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Indian Prime Minister Manmohan promises to "cleanse" governance

Manmohan SinghNEW DELHI, Dec 31: While wishing all Indians a Happy New Year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's New Year resolutions for 2011 include “cleansing” the country's governing processes.

In a brief statement, Dr Singh said that it was an occasion to take stock of the year gone by and of the challenges that lie ahead.

Instead of a more routine wish-you-well message, the Prime Minister said in a three-paragraph message: "Let us make a new beginning to the year. Let us dispel the air of despondency and cynicism. We need to believe in the resilience of our democracy and its capacity to deal with infirmities and shortcomings through course correction."

On the eve of the New Year, he said "I want to assure all our citizens that my government and I will work with renewed resolve for the welfare of our people. We will redouble our efforts to deal effectively and credibly with the challenges of inflation, cleansing our governing processes, national security and making our delivery system work for the aam aadmi.”

Congress celebrates 126th foundation day

NEW DELHI, Dec 28: Congress celebrated its 126th foundation day on Tuesday with its chief Sonia Gandhi unfurling the party tricolour at a function in New Delhi.

On a rain swept morning, top Congress leaders including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, his cabinet colleagues and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit assembled at the party headquarters where Gandhi hoisted the flag amidst singing of inspirational songs.

For Gandhi and Singh, 2010 had been tough politically with the party and the government led by it facing sustained opposition attack over a slew of corruption charges relating to 2G spectrum and Commonwealth Games.

The party had last week held a plenary session which also marked the completion of 125 years of the organisation.

Among those who attended the function were Union Ministers Pranab Mukherjee, A K Antony, S Jaipal Reddy, Kapil Sibal, G K Vasan, Kantilal Bhuria, Vayalar Ravi, Sachin Pilot and senior leaders R K Dhawan and M L Fotedar.

Singh and Gandhi distributed sweets to children who had joined the function at the party headquarters.

The Indian National Congress was founded in 1885 by Englishman Allan Octavio Hume, a noted ornithologist and a civil servant in British India.

Indian PM ready to face PAC

NEW DELHI, Dec 27: Exactly a week after he made an offer to appear before the Public Accounts Committee probing the 2G spectrum allocation scam, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday wrote to the PAC expressing his readiness to face it.

Dr. Singh sending a letter to PAC chairman Murli Manohar Joshi, a senior BJP leader, coincided with the appearance of the Comptroller and Auditor-General Vinod Rai before the committee. It was the CAG report that projected a presumptive loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore to the exchequer in 2G spectrum allocation in 2008, whipping up a political upheaval that ultimately led to the resignation of Telecom Minister A. Raja last month.

“In view of recent propaganda that the Prime Minister is unwilling to be questioned by a parliamentary committee, I would like to inform you that I am willing to appear before the PAC should the Committee choose to seek clarifications from the Prime Minister, though I believe there is no precedent of the Prime Minister appearing before a PAC,” Dr. Singh said in his letter.

Reacting, Dr. Joshi said the PAC would take an “appropriate decision at an appropriate time.”

On December 20, Dr. Singh told the Congress plenary here that he had nothing to hide from the public at large and in proof of his bona fides he would be happy to appear before the PAC if it “chooses to ask me to do so.” He told the delegates: “I sincerely believe that like Caesar's wife, the Prime Minister should be above suspicion and it is for this reason that I am prepared to appear before the PAC even though there is no precedent to that effect.”

Under the rules of procedures and conduct of business in the Lok Sabha, the PAC cannot call a Minister to give evidence or for consultations in connection with an examination of accounts by it. The PAC Chairman, may, however, have an informal talk with a Minister on the subject under consideration by the panel.

In this case, the Speaker may have to devise a procedure on how the PAC could accept the Prime Minister's offer to appear before it. Dr. Singh said that to the best of his knowledge, the PAC took evidence from the Secretaries of the department concerned or the head of the department or public sector undertakings.

He said the CAG submitted the report on the issue of licensing and allocation of 2G spectrum by the Department of Telecommunications. It was tabled in Parliament in November last and the PAC was looking into it.

“As you are aware, the PAC has sought copies of correspondence between the Prime Minister and the Minister of Communications and Information Technology as well as the Prime Minister's Office and the Department of Telecommunications on issues relating to 2G and 3G spectrum,” Dr. Singh said in the letter.

17,368 farm suicides in 2009

NEW DELHI, Dec 27: At least 17,368 Indian farmers killed themselves in 2009, the worst figure for farm suicides in six years, according to data of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). This is an increase of 1,172 over the 2008 count of 16,196. It brings the total farm suicides since 1997 to 2,16,500.

The share of the Big 5 States, or ‘suicide belt' — Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — in 2009 remained very high at 10,765, or around 62 per cent of the total, though falling nearly five percentage points from 2008. Maharashtra remained the worst State for farm suicides for the tenth successive year, reporting 2,872. Though that is a fall of 930, it is still 590 more than in Karnataka, second worst, which logged 2,282 farm suicides.

Economist K. Nagaraj, author of the biggest study on Indian farm suicides, says, “That these numbers are rising even as the farmer population shrinks, confirms the agrarian crisis is still burning.”

Maharashtra has logged 44,276 farm suicides since 1997, over a fifth of the total 2,16,500. Within the Big 5, Karnataka saw the highest increase of 545 in 2009. Andhra Pradesh recorded 2,414 farm suicides — 309 more than in 2008. Madhya Pradesh (1,395) and Chhattisgarh (1,802) saw smaller increases of 16 and 29.

