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PM Modi’s Mission Shakti address didn’t violate model code of conduct: EC

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the nation on the successful test-firing of an anti-satellite missile did not violate the model code of conduct, the Election Commission said on Friday night.

The EC took the decision based on the report of a committee of officers which found that the Prime Minister did not violate the provision of ‘party in power’ in the poll code.

“The committee has, therefore, reached the conclusion that the MCC provision regarding misuse of official mass media … is not attracted in the instant case,” the commission said, citing the report of the committee constituted to look into the case.

Model code of conduct is in place for the April-May parliamentary election and some state polls.

India shot down one of its satellites in space on Wednesday with an anti-satellite missile to demonstrate this complex capability, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced, making it only the fourth country to have used such a weapon after US, China and Russia.

Declaring India has established itself as a global space power after the success of the operation ‘Mission Shakti’, PM Modi said the missile hit a live satellite flying in a Low Earth Orbit after it traversed a distance of almost 300 km from earth within three minutes of its launch.

The announcement was made by the Prime Minister in a broadcast to the nation on television, radio and social media.

Several opposition parties had complained to the Election Commission alleging violation of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC).

PM Modi's Mission Shakti address didn't violate model code of conduct: EC

International, Politics

Modi’s 5 foreign policy mistakes

India looks less equal to China than 5 years ago, the strategic alliance with the US is hobbled by trade, and Pakistan is looking anything but chastened by Balakot.
What has gone wrong? asks Shekhar Gupta.

What is more overpowering, fear or love? You should be asking a psychologist.

What a columnist can do is to collect hard facts, sift them from fantasy and propaganda, and provoke an important debate.

Trolling, we take in our stride.

Earlier this month, China delivered a nasty kick in India’s shin by blockingPakistan’s Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar’s designation as a global terrorist by the UN security council.

Not only did China block it for the fourth time, much inspired commentary in Chinese state or party-controlled media held out admonitions for India.

The rudest was a commentator in the Communist Party-owned Global Times who, with pictures of angry BJP workers in the background, accused Narendra Damodardas Modi of exploiting the situation for his election campaign, and concluding with a final insult: China is India’s friend, not a hostage to its nationalism.

With this, China redefined the ‘Wuhan Spirit’ to mean that if my troops aren’t squatting on your territory in the run-up to your elections, I have kept my part of the deal.More from around the web

For the rest, the old rules apply.

Two reactions to this Chinese arrogance stand out for their tone and emphasis.

India has been ridiculously guarded, not daring to even name China and expressing just ‘disappointment’ with ‘a nation’.

The Americans, on the contrary, had no such hesitations.

They named China in a statement enormously more severe than India’s pusillanimous one.

How Modi scored an own goal

The Modi government hasn’t lost its muscularity.

It is just applied more selectively now, though not particularly with an application of mind.

Mr Modi’s India of March 2019, two months to the elections, treats a hostile China with nervous deference, but launches an all-out Swadeshi trade war on Donald Trump’s friendly America.

We suck up to those who harm and humiliate us because we fear them.

We fight on with those who speak for us because we love them.

Here are the five follies of what we might call the ‘Modi Foreign Policy Doctrine’ that got us here.

1. Inability to appreciate that strategic alliances need a big heart

Strategically, America has been, to use a familiar Americanism, a stalwart ally.

Yet, at the top levels of the US administration, beginning with Mr Trump, a wary fatigue has developed about India.

It is tempting to dismiss Mr Trump as a petulant child.

But can you afford to do so? You might laugh at his fixation with Indian duties on Harley Davidson motorbikes, but he can also similarly call your Swadeshinomic approach to trade nutty and insincere.

Slashing prices of imported medications and medical aids is a good moral and political idea.

But must you implement it with sudden price controls and import restraints? The Americans must be bemused to see India declaring war on their Amazon and Walmart while it heartily welcomes Chinese investments in Indian e-commerce and digital financial services.

While the way America has stood by India after Pulwama is creditable, there are strains in the relationship and personal chemistry between Mr Modi and Mr Trump.

A bilateral hasn’t happened since November 2017 and attempts to set one up at the recent G-20 summit in Buenos Aires in November 2018 failed.

Mr Trump isn’t the kind to invest time in photo-ops and platitudes when his favourite peeves are not addressed.

A little ‘give’ on trade wouldn’t hurt India.

Mr Trump isn’t asking for something as difficult as troops in Afghanistan or to not buy those Russian S-400s or to shut the Chabahar port in Iran.

All he wants is a little concession on some tariffs and business as usual on the rest.

Smart leaders pick their fights, especially with friends, carefully.

Mr Modi has erred in opening a Swadeshi trade front with Mr Trump, who also has a domestic political constituency.

2. Miscalculation that unilateral appeasement works with arrogant big powers

See it this way.

