Modi Sarkar 2.0’s five-year journey begins with a glittering event

The historic forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan, overlooked by the imposing dome of the President’s residence that was lit up in the colours of the national flag for the occasion, hosted an audience of around 6,000-7000 people including politicians, businessmen and movie personalities for the swearing-in ceremony of Narendra Modi’s second government.

As the sun went behind the dome, the full frame of the council of ministers of the new government came to light, putting week-long speculation to rest. In all, 58 ministers were administered their oaths of office by President Ram Nath Kovind, who gently ticked off one or two for skipping key words and helpfully prompted a few others.

The around 110-minute-long programme was gustily cheered on by Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party supporters with chants of “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” (which the Telangana MP, G Kishan Reddy, managed to incorporate into his oath), “Har Har Mahadev” and “Modi, Modi.” When the audience fell silent, the Presidential estate’s roosting mynahs and lapwings provided the background score on a warm day which turned into an almost balmy evening-at least in the forecourt, courtesy a plethora of mist fans.

Among the business leaders who attended the event were Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries, Ratan Tata and N Chandrasekaran of the Tata group, Kumar Mangalam Birla of the Aditya Birla Group, Gautan Adani, Ajay Piramal, Uday Kotak, Bharti Enterprises’ Rajan Mittal, Arcelor Mirral’s LN Mittal, PayTM’s Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Infosys’s NR Naraya Murthy.

Among the film stars were Anupam Kher (although he was also the plus-one of his wife, Chandigarh MP Kirron Kher), Kangana Ranaut, Sushant Singh Rajput, and Rajnikanth. Director Karan Johar and producer Boney Kapoor were also present.

Government offices and the Parliament building in the vicinity of Rashtrapati Bhavan were cleared by 2 PM. As BJP and NDA leaders walked onto the forecourt, the aware audience was keen watching who would head for the stage, where chairs were placed for the ministers to sit on, and who would stay in the audience.

When outgoing foreign minister Sushma Swaraj arrived a few minutes before the PM, all eyes were on her. Swaraj, sporting a broad smile, greeted many dignitaries before taking a seat in the front row along with foreign heads of state, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, BJP veterans LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, former president Pratibha Patil, speaker of the outgoing Lok Sabha Sumitra Mahajan, vice president M. Venkaiah Naidu, leaders of the BJP allies including the Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray, the Akali Dal’s Prakash Singh Badal and Sukhbir Badal, and the Janata Da (United)’s Nitish Kumar.

It became clear then that she wasn’t in the cabinet.

Although not too many opposition leaders were present at the event, United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi came together and sat in the first row. As did former prime Minister Manmohan Singh. BJP leader Uma Bharti could be seen briefly chatting with a smiling Sonia Gandhi.

Amit Shah came early but took more than half-an-hour to take his seat. He walked slowly to greet dignitaries while people, too, rushed to meet him. The Prime Minister arrived minutes before the programme in his black limousine and amid thunderous applause, walked to his designated seat, bowed to greet all the visitors and took the seat next to Rajnath Singh.

The ceremony ended with a group photo.

But the journey of the new government of India, riding high on the expectations of the people in a difficult time, has just started.


Kolkata: Tram travel gets a cool makeover

A mode of transport dating back to the 19th century has undergone a cool, 21st century transformation. A refurbished tramcar, retrofitted with air-conditioners, has emerged as a beacon of hope for the century-old tramways, which has shrunk drastically in the past two decades, with only a skeletal service on severely truncated routes now operational.

It may trundle along Kolkata’s streets at an average speed of 35 kmph, an anachronism in this age of under-river Metros that promise to revolutionise travel across the city, but the AC service between Shyambazar and Esplanade, one of the oldest routes, has been drawing passengers in hordes since it was introduced at the beginning of this month. Making six round trips a day, this single-coach tram has been clocking thrice the revenue of a usual twin coach tram.

And the high demand for the AC tram has even made sceptics sit up and take notice. “No tram in Kolkata has generated as much revenue in years as this single-coach AC tram has registered since it was introduced,” said a senior West Bengal Transport Corporation official. “Enthused by it, we are considering a proposal to introduce such a service in other parts of the city.”

He said AC trams could also help cross-subsidise non-AC services, which are currently loss-making. While a ride on the AC tram costs Rs 20, that on non-AC trams cost Rs.6 up to 4 km and Rs.7 beyond that distance.

A coach from a 1982-make twin-coach tram was completely overhauled at the Nonapukur central workshop and the body built on the chassis from scratch before being fitted with a 7.1-tonne AC unit.

The idea was to combine old-world charm (trams in late 19th and early 20th century Kolkata sported only one coach) with modern-day comfort.

While the length of each coach in a twinbogie tram is 28ft, the length of the single-coach tram is 36ft. The tram has pneumatic doors, which are operated from the motorman’s cabin. The renovation has cost Rs.25 lakh.

This is not the first AC tram, although it is the first to be commercially operated for regular commute. Back in 2013, the same workshop had manufactured two AC trams that were christened ‘Charoibeti’ and ‘Rupasi Bangla’, which were used exclusively for heritage tours in central and north Kolkata. With a capacity of seat 24 and equipped with television and FM radio, the AC trams, with a fare of Rs.250 per passenger, including snacks, used to undertake four rides daily. The service was popular in the winter but response was lukewarm at best in summer. WBTC had thereafter introduced a fine-dining service in an AC tram travelling from Esplanade to Kidderpore. It did four trips daily, twice at lunchtime and twice at dinner.

The tramways’ latest effort was inaugurated by transport minister Subhendu Adhikari in February, but the coach was put into service only in May. Tram routes along the city’s north-south axis have been severed at Esplanade due to the ongoing East-West Metro corridor project. The Park Circus depot has virtually been cut out of the network and services from the Gariahat depot are few and far between.

Vidarbha sizzles

Severe heat wave conditions in central India, including parts of Vidarbha and Marathwada, persisted on 28th May 2019.

Chandrapur and Nagpur recorded one of the highest day temperatures in the country at 47.8 degrees Celsius and 47.5 degrees Celsius, making it the highest day temperatures for both locations this season.

The weather bureau said heat wave conditions are likely to persist till May 31.

Heat wave conditions are likely to prevail in Vidarbha, central Maharashtra and Marathwada.

FDI inflows contract

India’s foreign direct investment equity inflows fell for the first time in six years in the year ended 31 March, underscoring the economic policy challenges faced by the government when Narendra Modi starts his second innings as prime minister.

FDI equity inflows into India declined 1% to $44.4 billion in the year to 31 March, signalling a squeeze in long term foreign investment into the country.

The decline in FDI inflows comes at a time when domestic indicators already point towards a slowdown in consumption and investment activity. India’s economy grew at the slowest pace in five quarters at 6.6% in the three months ended December, prompting the statistics department to trim its 2018-19 forecast from the 7.2% previously forecast to 7% in February. The first set of macro data the new government will have to deal with is the fourth-quarter GDP data (to be announced on 31 May) that may further decelerate to 6.4%.

The two sectors where FDI inflows dropped the most in 2018-19 are telecommunications (fell 56% to
$2.7 billion) and pharmaceuticals (dropped 74% to $266 million).

However, FDI in the services sector, including financial, banking, insurance and outsourcing businesses, rose 37.3% in 2018-19, arresting the extent of the decline in FDI inflows.