Outside the Big 5, Tamil Nadu doubled its tally with 1,060, against 512 in 2008. In all, 18 of 28 States reported higher farm suicide numbers in 2009. Some, like Jammu and Kashmir or Uttarakhand, saw a negligible rise. Rajasthan, Kerala and Jharkhand saw increases of 55, 76 and 93. Assam and West Bengal saw higher rises of 144 and 295. NCRB farm data now exist for 13 years. In the first seven, 1997-2003, there were 1,13,872 farm suicides, an average of 16,267 a year.

In the next six years 1,02,628 farmers took their lives at an average of 17,105 a year. This means, on average, around 47 farmers — or almost one every 30 minutes — killed themselves each day between 2004 and 2009.

Among the major States, only a few including Karnataka, Kerala and West Bengal avoided the sharp rise these six years and lowered their average by over 350 compared to the 1997-2003 period.

In the same period, the annual average of farm suicides in the Big 5 States as a whole was more than 1,650 higher than it was in 1997-2003.

NZ Governor General to be Chief Guest of Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2011

By Deepak Arora

The Union Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs, Mr Vayalar Ravi, addressing a Press Conference on 9th Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas-2011 in New Delhi on December 21, 2010. NEW DELHI, Dec 21: The Governor General of New Zealand, Sir Anand Satyanand, will be the Chief Guest of forthcoming 9th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD)-2011 where over 1,300 delegates of overseas Indian community across the world are expected to participate, according to Vayalar Ravi, Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs.

Speaking to newsmen here, the Minister said that the three-day convention beginning January 7 will see delegates from 38 countries participating in the event.

He further said that the effort is to have a more meaningful and interactive event that would address issues and concerns of the overseas Indian community effectively. He said that overseas Indians have emerged as important constituents of their adopted countries. They have contributed to transforming the economies, participating in political process and added value to thought and innovation of their destination countries.

The Minister said that the theme of PBD-2011 is "Engaging the Global Indian”.

The Union Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs, Mr Vayalar Ravi addressing a Press Conference on 9th Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas-2011 in New Delhi on December 21, 2010. The event is organised by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA), in partnership with the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region along with eight North Eastern States and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

He said that the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, will inaugurate the convention on January 8. The President Pratibha Devisingh Patil will confer the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Awards-2011 to distinguished PIOs/NRIs and will deliver the valedictory address on January 9.

Highlighting the main features of the convocation, Mr Ravi said that the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DONER) and eight North Eastern States will be partner of ninth PBD. A special session focusing on the North East is being held on January 7 besides a special plenary session ‘Investment opportunities in North Eastern Region’ on January 8.

He said that the focus of PBD-2011 is going to be on the young overseas Indians. In an endeavour to connect with and engage the younger generation of the overseas Indians with emerging India, a plenary session on “Engaging with the young overseas Indian” is being organized. He also informed that two pre-conference seminars on health and education sectors are being organized.

The annual PBD oration is being called the C.K. Prahalad Memorial Lecture, which to be delivered by Dr. Gautam Ahuja of the University of Michigan. The PBD-2011 would be web cast online and summary of proceedings put out each day. The interactive website would provide an opportunity for the Diaspora to participate in the conference from any corner of the world, he added.

Addressing the conference, Mr B. K. Handique, Minister for Development of North Eastern Region, said that the PBD will showcase the essence of North Eastern Region and provide a platform for participant NRI’s to explore North Eastern Region.

Mr Handique hoped that many NRI’s of North East Region would participate in the event. He said that both the ministries are working together for skill development of youths from North Eastern Region in healthcare, hospitality and tourism sectors to improve the prospects of employment both in home and abroad.

He expressed satisfaction over that participation of the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region in PBD-2011.

Dr. A. Didar Singh, Secretary, MOIA was also present in the conference.

Gloves are off, Sonia wants aggressive Congress against BJP

NEW DELHI, Dec 20: Asserting that Congress will take corruption head on, Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Monday hailed as inspiring Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s assurance that he will take forward her five-point action plan to battle the menace.

"We will take corruption head on and demonstrate it through our actions and not through words alone. I had made specific suggestions in this regard (in the speech yesterday) and the Prime Minister, in his inspiring address this morning, assured us that he will take them forward,” she said in her remarks winding up the two-day Congress Plenary here.

Gandhi said it was the duty of Congress workers to counter all the accusations levelled by the opposition, particularly the BJP, calling them as "blatantly baseless and completely unfounded".

"It is absolutely essential that we confront our political opponents aggressively," she said, adding that the Congress-led UPA government has accomplished a "great deal" in the last six and a half years and "we have every reason to be proud of our record".

"This is a record that stands out distinctively when compared to what the NDA did during its time. Nothing can detract from our solid accomplishments. It is our duty to propagate them among the people", the Congress President said in the presence of the Prime Minister.

She asked the party activists to launch nationwide ‘Jan Jagran Abhiyan’ to "expose the BJP for its double-speak on the issue of corruption. There should be at least one public meeting in every assembly constituency".

Observing that several central flagship programmes had been co-opted by non-Congress governments ruling in different states under different names, Gandhi said these state governments were "taking credit from our programmes", which had been promised in "our manifesto".

Directing party workers to expose this, she asked PCC chiefs to appoint monitoring committees to get systematic feedback on their implementation and submit assessment report every quarter to the AICC.

PM ready to appear before PAC in 2G issue

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he would be "happy" to appear before the Parliament's Public Accounts Committee in the 2G spectrum issue as he has nothing to hide.

