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Congress bags Chattisgarh, Rajasthan; Stakes claim in MP; Telangana votes KCR; MNF wins Mizoram

NEW DELHI, Dec 12: The Congress is looking at its strongest finish in state elections in recent times - sweeping Chhattisgarh, in position to win Rajasthan, and is ahead of the BJP in a cliffhanger in Madhya Pradesh, with big gains in all three states.

K Chandrashekhar Rao of the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti (TRS) swept Telangana and the Mizo National Front (MNF) won Mizoram.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated the Congress in tweets, saying, “We accept the people’s mandate with humility.”

Congress chief Rahul Gandhi said it was “time for change,” crediting party workers for his party’s performance and promised “strong governments” in the states that his party set to win.

“This is a clear message to the prime minister and the BJP that the country is not happy with what they are doing... the BJP has a certain ideology and we will fight against it. We have won this elections, we will also win in 2019,” Gandhi said at a press conference on Tuesday evening, adding, “However, we do not want to get rid of anyone, hum kisi ko mukt nahi karna chahtein,” a dig at the BJP’s Congress-mukt BHarat (Congress-free India) campaign.

Votes are being counted today in five states in what has been billed as the semi final before next year’s Lok Sabha election. Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have been ruled for the last 15 years by the BJP and Rajasthan for the last five. The party had also won 60 of the total 65 parliament seats in these heartland states as it swept the 2014 general elections, in which the Congress was reduced to its lowest tally ever in the Lok Sabha.

In Telangana, K Chandrashekhar Rao is prepping to take oath again, set to return as chief minister with a big win in the assembly elections. In Mizoram, the Congress has lost its last bastion in the north east to the Mizo National Front.

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and her Delhi counterpart Arvind Kejriwal, both of who yesterday attended a meeting of 21 opposition parties to discuss an anti-BJP front, cheered today’s election result.

“The countdown to 2019 has begun. This result will be reflected at the national level,” said West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, calling it a “disaster for” the BJP. Kejriwal said “The countdown of the Modi government’s fall has begun,” Kejriwal tweeted in Hindi.

Almost 12 hours after counting began, the Congress continued to flirt with the majority mark of 100 seats, way ahead of the BJP. The party has an offer of support from the Rashtriya Lok Dal, which has won a single seat. A party or alliance needs 100 seats to win a majority in the 200-member Rajasthan assembly; voting was held in 199 seats as a candidate died in one constituency. The BJP is leading in 70 seats. In 2013, the Congress had won only 23 seats as the BJP snatched an absolute majority with 163 seats.

In Madhya Pradesh, the closest contest for most part of the day, the Congress is leading in 114 seats, up 53 from last time, and the BJP in 109, down 55.

Earlier in the day, the Congress reached out to Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, the Samajwadi Party and the GGP (Gondwana Ganatantra Party), sources said, to request support if it fails to make the majority mark. A party needs to win 116 seats in the state’s 230-member assembly to form government.

The BSP has said it “will try and stop the BJP from forming government”; the party is leading in two seats in Madhya Pradesh.

Chhattisgarh has been swept by the Congress, which is leading in 68 of the state’s 90 seats, a two-thirds majority and a gain of 29 seats from last time. A party needs 46 to form government in the state. The BJP is ahead in only 16 seats.

The big Congress gains in these heartland states will be a huge morale booster for the party led by Rahul Gandhi who is often taunted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah for a series of debacles in state elections since the 2014 general elections. As it lost state after state, the only bright spot was Punjab, which the party wrested from the Akali Dal-BJP combine last year and the small state of Puducherry, which it retained, in 2016.

In southern state Telangana, the country’s youngest, Rao, popularly called KCR, established his supremacy early today, never looking back. His TRS was leading in a whopping 87 seats, way more than the 60 it needs for a majority in the 119 member assembly.

The TRS, which spearheaded the Telangana statehood campaign that culminated in the creation of India’s youngest state out of Andhra Pradesh in June 2014, took a gamble in September when it opted for early elections almost a year ahead and CM Rao dissolved the assembly.

KCR faced a united challenge from the Congress, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the Left that have formed a ‘mahakootami’ (grand alliance) to unseat the TRS. The BJP fought separately and is now leading only in one seat.

In Mizoram, the Mizo National Front (MNF) is all set to return to power after a gap of 10 years by defeating the Congress in its last bastion in the northeast with a lead of 26 seats. Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla of the Congress lost both the seats he contested.

Congress stakes claim to form government in Madhya Pradesh, writes to governor

BHOPAL, Dec 11: Madhya Pradesh Congress chief Kamal Nath on Tuesday night staked claimed to form government in the state, in a letter to governor Anandiben Patel.