The telecom sector is going through tumultuous times after Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd’s entry in September 2016 brought data tariffs to rock bottom and made voice calls free, making the sector less attractive for foreign investors. In the case of pharmaceuticals, the price control mechanism introduced by the government on several essential medicines might have discouraged foreign investment.

While Mauritius remained India’s top source for FDI, its share declined by 2 percentage points to 32% in 2018-19, while the share of Singapore rose by 2 percentage points to 20% during the same year.

Capital gains on investments made in India through companies in Mauritius and Singapore have become fully taxable from 1 April, as concessions cease to exist on the routes after India signed new
double tax avoidance treaties with both countries. This may further impact FDI inflows into India from these two countries.

Macro indicators such as vehicle sales and air passenger growth also point to a slowdown in the economy.

Sales of automobiles across segments in India fell 16% in April to touch the lowest in eight years, while domestic air travel in April contracted 4.5% for the first time in nearly five years. The government in its full budget, which is likely to be presented in July, will be tempted to breach fiscal discipline and go for a demand stimulus.


Modi says thank you Kashi

Prime Minister designate Narendra Modi, on a thanksgiving mission to Kashi after his overwhelming poll victory, invoked Bharat Mata and ridiculed the habit of littering the country, including spitting of “Banarasi paan juice”.

This is not the first time Modi has criticised the red splotches seen everywhere — from ghats and roads to walls and stairs. After winning the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, he had made a similar appeal to his supporters.

Speaking at a felicitation hosted by the BJP at DDUTFC, Modi said: “You all say, Bharat Mata ki jai, but then you spit betel juice. Yeh kaunse Bharat Mata ki jai hai bhai? Usi ma ko ganda karein jiske liye sankat jhelte hai (What kind of respect is this? You sully your motherland you’ve sworn to protect).” He made the remark in the presence of party national president Amit Shah, chief minister Yogi Adityanath and state BJP chief Mahendra Nath Pandey.

The PM-designate also had a word of advice for those who vandalised public property. “Keep in mind that public property — be it a government school or a hospital — belongs to you. You must work together for their upkeep,” he said.

Earlier in his speech, Modi thanked his party workers for their support and also praised rival candidates for their endeavour. “The LS polls were contested in a very cordial atmosphere in Kashi. The credit goes to all rival candidates, including independents,” he said. In the same breath, he praised Yogi for proper implementation of the “sankalp patra (manifesto) of the party” to make the job easy for party workers.

The people here, particularly women, took responsibility of the campaign, Modi said. “They turned it into a carnival so that I could contest with confidence,” he said, referring to a widely discussed scooter rally taken out by girls. He added that he could visit Kedarnath (on May 18-19) because people took charge of his victory in Varanasi.

The PM-designate also paid his respects to folk singer Padam Shri Hiralal Yadav who passed away a fortnight ago.

Maharashtra CM reviews infrastructure projects before Assembly polls

With an eye on Assembly elections, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on Monday chaired a review meeting of all mega infrastructure projects in the state and said Metro-2A and Metro-7 lines will be operational by early 2020.

Metro-2A, from Dahisar to DN Nagar Metro, and Metro-7, from Dahisar East to Andheri East, are expected to cater to around 16 lakh passengers daily. The state had been planning to complete the Metro-2A and Metro-7 corridors before going to the Assembly polls by October 2019. However, owing to delay in procuring rakes, the deadline has been pushed.

At the CMO war room, Fadnavis reviewed the overall progress of Metro works in Mumbai, Nagpur and Pune; the Navi Mumbai Airport; the irrigation projects; sea link project; the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link; and railway projects in the state.

The Assembly elections are scheduled to be held in September-October this year. After coming to power on the development plank, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led state government has focused on developing mass transport facilities in Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur. The CM also directed officials to complete construction of the additional six Metro lines in Mumbai and Mumbai Metropolitan Region  by 2022. “By 2022, we plan to have a Metro network of 119 km by completion of Metro lines DN Nagar-Mankhurd (Metro-2B), Colaba-Bandra-Seepz (Metro -3), Wadala-Ghatkopar-Thane-Kasarvadavali (Metro-4), Wadala-GPO (Metro-4B), Thane-Bhiwandi-Kalyan (Metro-6) and Lokhandwala-Vikhroli (Metro-5),” the official said, adding that by 2022, work on 169 km of additional Metro lines across the state will start. Officials said the work on MTHL will be completed by 2022-end.

The CM also took stock of the key irrigation projects in Vidarbha like the Gosikhurd National Irrigation Project, which the government has been pushing for. With a potential to cater to 2.51 lakh hectares annually, the project is being undertaken for Bhandara, Chandrapur and Nagpur regions. Vidarbha officials told the CM that the project, being undertaken at a cost of ₹19,000 crore, will be completed by 2020-end. “When the Fadnavis government took over, irrigation capacity of project was just 30,000 ha; it is now 1.80 lakh ha. Financial misappropriation case in the project caused delays,” said an official from the water resources department. Bembla and Lower Wardha irrigation projects were also discussed in the meeting.

Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis also reviewed the Metro work for all the three lines in Pune. He told the Maha-Metro authorities to speed up land acquisition and other issues ahead of the state assembly election four months away.

The meeting was conducted after the model code of conduct was lifted.

The three lines in Pune include the elevated 23 km line from Hinjewadi to Shivajinagar and the MahaMetro’s 31 km lines from Vanaz to Ramwadi and from PCMC to Swargate.

MahaMetro officials were told to stick to the December 2021 deadline target and expedite the right of way and land issues at the earliest.

Fadnavis also took stock of all the big projects in the state and set time lines before the next model code of conduct begins. He said all the proposed Metro lines in Pune, Mumbai and Nagpur will be operational by 2021 and 2022 and “additional metro lines of 169 km will in operation” in the state. It will take the total network of metro lines up to 323 km, Fadnavis tweeted after the war room meeting.

It was conducted to assess various works of irrigation, road, railways, metro and other infrastructure projects in the state with all the departments’ secretaries, divisional commissioners and collectors through video conferencing.

There are defence land issues related to the Metro in Khadki. The tangles were to be sorted out by the Pune Municipal Corporation and the defence officials at the earliest. The contentious 2 km stretch of land in the defence area which needs to be acquired needs to be resolved.

They are also working on completing the 12 km track by December 2019 as was assured by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Pune last year.

With the Pune Metropolitan Region Development Authority metro line extending from Hinjewadi to Shivajinagar, the right of way was discussed in the case of private and government land.

Instructions were issued by the CM to expedite them, PMRDA commissioner Vikram Kumar said after the meeting. He said work of shifting utilities such as cables along the path would be begin.

Bimstec leaders invited to Modi oath ceremony

Leaders of the Bimstec nations, Kyrgyzstan, and Mauritius will attend the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi in New Delhi.

The focus will be on the Bay of Bengal-centric grouping dovetailing with India’s foreign policy initiatives to boost connectivity, security and development.

The decision to shift focus from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, whose leaders attended Modi’s inauguration in 2014, to the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation was made because it was felt this was a more active grouping with greater potential, people familiar with developments said.

Bimstec also has a better fit with several key foreign policy initiatives of the National Democratic Alliance government — the “neighbourhood first” policy, the Act East policy focused on India’s extended neighbourhood, and the Indo-Pacific policy.

Foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale oversaw the initiative to have the top leadership of Bimstec – which comprises Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan – and Kyrgyzstan and Mauritius at the swearing-in ceremony while the heads of different territorial divisions were deputed to get in touch with the concerned countries, the people said.

Kyrgyzstan President Sooronbay Jeenbekov, the current chair of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth, the chief guest at this year’s Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, have also been invited.

Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena was the first Bimstec leader to confirm his participation in Modi’s inauguration, with an official in his office telling the media on Saturday that he would attend.

Bangladesh will send a delegation headed by a top leader as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is set to begin a three-nation visit to Japan, Saudi Arabia and Finland on May 28, people familiar with the matter in Dhaka said.

Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and Bhutan Prime Minister Lotay Tshering have confirmed their participation while President Win Myint is expected to represent Myanmar. Thailand, too, is expected to send a delegation led by a top leader, people familiar with developments said.

New Delhi has quietly shifted the focus to Bimstec since the last Saarc Summit, which was scheduled to be held in Islamabad in November 2016, stalled after India and several other countries pulled out due to terror-related concerns.

Bimstec covers 1.5 billion people in South Asia and South-east Asia and the region has a combined gross domestic product of $3.5 trillion. Originally formed in 1997 by Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand, the grouping was later expanded with the inclusion of Myanmar in 1997, and Nepal and Bhutan in 2004.

Addressing the fourth Bimstec Summit in Kathmandu last August, Modi said: “This area of Bay of Bengal has a special significance for our development, security and progress. And, therefore, it is no surprise that the culmination of both India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ and ‘Act East’, happens in this region of the Bay of Bengal.”

Modi had also offered to host meetings for coastal shipping and motor vehicles agreements under Bimstec and said India’s “National Knowledge Network” would be extended to Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar and Thailand for greater digital connectivity. India’s northeastern region too will play an important role in increasing connectivity with Bimstec members, he said.

In September last year, India hosted the first military exercise of Bimstec states at Pune that focused on counterterror operations.


Colombo Port expansion project

India has decided to join hands with Japan and Sri Lanka to expand the port in Colombo as part of efforts to balance Chinese inroads into the neighbourhood. This marks one of the government’s first foreign policy moves following its re-election.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena’s proposed trip to India for Narendra Modi’s inauguration this week is seen as a boost in this regard with the three countries planning to sign a MoU in the near future..

The trilateral project’s goals are to increase Colombo port’s container volume and increase transportation in and around South Asia, according to persons aware of the matter. The deal comes as China has been using its Belt and Road Initiative projects to increase its influence in the region. India and Japan are also eyeing joint development of the Trincomalee port in eastern Sri Lanka. India along with Japan aspires to pursue a Free and Open Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean strategy.

Colombo port, through which 90% of Sri Lanka’s seaborne goods pass, connects Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. It had traffic of 6.21 million twenty-foot equivalent units in 2017, making it Southwest Asia’s busiest port. The port desires to benefit and attain full capacity with a boom in regional economies.

The three countries will develop the east container terminal, located at the southern part of Colombo port, which has been newly expanded, indicated one of the persons mentioned above. The trilateral projects also involve developing a facility that will allow large container ships, the person noted.

Officials from the three countries are currently in talks and expected to agree on the scale and form of the project over the next few months. Private sector participation will also be sought and Japanese Official Development Assistance will finance a portion of the project.

Colombo has sought to increase the presence of India and Japan in the island nation since 2015, after concerns about increased Chinese investment that was driving the country into indebtedness. Sri Lanka had to hand over its southern port of Hambantota to China on a 99-year lease after it fell into a debt trap.

A Japanese government source told Nikkei: “If the development of the Port of Colombo takes time, cargo might be transferred to Hambantota.”

Some of Japan’s maritime routes run through the Indian Ocean region where India is the primary power, so improved capacity at Sri Lankan ports will improve the security of tankers and commercial ships.

Three countries may ink an MoU soon and decide on the scale and form of the project over the next few months

University upgrade

Ten high-performing state universities across India are set to undergo Rs.100 crore upgrade each this academic year as they are forming campus companies—special purpose vehicles—to receive grants directly from the Centre. Besides, they will be mentored by seven US universities, including Cornell, UPenn and UC Berkeley, in various disciplines.

Pune’s Savitribai Phule University, Kolkata’s Jadavpur University and Haryana’s Kurukshetra University are among the 10 universities with NAAC ratings of over 3.51 selected for the Rs.100 crore grant under the Centre’s Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyaan to promote excellence, with the condition that the money is spent by March 2020. The Union HRD ministry likens these ten universities to the IITs of 1960s that rose with large special funding and autonomy. The campus companies will also be allowed to raise additional resources from outside, sources said.

“These universities have been identified for their achievements thus far. To climb up, say to move from a 3.51 to a 3.8 or a 3.9 involves a lot of work. It cannot be business as usual,” said an MHRD source. RUSA is a collaborative effort between the centre and the state with Delhi shouldering almost 70% of the funding.

These campus companies, to be headed by V-Cs and having eminent faculty and independent domain experts, have been asked to make presentations and proposals, submit daily updates, weekly progress charts and they will undergo monthly reviews, much like a corporation.

At present, funds usually move through a circuitous route: MHRD releases fund to the state's finance ministry, which, in turn, releases it to the state education ministry.

Somewhere in Amethi....

A former Amethi village head who campaigned for Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Smriti Irani in the Lok Sabha elections has been shot dead.

Irani attended the last rites of the 50-year-old and promised swift action against those involved in the killing.

Irani defeated Congress president Rahul Gandhi in Amethi, his party’s traditional stronghold, in the general elections that the NDA swept, winning 353 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha.

BJP leader Surendra Singh, a former head of Barauliya village who actively participated in the party’s campaign in the constituency, was shot by bike-borne assailants outside his house on Saturday night, the police said. He was declared dead at a hospital later. The police initially said they were looking into the possibility of personal enmity as the motive for the crime but the family of the deceased alleged that it was a political killing.

Inspector at Jamo police station in Amethi, Rajeev Singh, said that in an FIR in the case, the victim’s brother said he spotted a Congress supporter near the scene of the crime. Director general of police OP Singh said seven suspects were detained in connection with the murder. “We have found vital clues… We are confident of solving the case in the next 12 hours. Three companies of PAC [Provincial Armed Constabulary] have been deputed,” he said.

Irani, who was a minister in the Narendra Modi-led council of ministers in the first term of the National Democratic Alliance government, reached Amethi on Sunday afternoon and attended the last rites of the slain BJP leader. Irani and Uttar Pradesh minister Mohsin Raza helped carry the body of the deceased on their shoulders during the funeral. “I have vowed before Surendra ji’s family that I will do everything it takes, even if it means going to the Supreme Court, to ensure punishment to those behind the killing,” Irani said.

The brother of the deceased, Rajendra Singh, alleged it was a political killing. He said his brother wielded influence in his village as well as in adjoining areas, which led to his murder.

Irani asked party workers to exercise restraint after attending the funeral.

Three suspects have been arrested in connection with the killing of a BJP worker in Uttar Pradesh’s Amethi district two days ago.

Director General of Police OP Singh said there was a local-level political rivalry between the deceased, Surendra Singh, 50, and the father of one of the accused. Singh was a close aide of Amethi MP Smriti Irani.