Adopting an unusually aggressive stance, he accused the Opposition of "obduracy" over the demand for Joint Parliamentary Committee probe into 2G issue, saying it would serve no purpose.

Addressing the Congress Plenary on the concluding day of the two-day conclave, he said the PAC, headed by senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi, has all the powers which can be given to a JPC.

The entire Opposition stalled proceedings in the Winter Session of Parliament on the demand for JPC into the 2G spectrum scam that resulted in a washout of the session.

Dr. Singh's attack on the Opposition, especially the BJP, comes a day after Congress President Sonia Gandhi's address at the conclave in which she had given a five-point action plan for the government and Congress party in the battle against corruption.

Government will pay careful attention to the five-point agenda to fight corruption set out by Gandhi, he said.

Contending that the Opposition was "falsely propagating" that government was shying away from JPC to prevent the Prime Minister from appearing before it, Dr. Singh said he has "nothing to hide from the public".

He said he would be "happy to appear" before the PAC though there was no precedent and he intended to write to the PAC chairman in this regard.

Noting that multi-disciplinary investigations are underway into the spectrum allocation issue, Dr. Singh asserted no guilty person would be spared in 2G spectrum or CWG scams.

All aspects of 2G spectrum allocation are being probed and the Supreme Court is monitoring the CBI investigation in the matter, the Prime Minister said.

"I sincerely believe that like Ceasar's wife, PM should be above suspicion," Dr. Singh said.

"I wish to state categorically that I have nothing to hide from the public at large and as a proof of my bonafides I intend to write to the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee that I shall be happy to appear before the PAC, if it chooses to ask me to do so," Dr. Singh said.

Dr. Singh said the PAC report would be tabled in Parliament and debated.

"It is difficult to comprehend the Opposition's insistence that only a JPC could probe the 2G spectrum matter," the Prime Minister said while noting that the entire Winter Session of Parliament had been wasted because of the Opposition's "obduracy".

He pointed out that immediately after the CAG report on 2G became public, A Raja had resigned as Telecom Minister.

Referring to Congress President Sonia Gandhi's five-point action plan outlined on Sunday to battle corruption, Dr. Singh said he wished to assure her that it would receive careful attention of his government.

"Our approach to corruption is clearly reflected by our acts, both in the Centre and the states. We have asked our Ministers and Chief Ministers to step down merely on the basis of suspicions because we believe in principled politics," Dr. Singh said.

Hitting out at BJP for not sacking Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa, he said, "We are not like some Opposition parties who want to retain their tainted Chief Ministers despite scandal after scandal.

Communalism of majority, minority dangerous: Sonia

NEW DELHI, Dec 19: Countering the controversy on Rahul Gandhi's remarks on 'Hindu terror', Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Sunday said that her party made no distinction between organisations of majority and minority communities who indulge in communalism and terrorism and called upon partymen to practice secular ideals.

In her remarks at the inaugural session of the party's plenary at Burari in New Delhi, Gandhi said the country is defined by its deep and abiding commitment to secularism and has fought against all forms of communalism, regardless of their source.

"The Congress party makes no distinction between organisations of the majority and minority communities who indulge in communalism and related acts of terrorism. They are all dangerous and must be all defeated," Gandhi said.

Her remarks came days after party general secretary and her son Rahul Gandhi's remarks - that terror from Hindu radicals may be a bigger threat than support for Islamist groups from some in the Muslim community - triggered a political storm and a war between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress.

She said communal forces were misusing religion for "vested interests" and "creating walls of hatred".

"We cannot ignore such elements who provoke people to violent means by using religion. They are very dangerous," she said.

She said secularism does not mean denial of religion but respect for all religions and celebration of other's faiths and beliefs.

"We cannot ignore the pernicious impact of individuals, institutions and ideologies that distort our history, that thrive on spreading religious prejudice and that incite people to violence using religion as a cover," she said.

Gandhi said that India, if it loses its secular moorings, would no longer remain "the India that our founding fathers and great leaders fought for and even gave their lives for".

Congress unveils action plan against corruption

NEW DELHI, Dec 19: Buffeted by staggering scams and controversies over suspected involvement of right wing elements in terrorism, the Congress on Sunday unveiled a five-point action plan to deal with corruption and counter attacked BJP by demanding probe into "links" between RSS and its affiliates and terror.

A party plenary attended by over 15,000 delegates held against the backdrop of 2G spectrum, Adarsh and CWG scams heard Congress President Sonia Gandhi as well as her son Rahul Gandhi calling for strict and speedy action against corruption, including those involving politicians and bureaucrats in a "defined time-frame".

In her Presidential address on the opening day of the two-day conclave at Burari on the outskirts of Delhi, Sonia Gandhi unveiled a five-point action plan to battle corruption by fast-tracking all cases against public servants including politicians "like us".

She called for taking forward the proposal of State-funding of elections, legislative and clear procedures to ensure transparency in public procurement and shedding of discretionary powers by Chief Ministers and all Ministers, including at the Centre, especially in land allotments as they "breed corruption".

Severe punishment should be given to the corrupt: Rahul

Rahul GandhiNEW DELHI, Dec 19: Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi on Sunday said severe punishment should be given to the corrupt. "Whatever the Congress president has said on the issue, has given us inspiration to fight corruption. We require accountability...severe punishment should be given to the corrupt," he said at the Congress Plenary while participating in the debate on the political resolution.

Rahul, like his mother, took potshots at party ministers and chief ministers asking them to "spare some time for the organisation and the party workers".

