China’s defence spend four times India’s

China’s military expenditure is almost four times that of India, with the latter’s armed forces also getting hobbled by a ballooning revenue expenditure and pension bill. The US, of course, is the world’s largest spender on defence, with a military expenditure almost equal to the next eight countries combined.

Latest data released by global think-tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute shows that the total world military expenditure rose by 2.6% to $1,822 billion in 2018.

“The five biggest spenders in 2018 were the United States ($649 billion), China ($250 billion), Saudi Arabia ($67.6 billion), India ($66.5 billion) and France ($63.8 billion), which together accounted for 60% of the global military spending,” it said.

Though Sipri does not go into details, the $66.5 billion (Rs.4.6 lakh crore) military expenditure figure for India includes defence pensions, which amount to one-fourth of the total. Of the remaining, two-thirds go in for the day-today running costs, salaries and the like for maintaining the almost 15-lakh strong Indian armed forces.

Overall, this leaves just about one-fourth of the $66.5 billion figure for military modernisation and new weapon systems. So, despite India being the world’s fourth largest spender by displacing even Russia ($61.4 billion), its armed forces continue to suffer from critical shortages on several fronts.

China, which has registered a defence budget hike for the 24th consecutive year, of course, wants to rival the US on the global stage and prevent its military intervention in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea.

India, however, has no option but to be ready for its expansionist behaviour both along the 4,057-km Line of Actual Control as well as the Indian Ocean Region.

Cyclone Fani gains strength

The weather department has scaled up its warning for coastal Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha as Cyclone Fani continues to gain strength as it moves in the north-west direction along the eastern coast.

The India Meteorological Department, which has been tracking the storm’s path since it was formed over the Indian Ocean and south-east Bay of Bengal last week, said the cyclone will intensify into a “very severe” storm over the next 24 hours. After Thursday, it would begin to re-curve north northeastwards towards the Odisha coast, IMD added.

Residents have been warned to take safety measures as strong winds of 160-170 kmph gusting to 185 kmph are expected to whip coastal areas in north Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and south Andhra Pradesh from Wednesday evening when the wind gusts would be the strongest, along with rainfall.The National Disaster Response Force and the coast guard have been put on high alert, the home ministry said in a statement, adding that it is in touch with the concerned states and central agencies.

Fishermen have been warned not to venture into the sea and those at sea have been asked to return.

The Indian Ocean has been warming rapidly over the decades, triggering concerns of severe cyclonic storms.

After Cyclone Ockhi, the most intense cyclone in the Arabian Sea in recent years, pummelled the southern coast in December 2017, the IMD has modifieditsstandardoperating procedure during cyclone forecasts. It began to issue intensity forecasts from depression stage against the former practice of deep depression stage. Last year, too, the eastern coast was ravaged by cyclone Daye, very severe cyclone Titli, cyclone Gaja and severe cyclone Phethai.

Elections 2019:Phase IV sees a tad better turnout

The fourth phase of polling for the Lok Sabha elections saw an increased turnout when compared to the previous elections, as main contenders Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress vie for 72 seats across nine states.

The tentative turnout was 64%, more than the 63.05% recorded five years ago, and is likely to go up as more data comes in.

The fourth phase marks the beginning of a direct contest between the ruling BJP and Congress. The National Democratic Alliance had swept 56 of these 72 seats in 2014.

The fourth phase is crucial as 13 seats in Rajasthan (67.91%) and six in Madhya Pradesh (69.53%) voted on Monday. BJP won 52 out of 54 seats in these two states in 2014, but lost the assembly elections to the Congress in December.

Maharashtra and Odisha, which had multi phase polling, completed their elections on Monday. While Maharashtra clocked a total tentative turnout of 58.23% (it was 60.32% in 2014), Odisha saw a 68% turnout for simultaneous state and Lok Sabha polling (73.79% in 2014). Polling for the Hindi heartland also gathered pace with the fourth phase. Five seats in Bihar (59.02% turnout), 13 in Uttar Pradesh (58.84%) and three in Jharkhand (64.38%) went to the polls on Monday.

In an incident involving Union minister Babul Supriyo, a FIR was registered against him for entering a polling booth with armed security guards in West Bengal’s Barabani. Another FIR was registered against unknown people for damaging his car.

West Bengal (76.72%) also saw other instances of violence, including a bomb being hurled within 300 metres of a polling station in East Bardhaman, injuring three people. In Jharkhand’s Chatra seat, a voter was arrested for damaging the ballot unit at the end of polling.

In Kulgam district of Anantnag constituency in Jammu and Kashmir, which is witnessing a three-phase polling, the turnout for Monday was 10.5%.

The total amount of illegal cash, assets, etc. seized in this election so far is worth ₹3,274.18 crore.

961 candidates were in the fray. In the nine states, more than 140,000 polling booths were set up. The largest number of candidates were from Maharashtra —323 for just 17 seats.

With the addition of electors continuing till the last date of nomination, India’s total electorate now stands at 910,136,588.


Why India Can’t be the Next China, And Shouldn’t Try

By Ruchir Sharma

When Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014 one hope was that he would do for India what he had done as chief minister in the state of Gujarat: build a fast-growing economy like China’s, with an efficient bureaucracy and advanced factories attracting billions in investment from multinational corporations.

Five years later, with Modi seeking a second term in India’s general elections, it’s clear that he won’t make India the next China, because it’s not possible.

Comparing these two giants is a popular thought experiment, but they have nothing in common other than populations of a billion plus. China is a one-party autocracy that mobilised its homogeneous Han and Mandarin-speaking majorities behind a decades-long campaign of radical reform. India is a diverse multi-party democracy that will always struggle to rally its hundreds of ethnic and linguistic minorities behind any single goal.

What Modi proved in Gujarat was that a strong leader can command change in India, but only one state at a time. In Modi’s first-term as chief minister between 2002 and 2007, Gujarat’s economy grew at a nearly 12% a year pace, the fastest rate ever recorded in any major Indian state, under any chief minister.

As prime minister, Modi has been unable to generate the same kind of performance for the Indian economy as a whole; it has rumbled along at a rate of 6 to 7% — far below the double-digit pace recorded by China in the 1990s, when it was at the same level of development as India today.

Fed up with the stagnation and chaos China suffered under Mao, its communist bosses began loosening their control over the economy in the late 1970s. They freed rural Chinese to till their own land or leave the interior provinces in search of work. They created economic zones free of heavy bureaucratic control in coastal cities, where new jobs flourished. The authorities also closed thousands of rusting state factories, which threw tens of millions out of work. With no social safety net, many were forced to find new livelihoods in the burgeoning private sector, which was responsible for the subsequent decades of double-digit growth.

India has never risked anything like mass firings and large-scale migration to promote growth, in large part because its democratic leaders fear voters would punish them for the short-term upheaval and pain. As a result, India has seen a much more gradual shift from rural to urban, farm to factory, state to private sector, than China has. Most Indians still live and work on the farm. The population is 70% rural. Booming new cities are as rare in India as they are common in China. Many business sectors remain largely owned and operated by the inefficient state.

India has tinkered with free-market reforms, but only under pressure from economic crises, not as a steady long-term strategy like China. In his first term as prime minister, Modi continued on a path of gradual change, acceptable to the countless communities in India’s fractured electorate. He has for example pushed no broad privatisation, not even in the bloated state banks, which are a major obstacle to faster growth.

Already, one outcome of the 2019 election is entirely predictable, based on the party manifestos recently released by Modi and the main opposition parties. It will not lead to the easing of land acquisition laws or labour market rules, or the downsizing of state companies — the kinds of reforms that unleashed years of miracle growth in China, and in Korea, Japan and Taiwan before it. Instead, the manifestos offer dole-outs that will leave the overburdened state less money to invest in roads, ports and electricity plants.

The world’s most populous nations are evolving along very different paths – China toward freemarket communism, India toward state-dependent democracy. The contrast can be quite striking.

