its 'politically motivated, sinister and ill-driven actions'.

"The faith of the people in these institutions is fast eroding and the BJP is to be squarely blamed for it," Surjewala said.

Accusing the BJP of engaging in malicious propaganda through false cases against its political opponents, the Congress said eventually all such attempts 'fall flat'.

The Congress also named some of its key leaders including P Chidambaram, Ashok Gehlot, former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh, and also Patidar leader Hardik Patel as the ones against whom the BJP 'unleashed state machinery'.

"The Modi government is trying to hide its epic failures by unleashing vendetta politics' The Congress unequivocally condemns any act of political vendetta, indulged by the Modi government. Now that the BJP has only few months left in power, it should count its days and be ready to face the people's wrath," Surjewala said.

According to a media report, the CBI's Economic Offences Division had in June 2017 pressed for an FIR against Lalu Prasad saying that as Railway Minister in 2006, he allegedly facilitated the transfer of two railway hotels to a private firm in exchange for prime land in Patna.

But the probe agency's legal wing opposed it, saying there was no evidence to show that Prasad influenced officials or that the land transfer was a quid pro quo, the new report claims.  -- PTI
09:59   100 Left organisations to hold protest in state capitals against Modi govt on May 23
More than 100 Left-affiliated organisations will hold marches in all state capitals on May 23 to protest the Centre's policies.

The 'Jan Ekta Jan Adhikar Andolan', an umbrella organisation consisting of trade unions, peasant organisations, agricultural workers, state and central government employees, bank and insurance workers, college and university teachers, students, women, Dalits, adivasis and environmentalists, would observe 'Protest Day' on May 23.

"Taking further the recent struggle of the peasantry and the workers and various other sections of the people, the JEJAA has decided to launch struggle on the occasion of the 4th anniversary of the NDA government," Hannan Mollah, member of the coordination committee has told reporters.

"On May 23, the JEJAA will organise massive mobilisation at all state capitals including Delhi to observe the protest day," Mollah said.

The protest day would mark the launch of a series of campaigns with the aim of making the government accountable for the 'devastating' impact of its policies and 'betraying' the people, especially the women and youth, by its false promises, the leaders of the coordination committee said. After the successful farmer's march in Maharashtra organised by the All Indian Kisan Sabha (AIKS), which is also part of the JEJAA, leaders feel that only the Left organisations can mobilise people to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government.

"We have seen during the farmer's march in Maharashtra. We the left mass organisations are the only ones who can raise our voice against the Modi government regarding their anti-people policies," P Krishnaprasad, member of coordination committee has said.  -- PTI

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09:25   Xi re-elected as China's President after removal of term limit
Chinese President Xi Jinping has been 're-elected' for a second five-year tenure today by China's rubber stamp parliament, the National People's Congress, days after scrapping two-term rule for the President paving the way for his lifelong tenure.

He has also been elected as the head of the powerful Central Military Commission, the overall high command of the Chinese military.

On March 11, over 2900 deputies of the NPC have voted for the constitutional amendment for removing the two-term limit for President and Vice President proposed by the ruling Communist Party of China, (CPC).

Originally Xi is set to retire by 2023 as head of the CPC, the military and Presidency following a two-term limit followed by his predecessors.

He became President in 2013. The two-term limit was adopted by the party after Mao's death to ensure collective leadership to avert mistakes like the dreaded cultural revolution in which millions were killed.

Later today the NPC is expected to elect Xi's close Wang Qishan as Vice President and unveil a new government under Xi.

Wang is the most feared official in China as he carried out the anti-corruption campaign for the past five years initiated by Xi in which over 1.5 million officials including over 100 ministers and top generals were punished making it the biggest such crackdown in China's recent history.

Except Premier Li Keqiang, all top posts including the entire cabinet besides Governor of the Central Bank will be new set of officials.

From India's perspective for the new line-up of officials, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi was widely expected to be elevated to be State Councillor which makes him the top diplomat of the country.

The elevation will entail him to become China's Special Representative for India-China boundary talks.

The post is currently held by Yang Jiechi who has been elevated to the politburo, the top policy body of the ruling Communist Party of China, (CPC).

The line-up of the new government will be announced on Saturday, the South China Morning Post reported.  -- PTI

Photograph: Jason Lee/Reuters
08:54   India-US trade relationship have most friction: WH
Trade is one aspect of India-United States relationship that has the most friction, a senior White House official has said even as he underlined that the Trump Administration is looking for a 'free, fair and reciprocal' trade with India.

The comment from White House came after President Donald Trump publicly raised the issue of high import duty levied by India on high-end motorcycles at least three times in a month and threatened a reciprocal duty on Indian exports to the US.

"The commitment to the relationship is very strong on both sides. If you had to point to a part of the relationship where you have the most friction, it certainly would be the trade side," a senior administration official said.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to give a clarity on the various aspects of the US ties in South Asia, including India.

Insisting that the Trump Administration has been clear for a free, fair and reciprocal trade, the official said that there has been concerns raised about the trade deficit with India.

But he quickly pointed that this trade deficit has actually come down slightly more recently, based largely on India's imports of US energy.

"This administration is looking for a free, fair and reciprocal trade with India. And so is seeking to see some of those tariffs such as on a Harley Davidson motorcycles that are there. US is determined to find the opportunities to increase trade investment with India and does expect that there will be some sort of reciprocal dealings on the trade issues," the official said.

The senior administration official noted that Indian motorcycles that are imported into the US don't have any tariffs on them.

"And so the president has been clear that he's looking for a fairly reciprocal trade with India," the official said.

Responding to a series of question, the official said the Trump Administration has been on constant talks with India on trade issues.

Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, who was in Washington DC this week met the US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

At the same time the official indicated that trade issues is unlikely to be part of the soon to be held two plus two dialogue between the two countries involving their respective foreign and defense ministers.

In the absence of the Secretary of State, the two-plus-two dialogue has now been delayed and is likely to be held later this year after Mike Pompeo is confirmed by the Senate.

"I think, it's an ongoing discussion that we're having on the trade issues. The two plus two is focused a great deal on a defense security cooperation, diplomatic political cooperation just by virtue of the defence minister and defence secretary and the External Affairs Minister and Secretary of State. The trade issues are more of an ongoing dialogue that we're having with India," the official said.  -- PTI
08:47   SpiceJet Hyderabad-Bengaluru flight veers off runway
A SpiceJet aircraft SG 1238, arriving from Hyderabad, veered off the runway at Bengaluru Airport on Friday.

The incident happened late in the evening, damaging four runway lights.

During the course of the runway's closure, at least 10 flights were diverted from the airport.

'During landing roll, the aircraft veered off to the left and was aligned to the central line by the pilot. It taxied normally to the bay.However, four runway lights got damaged. The runway is operational,' SpiceJet spokesperson said.

All the passengers and baggage were deplaned in a normal manner. There was no damage to the aircraft, the spokesperson added.

As per reports, during the closure of the runway, eight flights were diverted to Chennai and one each to Trichy and Coimbatore.  -- ANI

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