“We have arrested three persons. After the incident was reported, as many as seven people were taken into custody and they were thoroughly quizzed,” Singh told reporters here. “Among the seven people, there were three who were linked with the incident.” Amethi Superintendent of Police Rajesh Kumar said those arrested have been identified as Ramchandra, Dharmanath and Naseem, while two persons were absconding.

Singh was shot when he was sleeping in his house at Baraulia village on May 25. He succumbed to injuries at a Lucknow hospital.

“The incident is a result of old enmity. There was tension between the slain ex-pradhan and Dharamnath since the last panchayat election,” the SP said.

Meanwhile, a BJP worker was killed in Bhatpara in North 24 Parganas district. Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the murder saying BJP workers were killed in the state over their political ideology.


Those Voting Against Us Are Also Part Of Us: PM Modi

After an election season seen to be replete with polarising themes, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that minorities had long been made to live in fear by those who believed in vote bank politics and that this deception needs to end to take everyone along.

Emphasising the need to win the trust of all sections, Modi said, “We have worked for ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’, now we have to strive for ‘sabka vishwas’. Those who vote for us are ours and even our most trenchant opponents are ours.”

Reiterating the importance of coalition politics, Modi said the BJP had a majority on its own with over 300 MPs but he wanted to see the NDA become stronger as alliances were important to fulfil regional aspirations. “BJP is 300-plus but we shall work together with the NDA partners in future,” Modi said, adding, “The credit for good work will go to all allies and I will take blame for blemishes.”

The PM floated the slogan of “NARA—national ambition regional aspiration”— saying that a balance between the two would be key to the country’s progress and it could not be accomplished without the support of the regional parties.

Modi’s outreach to minorities comes after sharply polarised electioneering where the candidature of Pragya Thakur, an accused in the Malegaon bombing case, against Congress leader Digvijay Singh heated the poll arena.

Similarly, poll rhetoric in states like West Bengal saw Trinamool and BJP going at each other over contentious issues like illegal migrants and the NRC.

Perhaps looking to bring down the political temperature and also indicate that polarisation cannot be a permanent state of affairs, the Prime Minister told a meeting of NDA MPs called to elect him leader that “unfortunately, the minorities of this country have been kept in fear, used in elections”.

“We have to end this cycle,” Modi said, calling for winning the trust and confidence of minorities, as he also said that the politics of alliances is a reality and important to fulfil regional aspirations.

He said the 2019 elections have worked towards breaking down walls and connecting hearts. “In a way they had become a way to unite society... This gave a new height to these elections. People have started a new era and all of us are witness to it,” the PM said, in a counter to commentaries that his election will divide people.

Modi also told MPs that they should not fret over ministry formation. He said there were “several Narendra Modis” who were busy making Cabinets.

He accused the opposition parties of keeping the minorities confused and frightened, instead of working on the improvement of education and health among them. He invoked the spirit of 1857’s first war of Independence, saying all communities had joined hands for Independence and a similar movement should be started for good governance now.

Set for a second term as PM, Modi said his government will begin “a new journey to build a new India with new energy” and asked newly elected MPs of the NDA to work without any discrimination, including on the basis of faith and castes.

In his over-75-minute address, Modi also gave several directions to MPs, including asking them to shun “VIP culture”. There is a pro-incumbency sentiment in this election and its result was a positive mandate, he said, adding that there is no better path than serving people when in power. “We ran the government for poor people between 2014 and 19 and I can say the poor elected the government this time,” he said.

Poverty-Free India In A Decade?

The persistence of extreme poverty has cast a shadow on India’s many economic achievements. For nearly three decades, the country was home to the world’s largest number of poor. Beginning in the 1990s, the fall in poverty picked up speed, which accelerated after 2004-5. Most international forecasts predict poverty will fall to negligible levels in the next five years. The next elections may be fought in an India almost free of extreme poverty.

No EVM-VVPAT mismatch found

The Election Commission of India’s exercise to match the electronic voting machine results with voter-verified paper audit trail slips before the declaration of the Lok Sabha poll results turned out to be a success with no mismatch being reported from anywhere in the country.

Of the 20,625 VVPATs that were tallied, there wasn’t a single reported mismatch, said the officials.

This was the first Lok Sabha poll where each EVM was 100% backed by a VVPAT. Physical verification of the VVPAT slips was done for five machines in each assembly constituency.

The physical verification of VVPAT slips with the EVM count was done for over 20,000 polling machines on May 23 before the declaration of the results as per the Supreme Court orders.

The CEOs said there was no report of any mismatch, which only reiterates that the machines cannot be tampered with, said the official.

The opposition had launched an aggressive campaign against the credibility of EVMs and VVPATs and had demanded 100% VVPAT count to counter alleged manipulation of the EVMs. They had even demanded last minute changes to VVPAT tallying process on the counting day, which the EC rejected.

Earlier, it was decided to match only one VVPAT for every assembly constituency, which was opposed by the opposition parties. The parties had gone to the Supreme Court, which ordered that VVPAT slips from five polling stations across each assembly segment must be counted in the LS elections.

The issue of EVM credibility and VVPAT auditing had been raised repeatedly by a number of parties. At the August 27, 2018, meeting that the EC had with all political parties, almost the entire opposition joined hands with the Congress to demand a return to ballot paper-based voting. Many political parties also suggested that VVPAT counting must be upped — from one polling booth per constituency to 10%- 30% VVPATs in a constituency — to put doubts to rest. Later, 21 opposition parties went to court demanding that the EC do a physical count of up to 50% VVPATs in each constituency.

The SC order of April 2019, however, kept the verification level at under 2% of the polling booths per constituency and observed that the increase in number of EVM  VVPATs was being done to ensure the greatest degree of accuracy and satisfaction in the election process” and to make the system foolproof.


The leader with largest popular mandate in the world

Narendra Modi now is the leader with the largest popular mandate in the world. In 2014, US President Obama, meeting Modi in Myanmar on the sidelines of the Asean summit, declared, “this man has the biggest electoral victory of all of us”. In 2019 that holds even more true.

Modi is the only world leader to win so convincingly in a hotly contested, democratic system, which carries a unique equity among the global elite. His friend Benjamin Netanyahu, who recently won a tough Israeli elections securing a record fifth term for himself, managed a 65-seat majority with the help of smaller religious parties. In Japan, PM Shinzo Abe is comfortably placed, but the numbers are more modest. The only other big number victory recently has been Joko Widodo in Indonesia, while Scott Morrison — who also called Modi to congratulate — pulled off a surprise win in Australia, but barely scraped through.

But other world leaders are precariously placed. In the UK, Theresa May’s government stands on the precipice over her Brexit deal. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are struggling. Recep Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, who see themselves as strongmen leaders of Turkey and Russia respectively, are not nearly as secure as they seem. Donald Trump is the US President with a slender margin. Despite the different system, Xi Jinping is the only other world leader with comparable support.

In the coming month, Modi will be at SCO, G20 and G7 summits, where issues of global governance will be at the forefront. In his previous term, Modi did not shy away from engagement in the forums — he believes India should become a “leading power” articulating India’s aspirations in the world, wanting to make India part of global solutions. So expect new global ideas to emerge from Modi in the coming weeks.

Mandate for India, Honesty, Growth: Modi

The massive mandate for the BJP-led NDA is a vindication of work done for national security and development, and an honest administration that worked for the welfare of all sections of society, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said.