Consider how China created a cashless society by freeing its tech giants to create the software platforms that made it possible; within the last few years cash has virtually disappeared as a medium of exchange in big cities like Shanghai or Beijing. Modi tried to promote the same goal by state fiat; suddenly withdrawing all big bills overnight in late 2016. The result was not a sudden shift to digital forms of currency; it was a shortage of the old kind that is still weighing on the economy today.

Does this suggest that India would have been better off under an autocratic government? Not at all. For every authoritarian success story, like China, there are multiple failures like Cuba, Venezuela or North Korea. China got lucky with good leadership. It is an exceptional case, not a model for India and other developing economies to copy.

More importantly, strong, centralised rule is particularly ill-suited to India, where many of the 29 states see themselves almost as separate countries. Whenever the prime ministers try to centralise more power in Delhi, as Indira Gandhi did in the 1970s, they have triggered a backlash, often led by state leaders.

India is more a continent than a country, its states more varied in language, culture and ethnicity than the nations of Europe. Its economy is best-managed one state at a time, by a democratic leader close to local conditions, not by an authoritarian regime at the Centre.

As recently as five years ago, the hope for China was that economic freedom would lead to political freedom, but that dream has been dashed by the tightening of the communist party rule under President Xi Jinping. The hope for India, which became a democracy when it was still very poor, was that political freedom would lead to economic freedom, but that dream has been undermined by a long line of statist prime ministers.

There is still reason to believe in India’s economic prospects, but hope won’t come from prime ministers in Delhi, it will come from dynamic chief ministers in state capitals. These figures often double as leaders of their own regional parties. Right now the conventional wisdom is that Modi and his party are likely to return to power but with fewer seats in the Parliament, which would leave him more dependent on regional leaders.

That would not be a bad outcome. India is better off accepting its exuberantly diverse and democratic nature, and giving its state leaders more authority to govern themselves, than trying to be the next China.

Raids in Kerala over Daesh links

The National Investigation Agency raided three places in Kerala in connection with investigation into a Daesh module. The state police said one suspect had been detained.

A senior NIA official in Delhi said: “The agency carried out raids at the residential premises of three suspects—two places in Kasaragod and one in Palakkad.” The official said the raids were carried out after the agency got a tip-off that the three persons are suspected to have links with some of the accused who had earlier exited India to join Daesh.

The NIA said it seized a number of digital devices, including mobile phones, SIM cards, memory cards, pen drives, diaries with handwritten notes in Arabic and Malayalam, DVDs of controversial preacher Zakir Naik as well as untitled DVDs. The NIA official said the agency also seized CDs of religious speeches.

The NIA said the case relates to the criminal conspiracy hatched by people from Kasaragod district of Kerala and their associates to join Daesh. Fourteen persons from the district left India or their work places in the Middle East between May and July 2016 before travelling to Afghanistan or Syria where they allegedly joined Daesh.

In Thiruvananthapuram, a Kerala police official said the NIA took one person from Palakkad district into custody for questioning. A police official attached to the Kollengode police station said the NIA approached them and sought security. “We accompanied them and they have taken one person into custody. After picking him up, they returned to Kochi.”

NIA officials in Kasaragod also served notice to two people, identified only as Abubacker and Ahamed, to report on Monday at the Kochi NIA office.


Modi files nomination for Varanasi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi filed his nomination papers for the Varanasi parliamentary seat in the presence of senior leaders of the National Democratic Alliance, appealing to the electorate to avoid complacence that he had already won and make certain that they turn out to vote on May 19, the seventh and final phase of the 17th general election.

“Some people have started creating an atmosphere that Modi ji has won (the election from Varanasi). Aise logon ki baaton me mat aiye (Please don’t trust the words of such people). Voting is your right. Do cast your vote for strengthening democracy and making a strong government,” Modi said in a message directed at local voters.

In a brief interaction with journalists after filing his nomination papers, Modi thanked the people of Varanasi, tens of thousands of whom turned up at his roadshow in the city on Thursday, “for their love and affection”.

“They resolved for a bright future for India. I am indebted to them for their love,” he added.

Modi, 68, filed his nomination documents at the collector’s office, where Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah, and Union ministers Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj, Piyush Goyal, Nitin Gadkari were in attendance. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, Akali Dal chief Parkash Singh Badal, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leaders from Tamil Nadu were also present.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared an income of ₹19.9 lakh in his income tax return for the financial year 2017-18. His movable and immovable assets add up to ₹2.51 crore. These include fixed deposits worth ₹1.27 crore with the State Bank of India and a plot in Gandhinagar with a built up area of 170 square feet, worth ₹1.1 crore. Modi has furnished these details in his affidavit filed along with his nomination papers as the candidate for Varanasi.

A comparison with his 2014 affidavit shows that while his movable assets have more than doubled in five years, the value of immovable assets has only increased by ₹10 lakh. There are no outstanding debts or criminal cases against him. He has not declared any dependents as well.

Prof. Annapurna Shukla of the Mahila Mahavidyalaya, senior BJP leader Subhash Gupta, retired scientist Ram Shankar Patel,and Jagdish Chaudhary, a scion of the Doms who have traditionally presided over the last rites of people brought to Varanasi for cremation, signed as proposers of Modi’s candidacy in the nomination papers.

“In getting proposers from different caste and social groups, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made an effort to represent the composite culture of Banaras,” said KK Mishra, a professor of political science at Banaras Hindu University.

Modi touched the feet of Badal and Shukla before filing the papers. The Congress said Modi’s comments and the gathering of alliance partners while he filed his nomination reflected unease in the BJP camp. “He (Modi) is sure that he will not get a mandate on his own, so he gathered all the coalition partners. His self confidence is weakening that he can form a government on his own and that is why he is showing more confidence on alliance partners than on himself,” Congress spokesperson Rajiv Shukla said.

The PM started the day with a visit to Assi Ghat, where he took a boat ride, and then drove to a conference of BJP workers in the city where he delivered a pep talk. He then went to a nearby government primary school and interacted with students.

No Priyanka vs Modi

The Congress fielded Ajay Rai from Varanasi to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, ending speculation on a possible blockbuster electoral duel between Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and the PM in the temple town of Uttar Pradesh.

The ‘will she, won’t she’ suspense finally ended in a sort of anti-climax with the nomination of Rai, who unsuccessfully contested against Modi in 2014 and finished third in the contest after the BJP leader and AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal. In 2014, Modi had won the seat with 5.81 lakh votes. Kejriwal trailed by over 3 lakh votes. Rai polled about 75,000 votes.

The Congress also fielded Madhusudan Tiwari from Gorakhpur against BJP’s Ravi Kishan, a popular Bhojpuri film star.

Speculation on Priyanka making her electoral debut from Varanasi had been rife for the past few weeks and was fuelled after Congress President Rahul Gandhi, to a question on whether he planned to field his sister against PM Modi, said last week: “I will leave you in suspense. Suspense is not always a bad thing.”

Priyanka herself added to the buzz when she said she would abide by her party’s decision on the matter.

The Samajwadi Party had earlier declared Shalini Yadav, who joined that same day, as its candidate from Varanasi.

After years of working in the Congress’s backrooms, Priyanka joined full-time politics in February by taking charge of the eastern UP unit of the party.

Varanasi will go to the polls in the last phase on May 19.

Of Modi's rally in Mumbai....

In his rally at the MMRDA ground in BKC, Prime Minister Narendra Modi wooed the middle class by calling it the backbone of the country. Be it in giving up LPG subsidy or paying taxes, Modi highlighted the positive role played by this class even as he targeted the Congress for never recognising these contributions. He called Rahul Gandhi greedy and selfish.

“On my appeal, more than 1 crore people gave up LPG subsidy and more than 40 lakh senior citizens gave up their rail fare subsidy. In the last one year, it is the middle class that has been at the forefront in donating blood, eyes and cadaver to medical schools,” he pointed out.

He further said, “It was unprecedented that Finance minister Arun Jaitley thanked taxpayers in his Budget speech because the Congress has never spared a thought about the welfare of the common man.”