India has locked horns on trade with the US, with which it enjoys a $60 billion trade surplus, but is giving unfettered access to China, with which it has an equal, $60 billion deficit.

The idea behind opening up our markets so widely to Chinese goods and investments may have been to give them an economic stake to moderate their strategic policy towards India.

Nothing of the sort has happened.

Two years ago, the Chinese walked into Doklam.

Now, the message from them seems to be, if we are not in Doklam or Chumar again, as you head for elections, send us a thank-you note. Likely on a Chinese phone, network, and operating system.

Just as with America, the Modi government has demanded all ‘give’, with China it is all ‘take’.

3. Obsession with personalised foreign policy

Mr Modi has stature and charisma.

But it doesn’t substitute the preparation and follow-up of professional diplomacy, and the need to refine policies through internal debate and discussion.

Also, individual styles and approaches of other leaders vary.

The Saudi crown prince might love a copious hug and take decisions on the spot, but a Xi Jinping may be irritated or misread it as fawning.

Besides, although the most powerful Chinese leader since Deng, he doesn’t have the personal power in Beijing that a Mohammad bin Salman or Mr Modi does in Riyadh or New Delhi.

Mr Xi works with a structured and empowered ‘system’ that functions a lot more effectively than the Modi Cabinet.

It is now evident that Mr Modi’s first charm-filled approach with Mr Xi was counter-productive, and this continued later through Xian, Wuhan and elsewhere.

The misstep of a Republic Day invite to Mr Trump and the failed hugging outreach with Nawaz Sharif showed inadequate homework.

4. The price of predictability

From politics, diplomacy, to warfare, sport and gambling, predictability is a liability.

Mr Modi has made that error.

Foreign leaders know his personalised style, need for publicity, photo-ops, praise, all of which they understand he needs for his domestic audiences.

The Chinese know very well by now that Mr Modi is wary of another intrusion in the months leading to the polls.

The Chinese also would have known that much as Mr Modi might like a little skirmish with Pakistan, which he could quickly end claiming victory, there is no way he could start and end anything with China like that.

Predictability makes it easy for others to guess your responses.

The Chinese have been the first to do this.

The Pakistanis must have taken note of a few things too.

They know Mr Modi is now publicly committed to a quick retaliation in the case of major terror attacks.

It gives them the power of orchestrating a crisis and drawing the world to the subcontinent at will.

All they need is to tell the ISI to unleash another incident.

Great leaders do not allow themselves to be ‘gamed’.

5. Perils of mixing foreign policy with domestic politics

Mr Modi has often used his foreign policy initiatives and summits for domestic image-building.

The Chinese were the first to exploit it.

They knew Indian fears of another intrusion in election season and offered reassurance at Wuhan, but on their terms.

Chinese trade dominance has increased, their view on Arunachal and Pakistan is harder, and India is reduced to protesting meekly on Masood Azhar, without daring to name them.

Do note that since Wuhan, India has not raised the issue of Nuclear Suppliers Group membership with China.

If India’s demand is now the banning of Masood Azhar, it does two things: Diminish India in its bilateral equation with China, and enable it to hyphenate its own India policy with Pakistan.

China, therefore, has India just where it wants, triangulated with Pakistan.

To conclude, this isn’t a foreign policy balance sheet of the five Modi years.

It is a listing of what we see as his most significant flaws and their consequences.

Source:  The Print


Narendra Modi didn’t seek nod for TV address: Election Commission

A committee is likely to finalise its report by Friday evening on whether any content of the PM’s speech violated the Model Code of Conduct

The Election Commission (EC) on Thursday said a committee of officers was examining the responses received from Doordarshan and All India Radio (AIR) on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the nation on Wednesday, announcing India’s successful demonstration of anti-satellite missile capability.

The committee, which has held two meetings so far, is likely to finalise its report by Friday evening on whether any content of the Prime Minister’s speech violated the Model Code of Conduct (MCC). Based on the findings, the EC will take the final decision.

At a press conference, Deputy Election Commissioner Sandeep Saxena said the Prime Minister’s Office had neither informed, nor sought any permission from, the EC for broadcast of his address. After the issue was raised, the EC set up a committee to look into the matter.

Subsequently, the committee wrote to Doorsarshan and AIR to know about the source of their feed. It is learnt that the state broadcasters had taken the feed from a live broadcast made through private Internet video portal YouTube.ALSO READDelay release of Modi biopic: Opposition to EC

On the issue of the biopic on Mr. Modi, the EC said notice had been sent to the four film producers and the BJP, seeking their comments by Thursday. The EC has also given conditional approval for the government’s decision to review the wages under the MGNREGA from April 1.

Terming the Voter Verification and Identification Programme a great success, the Commission said more than one crore voters had been added to the electoral rolls just in the past five weeks. The total number of voters stands at 90.74 crore, including 1.82 crore from the 18-19 years’ age group. There are 17.50 lakh service voters.