Without referring to the 2G spectrum allocation scam or the Commonwealth Games mess or the Adarsh housing scandal, he prefaced his remarks by noting that a number of issues relating to corruption have surfaced recently.

He said corruption snatches away the common man's opportunity to progress.

Incidentally, Sonia Gandhi, during her presidential address, also did not mention any of the scams.

"Many ministers and chief ministers are sitting here. I want to tell them that give some time to the workers in the organisation. Wherever I go, I get complaints. I know that running a ministry takes a lot of time, but the workers should also get some time," Rahul said during his 10-minute speech.

"When we cannot connect with our own workers, how can we be able to connect with the grassroots. We say that there is a need to connect people to the organisation. But the fact is that our organisation needs to connect with them," Rahul said.

"We must never forget the relationship between growth and distribution of opportunity," he said and thanked his mother Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for demonstrating their wisdom and ability to strike a balance.

Congress launches frontal attack on 'insidious' RSS, BJP

NEW DELHI, Dec 19: The Congress launched a fierce attack on the RSS, likening the right-wing group to Nazis for its 'hatred' of Muslims and also called for a probe into its terror links. BJP leader L.K. Advani's controversial 1990 Rath Yatra was also blamed for sowing the seeds of terrorism in India.

The Congress party, both in its political resolution and in party general secretary Digvijay Singh's speech at its 83d plenary, did not hedge in naming the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Bharatiya Janata Party or the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

According to the Congress' political resolution, adopted at the Burari meet, secularism, the lifeline of Indian democracy 'is threatened by the ideology of the BJP and its affiliate organisations like the RSS. The RSS and the VHP are insidious in their effort to break India.'

Singh, attacking the RSS in a high-decibel speech at the plenary, said: 'In the 1930s, Hitler's Nazi party attacked the Jews. Similarly, the RSS ideology wants to capture power by targeting Muslims under the garb of furthering nationalism.' He also said that Advani's Rath Yatra had created a gulf between Hindus and Muslims.

In the political resolution adopted at the meet, the party said: 'The role of fundamentalist organisations in challenging the security of the nation can no longer be ignored.'

'The Indian National Congress calls upon the government to tackle this menace in the strongest possible manner and investigate the links between terrorists and the RSS and its sister organisations that have been uncovered in some recent cases.

'Terrorism from wherever it comes and whatever form it takes must be dealt with firmly and effectively.'

Earlier, opening the plenary, party chief Sonia Gandhi stressed that communal forces were 'very dangerous' for the country's secular credentials.

She said there should be no difference in the government's dealing with acts of terror instigated by the majority and minority communities.

'Congress makes no distinction between organisations of the majority and minority communities who indulge in communalism and related acts of terrorism. They are all dangerous and must be all defeated,' she said.

'We cannot ignore such elements who provoke people to violent means by using religion. They are very dangerous,' she said.

Digvijay Singh, in his attack on the RSS, alleged that the group had managed to 'infiltrate' its cadres into many wings of the government like the bureaucracy, police and the army.

'The Malegaon blast, in which two army officers are accused, has proved that they have even started influencing people inside the army.'

Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and Lt Col S.P. Purohit are among the 11 accused facing trial for the 2008 Malegaon blast in which seven people were killed.

Singh said the RSS was 'sowing the seeds of Muslim hatred' in the minds of the new generation through 'Shishu Mandir' schools and described it as the 'the biggest danger for us'.

The former Madhya Pradesh chief minister said the rise of the RSS-BJP 'ideology of violence and hatred' posed the 'biggest challenge' before the nation.

Singh, while seconding the political resolution moved by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee at the plenary, said the BJP was 'sowing the seeds of division' among the Hindus and Muslims and blamed Advani's Rath Yatra for giving birth to terrorism in India.

Singh also asked 'why all people involved in various bombings like Malegaon, Mecca Masjid and Samjhauta Express had links with' the RSS.

Singh said that the 'demolition of the Babri Masjid, the martyrdom of the Babri Masjid is the darkest patch in the history of India. The roots of terrorism in India lie in BJP leader L.K. Advani's rath yatra. That yatra created a gulf between Hindus and Muslims of India.'

He said when the BJP maintained that all Muslims are not terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims, 'can we apply the same logic and say that all Hindus are not terrorists but all Hindu terrorists arrested in various blast cases are RSS activists'.

The Congress leader said the nation needs to take steps to convert into trust the mistrust in the minds of Muslim brothers.

He said the Congress had demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into RSS activist Sunil Joshi's murder who 'is the same person involved in many terror acts'.

'I know (Joshi) because I am from MP. His name has come up during the investigations of the Samjhauta Express blast, Malegaon blast, Mecca Masjid blast, Ajmer Sharif blast... Why is it that all the accused in these terror acts have links with the RSS,' he asked.

'Many of them have been arrested... They are all RSS activists,' he added.

He congratulated Home Minister P. Chidambaram for handing over the Joshi murder case to the National Investigation Agency (NIA).

Capt Amarinder Singh hails Ms Sonia Gandhi’s speech

Capt Amrinder SinghNEW DELHI, Dec 19: Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee President Capt Amarinder Singh today hailed the speech of the Congress President Ms Sonia Gandhi at the 83rd Plenary Session of the party.

The PCC President in particularly welcomed Ms Gandhi’s advice to the central ministers that they should pay special attention to the problems of the party workers from opposition ruled states.

In a statement issued here today, Capt Amarinder Singh maintained that it was a historic speech made by the Congress President at a crucial point of time.