He extolled the virtues of his government by citing low inflation figures and high growth rate of more than seven per cent. He said the “Congress government means only corruption, inflation and indecision and our government means decisiveness and bold decisions.”

To compensate for BJP’s Bhopal candidate Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur’s irresponsible statements on former ATS chief Hemant Karkare, Modi showered praise on Mumbai’s police force.

He said, “If Mumbai police had not responded bravely on 26/11, many more lives would have been lost.”

“There has been demand for a police memorial by our police forces for the last 50 years but Congress and other governments never paid any heed to it. But my government completed a grand memorial for the country’s police in Delhi within five years,” Modi claimed.

“After terrorist attacks Congress only changed home ministers and chief ministers but no political will was shown to bring the perpetrators to justice, which my government did. God forbid, if there is any terror attack on our country, we will flush the terrorists out even if they are hiding in patal (hell).”

Speaking on the occasion, Sena president Uddhav Thackeray said, “We decided to have an alliance with the BJP only on the issue of Hindutva. Modi government has the courage to teach Pakistan a lesson. If we come to power, we will ensure there is Ram Mandir in Ayodhya and Article 370 is dropped from the constitution.”

Speaking at the rally, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said, “The issue of national security is as important as development and we will win elections for both these aspects.”

There was high security at BKC for PM Narendra Modi’s rally and no black cloth, including bags, T-shirt, shirts were allowed inside the ground.

Queer rights enter election script

No matter who wins the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the one who takes the hot seat in Delhi will have a number of promises to keep to the country’s LGBT voters, given the “commitment” that each political party has made towards the rights and beliefs of sexual and gender minorities in their manifestos.

While it’s common for other marginalised groups to find themselves deluged with campaign promises, this is a first for the queer community. And it comes close after the decriminalisation of Section 377 last year. But the fight for equal rights has just begun, feel members of the queer community. From basic rights at the workplace to marriage, adoption and housing rights, there are issues aplenty that LGBT Indians still face.

“Gay men and women want to grow old together in dignity and whoever comes to power needs to ensure this... marriage rights are especially important so that we can nominate our partner to inheritance and also care for them medically,” said Sridhar Rangayan, an activist-filmmaker.

Activists estimated that queer people make up about 6% of India’s population.

In their pitch to the community, BJP has said it is committed to bringing transgender individuals to the mainstream through socio-economic and policy initiatives. It also says it will ensure self-employment and skill development for transgender youth, but does not elaborate further.

Congress’s manifesto proposes a “diversity index” to measure sexual diversity across government bodies. The party has an entire section on LGBT matters and promises to immediately withdraw the Transgender Bill of 2018 that is pending in Parliament if it comes to power. It aims to instead introduce a Bill consistent with the SC judgment to protect LGBTQIA rights.

CPM has promised legalisatiuon of same-sex marriage and protection to same-sex couples. Its manifesto talks of reservation in education, expansion of UGC’s anti-ragging policy to address bullying or violence based on sexual orientation, and accessible bathrooms for trans, intersex and gender non-conforming individuals.

Surprisingly, parties like AAP and Trinamool, whose members have expressed solidarity with the queer community, have refrained from spelling out their stance in their political manifestos.

Somewhere in Assam....

Puranigudam Minar, as the locals call it, stands tall in a dusty bylane of Nagaon. Situated inside the Puranigudam Masjid, built in 1824, the turret was about to be demolished to make way for a highway expansion project. But the local residents of Purunigudam, cutting across religious lines, would not let that happen.

In 2015, National Highways Authority of India proposed expanding NH-37 into a four-lane highway. The Minar was in the way of the expansion. A few concerned locals, Hindus and Muslims, approached the district administration with a memorandum to preserve the Minar, but NHAI and public works department said moving it would be difficult. Not giving up, some of them started a crowd-funding initiative. Soon, their campaign caught the attention of an engineering firm based in Haryana.

“We proposed a technique called lifting-and-shifting... We lift the structure from its base, using plate rollers, and move it,” explained Gurdeep Chauhan, the engineer who worked this out. “The base of the Minar has a perimeter of 42 feet, intricately designed. A few accidents have damaged it a little over the year,” he said.

Now, the Minar is being moved 70 feet away from the original site, engaging six labourers. “Initially, we had estimated a budget of Rs.5 lakh. But it has shot up to Rs.8 lakh. So, our firm is chipping in. Almost 60% of the work is done. In another 20 days, we will finish it,” Chauhan further said.

For the locals, this comes as a relief after a long battle. “It has been four years since we took the initiative to preserve the site. The Minar is a symbol of harmony in Nagaon. Through social media, a lot of people are now aware of it and help is coming in from all quarters,” said Chittaranjan Borah, a resident of Puranigudam, who was the first to alert the authorities about the need to preserve the site.


Jio pips Airtel

Nearly two and a half years after launching mobile phone services, Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio has overtaken Bharti Airtel’s subscriber base to emerge as the second-largest telecom company in the country.

Jio, which has a customer base of 30.6 crore, now trails only Vodafone-Idea. Airtel has 28.4 crore subscribers, while Vodafone-Idea had announced that it had 38.7 crore subscribers in December 2018.

A telecom industry analyst said that the pace of growth of Jio’s subscriber additions may see the company overtake Vodafone-Idea in the coming quarters.

For Sunil Mittal’s Airtel, which dominated the Indian telecom space for almost two decades, the fall has been dramatic — it used to be the market leader till the middle of last year before being edged out by the new entity that formed after the merger of Vodafone India and Idea Cellular.

The meteoric growth in Jio’s business since it launched services in September 2016 has been fuelled by aggressive and dirt-cheap consumer tariff plans with the company launching operations with free voice call facility.

Jio has been adding subscribers at breakneck speed at a time when Airtel and Vodafone-Idea have been weeding out low-paying users. According to a report by JP Morgan, Jio added 2.7 crore new customers between January and March 2019, after logging in 12 crore new members through 2018.

Importantly, the company continues to lead the data space through its 4G-only business, and is actively scouting for more customers with cut-throat tariffs.

Jio’s aggressive entry into the telecom business — in Mukesh Ambani’s second avatar in the mobile space — had unshackled the financials of the industry completely. Airtel, which had initially accused Jio of engaging in “predatory pricing” to gain market share, has seen its domestic operations slip into losses, while Vodafone India and Idea were forced to strike synergies and lower operating costs.

Jio, however, continues to be profitable in its operations and also had the highest adjusted gross revenue in access services amongst all the telecom companies in the December quarter. While Jio’s AGR was Rs.9,482 crore, Vodafone-Idea was at Rs.7,224 crore and Airtel at Rs.6,440 crore, according to a report released by telecom regulator Trai.

Ambani had made it clear from the very beginning that his business would not be a pure-play mobile telecom company, but would aim at creating a digital eco-system that — among other areas — would focus on high speed internet, news and entertainment content, movies, music, chat, and financial transactions.

Jio has been the strongest in terms of bagging internet customers, especially as it also offers mobile handsets bundled with its services. In 2018, Jio captured 60% share of new 4G subscribers, and accounted for 65% of industry 4G customers as of end December 2018. Further, it carried 70% of 4G data traffic in 2018, and 61% of overall data traffic.

RBI transfers Nabard, NHB stake to government

The government has taken ownership of two apex financial institutions — the National Housing Bank and the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development — from the RBI.

NHB is a regulatory institution that promotes and regulates the flow of credit to housing, while Nabard carries out the same role for agriculture.

In a statement issued here on Wednesday, the RBI said that it has sold its entire stake in Nabard and NHB amounting to Rs.20 crore and Rs.450 crore on February 26, 2019 and March 19, 2019, respectively.

“With this, the government now holds 100% stake in both the financial institutions,” the RBI said. Last year, the government took the decision to divest the central bank of its holding in these two regulatory institutions.

Banarasis brave heat for PM roadshow

The heat and humidity were no deterrents for the massive crowd of ‘Banarasis’ who accompanied PM Modi on his 7 km grand roadshow, chanting ‘Modi-Modi’, from Banaras Hindu University gate to Dasashwamedh Ghat.. The roadshow, held a day before he files his nomination from the temple city, received a rapturous welcome.