The EC has so far received about 23,000 complaints of MCC violations through the ‘cVIGIL’ mobile application, of which nearly 60% were found to be correct. Further action is being taken in these cases.

Taking cognisance of some tweets claiming that animal fat had been mixed with the indelible ink to be used in the polls, the EC wrote to the Twitter and got them removed. The Delhi Police have registered an FIR on the Commission’s complaint.

“Based on the viewing of a video clip showing a sitting DMK MLA, A. Radhakrishnan of Tiruchendur Assembly Constituency, distributing cash to ladies performing ‘aarti’ at a private event, in the presence of Ms. Kanimozhi, the police have registered a case…on March 28 against the MLA and seven others,” said the EC.

The EC said the maximum seizure of about ₹130 crore, in the form of cash, liquor, drugs and precious metals, had been made in Tamil Nadu. While the overall seizure so far is worth ₹673 crore, Andhra Pradesh stands second with ₹127.85 crore and Uttar Pradesh comes third with ₹119.57 crore seized. The total cash seized across the country is ₹202 crore. (Source: The Hindu)

Development, Politics

Economist Dreze held for trying to host meet, freed

Noted development economist Jean Dreze and his associates, Vivek Kumar Gupta and Anuj Kumar Gupta, were detained by police for about two hours on Thursday just before they were about to host a public meeting in Jharkhand, allegedly without taking permission from the state administration.

The team had organised the meeting to listen to people’s grievances related to social security pensions and delayed allotment of foodgrain. After being released, Dreze said that police had threatened the organiser with legal consequences. 

Renowned Indian development economist Jean Drèze is a Belgian-born social activist who has been influential in the economic policy making of his country. In his years in India since 1979, he has made wide-ranging contributions to development economics and public economics. He has promptly worked on social issues such as hunger, famine, gender inequality, child health and education, and the NREGA.

Jean Drèze as Academician

Born in 1959 in the ancient town of Leuven, Jean currently lives in Ranchi, Jharkhand. His father, Jacques Drèze, is one of the world’s great economic theorists and a celebrated teacher as well. Jean grew up in an atmosphere composed equally of scholarship and service. One of his brothers became a left-wing politician; a second was a professor of marketing; a third is a translator.

He studied Mathematical Economics at the University of Essex in the 1980s and did his PhD (theoretical economics of cost-benefit analysis) at the Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi.

He has lived in India since 1979 and became an Indian citizen in 2002.

Jean Drèze taught at the London School of Economics in the 1980s and at the Delhi School of Economics. Presently, he is an Honorary Chair Professor of the “Planning and Development Unit” created by the Planning Commission, Government of India, in the Department of Economics, University of Allahabad.

He is also a visiting professor at the Department of Economics, Ranchi University.

He was a member of the National Advisory Council of India in both first and second term.

Dreze is well known for his commitment to social justice, both in India and internationally. Apart from academic work, he has been actively involved in many social movements.

He played a central role in the conception of the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme; helped draft the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 (NREGA), and continues to monitor its implementation.

He also contributed to the Right to Information Act and the National Food Security Act of the Government of India.

Jean has written a great deal in English. His columns have been collected in a book called Sense and Solidarity, with the self-deprecatory sub-title, Jholawala Economics for Everyone. The essays cover a wide range of themes; from food security to healthcare to the rights of children to the threat of nuclear war.


On the need for action-oriented research in development policy

A whole new way of looking at poverty and development policy is taking shape in the world of economics. Traditionally understood as meagreness of material resources, there is a growing realisation that poverty also depletes mental resources. Understanding of how poverty impacts behaviour, what the absence of resources does to a person’s mindset can vitaminise the poverty-fighting policy toolkit.

Insights, well-designed qualitative and quantitative data from field surveys enable sounder grasp of human behaviour. If you don’t know where your next meal is going to come from, how that makes you pick or reject an option. It is not enough to go taste the food the poor consume, visit their homes. The idea is to try to feel how being impoverished impacts decision-making and choice.

Say the task at hand is to figure out whether to universalise old-age widow pensions or not. A narrow evaluation of the proposal would measure impact on poverty of the limited version of the programme in use, the administrative costs of expanding it, the vulnerability to leakages, so on and so forth. Field intelligence could help provide the human angle such as what the pensions do to the quality of life of the beneficiaries. Being able to afford small luxuries — a new pair of glasses or treats for the grandchildren — out of the pension money rather than having to depend on their families for the expenses can improve the women’s sense of independence and dignity. The family’s attitude is also likely to become more favourable.

Economist Jean Drèze’s new book, Sense and Solidarity: Jholawala Economics for Everyone, argues for an increased role for action-oriented research in development policy. The book is a compilation of op-eds, published mainly in The Hindu, under 10 broad themes such as Drought and Hunger, Poverty, School Meals, Health Care, Employment Guarantee, and Food Security and the Public Distribution System. He has updated the pieces with introductions, background notes, statistical and bibliographic sources.