Kamal Nath said in his letter that the Congress has “emerged the single largest party with majority support” and that “all the Independents have in addition assured support to the Congress party.”

The veteran Congressman has also sought an appointment with the governor later tonight after all results are announced; he said he would meet her with senior Congress leaders to “apprise you and form the next government in Madhya Pradesh”.

The governor’s office, however, has said that an appointment will be given only after the situation is made clear by the Election Commission, reported news agency ANI.

The Congress had won or was leading in 114 of the state’s 230 assembly seats close to midnight, after almost 16 hours of counting of votes. The BJP is close at its heels at 109. Both are shy of the majority mark of 116 seats in the 230-member Madhya Pradesh assembly.

So far, three Independent candidates have won and another one is leading. Mayawati’s BSP is leading in two seats and the Samajwadi Party in one seat. The BSP said earlier today that it will “try and ensure the BJP does not form government.”

“The ideology of SP, BSP and the Congress is the same - different from that of the BJP,” said Congress president Rahul Gandhi.

In the cliffhanger that the Madhya Pradesh contest has been all day, the Congress right now has 41 per cent vote share, while the BJP has 41.1%. The total difference of votes polled by the parties across the state’s 230 seats is 45,207. In the 2013 election, the BJP had won 165 seats, getting a comfortable majority in the Assembly, while the Congress had won only 58 seats.

The Congress has also snatched Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan from the BJP today. While the BJP ruled Madhya Pradesh and CHHattisgarh for the last 15 years, it had won Rajasthan besting the Congress in 2013.

Time for change: Rahul Gandhi

NEW DELHI, Dec 11: Celebrating the Congress’ best performance in assembly elections in a while, its chief Rahul Gandhi today said the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when his party was reduced to its lowest tally in Parliament ever, was the “best thing” that happened to him, taking a swipe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, from whom he said he had learnt a vital lesson.

“The absolute best thing for me was the 2014 elections...I learnt a lot from that election... I learnt that the most important thing in this country is what the people feel, and as a politician, you have to work with that sentiment,” Gandhi said, adding, “Mr Narendra Modi taught me that lesson. I see (from his actions) what not to do. He was given a massive opportunity to lead the country. He refused to listen to the heartbeat of this country... That is something I have learnt from how he has acted. For me, the best teachers are the people of this country.”

The Congress has today wrested Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan from the BJP and is running neck and neck with the rival party in Madhya Pradesh. The party has made big gains — it had come in a poor second in all the three states in 2013, followed by another drubbing in 2014 general election when Narendra Modi led the BJP to a spectacular win.

Addressing a press conference in the evening, Rahul Gandhi said Tuesday’s results heralded a “time for change,” asserting that the Congress will also win next year’s general election. “The BJP has a certain ideology and we will fight against it. We have won this elections, we will also win in 2019,” he said.

In another jab at the BJP, he also added, “However, we do not want to get rid of anyone, hum kisi ko Bharat se mukt nahi karna chahtein. (We dont want to rid the country of anyone).” It was a reference to the frequent promise made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah for a “Congress mukt Bharat (Congress-free India).”

Rahul Gandhi said it was a victory today of Congress workers and of “youth and farmers and small businessmen.”

BJP government taking country on wrong path: Manmohan Singh

MOHALI, Dec 10: Former prime minister Manmohan Singh alleged Monday the BJP-led central government was taking the country towards a “wrong path” and the nation’s freedom could be under threat due to its actions.

He said the Congress had played an important role in strengthening the country’s freedom, but “during the last four and a half years, the BJP laid emphasis on things which could adversely affect India’s history”.

“This can again endanger country’s freedom,” he said.

Manmohan Singh was speaking at the re-launch ‘Navjivan’, a Hindi newspaper that was first launched in 1919 by Mahatma Gandhi but was closed several times during the British regime.

“I want to appeal to the people that they should understand how the present government is taking the nation on a wrong path and there is a need to strongly fight against it,” he said, adding former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru had once said that “Freedom is in peril, defend it with all its might.” He said Punjab had played a vital role in the fight for country’s freedom.

The event was attended by Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and other party workers.

Congress leader and Associated Journals Limited chairman Motilal Vora on the occasion said after Mahatma Gandhi was sent to jail in 1920, he had asked Jawaharlal Nehru to run the paper.

Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh could not attend the event due to ill-health.

“I regret not being able to attend the function, as I’ve been advised bed rest by the doctors,” he tweeted.

RBI governor Urjit Patel resigns

NEW DELHI, Dec 10: Reserve Bank of India Governor Urjit Patel has stepped down effective immediately, the central bank’s top official said in a statement.