People had gathered outside BHU by the afternoon. Their numbers swelled as senior BJP leaders such as Manoj Tiwari made appearances amid election songs and slogans on loudspeakers.

As news of the Prime Minister’s arrival spread, BJP supporters broke into an impromptu gig near the statue of Madan Mohan Malviya outside the Lanka Gate. Folk artists including Dhabiyao dancers and Birha singers became crowd pullers, making it a carnival-like atmosphere.

According to BJP’s itinerary, Modi had to land at the BHU helipad at 3 pm. From there, he was to reach the university gate to garland the Malviya’s statue to mark the beginning of his road show—a ritual he had followed in 2014 too.

Though Modi was delayed by about two hours, when he finally arrived wearing a saffron kurta and an ‘angavastram’, loud cheers and showers of rose petals greeted him.

After garlanding the BHU founder’s statue, Modi greeted the crowds by bowing down with folded hands. He began his road show in his official vehicle a little before 5.30 pm. On a decorated mini truck, UP CM Yogi Adityanath, state BJP chief Mahendranath Pandey and other senior leaders followed. Behind them were another dozen cars with party flags.

Modi constantly kept waving as the road show continued towards Ravidas Gate and into narrow lanes with crowds cheering on. Several selfie sticks were propped up by supporters, and children sat on parents’ shoulders to catch a glimpse of the PM.

In the Muslim-dominated Madanpura locality, large crowds welcomed Modi.

Iqbal Ahmed, a resident, said people were happy to welcome the PM as chants of ‘Modi-Modi’ reverberated.

Shamim Akhtar Ansari said it was due to the personal relations of BJP MLC and silk trader Ashok Dhawan with Muslims that they had come in large numbers.

When the destination, Dashashwamedha Ghat, was metres away, the loud noises gave way to the sound of mantras— the aarti by priests had begun.


Elections Phase 3: Moderate turnout continues

Polling has concluded for over half of the total Lok Sabha seats with the end of the third phase, which recorded an overall 67% turnout across 15 states and Union Territories. Polling, according to the Election Commission, was by and large peaceful except for a few minor incidents.

The voting percentage was moderate to high in most of the states and Union Territories covered on Tuesday except in Jammu and Kashmir, where a part of Anantnag parliamentary constituency went to polls and recorded just 12.9% turnout.

The third phase was the biggest in terms of number of parliamentary constituencies going to polls.

As many as 117, or over 21% of the 543 Lok Sabha seats, witnessed polling. With the end of phase three, polling has concluded for 22 states and UTs.

Anantnag, where six assembly segments had polling on Tuesday, reported an accident at Kokernag involving a vehicle carrying poll officials and security personnel. The bus fell into a gorge, killing one policeman and injuring five poll officials and several security personnel. Anantnag, where a bye-election could not be held for nearly two years in view of law and order concerns, is having staggered polling over three phases. About 12.9% turnout was registered on the first day of polling in the seat.

In West Bengal, a murder was reported in Murshidabad, though not within 100 metres of the polling station. The preliminary investigation report, as per an EC official, attributed the murder to personal enmity between the dead and the accused.

In another incident in Dakshin Dinajpur, death of one “poll agent” Babu Lal Murmu was reported, though EC maintains he was not on polling duty.

In Assam, around 800 voters in a polling station in Baksa district boycotted the poll over grievances with implementation of government schemes. As many as 11 voters died in Kerala, though reports sent to EC described all these as “natural deaths”.

A jammed EVM button was reported at a polling booth at Kovalam in Thiruvananthapuram. As many as 76 votes had been cast when it was first reported, and on verification the complaint regarding difficulty in pressing the button allotted to Congress candidate, was found valid. The machine was immediately replaced.

EC said that of the over 2 lakh EVMs and VVPATs deployed, only 0.57% of ballot units, 0.58% of control units and 2.24% of VVPATs had to be replaced due to snags.

Till the end of phase three, total seizures touched Rs.3,126 crore, against Rs.1,200 crore during Lok Sabha polls in 2014. Progressive seizures until April 23 included Rs.731 crore in cash, Rs.236 crore worth of liquor, and drugs worth Rs.1,170 crore.


Fuel prices set to shoot up

The Donald Trump administration put India in a tight energy fix and strategic tangle, ending the waiver that allowed New Delhi to buy Iranian oil even as it whittled down supplies from Tehran, a long-term source and partner in the region.

“The current waivers expire on May 2. There are no SRE (significant reduction exemption) waivers that extend beyond May 2. Full stop,” US secretary of state Mike Pompeo announced at a state department briefing on Monday, signalling an end to a nearly year-long breathing room the Trump administration had given to eight countries, including India and China, after putting them on notice to stop buying Iranian oil.

Any action or entity interacting with Iran should do its due diligence and err on the side of caution,” Pompeo warned, adding, “We will no longer grant exemptions. We’re going to zero across the board.” Entities that continue to trade with Iran will invite US sanctions. Other countries that also lost the waiver are all American allies—Japan, South Korea, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Taiwan.

The US action will make life harder for consumers in India by pushing up fuel prices and squeezing the new government’s legroom for social spending. Government officials said they were “studying the implications of the announcement and the government will make a statement at an appropriate time”.

India depends on imports for 82% of its oil needs, and Iran is among its top five suppliers. But senior executives of state-run oil companies, the main importers of Iranian oil, said that alternate sources had been identified. They said Indian refiners have lined up ‘optional volumes’—quantities in addition to term contract volumes-—from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Mexico and the US to substitute shipments from Iran, which supplied over 23 million tonnes in 2018-19.

It is on the pricing side that India will feel the impact. Global benchmark Brent crude spiked nearly 3% to $74/barrel on Monday, the highest since November 2018. Reports suggest the latest US move will suck out nearly 1 million barrels a day from the global market.

Rahul regrets saying SC endorsed his ‘chowkidar chor hai’ slogan

Congress president Rahul Gandhi expressed “regret” for saying a Supreme Court ruling endorsed his “Chowkidar chor hai” stand, but hit back at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, alleging he had commented on the Rafale deal case although it was under judicial consideration.

Politically, the development is significant because it puts the focus back on the “chowkidar” narrative in the ongoing elections. Soon after Gandhi’s affidavit was filed in the Supreme Court, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress engaged in a war of words over the issue.

Gandhi’s move came in response to a contempt petition filed by BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi on a statement he had made while filing his nomination in Amethi on 10 April. At the time, Gandhi had said that the apex court’s decision to admit certain documents in the case on the Rafale fighter jet deal, in which the Congress alleges government corruption, meant that “Supreme Court ne kaha hai ki chowkidar hi chor hai” (Supreme Court has said that the watchman is the thief).

Gandhi clarified that on 10 April when he reached the district collector’s room in Amethi he was “accosted” by local journalists who wanted his reaction on the Rafale judgement. Gandhi said he had not read the order and gave a reaction based on what he had read on the electronic and social media.
“My statement was made in the heat of political campaigning. It has been used (and misused) by my political opponents to project that I had deliberately and intentionally suggested that this Court had said Chowkidar Chor Hai! Nothing could be further from my mind,” Gandhi said.

Hitting back at the government, Gandhi alleged that Modi, despite the fact that the Rafale case was sub judice, has given interviews and statements stating that “Hon’ble Supreme Court of India had given him a clean chit in the Rafale deal”.

The affidavit provided a detailed table with the names, statements and the sources of the statements made by Modi and other senior leaders of the BJP.

Gandhi prayed for a dismissal of the case with costs, arguing the petitioners had intentionally dragged the court to create “political controversy for personal gains and political mileage.”

On 10 April, the Supreme Court had announced its decision to allow leaked Rafale documents to review a previous judgement overruling government objections, following which Gandhi claimed moral victory and said the court had made it clear that Modi “committed theft.”