Action research is not a collection of principles, theories and methods as academic research tends to be. It supports an action, or a change, while at the same time producing new knowledge. Active cooperation between the researchers and the participants is involved in this relatively new approach. Action and academic research shares a mostly tense relationship. Action researchers see academic researchers as occupants of ivory towers.

Drèze’s argument about the inadequacies of statistical analyses and academic approaches cannot be quarrelled with. The world has grown pessimistic about economics for its over-reliance on mathematics, its failure to predict the global financial meltdown and its inability to draw the world economy out of the economic slowdown. The feel of the field gathered from his own trips far and wide, from the hills of Chamba district to the forests of Kalahandi and the dusty plains of Bihar in the book’s essays make for great reading.

Drèze’s findings from the ground leave readers less confident of imposing our assumptions about poverty and humans on policy and economics. To economists suffering from insufficient understanding of society and human life, Drèze recommends copious doses of literature (although he does also caution against getting carried away by fiction or personal experiences). The works he regards helpful in developing empathy include Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s classic novel Pather Panchali, Dalit autobiographies of Daya Pawar, Laxman Gaikwad, Om Prakash Valmiki and Shantabai Kamble.

In ‘The Bullet Train Syndrome’, he questions the pro-rich institutional bias of the Indian Railways based on his own extensive travel on its networks. “If you have money, the Indian Railways is great fun, bullet or no bullet,” he writes. “But the lesser mortal who travels without reservation is exactly where she was 35 years ago.” The book succeeds in reminding us that poverty and privilege both are inherited at birth more often than earned. “The privileged tend to believe that they deserve or have earned what they have. But the chief determinant of privilege is chance,” he writes of the accident of birth. And that often the system works to perpetuate those inequalities.

In ‘Glucose for the Lok Sabha?’, he traces the clamour from Parliamentarians and ministers for replacing cooked midday meals in primary schools with biscuits to the corporate lobby. The plea for doing away with cooked midday meals for schoolkids was first made by the Biscuit Manufacturers Association through a letter signed by a senior executive at Parle Products, the biggest manufacturer of glucose biscuits.

Drèze’s differences with academic research are deep and go beyond approach and methodology. Why is carrying a corporate briefcase innately more respectable than carrying a jhola, he asks. Jholawalas — the student volunteers, like-minded scholars, field investigators, driven by passion, not money — has become a term of abuse in India’s corporate-sponsored media, he writes.

Undeniably, corporate influence is growing. But his attack on policy and the media seem sweeping; his suspicion of intent and sense of hurt excessive. Didn’t action research play a role in the schemes he has championed: the rights-based and legislation-backed social security schemes, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and the Right to Food or the National Food Security Act? They too are not free of leakages and infirmities, as Drèze concedes and makes clear he would like to see the defects addressed.

Even if readers disagree with the book, it is valuable because through it Drèze hopes to start a dialogue between economists and jholawalas for greater mutual learning.

Sense and Solidarity: Jholawala Economics for Everyone; Jean Drèze, Permanent Black, ₹795.


PM Modi’s televised address to be examined: EC after complaints by opposition

The Election Commission will examine if Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s televised address on the launch of anti-satellite missile violates the model code of conduct, the poll body said in a statement on Wednesday evening.

“The matter related to the address of Prime Minister to the Nation on electronic media today afternoon has been brought to the notice of the ECI. The Commission has directed a committee of officers to examine the matter immediately in the light of Model Code of Conduct,” the Election Commission statement said after PM Modi’s announcement triggered howls of protest from the opposition parties.

The model code is designed to ensure that the party in power does not get an unfair advantage in campaigning and influencing voters. The code is routinely invoked to prevent the political executive from promising financial grants, large projects or making ad-hoc government appointments.

Election Commission sources had initially indicated that the government did not need to take permission to make security-related announcements. But the Commission appeared to take a closer look at the speech after opposition parties closed ranks. CPM’s Sitaram Yechury was among the first to lodge a formal complaint against PM Modi’s address, underlining that the announcement comes in the midst of the ongoing election campaign where the PM is a candidate.

“This is clearly a violation of the model code of conduct,” Yechury said. He asked the Election Commission to spell out how it could have “permitted the achievements of Indian scientists to be politically-coloured during the course of the general elections”.

By then, Yechury’s rival back in Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had already taken a sharp swipe at PM Modi, describing his address to the nation as a “limitless drama” and announcing that she will file a formal complaint with the Election Commission.

“There is no great urgency in conducting and announcing the mission now by a government past its expiry date. It seems a desperate oxygen to save the imminent sinking of the BJP boat. We are lodging a complaint with the Election Commission,” she tweeted.

The Bengal CM, however, congratulated the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) scientists, who she said, “really deserve it (credit)”.

The Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mayawati also urged the Election Commission to take note of the matter.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had tweeted about his address to the nation to deliver an “important message” about 15 minutes after the anti-satellite missile was launched from Odisha’s Balasore at 11.16 am.

During his 10-minute address, he spoke about the successful test that had propelled India in the elite space club that comprised the US, Russia and China. “In the journey of every nation there are moments that bring utmost pride and have a historic impact on generations to come. One such moment is today,” said the PM.

Mission Shakti, which was led by the DRDO, was aimed at strengthening India’s overall security, he said in his address that comes a fortnight before the start of the general election.

First Published: Mar 27, 2019 21:51 HT


PM will turn dictator: Kejriwal

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Sunday said that if the BJP formed the next government at the Centre, Narendra Modi would remain Prime Minister forever as there would not be any election after the 2019 poll.

He alleged that the Modi government was following “Hitler’s tactics” to run the country. Mr. Kejriwal appealed to the people to ensure the defeat of the saffron party.

“Today, every patriot should have only one motive to stop the Modi government from coming back to power again at any cost… if they [the BJP] come to power in 2019, he (Mr. Modi) will be the Prime Minister forever,” he said.

He was speaking at a function to unveil a book “Vada Faramoshi”, a compilation of replies under the Right to Information Act to queries on the Central government’s works. The book was written by Neeraj Kumar, Sanjoy Basu and Shashi Shekhar.

The Chief Minister made the claim referring to the recent incident involving a “brutal” attack on the members of Muslim family in Gurgaon, and said the people from minority community were being “beaten up, harassed and murdered today without any fault”.

“Today, anyone who questions the Modi government is labelled an ‘anti-national’,” he added.

The seven Lok Sabha seats in Delhi will go to polls on May 12. The Hindu

Sc. & Tech.

IIT Guwahati’s bone graft aids extensive bone formation

by R Prasad

A scaffold made of silk–bone cement composite doped with silicon and zinc metal ions has been found to regenerate new bone tissue in rabbits in three months. The newly formed bone forms a seamless joint with the existing bone and has blood vessels inside it. Tests carried out on rabbits with defective thigh bone (femur) showed extensive bone formation of 73% at the end of 90 days compared with 49% in the case of scaffold made only of silk fibre. Even at the end of 30 days, there was adequate bone regeneration and new blood vessel formation.

Superior graft

The bone graft fabricated and tested by researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Guwahati is superior to currently available ones, affordable and does not require external use of growth factors for bone cells to grow.

“At the end of three months, the silk fibre had completely degraded leaving behind a homogeneous bone produced by rabbit bone cells. The newly formed bone had healed the defective femur,” says Prof. Biman Mandal from the Department of Biosciences and Bioengineering, IIT Guwahati who led the team. The bone cement made of calcium phosphate becomes a part of the bone while the biocompatible metal ions (silicon and zinc) get leached out at the end of 90 days.

The team is now validating the bone graft in large animals for clinical translation.

IIT Guwahati’s bone graft aids extensive bone formation

The scaffold is fabricated by first doping the bone cement with silicon and zinc and mixing the bone cement with chopped mulberry silk fibre. The bone cement gets adsorbed on the silk fibre. Liquid silk fibre is then added to bind the chopped fibre and bone cement; the liquid silk also makes the composite highly porous. The silk–bone cement composite has higher density and strength, more surface area and high surface roughness, closely resembling a native bone.

“The zinc and silicon ions get leached from the composite and activate bone and blood vessel cells. This leads to faster regeneration of the bone tissue and blood vessel formation,” says Prof. Mandal. “By doping with these metal ions we are doing away with external addition of growth factor and also making the graft affordable.”

“While the silk scaffold provides the physical cues, the silicon and zinc metal ions provide the chemical cues. These two synergistically mimic the biological cues which people use for tissue engineering,” explains Joseph Christakiran Moses from the Department of Biosciences and Bioengineering, IIT Guwahati and first author of a paper published in the journal ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering.

Explaining how new blood vessels are formed, Moses says: “Silicon and zinc trigger a molecular response within the bone cells which makes them feel that they are lacking oxygen (triggering hypoxia response element). So the bone cells start secreting pro-blood vessel forming (angiogenic) signals leading to vascularisation.”

Bone regeneration

The compressive strength of silk fibre is about 40 kPa, while it is nearly double in the case of the silk–bone cement composite. Though doping with the silicon and zinc metal ions reduces the mechanical properties, particularly the compressive strength, the bulk strength of the doped composite is sufficient to activate bone regeneration.

Through in vitro studies carried out prior to experimentation with rabbits, the researchers realised that incorporation of bone cement and metal ion doped bone cement enhanced the bone tissue regeneration capacity.