Supporting Ms Gandhi’s observations on communalism that the Congress party makes no distinction between organisations of the majority and minority communities who indulge in communalism and related acts of terrorism and they are all dangerous and must be all defeated, the PCC President said, “we really cannot afford any sort of communalism in the country”.

He added Ms Gandhi’s speech seeks to give a right direction not only to the millions and millions of party workers across the country, but to the nation as a whole as well.

Capt Amarinder Singh was all praise for Ms Gandhi’s advice to the central ministers to pay special attention to the grievances and complaints of the party workers from the states which are being ruled by the opposition parties.

“It is very important that the concerns and grievances of the workers from such states are properly addressed”, he observed, while adding, “our party workers have suffered the worst at the hands of the Akali-BJP government and Ms Gandhi’s statement will go a long way in boosting the morale and confidence of the party cadres”.

Congress plenary to ask for probe into terror links of Hindu groups

Sonia GandhiNEW DELHI, Dec 18: The Congress began its 83rd plenary session here Saturday with top party leaders finalising the draft resolutions to be adopted, which are likely to include the party's projection as one with a 'pan-India existence' and asking the government to probe the terror links of right-wing groups, like the RSS, party sources said.

Party chief Sonia Gandhi chaired a meeting of the subjects committee to finalise the political, economic and foreign affairs resolutions which will be moved and adopted during the three-day event.

Party sources said the political resolution will lay stress on the Congress being 'the only national party which has a pan-India existence'.

It will also touch on issues of probity in public life and the internal security challenges facing the country.

According to sources, some members suggested that the links of right-wing Hindu groups, like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), with terror should be 'seriously investigated'.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh attended the meeting, which lasted almost four hours, along with senior leaders, including Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Defence Minister A.K. Antony and party treasurer Motilal Vora, at the Parliament House Annexe here.

The sources said that Congress members from Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura wanted that the resolution should not talk of the Left parties 'as other opposition parties' but name them specifically. Kerala and West Bengal face assembly polls next year and Left parties are the main political rivals of the Congress in these two states.

The sources said the resolution will also discuss the role of the Congress in various states.

'The emphasis would be to project the Congress as a national party which also caters to regional aspirations,' said a senior Congress leader.

Party sources said the 2G spectrum controversy is expected to find a mention in the context of probity in public life. The party is also to mount an attack on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for not taking decisive steps in Karnataka despite allegations of nepotism against state Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa.

The situation in Jammu and Kashmir, cross-border terrorism and threat of Maoist violence are also likely to find a mention in the political resolution.

It is expected to mention the achievements of the first United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and the tasks ahead of the present government.

The sources said that the resolution on the Congress completing 125 years will trace the party's history and is likely to mention the contributions of Mahatma Gandhi and earlier prime ministers Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and party president Sonia Gandhi.

While the economic resolution is expected to emphasise inclusive growth, the foreign affairs resolution will speak about the growing role of India in the global affairs, party leaders said.

The next two days of the three-day plenary session will be held at a sprawling tented township in Burari in northwest Delhi and is expected to be attended by 1,250 All India Congress Committee (AICC) delegates and around 15,000 other leaders and party activists.

The Delhi plenary is being held at a time when the Congress-led government is facing a series of corruption scandals and controversies.

While the political resolution and the statement marking the culmination of 125 years of the party are expected to be moved on Sunday, the economic and foreign affairs resolutions are likely to be moved Monday.

Gandhi will set the tone of the deliberations in her presidential address Sunday morning.

Delhi is hosting the Congress plenary for the first time in 32 years. Indira Gandhi, then in the opposition, presided over the last session in Delhi in 1978.

The Subjects Committee includes members of the party steering committee or the working committee, chief ministers, state Congress chiefs and Congress legislature party leaders.

Terrorism of all types threat to India, Rahul clarifies

Rahul GandhiNEW DELHI, Dec 17: Reacting to his reported statement that “radicalised Hindu groups” posed a bigger threat than outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi on Friday said in a statement that terrorism and communalism of all types are a threat to India.

“Rahul Gandhi’s view is that terrorism and communalism of all types are a threat to India. We need to remain vigilant against acts of terrorism of all kinds no matter who commits them,” AICC general secretary Janardan Dwivedi said in a release issued on Mr. Gandhi’s behalf.

The statement comes in the wake of reports of a WikiLeaks-released U.S. cable, which claimed that Mr. Gandhi had told U.S. Ambassador Timothy Roemer that growth of “radicalised Hindu groups” which create religious tensions in India could pose a bigger threat to the country than activities of groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba.

The initial reaction of the Congress on the issue was one of dilemma with party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi saying, “We will respond to it after verifying the facts. There is no reason to react in an excited manner. The issue should first be looked into and verified.”

Mr. Dwivedi, who is also the AICC media department chairman, had first suspected a conspiracy behind the release of the WikiLeaks cable saying, “Let us verify the truth. May be there is some conspiracy behind the pattern with which this all is being done.”

However, a clarification came quickly with the media department in-charge confining his remarks to “let us verify the truth”.

Asked what is there to doubt in the issue, Mr. Singhvi remarked, “I am not questioning anything and I am questioning everything.”

To a query on whether what he says indicates that the party is distancing itself from Mr. Gandhi’s remarks, Mr. Singhvi said, “The question does not arise. It is your interpretation.”

According to a secret U.S. diplomatic cable from New Delhi released by WikiLeaks, at a luncheon hosted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his residence in July 2009, Mr. Gandhi was asked by the U.S. envoy about LeT’s activities in the region and immediate threat to India.