India Post partners with TCS

Tata Consultancy Services has partnered with the Department of Posts to modernise a network of more than 1.5 lakh post offices across India, making it the largest distributed e-postal network in the world. “The multi-year digital core programme will transform DoP into a multi-service digital hub, modernise delivery of mail and packages, enhance customer experience and launch innovative services to drive new revenues,” a statement said.

Debashis Ghosh, business group head for public services at TCS, said an important objective of the transformation is to use the DoP’s nationwide reach to drive financial inclusion and accessibility of citizen services in remote areas. This is being accomplished through over 1.3 lakh Darpan (Digital Advancement of Rural Post Office for A New lndia) hand-held devices that gramin dak sevaks use to provide postal, banking, insurance and cash management services in remote villages, even those without network connectivity.

3-Way Contest Unfolds in Delhi

Delhi is set for a triangular contest, as months of talks between the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party to jointly take on the BJP appear to have come to a naught.

While the AAP had declared its candidates from six seats last month leaving aside the West Delhi constituency, the Congress named six candidates, signalling that the possibility of an alliance is off the table. All the seven Lok Sabha seats in the capital are held by the BJP.

Three-time Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit is among the candidates. The party has left out South Delhi, where its plan to nominate Ramesh Kumar, the brother of 1984 anti-Sikh riots convict Sajjan Kumar, has triggered anger among Sikh groups. According to sources, the party was also looking at fielding wrestler Sushil Kumar, but he declined.

Senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal is not on the list. Sources in the party said he had decided against contesting from his traditional Chandni Chowk seat as he was reluctant to fight in a triangular contest with the BJP and AAP.

Dikshit, who took over as the chief of the Delhi Congress earlier this year, will contest from North East Delhi, vying for the constituency dominated by Purvanchali voters with BJP’s Manoj Tiwari and AAP’s Dilip Pandey. Her predecessor, Ajay Maken, will contest from New Delhi.

The other Congress names are Arvinder Singh Lovely (East Delhi), JP Agarwal (Chandni Chowk), Rajesh Lilothia (North West Delhi) and Mahabal Mishra (West Delhi).

India to build 12 nuclear plants

India will set up 12 more nuclear power stations to ensure free flow of uninterrupted electricity for both industrial and residential purposes, Department of Atomic Energy secretary and Atomic Energy Commission chairman K N Vyas said at the Russian International AtomExpo in Sochi.

Currently, there are nine nuclear power reactors at various stages of construction and are scheduled to be completed by 2024-25. There are two reactors of 700 MW capacity each in Gujarat’s Kakrapar, two in Rajasthan’s Rawatbhata (700 MW each), two reactors of 1,000 MW capacity each in Tamil Nadu’s Kudankulam, one reactor of 500 MW in Kalpakkam and two (700 MW each) in Haryana’s Gorakhpur.

Twelve more nuclear power reactors were accorded administrative approval and financial sanction by the Union government in 2017. While 10 will be of 700 MW capacity, two will be of 1,000 MW each. Two reactors will come up in Gorakhpur, two in Rajasthan’s Mahi-Banswara, two in Karnataka’s Kaiga, two in MP’s Chutka and two in Kudankulam.

Air traffic growth stalls

India’s domestic air travel rise has flat-lined after 52 straight months of double and two months of single-digit growth. This March saw 1 crore-15,96,000 domestic passengers, up just 0.1% from 1 crore-15,80,000 in the same month last year. This was due to the sudden grounding of planes—13 Boeing 737 Max of SpiceJet on March 13 and lessors taking back 35 of Jet Airways during the month.

Till recently, low-cost carriers accounted for almost two-thirds of all domestic air travellers. However in March this year, for the first time in Indian aviation history, 76.9% of domestic passengers flew low-cost airlines. The rest 23.1% flew with Air India, Jet and Vistara in the same month. The reduced capacity saw spot airfares going through the roof, which led to fewer people opting to fly.

And the cancellations, as per the DGCA data for March 2019, saw 2.7 lakh domestic passengers finding their flights cancelled. The big chunk of passengers whose flights were cancelled were of Spice-Jet (2.3 lakh) and Jet (26,185).

The combined result was fewer people taking to the skies, crashing the growth in March 2019 over same month last year to 0.1%. A far cry from the heady days of growth Indian aviation had witnessed in the last five years, mainly on account of low oil prices till early 2018 that saw airlines offering low fares and flying becoming affordable.

October 2018 was the 50th straight months of double-digit growth (over the same month in previous year). In these months, peak growth was almost 30% for a few months in 2015-16. The past few months had seen airlines hiking fares due to several reasons like jet fuel getting costlier, rupee crashing and lower capacity. So the growth rate was falling, but was still at decent levels.

December 2018 was the last month of double digit growth when India had 1.3 crore domestic passengers, up 12.9% from December 2018. In January and February, the domestic growth rate had declined to 9.1% and 5.6%, respectively. But the grounding of Boeing 737 Max and Jet crisis have virtually flat-lined the growth story for what not so long back was the world’s fastest growing aviation market.

While Jet’s taking off again depends on its ongoing sale process being successful, the government is trying to revive growth by asking other airlines to speed up their aircraft induction to fill in the gap created by the airline.

Airlines say the impact of high-cost structure for Indian carriers is that today there is only one airline, Air India—which is also on ventilator— that operates widebody aircraft to medium and long-haul destinations like Europe, North America and Australia.

The drop in the number of flights of Jet and SpiceJet pushed up aircraft occupancy for all airlines in the lean travel months with all big players seeing their domestic flights going over 86% full, except Air India for which this figure was 80.8%.

Domestic air travel growth is likely to stage some recovery as airlines are speeding up their aircraft induction after Jet suspended operations. SpiceJet is planning to operate almost 30 of Jet’s Boeing 737s while AI and AI Express are looking at both the wide and narrow body of Jet for international flights. The aviation ministry is giving Jet’s unutilised slots to other airlines for three months.


PM on Pakistan’s N-threat

PM Narendra Modi said India was no longer afraid of threats of a nuclear war given by Pakistan every now and then, emphasising that “we haven’t saved our nukes for Diwali”.

Addressing a rally in Barmer, which has a large number of ex-servicemen, Modi said: “India has stopped the policy of getting scared by Pakistan’s threats. Every day, they (Pakistan) would make claims about having nuclear weapons. Even the media would bring out reports about Pakistan having nuclear weapons. So what do we have? Are we saving them (nuclear weapons) for Diwali?”

Without mentioning the IAF strikes on Jaish-e-Muhammed’s terror hub in Balakot, Modi said his government had crushed Pakistan’s ego by taking bold steps. “ Hamne Pakistan ki sari hekdi nikal di. Use katora leke dunia me ghumne ko maine majboor kar diya hai (I crushed Pakistan’s arrogance and forced it to roam around the world with a begging bowl),” he said.

Hitting out at Congress, he said: “Congress claims terrorism and nationalism are not issues. How can these not be issues when our young sons are being brought back home wrapped in Tricolour?” “Congress says I should not talk about courage. Why not? Am I here to do bhajan?” he said.

Modi said the Congress government under Indira Gandhi missed a “golden opportunity” to resolve the Kashmir dispute after the 1971 Bangladesh war when “under global pressure” it released over 90,000 Pakistani troops who were in the custody of the Indian Army. “They signed the Shimla agreement and the matter was closed. Prisoners of war and the land captured by Indian Army were released. That was a golden opportunity to resolve Kashmir dispute in lieu of the PoWs,” he said.


BJP’s new slogan

Whether because the electoral campaign is so long drawn out or the BJP feels its advertising material needs to be buttressed, the party has come out with yet another slogan which will be introduced in the later phases of the polls. The earlier slogans centered around Modi. First it was ‘Modi Hai Toh Mumkin Hai’, later ‘Phir Ek Baar Modi Sarkar’, and ‘Chowkidar Modi’. The new catch line is ‘Kaam Ruke Na, Desh Jhuke Na (The work should not stop, the country should not bow)’. This is meant to reinforce two themes. The ongoing development work should be allowed to continue. And that the nation must be strong and not falter, an indirect allusion to the Balakot air strikes.