                    While the composite was seeded with bone cells for in vitro studies, in rabbits, the composite was used without adding any bone cells. “Bone cells from neighbouring tissue migrate and bind to the scaffold and aid in bone regeneration,” Prof. Mandal says. The high porosity allows the bone cells to migrate and occupy the insides of the composite and regenerate the tissue, while the surface roughness of the composite, which closely mimics the native bone, facilitates faster and better regeneration of the bone.(Source: The Hindu)


Received message from PM Modi, tweets Imran Khan on eve of Pak National Day

Received message from PM Modi, tweets Imran Khan on eve of Pak National Day

NEW DELHI/ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday sent a message to his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan, greeting people of the neighbouring country on the eve of its National Day, official sources said.

The prime minister, in his message, said it was time for the people of the sub-continent to work together for a democratic, peaceful, progressive and prosperous region, in an atmosphere free of terror and violence, they said.

Modi’s message to Khan comes in the midst of severe strain in ties between the two nuclear-armed neighbours following the Pulwama attack and the subsequent air strikes by India on a JeM terror camp in Pakistan’s Balakot.

Significantly, India on Friday boycotted a reception at the Pakistan High Commission here to mark Pakistan’s National Day, objecting to invites extended to several separatist leaders from Jammu and Kashmir for the event.

Imran Khan also tweeted PM Modi’s message.

“Received msg from PM Modi: ‘I extend my greetings & best wishes to the people of Pakistan on the National Day of Pakistan. It is time that ppl of Sub-continent work together for a democratic, peaceful, progressive & prosperous region, in an atmosphere free of terror and violence’,” Khan said.

Received msg from PM Modi: “I extend my greetings & best wishes to the people of Pakistan on the National Day of Pakistan. It is time that ppl of Sub-continent work together for a democratic, peaceful, progressive & prosperous region, in an atmosphere free of terror and violence”

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Earlier, Pakistani envoy Sohail Mahmood, in an address at the reception here, said Pakistan and India need to consolidate the process of de-escalation and stabilise the ties against further shocks, hoping that the “long winter” in bilateral relations would come to an early end.

He said both the countries should act with “wisdom” to normalise ties, asserting that “coercive measures” have not worked in the past and will not work in the future.

The envoy said a key takeaway from recent developments was that a lack of engagement creates “dangerous vacuum and serious risks” for relations between the two neighbours, adding Pakistan has “turned a corner” in its fight against the scourge of terrorism.

He said the release of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, return of the two High Commissioners to their respective missions, and bilateral meetings on the Kartarpur Corridor “are steps in a positive direction”.

Tensions between India and Pakistan escalated after Indian Air Force fighter jets bombed terror group JeM’s training camp near Balakot deep inside Pakistan on February 26.

Pakistan retaliated by attempting to target Indian military installations the next day. However, the IAF thwarted their plans.

The Indian strike on the JeM camp came 12 days after the terror outfit claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a CRPF convoy in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama in which 40 soldiers were killed. PTI


Congress will restore special category status to Arunachal, other Northeast states: Rahul Gandhi

Itanagar: Arunachal Pradesh is special to the Congress party, leader Rahul Gandhi said at an Itanagar rally on Tuesday, promising to restore the special category status to the state and others in the Northeast if voted to power.

“There are some states in the country which require special status because of their ‘unique problems and difficulties’ such as connectivity, terrain, infrastructure,” Gandhi said at the election rally.

During the Congress rule at the Centre, he said, Arunachal Pradesh and other NE states enjoyed special category status.

“Arunachal Pradesh has a special place in the heart of the Congress party and we would like to have a dil ka rishta with the people of the state,” he said.

Rahul also said the Congress would not pass in the Rajya Sabha the controversial Citizenship Amend Bill that has got the BJP much flak in recent times. Calling the Bill ‘detrimental’ to the Northeast people, he said the Congress would never allow the “suppression of the people of the Northeast”. The NDA does not have majority in the Upper House.

The Congress would never attack the indigenous language, culture, customs and traditions of Arunachal and other Northeast states, Rahul said.

The government plans to change the definition of illegal migrants with the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016. It seeks to amend the Citizenship Act 1955 that gives citizenship to illegal migrants of Hindu, Sikh, Busshist, Jain, Parsi and Christian origin. The Act, however, does not have a provision for Muslims who are Shias and Ahmediyas and who face persecution in neighbouring countries.

The Assam Gano Parishad has threatened to cut ties with ally BJP over this, stating that this law attacks the cultural and linguistic identities of population here. Opposition parties have also slammed this attempt to grant citizenship on the basis of religion.

Election to the 60-member Arunachal Pradesh Assembly and two Lok Sabha seats will be held on April 11.



India election 2019: Women voices louder in poll campaign

India has entered full election mode: voting is due to begin on 11 April, with the final ballot cast more than five weeks later on 19 May. Every day, the BBC will be bringing you all the latest updates on the twists and turns of the world’s largest democracy.

The latest from the campaign trail

What is happening?