In the next term, the government will work to fulfil promises for a New India by 2022 and take all along with humility, he emphasised.

“In the coming years, I will not do anything with a bad intent (badniyat ya badiraade se). Mistakes may happen while working, but no action will be done with a bad intention,” Modi said, addressing party workers at the BJP headquarters here.

Maintaining that he is a “fakir” (ascetic) who has been blessed with such a mandate, Modi promised to complete welfare projects, such as toilets, affordable housing and healthcare for all.

“This is not Modi’s victory, but a victory of those who stand for honesty, for toilets for the poor, for affordable healthcare to the sick, for farmers… This was a government that, though not having a Left tag, worked for the unorganised sector. The vote is for giving pucca houses to the poor,” he said, adding people were sure that the funds were going to the right beneficiaries.

The BJP had gone to the people with a mandate for New India, the Prime Minister pointed out.

Drawing an analogy from the Mahabharata, he said, “In Mahabharata, Sri Krishna was asked on which side he was. He said he was not on any side, but (on the side of) those working for the good of Hastinapur. In this election, people stood for Bharat.”

He also set 2022 — when India completes 75 years since Independence — as the deadline to complete several of his government’s welfare projects.

Underlining the need to maintain peace and decorum in the wake of such a grand victory, Modi asked party cadre to stay humble and dignified. “BJP’s speciality is that when it was reduced to just two seats (in 1984), it did not deviate from its ideals and principles or lose hope, and today when it has won a consecutive term we will not lose our dignity and humility.” Every BJP worker has worked for Bharat Mata’s triumph, he said.

Modi also took a dig at those raising the bogey of secularism to oppose the BJP.

“Some people used to hide behind the printout or tag of secularism. You must have seen, from 2014 to 2019 they stopped raising this issue. No political party could wear the veil of secularism and mislead the people,” he said.

While the 2014 mandate came at a time when people did not know him that well, the one in 2019 has come after they had become familiar with him and his work, the Prime Minister said.

Somewhere in Kashmir....

Zakir Rashid Bhat, alias Zakir Musa, the so-called chief of Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, a group affiliated with Al Qaeda, was killed in an encounter with security forces in Dadsara Village, in Tral in south Kashmir’s Pulwama District.

Following a tip-off about the presence of top terrorist commanders in the area, a joint cordon and search operation was launched by the Special Operations Group of Jammu and Kashmir Police, 42 RR of Army and the Central Reserve Police Force.

While top police officials did not confirm the killing, special forces of the army rushed to the encounter spot to assist the forces. Additional forces were deployed in the twin districts of Shopian and Pulwama to control possible law and order crisis.

The administration also ordered the closure of all schools and colleges across Kashmir on Friday.

Divisional Commissioner Baseer Ahmad Khan said the decision was taken as a precautionary measure. Mobile internet services were also suspended.

Soon after news started to circulate on social media that Musa was trapped in Tral, scores of youth took to the streets, clashing with security forces in downtown Srinagar, Tral and some other parts of the Valley. Protestors pelted stones and blocked roads.

Musa had threatened to behead separatist leaders of the Hurriyat for calling the Kashmir issue a political struggle instead of a religious one. He had called for a caliphate and enforcement of Sharia. Musa had also vowed to take jihad to every corner of the country. Last year his group received a major setback when six of its cadres were killed in an encounter in Tral.

Last year Al Qaeda formally announced the establishment of Ghazwat-ul-Hind, under the leadership of Musa. Since then, the former Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander was reportedly high on security agencies’


IAF gets its first ‘fully ops by day’ woman combat pilot

Flight Lieutenant Bhawana Kanth can now go to battle in her MiG-21 ‘Bison’ supersonic jet. She is IAF’s first woman fighter pilot to become “fully ops (operational) by day”. Though Bhawana, who hails from Bihar’s Darbhanga, can be deployed for day-time missions, her gruelling training regime in handling the highly demanding and ageing MiG-21s, which have virtually the highest landing and takeoff speed in the world at 340 kmph, is not yet over.

She will have to now learn night flying during the “moon” and “dark phases” to become a fully operational fighter pilot.

“She is the first woman fighter pilot to qualify to undertake missions by day on a fighter aircraft. Bhawana joined her fighter squadron in November 2017 after initial flying on Pilatus turbo-props and Kiran trainers as well as Hawk advanced jet trainers. She flew her first solo on a MiG-21 Bison in March 2018,” said IAF spokesperson Group Captain Anupam Banerjee.

Bhawana had earlier said it was her “dream to fly like a free bird” when she was growing up in the refinery township of Begusarai, where her father was an engineer in IOCL. Before being commissioned into fighter stream after basic training in June 2016, Bhawana completed her BE (Medical Electronics) from BMS College of Engineering at Bengaluru and is into adventure sports like trekking, rappelling and rafting.

The IAF has so far inducted six women into its fighter flying stream on “an experimental basis” for five years. With it taking around Rs 15 crore to train a single fighter pilot, IAF had for long resisted inducting women because it felt it would disrupt “tight fighter-flying schedules” if they got married and had children.

But women like Bhawana, who learnt tactical flying and manoeuvres after consolidating her general handling of MiG-21s in multiple solo sorties, and the others have shattered the glass ceiling. The IAF didn’t show favouritism to Avani and Bhawana, who were posted to MiG-21squadrons rather than the easier-to-handle modern fighters like Sukhoi-30MKIs or Mirage-2000s. This will ensure they undertake “air defence missions” over Indian territory in the event of war (MiG-21s are meant to intercept incoming enemy aircraft), and not go strike deep into enemy territory.

SC reaches full strength of 31

For the first time since 2008 when Parliament increased the Supreme Court’s strength to 31 judges, the apex court will function at its full strength as President Ram Nath Kovind appointed four new judges — Justices Aniruddha Bose, A S Bopanna, B R Gavai and Surya Kant.

Parliament had increased SC’s sanctioned strength from 26 to 31 in 2008. The collegium headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi on May 8 reiterated its April 12 recommendation for appointment of Jharkhand HC Chief Justice Bose and Gauhati HC CJ Bopanna as SC judges, brushing aside the Centre’s objections on the ground of seniority and equal representation to states.

On May 8, the collegium of CJI Gogoi and Justices S A Bobde, N V Ramana, Arun Mishra and R F Nariman had also recommended the names of Bombay HC’s Justice Gavai and Himachal Pradesh CJ Kant for appointment as SC judges. With this, the CJI Gogoi-headed collegium has succeeded in appointing 10 SC judges in seven months. The other six are Justices Hemant Gupta, R Subhash Reddy, M R Shah and Ajay Rastogi on November 2 and Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna on January 18.

In the recent past, no collegium headed by CJIs R M Lodha, H L Dattu, T S Thakur, J S Khehar and Dipak Misra succeeded in getting so many SC judges appointed. The collegium’s recommendations also have been cleared expeditiously by the Centre, exemplified by 48 hours taken by the Centre to clear the appointment of Justices Gupta, Reddy, Shah and Rastogi.

Among the four new SC judges likely to take oath in the next two days, Justice Gavai will become CJI for a little over six months in 2025.In him, the SC will get a judge from the Scheduled Caste community after nearly a decade. Justice Kant will succeed Justice Gavai as CJI on November 23, 2025, and remain in office till February 9, 2027.