Maya, Mulayam Share Stage

BSP chief Mayawati and SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav created history by sharing the dais at an election rally in Mainpuri, Uttar Pradesh, which is considered to be an SP “stronghold”.

It also marked the end of bitter hostilities between the two leaders that began following the state guest house incident of 1995. After two years in a coalition government in UP, SP and BSP parted ways in 1995 when Mayawati was allegedly assaulted by SP cadres in a VVIP guest house in Lucknow.

While Mayawati described Mulayam as the ‘real leader of the backwards’, the SP patriarch said he would be grateful if she sought votes for him. “ Mayawati and I are on the same dais after a long time, we welcome and thank her...” he said.

At the very beginning of her speech, Mayawati referred to the guest house incident and defended her alliance with the SP. “During the announcement of this alliance, I had already given my reply. I don’t want to repeat. Tough decisions have to be taken in the interest of the party and the nation,” she said. She praised Mulayam for his contribution to the society, particularly the backward classes. “He is the real face of the backwards. He is not a 'naqli' or 'farzi' backward (leader) like Narendra Modi…,” she said. Referring to the PM Narendra Modi’s “sarab” comment on BSP-SP-RLD alliance, she claimed BJP is intoxicated with power and would be dislodged from the Centre after the elections. She also targeted the Congress and called its Nyay scheme "a drama".

She said Mulayam has connected with every section of the society under the SP banner.

On PM Modi, Mayawati said, “He (Modi) claims to be an OBC leader but has done nothing for backward classes and Dalits.”

She urged voters to ensure Mulayam’s victory. She said Akhilesh Yadav is carrying forward his father’s legacy.

Mulayam, who spoke before Mayawati, told the gathering that he has always respected her. “Mayawatiji ne saath diya hai. Hamne bhi diya hai…Aapke iss ehsaan ko kabhi nahi bhoolunga. (She has supported us. We have also supported her---- Will always be grateful to you…),” Mulayam said, adding that this is his last election.

Mayawati too tried sending out a positive message at the end of her speech. “Jai Bhim, Jai Lohia and Jai Bharat,” she said. While Jai Bhim is her party’s customary slogan, Jai Lohia is in reference to SP’s icon Ram Manohar Lohia.

Old leaders, who had witnessed the coming together of BSP founder Kanshi Ram and SP patriarch Mulayam Singh in the late 1990s, recalled that Mulayam had always showed respect for Mayawati during those days. “Then she was a member of the Lok Sabha. Mulayam never forgot to mention Mayawati’s name during his speeches in different rallies,” recalled one SP leader. According to him, that period was the beginning of the backward as well as Dalit politics in the state.

“The Ayodhya movement was at its peak. Mayawati was second popular face of the BSP movement after Kanshi Ram. So, he always ensured full respect for her,” the source said. Akhilesh, who also spoke at the rally, said the country will get a new prime minister after the polls.


World Press Freedom Index: India slips

India has dropped two places on a global press freedom index to be ranked 140th out of 180 countries in the annual Reporters Without Borders analysis, with the lead up to the ongoing Indian general elections flagged as a particularly dangerous time for journalists.

The ‘World Press Freedom Index 2019', topped by Norway, finds an increased sense of hostility towards journalists across the world, with violent attacks in India leading to at least six Indian journalists being killed last year.

“Violence against journalists — including police violence, attacks by Maoists and reprisals by criminal groups or corrupt politicians – is one of the most striking characteristics of the current state of press freedom in India. At least six Indian journalists were killed in connection with their work in 2018. A number of doubts surround a seventh case,” the index noted.

Attacks against journalists by supporters of ruling BJP increased in the run-up to general elections, the analysis alleged. Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres, or Reporters Without Borders, is a non-profit organisation that works to document and combat attacks on journalists around the world. In its 2019 index, RSF finds that hatred of journalists has degenerated into violence, contributing to an increase in fear around the world. In reference to India, it found an alarming rate of “coordinated hate campaigns on social networks against journalists who dare to speak or write about subjects that annoy Hindutva”.

Ambani, Kotak endorse Milind Deora

Reliance Industries Ltd Chairman Mukesh Ambani and Kotak Bank head Uday Kotak have supported the candidature of Milind Deora from South Mumbai constituency that goes to polls on April 29.

A video released by the campaign team of Deora, who is City Congress chief, shows varied voices of South Mumbai speaking in his favour. In his testimony, Ambani said, “Milind is the man for South Mumbai. Having represented South Mumbai for ten years, I believe that Milind has in-depth knowledge of social, economic and cultural ecosystem of South Mumbai.”

He also affirmed that under Milind’s leadership small and big enterprises will flourish in south Mumbai.

In his support for Deora, Kotak said, “Milind is truly Mumbai ka Connection. I genuinely believe Milind understand South Mumbai. His family has been associated with Mumbai for a long time.

Deora said he was "humbled" by the support from Ambani, Kotak and also other small businessmen and traders. “I’m very proud. I’m equally proud that I'm being endorsed by paanwalas, small traders,” Deora said.

Ambani’s backing to the Congress leader comes at a time when the party has been unrelenting in attack on his industrialist brother Anil Ambani over the Rafale deal.

The other entrepreneur and traders vouched for Milind’s unconditional support to all business and enterprise in south Mumbai.

Bajaj goes Qute

Quadricycle - a vehicle that is similar to an auto rickshaw on four wheels - was launched in Maharashtra by Bajaj Auto. The quadricycle will be named Bajaj Qute and will be available in petrol and compressed natural gas variants in select Bajaj Auto retail outlets.

According to Prashant Ahire, deputy general manager of business planning at Bajaj Intracity Limited, “The launch is targeted at commercial auto-rickshaw drivers who are looking for an upgrade.”After having launched in five other states, including Kerala, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa, the vehicle was launched in Maharashtra.

The vehicle that looks like a car in the size of an autorickshaw will be available in six colours. The Maharashtra government has prescribed black colour for commercial quadricycles. With an aim of 60,000 sale throughout the country in the current year, the quadricycle has sold 200 units in Kerala since its launch a few weeks ago. In five other states, the vehicle was launched in the past two weeks and has seen takers from the commercial drivers.

The safety tests were newly defined for the vehicle since this was the first vehicle in its category that is neither a car not a three-wheeler.

“This category itself is a speed-limited category. It cannot drive beyond 70 km/hour. that itself is a big factor for safety,” added Anupam Shrivastava, service head at intracity business unit of Bajaj Auto.

Turnout dips slightly in second phase of polling

he second phase of polling covering 95 Lok Sabha constituencies across 12 states saw an overall 68.1% turnout, according to data on the Election Commission’s Voter Turnout app at midnight, compared with 69.5% in the same seats in 2014.

Voting was peaceful, barring a few incidents of EVMs being damaged in West Bengal and Manipur.

The turnout figure is subject to small corrections but indicates there is not much to separate the voting five years ago in these constituencies.

The EC had put the overall turnout for the first phase at 69.4%, a slight drop from 70.6% for the 91 seats that voted in the phase.

Brisk polling was recorded in states and Union Territories, including West Bengal (76.4%), Assam (76.4%), Puducherry (78.1%), Chhattisgarh (73%), Manipur (78.5%) and Tamil Nadu (71.2%).

Karnataka averaged a turnout of 68.2%, Odisha 62.4%, Bihar 62.04%, Uttar Pradesh 62% and Maharashtra 63%.

The only state that saw low-to-moderate turnout was Jammu & Kashmir (45.6%), with Srinagar recording just 14%, significantly lower than 25.9% in 2014 but higher than 7.1% in the parliamentary byelection in 2017.

Three constituencies in Chhattisgarh where polls were held —Maoist-hit Kanker, Rajnandgaon and Mahasamund— saw a turnout of over 73%, up from 66% recorded in Phase 1 polling on April 11. Though two violent incidents were reported in the state, there were no casualties.

The EC said no more than 0.37% of the total electronic voting machine ballot units, 0.4% of the EVM control units and 1.45% of VVPATs were replaced in all.