“On account of personal reasons, I have decided to step down from my current position effective immediately. It has been my privilege and honour to serve in the Reserve Bank of India in various capacities over the years,” he said in a brief statement that did not refer to the rift with the government.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi reacted to Urjit Patel’s decision to step down, describing him as an economist of a very high calibre with a deep and insightful understanding of macro-economic issues.

“He steered the banking system from chaos to order and ensured discipline. Under his leadership, the RBI brought financial stability,” Modi said in two tweets. “He (Urjit Patel) leaves behind a great legacy. We will miss him immensely,” he said.

Patel had taken charge as the governor in September 2016 after Raghuram Rajan resigned from the post on 19 June of that year and had overseen the government-driven ban on high-value currency notes. Patel’s term as RBI governor was to end in September 2019.

Patel’s resignation comes against the backdrop of sharp differences between the central bank and the government over how much autonomy the RBI should have. The government is widely perceived to have sought reduction of curbs on lending and to gain access to the RBI’s surplus reserves.

It’s BJP, RSS agenda: Rahul Gandhi on RBI governor’s resignation

NEW DELHI, Dec 10: Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Monday slammed the government on Monday over Reserve Bank of India Governor Urjit Patel’s resignation, calling it the ‘continuation of the BJP, RSS agenda’’.

“In the middle of the meeting we were told that the BJP, RSS agenda is progressing and that RBI governor has resigned... What is happening that the government is getting desperate, RBI governor is not able to function”, Gandhi said talking to reporters after the Opposition meet in Delhi.

The Congress earlier attacked the government over the resignation, calling it an ‘assault on a democratic instituition’.

Within minutes of Patel announcing his resignation, the Congress tweeted, “Another one bites the dust. This is the result of our chowkidar assault on democratic institutions- RBI Governor, Urjit Patel steps down."

The Congress has earlier also targeted the government over what it calls its efforts to capture the central bank

The party has accused the government of packing the central bank’s board with handpicked nominees and making every attempt to push through its proposals

Patel’s resignation comes against the backdrop of sharp differences between the central bank and the government over how much autonomy the RBI should have. The government is widely perceived to have sought reduction of curbs on lending and to gain access to the RBI’s surplus reserves.

Patel, 55, who took over as the 24th Governor of the central bank on September 5, 2016, had the shortest tenure since 1992.

He was hand-picked by the BJP-led government after his predecessor Raghuram Rajan was denied a second-term.

Kushwaha resigns as union minister, walks out of NDA

NEW DELHI, Dec 10: Bihar politician Upendra Kushwaha today quit as a minister at the centre, declaring in his resignation letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, “I stand dejected, betrayed by your leadership.” He has also walked out the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and said that he has his options open.

That, he said, could mean contesting elections alone, joining the anti-BJP opposition alliance now being tested or a third front. But he is not attending a meeting of opposition leaders from different political parties being held in the capital today to work out a strategy to forge what is being called a “grand alliance” against the BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha election next year.

Kushwaha announced his divorce from the NDA at a press conference in Delhi prefacing it with a list of difficulties and betrayals that he claimed he has had to endure as a member of the alliance in Bihar. “They will not open their account,” he said referring to the BJP and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who he alleged, were out to finish his party.

“Narendra Modi did not live up to people’s expectation as prime minister... People thought achche din will come for Bihar... people of Bihar feel cheated,” the minister of state said soon after sending his resignation to Modi.

Upendra Kushwaha also launched a sharp attack on the NDA government in Delhi and Bihar, accusing the government of pushing the agenda of what he called was, the agenda of the BJP’s ideological mentor, RSS, in universities and elsewhere.

“I feel I should not be a minister when RSS agenda is being implemented,” he said.

Kushwaha had been dropping hints about quitting the BJP-led national coalition for weeks, particularly after Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) negotiated a seat-sharing pact for the 2019 general elections with BJP boss Amit Shah that they declared, would reduce seats for their two other alliance partners.

Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samta Party, or RLSP, had joined the NDA ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and won three seats. The BJP ended up with 22 seats and Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party six. That equation changed after Nitish Kumar’s return.

Kushwaha had attempted to reach out to Amit Shah and Narendra Modi and sought appointments with them to address his concerns but found them less than willing to engage him in negotiations. BJP leaders, sources said, had taken note of reports that he had been in touch with rivals and had already sensed that he had made up his mind.

It is around this time that Kushwaha, prepping for his exit from the NDA, put out a 25-point charter of demands for the Nitish Kumar government that asked the BJP-JD(U) government to improve its governance record. The demands include appointment of school teachers, exempting teachers from non-teaching work and timely holding of the student union elections.

Kushwaha is already in touch with expelled Janta Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav and is discussing a merger of their parties ahead of next summer’s parliamentary elections.