Since Justice Gogoi took oath as CJI on October 3 last year, appointments to the three-tier justice delivery system have picked up pace.

Domestic air traffic falls

Domestic air travel contracted for the first time in nearly five years after the collapse of Jet Airways and drop in capacity, which have led to a sharp hike in air fares. This April saw 1.09 crore domestic flyers — down 4.5% from 1.15 crore in the same month last year. Before suspending operations on April 17, Jet had been barely operating a few flights during the month, which had also seen 13 of SpiceJet Boeing 737 Max planes being grounded due to regulatory orders.

India had seen double-digit growth in domestic air travel for 52 straight months — from September 2014 (over the same month in 2013) to December 2018 (from the same month in 2017). This ranged from a peak of 29.3% growth in July 2015 to 11% in November 2018 (over the year-ago periods).

Grounding of Jet, B737 Max, an overall economic slowdown and sharp rise in fares even as capacity fell saw this dream run waking up to a rude reality. The growth in January and February 2019 fell to single digits and, by March, this was down to 0.14%.

Industry captains, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the negative trend would not last too long as Jet’s slots are being given to other Indian carriers. However, they added that the next government must focus on the aviation sector.

BrahMos successfully test-fired from Sukhoi

The supersonic BrahMos cruise missile, with a strike range of 290-km, was tested from a front-line Sukhoi-30MKI fighter jet in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago, in yet another step towards the country acquiring formidable precision strike capability from long or “standoff ” distances.

This was the second test firing of the air-launched version of the BrahMos missile, which flies almost three times the speed of sound at Mach 2.8, after the first was conducted over the Bay of Bengal in November 2017.

The BrahMos missile, whose range is now being extended, in conjunction with the Sukhoi-30MKI fighter, which has a cruising range of 3,200-km or a combat radius of about 1,500-km without mid-air refuelling, constitutes a deadly weapons package. It can be used to take out terror camps, underground nuclear bunkers, aircraft carriers on the high seas and other military targets from “stand-off” distances by day or night in all weather conditions.

“The launch of the missile, which weighs 2.5 tonne, from the aircraft was smooth. The missile followed the desired trajectory before directly hitting the land target,” said IAF spokesperson Group Captain Anupam Banerjee.

“The integration of BrahMos on the Sukhoi-30MKI was a complex process involving multiple modifications on the aircraft. The capability of the missile coupled with the superlative performance of the Sukhoi-30MKI aircraft gives the IAF the desired strategic reach,” he added.

The Army is now inducting the 4th BrahMos Regiment, which will be the missile’s Block-III version that has steep dive, trajectory manoeuver and top-attack capabilities, while the Navy has deployed the BrahMos missiles on over 10 frontline warships. The IAF, in turn, has inducted two squadrons of the land-launch missiles, even as the force waits for the air launched version.


Mi-17 crash: Friendly Fire

At least one senior IAF officer and three others are likely to face stringent disciplinary action for the grave operational lapses that led to “friendly fire” bringing down the Mi-17 helicopter at Budgam on February 27, around the same time Indian and Pakistani fighter jets were engaged in a dogfight in the Nowshera sector along the Line of Control about 100-km away.

The IAF on Tuesday said the court of inquiry into the Mi-17 crash, which killed six IAF personnel and a civilian on that fateful day at 10.10 am, is still in progress. “We cannot say anything till the CoI reaches a conclusion…it is premature,” said spokesperson Group Captain Anupam Banerjee.

But sources said it has been established that an Israeli SpyDer quick-reaction anti-aircraft missile fired by the air defence unit of the Srinagar airbase brought down the Mi-17 in a matter of just 12 seconds from the launch. “It was a tragic ‘blue on blue’ incident, which are not unusual in the fog of war,” said a source.

“The entire chain of events and the lapses must, however, be conclusively established before any personnel is charged with ‘culpable homicide not amounting to murder’ or something else. With the helicopter’s flight data recorder (black box) missing, the CoI is still minutely examining the available forensic and other evidence,” he added.

The air officer commanding of the Srinagar base, an Air Commodore (equivalent to a Brigadier in Army), has already been transferred out, while the role of the second-in-command, the chief operations officer, is being examined closely. “The COO, a Group Captain, was the terminal weapons director in charge of air defence at that time,” said another source.

The entire air defence network in J&K was on a hair-trigger alert, with guns and missiles on a “weaponsfree status” to fire at “any unauthorized aircraft” in the region, during the retaliatory intrusion across the LoC by Pakistani fighters, a day after IAF conducted the predawn strikes on the JeM training camp at Balakot on February 26.

After the CoI reaches a definitive conclusion, it will be followed by a “summary of evidence” (akin to framing of charges) and finally a court martial or the actual trial, as per the military legal system.

Rural Growth to Push India's GDP to 7.5% by 2020: OECD

India’s economic growth will regain strength and approach 7.5% by 2020, buoyed by rural consumption and subdued inflation, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said in its Economic Outlook even as a United Nations report showed India remaining the fastest-growing major economy.

The UN World Economic Situation and Prospects, in its mid-year update, projected that India will grow 7.1% in fiscal year 2020 on the back of strong domestic consumption and investment, slower than the 7.4% estimated in January. It expects the Indian economy to expand 7% in 2019 compared with its previous estimate of 7.6%. Even after the downward revisions, India remains the fastest-growing major economy in the world, ahead of China.

“Gross domestic product (GDP) growth in India is projected to strengthen to close to 7.25% in FY19 and close to 7.5% in FY20,” the OECD said.

This growth will come from higher domestic demand due to improved financial conditions, new income support measures for farmers and recent structural reforms. Lower oil prices and the recent appreciation of the rupee will reduce pressure on inflation and the current account.

Highlighting that India has the fastest growth among G20 economies with export growth holding up well, it said: “Investment growth will accelerate as capacity utilisation rises, interest rates decline, and geopolitical tensions and political uncertainty are assumed to wane.”

India’s economy grew at a six-quarter low of 6.6% in the October-December period. The statistics office will release the quarterly GDP estimate for January-March and provisional annual estimate for 2018-19 on May 31.

GDP growth for FY19 is seen at 7%.

India’s healthy growth forecast came amidst the OECD cutting the projection for global GDP growth to a sub-par rate of 3.2% this year, before edging up to 3.4% in 2020. Growth was 3.5% in 2018.

“Global growth has slowed abruptly over the past year, with the weakness seen in the latter half of 2018 continuing in the early part of 2019 amidst persisting trade tensions,” the organisation said, urging governments to resolve their trade disputes.

The OECD expects India’s monetary policy to be loosened somewhat as headline inflation remains well below target and inflation expectations are adjusting down.

India’s retail inflation was 2.92% in April. The Reserve Bank of India, which had last month cut interest rates by 0.25%, estimates retail inflation of 2.9-3% during April to September because of lower food and fuel prices and expectations of a normal monsoon.

“Rising public sector borrowing requirements reflect the implementation of new welfare schemes, sluggish tax revenue, and growing financial needs of public enterprises and banks,” the OECD said.

The report suggested that an improved collection of the Goods and Services Tax and a wider base of personal income tax will help reduce the high public debt-to-GDP ratio.

Besides, ensuring a swift resolution of bankruptcy processes would help contain non-performing loans and boost productivity by promoting the reallocation of resources to more productive firms and sectors.