“Gandhi said there was evidence of some support for the group among certain elements in India’s indigenous Muslim community,” the cable notes.

“However, Gandhi warned, the bigger threat may be the growth of radicalised Hindu groups, which create religious tensions and political confrontations with the Muslim community,” it says.

India, Pak lawyers bond for peace

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Dec 17: People-to-people exchanges between India and Pakistan are to receive a boost with the legal fraternities on both the sides of the border embarking on a novel attempt to create a common platform for cooperation.

Spearheaded by students and alumni of the premier law schools in India and Pakistan, the initiative will see a five-day trip of Indian lawyers and law students to Pakistan beginning next week and signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the legal fraternities of both the countries.

The coming together of the lawyers and law students of India and Pakistan are expected to provide a fresh chance to the peace efforts.

A 10-member Indian delegation, headed by Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam and former Union Law Minister Shanti Bhushan, will begin their visit to Pakistan on December 22.

The team includes students and alumni of premier Indian law schools. The visit is organised by ‘The Jurists’, a registered trust formed by students of all the national law schools in India.

The first stop of the delegation will be Lahore. ``The highlight of the visit will be a meeting between the Indian delegation and the heads and students of leading law schools of Pakistan on December 24 to concretise the plans of better cooperation between the legal communities on both sides. Both the teams will sign a MoU on various topics related legal ties,’’ said Advocate Raghav Awasthi, a founder of ‘The Jurists’ and the initiative's national coordinator for India.

Both the sides will look into the possibility of resource-sharing between law students and researchers in the two countries, establishment of a peer-review mechanism for evaluation of legal research works and finalise the details for an India-Pakistan socio-legal debate and moot-court competition as annual fixtures, Mr Awasthi said.

Both the sides are slated to have a news conference in Lahore on December 23 to present the road-map of their legal collaboration.

The delegation, which will meet Pakistani Federal Minister for Human Rights, Mr Syed Mumtaz Alam Gilani, in Islamabad on December 26, will discuss a host of issues, including the draft Pakistani Hindu Marriages Registration Bill, which is expected to be tabled in the next session of Pakistan National Assembly.

The initiative to bring together the legal fraternities of both the countries is aided by Pakistani non-governmental organizations SEEPLA and Jaag Welfare Movement. The Lahore University law school and the Lahore University of Management Sciences, which is the most prestigious law school in Pakistan, are also involved in the initiative.

The initiative is the brainchild of Mr Awasthi, a graduate of the prestigious National Academy of Legal Studies and Research (NALSAR), Hyderabad, and now associated with Delhi-based law firm Karanjawala and Company, and Mr Siddharth Nayak, a student of NALSAR, Hyderabad.

The advisory panel of ‘The Jurists’ consists of noted names like Mr Gopal Subramaniam, senior advocate K T S Tulsi and renowned Pakistani human rights activist Ms Asma Jahangir.

Parties must devise a way to curb corruption: Sonia

Sonia GandhiNEW DELHI, Dec 13: Congress President Sonia Gandhi has expressed concern over seemingly widespread corruption and declared that parties should find a way to stop the menace.

“It is a painful fact that corruption seems to be widespread and I feel strongly that it is our responsibility as well as that of each and every political party to together, seriously, device a way - a mechanism to curb this growing menace,” Ms. Gandhi said.

Her remarks were significant as they came at the end of the month long winter session which saw the longest shutdown of Parliament over the Opposition demand for JPC to probe the 2G Spectrum allocation scam.a presumptive loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore to the government.

Ms. Gandhi said “Congress has always stood for transparency and probity. And we have made it clear that there will be absolutely no tolerance for corruption or misconduct.

Even when no charge has been established or no misconduct has been proved, we have asked ministers and chief ministers to step down, pending enquiry.”

Her reference was obviously to the removal of Ashok Chavan as Maharashtra Chief Minister and Shashi Tharoor as Minister of State for External Affairs.

Seeking to dismiss the Opposition’s charge that the government was not agreeing to JPC as it had something to hide, she said, “our government has nothing to hide. Our government has nothing to fear.”

“Our concerns are that we should not undermine the established institutions such as the PAC and the CBI,” she said.

Complimenting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his “wise leadership” and declaring that the party “stands solidly behind him”, she made a veiled attack on the opposition’s plan to summon the Prime Minister in case the government had yielded to the demand for a JPC.

“We should not do anything that will denigrate the institution of the Prime Minister. We cannot sacrifice institutions at the altar of political expediency”, Ms. Gandhi said.

Stepping up the attack on the BJP on the issue of corruption, Gandhi said, “Can the BJP make the same claim in Karnataka where corruption is rampant? Let us not forget that it was during the BJP-led NDA that a senior minister resigned after the defence scam was exposed but was re-instated even as the inquiry was underway.

“And what about some of the leaders in the same party caught in camera taking money and later rehabilitated? The list is endless,” she said in reference to former BJP President Bangaru Laxman.

Referring to Bihar elections, Mrs Gandhi said that the Congress will have to be built from the scratch there. Describing it as a challenge, she said there is no room for despondency or demoralization because of the dismal results.

Ninth anniversary of Indian Parliament attack observed

NEW DELHI, Dec 13: Vice-President Hamid Ansari on Monday led the nation in remembering those who were killed in the 2001 terror attack on Parliament House.

Cutting across party lines, MPs paid homage to the nine people, including eight security personnel, killed in the attack when five heavily-armed terrorists entered the Parliament compound.