Kushwaha, a protégé-turned-rival of Nitish Kumar, comes from the backward Koeri community, which accounts for roughly 5-6% of Bihar’s population and has significant presence in 25-30 assembly segments.

Pakistan can seek India’s help if it feels it cannot handle terrorism alone: Rajnath Singh

JAIPUR, Dec 2: Pakistan can take India’s help if it cannot tackle terrorism on its own, home minister Rajnath Sigh said on Sunday, stressing that terrorism was the key area of disagreement between the two countries.

Reacting to Imran Khan’s recent remarks that Kashmir was the outstanding issue, Singh said there was no “second thought” that Pakistan was sponsoring militancy in Jammu and Kashmir.

“ is very clear that everything is sponsored by Pakistan. Recently, the Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said...nothing will be gained through a blame game. He emphasised the Kashmir issue...I want to make it clear that the issue is not Kashmir but terrorism,” Singh said at a press conference at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) media centre in Jaipur.

“...Afghanistan took the support of America to counter Taliban. Similarly, if Pakistan cannot counter terrorism on its own, it can take India’s help,” he added.

At the groundbreaking ceremony for the Pakistani section of the Kartarpur corridor, Khan said last week his country’s civilian and military leaderships were united in desiring better relations with India although Kashmir remained the key issue between the two sides.

At the gathering, that included Indian Union ministers as well, the cricketer-turned-politician also acknowledged that it was not in Pakistan’s interest to allow its soil to be used for terrorism and said he was prepared to talk to his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, “any time”.

In election-bound Rajasthan, Singh said no major terrorist incident had taken place in the country in the four-and-a-half years of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) rule, clarifying that he did not want to claim that terrorism had completely stopped.

Terrorism is confined only to Kashmir where, too, the situation is improving, Singh said, adding the panchayat elections in J&K were being conducted successfully.

Singh also hit out at Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who on Saturday said the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was turning the 2016 cross-border strikes by Indian forces on terror launch pads into a “political asset”.

Gandhi had also said there were three such operations by the forces during the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime, but the government that time kept them under wraps.

“They are telling it today. Why was the country not informed earlier? If our army had shown its valour and strength then should this country not have any knowledge of this matter?” Singh asked.

State Congress spokesperson Archana Sharma said, “The Congress party never dragged army into politics. In our tenure, we had won many wars, but we have never used them to gain political mileage from the bravery of the army.”

Singh also spoke on the Maoist insurgency. “I have nothing against the people who follow Maoist ideology but will not tolerate violence.” Terrorism has reduced and the problem of Maoism will get eliminated from the country in the coming years, he added.

India’s first engine-less train, Train 18, breaches 180 kmph during trials

NEW DELHI, Dec 2: India’s first self powered engine-less train, known as Train 18, on Sunday breached the 180 kilometre per hour (kmph) speed limit during a trial run on Sunday, a senior railway official said. Designed to run at 160 kmph, the Train 18 breached the 180 kmph mark in the Kota-Sawai Madhopur section.

“Train 18 breached the 180 kmph speed limit becoming the first train in the Indian Railway to travel at such speed,” S Mani, general manager of Integral Coach Factory (ICF), Chennai, that has manufactured the train, said.

Railway minister Piyush Goyal also tweeted a video of the trial run when the train breached the 180 kmph mark.

“We expect Train 18 to commence its commercial run from January 2019. Normally the trials take three months. But now it is happening faster than expected,” said Mani.

Initially, the Railways will roll out two Train 18s with 16-17 coaches each.

Train 18 is capable of touching 200 kmph but tracks in the Indian Railways’ network will need to be upgraded for that.

According to a (which) report, only 0.3% of India’s rail tracks, spread over 60,000 km, are fit to handle trains running at the speed of up to 160 km per hour.

The Train 18 had earlier successfully completed trials at a speed of up to 130 km per hour in Moradabad. It was moved to Kota in Rajasthan for trials at the speed of up to 160 km per hour.

With Rotating seats which can be aligned in the direction of travel in executive class, modular toilets with bio-vacuum system, modular luggage rack with glass bottom, sliding doors in coaches and continuous window glasses for contemporary modern look, this make in India initiative of the Indian Railways’ is full of modern facilities.

It will be provided with automatic plug type doors with retractable footsteps, which will open and close automatically at the stations. To provide entertainment, all coaches of the train will be provided with on board Wi-fi, infotainment and GPS based passenger information system (PIS) which will keep the passengers informed about the travel status.

According to officials familiar with developments, the Train 18 will offer both comfort and pace to the passengers and will fit the bill of replacing intercity express trains, which have travel time in six hour range. All coaches will be chair car type for day travel.


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