The EC said a polling staffer died of a heart attack in Karnataka while a voter waiting to cast his vote in Tamil Nadu met the same fate.


Bhopal: BJP Pits Pragya Against Diggy

BJP announced Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur as its candidate for Bhopal constituency against Congress leader Digvijaya Singh. Thakur was an accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast case that killed nine. Pragya’s entry is likely to see a polarised campaign in a seat which has over 26% Muslims and 69% Hindus. Thakur has exuded confidence of winning the seat and warned all those referring to ‘saffron terror’. She said she will ‘restore dignity’ of saffron.

Thakur faced charges under Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act but was absolved of them though she still faces other charges, including under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

She was imprisoned for nine years and has alleged that she was tortured during her incarceration that led to spinal injuries.

In the 2008 blasts, two bombs were fitted into rigged motorcycles and left near a hotel at Bhikku Chowk in Malegaon, 270 km from Mumbai. The blasts were of low intensity but 9 people were killed and scores injured. Two years prior to this, there was another blast in Malegaon near a mosque in which 40 worshippers were killed. The term ‘saffron terror’ was reportedly coined after the 2008 blasts, following the arrest of Thakur and Colonel Srikant Purohit, a co-accused, in the case. Digvijaya Singh has often used the term while targeting BJP.

According to BJP insiders, Thakur’s candidature has been at the behest of RSS, the Sangh fountainhead. The RSS and its affiliate organisations are expected to actively campaign for Thakur. Singh has been at the forefront of attacking the RSS but Bhopal has remained a BJP bastion since 1989. The last Congress candidate to represent the seat was KN Pradhan, elected in the ‘Congress wave’ of 1984, following the assassination of Indira Gandhi.

Jet Airways suspends ops

Jet Airways, India’s oldest private airline, decided to suspend all flights from Wednesday night as cash ran out and banks refused to give more money. It became the second major airline to shut down operations, even temporarily, this decade after Kingfisher in 2012.

“Since no emergency funding from lenders or any other source is forthcoming, the airline will not be able to pay for fuel or other critical services to keep the operations going. Consequently, with immediate effect, Jet is compelled to cancel all international and domestic flights,” the airline said in a statement. Its last flight was from Amritsar to Mumbai on Wednesday night.

Jet said the decision was taken “after a painstaking evaluation of all alternatives that were made available to the company and after receiving guidance and advice on the same from its board of directors”.

While Jet had already been running a bare minimum number of 35-40 flights for the past few days, a total shutdown, even temporary, will significantly affect its value for potential investors that are participating in a bidding process to invest in the airline. The Jet stock on Tuesday fell close to 20% on rumours of an imminent shutdown. It closed 8% down at about ₹242 on BSE. Markets were shut on Wednesday.

The civil aviation ministry posted from its official Twitter handle that it would “support the resolution process” for Jet. “We are assisting airlines and airports to bring in capacity to ensure fares remain stable and competitive,” it also added.

The move came after Jet’s last-ditch attempt to raise emergency loans failed on Wednesday evening. The airline had approached banks with an appeal for ₹983 crore. The banks refused to release any funds without additional collateral.

The grounding had been imminent to the airline’s management for some time, as it was flying a fraction of its original 124 plane network which made it India’s second-biggest flyer of passengers till January.

It said that over the last few weeks, it has “tried every means possible to seek both interim and long-term funding. Unfortunately, despite its very best efforts, the airline has been left with no other choice today but to go ahead with a temporary suspension of flight operations”.


Bangladeshi actor Ferdous told to leave India

Bangladeshi actor Ferdous Ahmed left Kolkata after getting notices from both the union ministry of home affairs and the Bangladesh deputy high commission following a controversy over his campaigning for Trinamool Congress Raiganj candidate Kanaia Lal Agarwal this Sunday.

The MHA also sought a report from the Bengal government and the local Foreigner Regional Registration Office, prompting an FRRO probe into whether the actor had violated work visa rules.

Bangladesh deputy high commission officials said the visa allocated to Ahmed did not allow him to participate in political campaigns and so he was asked to leave India. Officials from the deputy high commission called up the actor on Sunday itself to inquire about the issue after reports about his campaigning reached the Kolkata office. Ahmed reportedly replied that he was shooting near Raiganj with co-actors Payel Sarkar and Ankush on Sunday afternoon and “could not turn down the request for campaigning”.

Polling in Vellore seat cancelled

Polling for the Vellore constituency in Tamil Nadu was cancelled after the Election Commission found a “systematic design to influence voters through large scale distribution of cash”. This marks the first time polling in a Lok Sabha constituency has been called off on grounds of voter bribery and corrupt practices. Vellore was to vote on April 18.

In 2016, assembly polls in two constituencies — Thanjavur and Aravakurichi — were cancelled for the same reason, followed by rescinding of a bypoll to the R K Nagar assembly seat in 2017. All these constituencies are in Tamil Nadu. Acting on the EC’s recommendation, President Ram Nath Kovind cancelled polling in Vellore over alleged “unlawful activities” of DMK candidate Kathir Anand and some workers of the party.

A notification issued by the law ministry on Tuesday said the EC, while making a recommendation to the President on Sunday, informed him that “allowing the current electoral process to proceed and conducting the poll in the said constituency on April 18, 2019... in such a vitiated atmosphere would severely jeopardise the conduct of free and fair election”.

The cancellation came days after Rs.11.48 crore cash was unearthed during income tax raids on premises owned by DMK functionary Poonjolai Srinivasan’s brother-in-law Damodaran in Vellore. Srinivasan later claimed ownership of the money and in his statement said the cash was meant to influence voters. “The fact that the claimant (Srinavasan) does not have any explained source of income and that the documents found with the cash pertain to an institution run by the family of the DMK candidate lays bare the nexus between the candidate and the sums so found,” the EC said.

Kolkata gets India’s tallest building

When the roof of the 65th floor was cast at 42 Chowringhee (JN Road) in Kolkata earlier this month, it became the tallest building in India, pipping The Imperial in south Mumbai. Overlooking the Maidan and Hooghly river, it has reshaped Kolkata’s skyline,dwarfing buildings like Tata Centre, Chatterjee International and Everest House that had dominated the skyline for over five decades.

“The construction of The 42 has been completed. At 268 metre, it is now the tallest building in India. It would have been the second-tallest, had the additional four floors that were later sanctioned, not been constructed,” AN Shroff of Alcove Realty, one of the three companies that formed a consortium to develop the ultra-premium residential project, said.

The skyline behind Science City off EM Bypass is also changing dramatically with a cluster of three high profile projects — two residential and one commercial — in various stages of development.


After Yogi, Mayawati, Maneka Gandhi and Azam Khan barred from campaigning

Punishing them for their “highly provocative” speeches, the Election Commission of India invoked its extraordinary powers to bar Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath and BSP chief Mayawati from campaigning for three (72 hours) and two (48 hours) days, respectively, starting 6 am Tuesday.

Besides, Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan and Union minister and BJP leader Maneka Gandhi were also barred from campaigning for 72 hours and 48 hours, respectively.

The punitive action was taken against the BSP chief for appealing directly to Muslim voters in Saharanpur and Bareilly districts during a joint rally of the BSP-SP alliance on April 7. Adityanath was punished for his “Ali and Bajrangbali” remark at a Meerut rally on April 9 and the “green virus” comment which was a reference to Muslims in the country.

Condemning their remarks, the Commission, in a strongly-worded order, noted that such public utterances “contaminate the electoral process” and have the “propensity to polarise the elections”.

Both leaders have been barred from “holding any public meetings, public processions, public rallies, road shows and interviews, public utterances in media (electronic, print and social media etc.)” during the ban period.

Monday’s order came shortly after the Supreme Court questioned the poll panel over action against political leaders like Adityanath and Mayawati for alleged violation of the Model Code of Conduct through their speeches, and decided to examine the Commission’s powers in this regard.

The bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjeev Khanna did not appear satisfied with the Commission’s submission that it had only limited powers in the matter. It said “we would like to examine the matter” and asked the Commission to send a “representative… who is well conversant with the issues raised” to the court at 10.30 am Tuesday when it will consider the matter again.

However, Commission officials insisted that the decision to bar the two leaders from campaigning was taken in a meeting on Sunday itself. The EC order too mentioned that the Commission deliberated on the matter Sunday.

This is only the second time that the EC has imposed a temporary ban on a political leader’s election campaign. During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the poll panel had barred now BJP president Amit Shah and SP leader Azam Khan for making inflammatory speeches in defiance of showcause notices already issued to the two leaders.

The ban on Shah was lifted only after he apologised and assured the EC the he will not violate the Model Code of Conduct again. Khan, however, offered no such apology or assistance and was, therefore, barred from campaigning for the rest of the Lok Sabha polls in 2014.

Since the Representation of the People Act does not empower the EC to take such punitive action, the Commission had to resort to its extraordinary powers under Article 324 of the Constitution. This is the second time, since the announcement of Lok Sabha polls on March 10, that the poll panel had to resort to Article 324. On April 10, EC used it to defer the release of ‘PM Narendra Modi’, the biopic starring Vivek Oberoi.

On Monday, the Supreme Court noted: “It is stated by the learned counsel appearing for the Election Commission of India that the power of the Election Commission of India for violation of the Model Code of Conduct by making hate speeches on grounds of religion, caste etc is circumscribed to issuing of notice and upon consideration of the reply to issue advisories. Only in case of repeated violation of the advisories, the Election Commission has the power to file a First Information Report with the police for initiation of criminal proceedings. Beyond the above, according to the learned counsel for the Election Commission of India, the Election Commission does not have any power to deal with such instances of making of speeches provoking enmity or hatred between classes of citizens or for voting for any person on the grounds of religion, caste etc (see Sections 123 and 125 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951).”

Earlier, the Supreme Court, hearing a petition which sought action over communal speeches, seeking votes on religious lines etc, had issued notice to the Commission.

“This is something you are duty-bound to do. Tell us what are you doing,” the CJI told Commission counsel Amit Sharma who told the bench “we are issuing notices”. He handed over a table which he said showed “specific instances where we have taken steps.”

Referring to the mention of the names of Yogi Adityanath and Mayawati in the table, the court asked the counsel what the complaint against them was and what action had been taken.

Sharma explained that a matter involving Adityanath had been closed after his explanation and, in another matter, Mayawati who was supposed to reply by April 12 was yet to respond.

“It’s the 15th. What are you doing about it?” the CJI remarked, adding “answer… or we will get the Chief Election Commissioner here… is it not a defiance of the EC order? What are you mandated to do?”.

Sharma said if there are more complaints, the EC will issue notice and lodge a complaint. “We can’t disqualify them,” he said.

The CJI then turned to senior counsel Sanjay Hegde, who appeared for petitioner Harpreet Mansukhani, and told him that the EC was saying it was powerless. Hegde did not agree and said the EC had vast powers under Article 324 of the Constitution.

WPI inflation hits 3-month high: March 2019

Annual wholesale price inflation jumped in March to its highest level in three months on the back of a spurt in prices of food and fuel, posing a fresh challenge for policymakers to remain watchful on the price front.

Inflation, as measured by the wholesale price index, rose an annual 3.2% in March, higher than previous month’s 2.9% and above 2.7% posted in the same month a year earlier .

The WPI data showed food prices rose an annual 5.7% in March, picking up pace from previous month’s 4.3% increase. Prices of vegetables rose 28% compared to previous month’s 6.8%. Onion prices contracted 31.3% in March.

Fuel and power prices increased 5.4% in March, accelerating from previous month’s 2.2% rise. 

Exports hit record in FY19

Despite single-digit growth, India’s exports hit a new high of $331 billion in the last financial year, but higher imports pushed up the trade deficit. In March, as 20 of the 30 major product segments saw higher shipments, exports expanded 11% to reach $32.5 billion, the highest in a month in recent years. In fact, the growth in March was the fastest increase in five months, helping the government scale a new peak during the fifth year of its term.

Not surprisingly, the government was patting itself on the back for the “revival” in exports. “Through secular growth over the last three financial years, following major downturn in the face of global slowdown, merchandise exports for 2018-19 are estimated at $331 billion, the highest ever, surpassing the earlier peak of $314.4 billion achieved in 2013-14. This has been achieved in a challenging global environment,” the commerce ministry said in a statement.

Exports are seen as a weak link in the economic growth story, with both BJP and the Congress pledging to focus on reviving exports.

While exporters pointed to several policy-related difficulties — from credit flow to GST refunds — they seemed to be rejoicing for the moment.

Mass Production of iPhones to Start in India

Foxconn Technology group chairman Terry Gou said the iPhone will go into mass production in India this year, a shift for the largest assembler of Apple Inc’s handsets that has long concentrated production in China.

Gou said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has invited him to India as his Taiwanese company plans its expansion in the country. Apple has had older phones produced at a plant in Bangalore for several years, but now will expand manufacturing to more recent models. Foxconn is ready to start trial production of the latest iPhones in the country before it starts full-scale assembly at its factory outside the southern city of Chennai.

India has become the fastest-growing smartphone market in the world, while China stagnates and Apple loses share to local competitors such as Huawei and Xiaomi. Apple has been a minor player in India, in part because of its high prices, but local manufacturing would help the Cupertino, California-based firm avoid import duties of 20 %.

Gou also said that he plans to step back from daily operations to focus on broader strategy. The founder isn’t stepping down or relinquishing his chairmanship, said Louis Woo, special assistant to Gou.

It’s not yet clear how Apple’s steps into India will affect its China operations. China has been the company’s most important manufacturing base for years, home to Foxconn’s biggest facilities and hundreds of other partners.

Foxconn already has two assembly sites in the southern Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, where it makes devices for Xiaomi and Nokia. Locating more production in India would help diversify Apple and Foxconn’s manufacturing footprint away from China amid ongoing trade tensions with the U.S.

The Indian assembly line of Foxconn’s Hon Hai Precision Industry would serve local and export markets by the time Apple announces its next iPhone models in September.

Plea seeking civil rights for homosexuals junked

The Supreme Court has dismissed a review petition seeking various civil rights, such as same-sex marriage, adoption and surrogacy for the LGBTQ community.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi referred to the five-judge Constitution bench verdict of September 6 last year by which consensual gay sex was decriminalised and said that it was not inclined to entertain the review plea seeking other reliefs.

“We are not inclined to entertain this petition after the decision of this Court in Navtej Singh Johar v Union of India decided on September 6, 2018,” said the bench, also comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna.

The plea had sought civil rights of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer) community as part of the basic human rights and said that these rights were not addressed in the apex court’s judgement on Section 377 of the IPC which had criminalised consensual gay sex.

It had sought recognition of their rights to same-sex marriages, adoption, surrogacy, IVF and directions so that the community can serve openly in the army, navy and air force.

IMD predicts a ‘near normal’ monsoon

The India Meteorological Department in its forecast has predicted that India is likely to have a ‘near normal’ monsoon this year. With global weather phenomenon El Nino bearing down monsoon rainfall, this year it will on the cusp of normal and below normal in the country. The IMD usually does not use the category ‘near normal’. Under this category, the IMD has slotted rainfall between 96-104% of the long-period average, which is 890 mm. However, the ‘normal’ category, junked this year is also used for the same 96-104% category.

Quantitatively, monsoon rainfall this year will be 96% of the long period average, which is 890 mm, based on 1951-2000 data. The forecast was issued with a model error margin of +/- 5%, IMD said. Even as they junked the ‘normal’ monsoon category in its forecast, IMD scientists and top officials vehemently denied that there was a shift in terminology.

As opposed to IMD, private weather forecaster Skymet has predicted a below par monsoon at 93% quantitative rainfall over the long period average. Skymet based its forecast of a below normal monsoon on projections that indicated 80% chance of El Nino conditions between March and May.