Mr. Ansari, who is also the Chairman of Rajya Sabha, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Speaker Meira Kumar, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, BJP veteran L.K. Advani, several Union ministers and other dignitaries paid floral tributes at the photographs of those killed in the attack.

As CRPF personnel gave salute, those who had gathered to mark the occasion stood in silence for a minute with buglers playing in the background.

A blood donation camp was organised to mark the ninth anniversary.

“Their (the terrorists) conspiracy to attack Parliament where ministers and politicians were sitting ducks was foiled by these people...had they succeeded, it would have been the biggest tragedy for Indian democracy,” Mr. Advani told reporters after the homage programme.

At least 1 dead, 32 injured in Varanasi blast

NEW DELHI, Dec 7: A bomb blast in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi, during the height of the daily sunset prayer ceremony Tuesday, injured at least 32 people and killed a 2-year-old child, officials said. Authorities said the blast was a terrorist attack.

In a four-page e-mail, a terrorist group that calls itself the Indian Mujaheddin took responsibility for the blast, writing that the bombing was in retaliation for a September court ruling that divided the Babri Masjid holy site between Muslims and Hindus.

"It's a terror strike," Home Secretary G.K. Pillai said, adding that authorities were investigating the e-mail's authenticity.

Police were searching the area for more potential bombs.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked the nation to remain calm. "The blast is an attempt to weaken our resolve by evil forces of terrorism in which terrorists will not succeed," he said.

One unanswered question Tuesday night was whether the bombings were the work of homegrown Muslim extremists or militant groups based in Pakistan, who often say they launch attacks because of a list of grievances, including the 2002 Gujarat riots that targeted Muslims and the ongoing violence in the disputed region of Kashmir.

Army objects to Omar govt 'demilitarising' Srinagar

JAMMU, Nov 30: The Army has raised a series of questions on the Omar Abdullah government's stance on repealing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and reducing troops in Jammu and Kashmir after a shootout on Monday in Srinagar in which a policeman and three terrorists were killed, In a media release on Tuesday, a spokesman of the army's Northern Command said the incident at Qamarwari took place because of a "demilitarised Srinagar."

"Terrorists have once again shown their presence for the second time in a month as if to remind the world that militancy was still alive and kicking in Kashmir," the spokesman said, adding: "The clamour to remove bunkers and thin out the police/paramilitary presence from the urban areas had compelled the Omar Abdullah government to give in."

"Though it appeared to be a well considered decision, but the latest incident has raised many questions. While it may have pleased a few hardline separatists and their ISI handlers in Pakistan, but what about the common man in the valley," the spokesman asked.

"The state capital has shifted to Jammu (for the winter). Therefore, will the reduced security and visible absence of the security forces raise uncertainties, fear and doubt in the minds of the populace during the long winter ahead?"

"The incident of 29th November cannot be wished away as isolated. Hopefully, it is not a precursor to many more to follow. It has clearly demonstrated the presence of hardline terrorist elements lurking inside cities and towns," the spokesman maintained.

The army also asked: "Why were these terrorists trying to move inside Srinagar during mid-day and that too fully armed? Could they have had a larger scheme in mind? Were they possibly on a strike mission emboldened by the thin presence of the police and paramilitary? Maybe a serious incident was averted. But there is a clear writing on the wall - that reducing security is not the answer," the spokesman contended.

PM vows to bring to justice 26/11 perpetrators

NEW DELHI, Nov 26: Saluting the 'courage, unity and resolve' of Mumbaikars, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pledged on the second anniversary of the 26/11 attacks Friday to redouble efforts to 'bring the perpetrators of this crime against humanity to justice'.

'Two years ago this day, Mumbai was subjected to a brutal terrorist attack that claimed the lives of hundreds of innocent people. The nation joins the bereaved families in remembering and mourning those who perished in this barbaric attack,' Manmohan Singh said in statement.

'We salute the courage, unity and resolve of ordinary Mumbaikars and the brave and selfless actions of our men in uniform during the attack. It is this spirit and strength of character of the Indian people that will defeat such forces that seek to threaten our social fabric and way of life,' he added.

Stating that India would never succumb to the designs of its enemies, he said: 'We pledge to redouble our efforts to bring the perpetrators of this crime against humanity to justice.'

Pakistan has not kept promises on 26/11: Chidambaram

MUMBAI, Nov 26: Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram on Friday paid tribute to those killed in the 26/11 terror attacks by laying a wreath at the martyrs' memorial at the Police Gymkhana in South Mumbai.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and state Home Minister R. R. Patil also paid tribute to the martyrs.

The Maharashtra Police took out a parade from the Oberoi Trident Hotel, which was one of the sites attacked by the terrorists.

Teams of Force One, Quick Response Teams (QRT) and Mumbai Police took part in the parade after saluting Chief Minister Chavan.

Besides the official functions, several other memorial services have been planned for the day in the city.

There would be prayer meetings and commemoration services at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Hotel Taj Mahal Palace and Tower and Hotel Trident-Oberoi.

P Unnikrishnan, the father of martyred National Security Guard (NSG) commando Sandeep Unnikrishnan, who has undertaken a cycle tour from India Gate in Delhi, will join a peace march at the Gateway of India in Mumbai.

A candle-lit silent prayer rally will be organized by the College of Social Work, Nirmala Niketan, and the family members of 26/11 victims, from Cama Hospital lane to St Xavier's college in South Mumbai.