Investment has continued to grow robustly, supported by hefty public sector projects. In contrast, private investment, especially in manufacturing, had been affected by uncertainty ahead of the parliamentary elections, combined with persistent difficulties in financing projects, acquiring land and getting all clearances. Rural consumption and twowheeler and tractor sales have slowed on account of subdued agricultural prices and wages.

RISAT-2B launched

In a pre-dawn launch, Indian space agency ISRO scripted history by successfully launching earth observation satellite RISAT-2B that would enhance the country’s surveillance capabilities among others.

As the 25-hour countdown which began Tuesday concluded, the agency’s trusted workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C46) blasted off at 5.30 am from the first launch pad of the Satish Dhawan Space Centre here on its 48th mission, carrying the 615 kg satellite.

The RISAT-2B (Radar Imaging Satellite-2B), meant for application in fields such as surveillance, agriculture, forestry and disaster management support, was released into the orbit around 15 minutes after the lift-off.

It would replace the RISAT-2, which was successfully launched in 2009.

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman K Sivan had earlier described the mission as a “very, very important” one for the country.  This is a very, very important mission for India. It is an excellent satellite with hi-fi earth observation (capabilities),” he had said.

The RISAT-2B is equipped with a synthetic aperture radar that can take pictures of the earth during day and night, and also under cloudy conditions.

With a mission life of five years, the satellite would also be used for military surveillance, ISRO sources said.

The RISAT-2 has been actively used by India to monitor activities in camps across the border in Pakistan to thwart infiltration bids by terrorists.

The PSLV-C46 was the 14th flight of the PSLV in its core-alone configuration sans the use of the solid strap-on motors.

It was the 72nd launch vehicle mission from Sriharikota and also marked the 36th launch from the first launch pad.

Wednesday’s launch of the PSLV also marked the third launch in 2019.

The other two were the PSLV-C45/EMISAT mission, which successfully injected the EMISAT and 29 international customer satellites into their orbits on April 1, and the PSLV-C44, which successfully placed the Microsat-R and the Kalamsat-V2 satellites in designated orbits on January 24.

ISRO had launched RISAT-1, a microwave remote sensing satellite, on April 26, 2012 from Sriharikota.


LS Polls 2019 turnout: 67.1%

The voter turnout for the just-concluded Lok Sabha polls was the highest ever, at a tentative 67.11% across 542 constituencies, barring Vellore where polls were rescinded, and 1.16% higher than the 65.95% turnout in 2014. The figure could be subject to revision after re-polling is completed.

The final overall turnout for all 543 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 was 66.4%, which too is lower than the polling figure for 542 seats in 2019. Before 2019, the highest ever poll percentage recorded in a parliamentary election was in 2014.

Consolidated voter turnout data for 2019 Lok Sabha sourced from Election Commission is tentative and subject to change, said an EC official.

A look at statewise voter turnouts in the current Lok Sabha poll shows that polling percentage was higher in 18 states/UTs and lower in 16 states/UTs compared with 2014. The comparative figures for Telangana and Andhra were not available as the former came into existence only after the last Lok Sabha poll and the 2014 turnout figures pertain to a pre-bifurcated Andhra.

The highest increase in the turnout between 2014 and 2019 was in Madhya Pradesh (71.2% from 61.6%, a jump of 9.6%), followed by Himachal Pradesh (71.5% from 64.5%). The biggest dip in terms of turnout was in Jammu and Kashmir, with 29.4% polling, down sharply from 49.7% recorded in 2014.

While Lakshadweep recorded the highest turnout at 85% in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the north-eastern states of Tripura (83.2%), Nagaland (83.1%) and Manipur (82.7%) were not too far behind. The overall high turnout in West Bengal at 81.9% was still short of the 2014 figure of 82.2%.

Not surprisingly, the terror-inflicted state of J&K had the lowest polling percentage at 29.4%. Only two states recorded sub-60% turnouts —Bihar 58.1% and UP a slightly higher 59.6%.

Voter turnouts have fluctuated over the past 16 Lok Sabha elections, the lowest being in the first election, held in 1951, with 45.7% voter participation. Thereafter turnouts were 47.7% in 1957, 55.4% in 1962, 61.3% in 1967 (the first elections when Indira Gandhi led Congress), 55.3% in 1971, 60.5% in 1977, 56.9% in 1980, 64% in 1984-85 (held in the wake of assassination of Indira Gandhi), 62% in 1989 (when National Front won under V P Singh).

It was 55.9% in 1991-92 (during which Congress president Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated), 57.9% in 1996, 62% in 1998, 60% in 1999, 58% in 2004, 58.2% in 2009 and 66.4% in 2014.


Exit Polls chant NaMo NaMo.....

Exit polls forecast the return of a BJP-led government at the Centre with a comfortable majority to the National Democratic Alliance. Most polls, barring India Today-Axis and News 18-IPSOS and Today’s Chanakya, showed that BJP on its own may fall shy of the majority mark.

All six major exit polls predicted NDA crossing the majority mark. Times Now-VMR predicted 306 seats for the NDA in which the BJP’s standalone number was pegged at 262. UPA was at 132, as per this poll, with Congress at 78. ABP News-Nielsen, which earlier predicted 267 for NDA, also revised its number later in the evening to 277.

The India Today-Axis survey predicted the highest number for NDA, at 339-365, while UPA could end well below the three-digit number at 77. As per Today’s Chanakya, NDA is slated to get 350. NewsX-Neta App gave the lowest number to NDA at 242.

Further, exit polls gave an edge to the NDA over the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party Mahagathbandhan in Uttar Pradesh. Yet, there were noticeable variations with ABP-Nielsen being the only one which gave the grand alliance a clear win at 56 seats. Most other polls projected between 44 and 68 for the NDA in India’s most populous state. Times Now-VMR gave 58 seats to the NDA. Most polls in the state gave Congress two seats.

A similar variation was also visible in the case of West Bengal. Some of the polls projected a sizeable gain for the BJP while others indicated continuing dominance for the Trinamool Congress. The News18-IPSOS survey forecast 36-38 seats for the TMC and just 3-4 for the BJP. At the other extreme, India Today-Axis has projected a tough contest between the TMC and the BJP with both getting around 19 to 23 seats.

In Odisha, exit polls have indicated considerable gains for the BJP. The lowest for the BJP is 7 by News 18-IPSOS while the highest is at 15-19 by India Today-Axis. The BJP currently has only one seat from the state and was below Congress in the 2014 vote share. Exit polls are also indicating a closer contest in Tamil Nadu.

In Tamil Nadu most political pundits were of the view that the election would be one-sided in favour of the Congress-DMK combine. While the Congress-DMK alliance continues to lead, according to most exit polls, the projection is that the BJP-AIADMK alliance may also bag quite a few seats. Times Now-VMR survey has predicted nine seats for the BJP-AIADMK alliance and 29 for Congress-DMK alliance. News18-IPSOS survey predicts 22-24 seats for Congress-DMK and 14-16 seats for BJP-AIADMK alliance. India Today-Axis poll, however, predicts a clean sweep for Congress-DMK with the alliance getting 34 to 38 seats in the state. The latter survey is predicting only zero to four seats for the BJP-AIADMK alliance.