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has released the All India Trinamool Congress’ (TMC) list of candidates – and, 41%, or 17 out of 41, are women. It’s a starry list – it has two top regional actresses, Mimi Chakraborty and Nusrat Jahan. Moon Moon Sen, a former actress who won in the 2014 election, will also be contesting again.

“I am so happy. This is a proud moment for us,” Ms Banerjee said, challenging other parties to do the same.

Why does it matter?

Female voter turnout has been steadily going up over the last few years, but the fact of the matter is, while seats in India’s village councils have been reserved for women since the early 1990s, parliament is still dominated by men.

As women become a more powerful voting block, parties are realising they need to actively target them.

Previously, politicians have wooed women with costly schemes and concessions, but it is becoming more and more clear that a party doesn’t just need to woo women voters, it needs to represent them.

And, following the realisation, no one is willing to be left behind: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi offered up his own promises on Wednesday, saying the opposition party would bring in the Women’s Reservation Bill – which would mean 33% of seats in parliament would be reserved for women – this year if it came to power, some 20 years after it was first proposed.

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Narendra Modi channels his inner Bollywood

What happened?

The Prime Minister has been sending out a barrage of tweets since Wednesday morning, tagging celebrities, media personalities and even rival politicians, telling them to use their influence to get more people to vote.

He tweeted roughly every two minutes, each time tagging a different set of people – each with a personalised message. These ranged from “a high turnout augurs well for our democratic fabric” to “the core of badminton is the court and the core of democracy is the vote”.

However, our personal favourite is the one in which he channelled the iconic tagline from the 1990s’ Bollywood blockbuster Kabhi Kushi Kabhie Gham: “It’s all about loving your family.”

Tagging the two male leads of the film, Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan as well as its director Karan Johar, the tweet finished with “it’s all about loving your… democracy”.

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Priyanka Gandhi gets social

What happened?

Priyanka Gandhi has finally debuted on Twitter, sending two tweets just hours after she made her first speech as a fully-fledged politician in Mr Modi’s home state of Gujarat.

“In the simple dignity of Sabarmati, the truth lives on,” her first tweet read, followed moments later by another – a photo, and a Mahatma Gandhi quote.

The calm nature of the Congress politician’s tweet was in contrast to her fierier tone earlier in the day.

“Your vote is a weapon, your awakening is a weapon, your awareness is a weapon, so use it wisely because you are going to choose your future,” she told a cheering crowd in Gujarat, in a speech which left many comparing her to her grandmother, the former prime minister.

Why does this matter?

A social media presence is key for any modern politician, as PM Modi’s 46.3 million followers will tell you. Used well, it can garner you millions of votes. Used badly, it can destroy a career before it has even got started.

How Ms Gandhi will fare remains to be seen. However, it is likely her brother Rahul – the Congress leader who has found himself trending for both positive and negative reasons over the last few hours – will be on hand to give her some advice.

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Also on Tuesday….

Hardik Patel was on stage with Rahul Gandhi

What happened?

Media captionHardik Patel enjoys massive support among his Patidar community

Hardik Patel, the firebrand social activist who rose to fame challenging Prime Minister Modi in his home state of Gujarat, made his first public appearance with the opposition Congress party.

Mr Patel was on stage as Congress leaders like Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi addressed a large rally in Gujarat to officially flag off the party’s election campaign.

He announced he was joining Rahul Gandhi’s party on Sunday.

The 25-year-old commerce graduate, who was not old enough to stand for election under India’s rules until this year, first rose to political fame as the face of massive caste protests which rocked Mr Modi’s state in 2015.

Patel is known for leading a movement demanding that the Patels – or the Patidar caste – be given better access to jobs and education through the quota system.

Why does this matter?

Mr Patel’s decision to join Congress, a dynastic party hoping to reinvent itself in this year’s election, is significant. The opposition hopes that he will be pivotal in swinging the vote in Gujarat, and for good reason.

His speeches and fiery oratory have attracted millions of supporters – many of whom have traditionally voted for Mr Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has ruled Gujarat for more than two decades.

“He brings mass appeal for the Congress, which is something the party has desperately sought in the past 20 years,” said Ankur Jain, BBC Gujarati’s editor. “They’ve never had a leader as popular as him in Gujarat.”

Mr Patel has been seen as a strong threat to the BJP ever since 2015, when caste protests took off in Gujarat. “He became a prominent voice of dissent for shaking up the status quo in Gujarat,” our editor explained.

So, should the BJP be worried? Possibly. But remember they still managed to win the state election in 2017.

“It was a close call though as the party did lose seats – and Mr Patel is one of the main reasons behind that,” notes Ankur Jain.

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And Monday saw…

Concerns over the election schedule, which was finally unveiled on Sunday revealing a seven stage process which will begin on 11 April and end on 19 May.

Why does the schedule matter?