Mumbai has turned into a virtual fortress, with the authorities stepping up security and increasing vigilance. Several patrol units have been set up to increase surveillance in order to thwart possible strikes by sleeper cells of militant groups.

Several mock security drills were carried out at vital places in Mumbai, while traffic policemen were directed to routinely conduct surprise checks to verify passenger credentials.

Krishna asks Pak to dismantle terror machines operating on its soil

COLOMBO, Nov 26: India on Friday asked Pakistan to dismantle the terror machine operating on its soil and bring perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to speedy justice as the country marked the second anniversary of the 26/11 strikes. "Once again I call upon Pakistan to dismantle the terror machine operating with impunity in territories under its control and to bring all the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks to speedy justice," External Affairs Minister SM Krishna said.

In his message on the 26/11 anniversary, Krishna said, "On the second anniversary of the barbaric terrorist attack in Mumbai, the nation pays respectful homage to its sons, daughters and foreign guests, whose innocent lives were cruelly snuffed out."

Ten Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists arrived by sea on the evening of November 26, 2008, in Mumbai and targeted different parts of the city, killing 166 people and wounding over 300 during 60 hours of carnage.

India has accused Pakistan of not doing enough to bring the plotters behind the audacious attacks to justice.

"The day is a stark reminder, that no cause can ever justify terror, either by state or non-state actors," said Krishna, who is here on a four-day official visit.

He said India seeks peaceful, stable and cooperative relations with Pakistan. "I travelled to Islamabad last July for talks and have also invited my counterpart to visit New Delhi for further discussions," he said.

"India is committed to resolving all outstanding issues with Pakistan through dialogue," the minister added.

Former Speaker Kiran Reddy sworn in as new Andhra CM

Kiran Kumar ReddyHYDERABAD, Nov 25: Former Speaker of the Andhra Pradesh Assembly Kiran Kumar Reddy was sworn in as the new chief minister of the state shortly after noon on Thursday, a day after K Rosaiah resigned form the post following a year old battle with detractors, including Jaganmohan Reddy.

In a move to set its house in order before the Srikrishna Committee submits its report on the contentious issue of statehood for Telangana, the Congress on Wednesday effected a change of leadership in Andhra Pradesh, replacing chief minister K Rosaiah with Assembly Speaker Kiran Kumar Reddy.

The change of leadership came even as the Congress grappled with the rebellion of former chief minister Y S R Reddy’s son Jaganmohan Reddy, whose Sakshi TV channel earlier this week aired an hour-long programme criticising Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Rosaiah, who had come to New Delhi on Tuesday, had been asked by the party high command to put in his papers. Congress sources said that a new leadership was favoured in view of the constant pressure tactics from Jaganmohan, who has been wanting to become chief minister since his father’s death.

NRIs can now vote in India

NEW DELHI, Nov 24: The longstanding wish of millions of non-resident Indians (NRIs) to be able to exercise their franchise in India has come true, with the Centre issuing a notification to this effect.

In the monsoon session, Parliament had passed the Representation of People (Amendment) Bill, 2010, to allow NRIs to vote in Indian elections.

Nitish sweeps Bihar, wipes out Lalu, Congress

Nitish KumarPATNA, Nov 24: In the manner of a tidal wave sweeping aside anything and everything in its way, the ruling Janata Dal (United)-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance on Wednesday smashed through the barriers of region, caste and gender to post the biggest-ever victory in an Assembly election in Bihar.

The Opposition stood demolished; leader of the Opposition Rabri Devi lost both Raghopur and Sonepur seats.

“I am pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming mandate,” said Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.

Although opinion and exit polls had predicted a landslide for the combine and a second innings for the Chief Minister, the scale of victory surpassed the most optimistic calculations, with the JD (U) and the BJP together capturing four-fifths of the seats (206) in the 243-member House. The alliance fought the election on the twin issues of development and rule of law, with Mr. Kumar projecting himself as the mascot of a “modern, forward-looking Bihar.”

The JD(U) won 115 of the 141 seats it contested, while the BJP made a near clean sweep, bagging 91 of the 102 seats it contested. The BJP's performance in the State was not only its best since independence but also bettered the strike rate of its senior partner.

The Rashtriya Janata Dal-Lok Jan Shakti Party alliance finished a distant second with 25 seats (RJD 22; LJP 3), while the Congress brought up the rear with four seats, five less than its previous tally. The Congress campaign was spearheaded by its leadership trio of Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha opened its account in Bihar, winning the Chakai seat. The Communist Party won one seat and independents/others, six.

The JD(U)-BJP victory took the entire State in its sweep. The combine retained its traditional strongholds in the Magadh-Bhojpur regions and breached the RJD-LJP bastions both in the Kosi-Seemanchal belt and the Naxal-plagued districts in Kaimur, Rohtas and Buxar.

The “caste-religion factor,” once the mainstay of the State, took a back seat, judging from the ruling alliance's successes in regions dominated by the so-called RJD votebank of Muslims and Yadavs. At the same time, Mr. Kumar's programmes to uplift depressed communities from the backward castes appeared to have borne fruit.

Indeed, the decisive factor for the Chief Minister was the chunk of 26 per cent votes brought in by the 100-odd communities which collectively form the Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs). The Dalits also swung towards the JD(U)-BJP combine, emphasising the success of initiatives such as the Maha Dalit Commission.

The general voter surge and a 10 per cent increase in the number of women voters clearly went in favour of the government, which introduced a slew of progressive measures in the rural hinterland, among them 50 per cent reservation for women in panchayats and the “Chief Minister's bicycle scheme.”


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