Well, while the schedule’s length is nothing unusual – India’s first election in 1951-52 took a total of three months to complete – a number of people are pointing to the unusual way some states have been split up.

For example, West Bengal – where the majority of MPs are from the Trinamool Congress (TMC) – will vote over seven separate dates.

Could this have an impact on the overall vote? Possibly, according to elections expert Sanjay Kumar.

“Multiple phases in one state is not ideal,” Mr Kumar, director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, wrote on Twitter. “Campaign in neighborhood constituency within same state would impact voting decision.”

But could that give one party an unfair advantage? Some on social media have certainly suggested it may – particularly when it comes to the ruling BJP.

Others dismissed the allegation as rubbish. For example, senior Economic Times editor Shantanu N Sharma suggested the four-phase vote in the small state of Orissa could be down to the need to move federal forces needed to patrol the polling stations from one region to the other.

Local police are seen to be partisan, so federal forces have to deployed to secure polling stations. The forces have to be freed from their duties and moved all around the country.

Twitter post by @shantanunandan2: If you combine neighbouring states of Chhattisgarh (highly Naxal hit) and Odisha, phase-wise colour combinations almost match. It’s to do with troop movements, I feel.

In fact, he went as far as to suggest the set-up is actually “disadvantageous to the ruling party”.

And there are other things to consider when it comes to the schedule and how it will affect the outcome: Mr Kumar points out the choice of days – over weekends, holidays and even Mondays – could bring voter turnout down in some areas.

The Electoral Commission, meanwhile, has not given precise details of how it put the schedule together.

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What about last week?

The election hadn’t even been announced, but no one could have been unaware that it was coming: the BJP had placed adverts in 150 newspapers across the country extolling its successes over the last five years – all of which had to come to a stop on Monday, due to election rules.

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How do the Lok Sabha elections work?

India’s lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha, has 543 elected seats. Any party or coalition needs a minimum of 272 MPs to form a majority government.

Some 900 million voters – 86 million more than the last elections in 2014 – are eligible to vote at 930,000 polling stations.

Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) will be used at all polling stations. The entire process will be overseen by the Election Commission of India.

Who are the main players?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi who won a landslide victory in 2014 is seeking a second term for both himself and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

His main challengers are the main opposition Congress party led by Rahul Gandhi, and a consortium of regional parties called the Mahagathbandhan (which translates from the Hindi into massive alliance).

The Mahagathbandhan has seen some of India’s strongest regional parties, including fierce rivals, come together.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing BJP party workers during a public meeting on October 29, 2017 in Bengaluru.
Image captionMany see the upcoming election as a referendum on Mr Modi

This includes the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) led by Dalit icon Mayawati, normally fierce rivals in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, which sends the most number of MPs to parliament.

The alliance also includes the Trinamool Congress which is in power in the state of West Bengal and Arvind Kejriwal whose Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) rules Delhi.

The aim of the alliance is to consolidate regional and anti-BJP votes, in order to oust Mr Modi from power.

Other regional players including Tamil Nadu’s DMK and AIADMK and Telangana’s TRS in the south are not part of the alliance, but are expected to perform well in their own states, which is likely to make them key to any coalition government.

When do I vote? The dates at a glance

11 April: Andhra Pradesh (25), Arunachal Pradesh (2), Assam (5), Bihar (4), Chhattisgarh (1), J&K (2), Maharashtra (7), Manipur (1), Meghalaya (2), Mizoram (1), Nagaland (1), Odisha (4), Sikkim (1), Telangana (17), Tripura (1), Uttar Pradesh (UP) (8), Uttarakhand (5), West Bengal (2), Andaman & Nicobar (1), Lakshadweep (1)

18 April: Assam (5), Bihar (5), Chhattisgarh (3), Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) (2), Karnataka (14), Maharashtra (10), Manipur (1), Odisha (5), Tamil Nadu (39), Tripura (1), UP (8), West Bengal (3), Puducherry (1)

23 April: Assam (4), Bihar (5), Chhattisgarh (7), Gujarat (26), Goa (2), J&K (1), Karnataka (14), Kerala (20), Maharashtra (14), Odisha (6), UP (10), West Bengal (5), Dadar and Nagar Haveli (1), Daman and Diu (1)

29 April: Bihar (5), J&K (1), Jharkhand (3), MP (6), Maharashtra (17), Odisha (6), Rajasthan (13), UP (13), Bengal (8)

6 May: Bihar (1), J&K (2), Jharkhand (4), Madhya Pradesh (MP) (7), Rajasthan (12), UP (14), Bengal (7)

12 May: Bihar (8), Haryana (10), Jharkhand (4), MP (8), UP (14), Bengal (8), Delhi (7)

19 May: Bihar (8), Jharkhand (3), MP (8), Punjab (13), Bengal (9), Chandigarh (1), UP (13), Himachal Pradesh (4)

23 May: Votes counted