Overall, the vote share of the BJP, according to most exit polls, stayed above 40%. The Congress too showed some improvement, averaging around 25% but most regional parties seemed to have lost some sheen. Final results will be declared on Thursday.

World’s biggest election is now over

Voting for the sevenphase Lok Sabha elections concluded on Sunday, more than a month after it began on April 11, with over 67% voters exercising their franchise for 542 parliamentary seats (voting for Vellore constituency was rescinded due to the rampant use of money power) spread across the country. Counting of votes will be taken up on Thursday.

The 2014 general elections had recorded a turnout of 66.40%.

Madhya Pradesh stood out with 8-11 percentage point increase in turnout through the three successive phases. Jammu and Kashmir witnessed a slide with every phase — down by 25 percentage points in phase III and 26 percentage points in phase IV.

Turnout for most of the other states were similar to 2014, with voters in West Bengal and Assam turning up in higher numbers as before and Uttar Pradesh and Bihar staying close to their 2014 mark.

Urban centres like Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chandigarh also saw a drop in 2019 turnouts.

Most significantly, the gap between male and female turnout has decreased in these elections compared to 2014, the Election Commission officials have said.

The final phase of the general elections on Sunday witnessed a turnout of over 64% as of 10 pm. The final figure is expected to be higher. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Punjab voted in the last phase.

These elections also witnessed record money flow and seizures. Seizures close to ₹3,500 crore were made through the seven phases (₹1,206 crore in 2014). The cash component was ₹840 crore in 2019 (₹300 crore in 2014).

Incidentally, instances of paid news came down in 2019 — 640 cases (2019) and 1,297 (2014). Over 900 social media posts were taken down from platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, ShareChat and Google on the grounds of model code violations.

Violent clashes in West Bengal and Punjab marred the seventh and final phase of voting on Sunday in the marathon 17th Lok Sabha elections. Estimates at the end of polling indicated that around 61% of the 101 million people eligible to vote in the last leg turned out to choose their representatives to 59 seats spread across seven states and the Union territory of Chandigarh, the Election Commission said, adding that the turnout figure would be updated later.

Sunday’s polling, which decided the electoral fortunes of 918 candidates including Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Varanasi, was marked by glitches in electronic voting machines that had been a feature of every phase of polling in the world’s largest democratic exercise.

More than 8,000 candidates were in the fray for 542 Lok Sabha seats that were decided in the seven rounds of voting. Election to the Vellore seat in Tamil Nadu was cancelled after the recovery of a vast amount of cash from a building allegedly linked to a Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader.

Counting of votes from the election, following a hard-fought campaign by both Prime Minister Modi and his chief challenger Congress, will be taken up and the results declared on May 23. Voting took place on Sunday in all 13 Lok Sabha constituencies in Punjab and an equal number in Uttar Pradesh, nine in West Bengal, eight each in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, four in Himachal Pradesh, three in Jharkhand, and the lone Chandigarh seat.

Violent clashes erupted during the final phase of the elections in West Bengal -- which recorded a turnout of 73.4% -- despite the deployment of 710 companies of security personnel in the state that elects 42 lawmakers to the Lok Sabha, the most by a state after Uttar Pradesh (80) and Maharashtra (48).

Despite the Election Commission deploying 710 companies of security personnel in the state, reports of clashes poured in from all nine parliamentary and four assembly constituencies that voted.

The poll campaign had to be cut short by a day in West Bengal after BJP and TMC supporters fought a pitched battle in Kolkata on Tuesday at a roadshow by BJP president Amit Shah. Vandals stormed a college and damaged a bust of Bengal Renaissance icon and social reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.

The stakes are high for both parties, with the BJP looking to West Bengal to offset possible reverses in its northern and western strongholds and TMC nursing ambitions of playing a role on the national political stage.

Punjab recorded a polling percentage of 59% in its 13 Lok Sabha constituencies. In the lone Chandigarh seat, 63.57% of the electorate turned out to vote .

Reports of technical glitches in EVMs came in from several places in Punjab, including Ludhiana, Samana and Moga. Punjab’s chief electoral officer S Karuna Raju said eight ballot units, 13 control units, and eight voter-verified paper audit trail machines had been replaced.

Clashes broke out between Congress and Akali-BJP workers in Talwandi Sabo in Bathinda and Gurdaspur. At Talwandi Sabo, the Akalis alleged that gun shots were fired by ruling Congress workers.

In Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous state, the turnout was 55.52%. In Varanasi, the Prime Minister’s constituency, the turnout was 53.38%. Gorakhpur, a seat previously held by chief minister Yogi Adityanath and which the BJP lost in a by-poll last year, recorded a voter turnout of 56.47%.

Violence erupted in the Chandauli Lok Sabha constituency, where state BJP chief Mahendra Nath Pandey is seeking re-election, when supporters of the saffron party and the Samajwadi Party clashed.

Bihar recorded a turnout of 53.36%. In neighbouring Jharkhand, an estimated 70.97 of the electorate exercised their franchise in three Lok Sabha seats. In Madhya Pradesh, a turnout of 69.36% was recorded and in Himachal Pradesh, 66.7% of the voters exercised their franchise.

An average of 66.88% voters exercised their franchise in the last six phases.

Nerul-Uran railway line

Work on phase two of the proposed Nerul-Seawoods-Uran suburban railway line will begin after the monsoon. CR invited tenders for construction of six bridges, one road overbridge (RoB) at Gavan railway station, and one road underbridge (RuB).

Majority of the work in this phase will be carried out on the stretch between Bamandongri and Gavan railway stations. After the construction of the bridges, railway tracks will be laid across 11 km.

“Tenders have been invited and we are planning to start the on-ground work post monsoon. After the construction of the RoB near Gavan railway station, it would be easier to commence with the laying of the railway tracks in the second phase,” said a senior CR official.

Work on phase 2 is expected to be complete within one year and three months.

Other stations that will be part of phase 2 include Ranjanpada, Nhava Sheva, Dronagiri and Uran railway stations.

The railway corridor was first proposed in 1997, but phase 1 – between Belapur and Kharkopar – became operational only in November last year.

The CR runs 40 services on the line daily – 20 between Kharkopar and Nerul, and Belapur and Kharkopar railway stations.


Spencer’s Buys Nature’s Basket

Spencer’s Retail, RP Sanjiv Goenka Group’s retail flagship, has acquired Godrej Group’s premium food retailing venture Nature’s Basket for ₹300 crore in an all-cash deal which will enable it to re-enter the western India market.

In a stock exchange notification, Spencer’s Retail said this deal will enable it to access the western India market where it has no presence, making it a national player and strengthening its omni-channel capabilities.

The company had exited Mumbai in 2013 to move out of loss-making stores at the time. At present, it operates 156 stores in 10 states. On Friday, the company also reported that it clocked its first full-year net profit, of ₹7.94 crore from a revenue of ₹2,187.19 crore, in 2018-19.

Nature’s Basket is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Godrej Industries and operates 36 neighbourhood convenience stores in Mumbai, Pune and Bengaluru. It reported sales of ₹338.28 crore for 2018-19. In a press release, Godrej Group executive director Tanya Dubash said that to further unlock the “immense potential” of the Nature’s Basket brand and to grow it to greater heights, the group decided to “pass on the torch to owners who have prioritised retail in their portfolio strategy and have the relevant ecosystems to take the business to the next level”.

She said Spencer’s Retail is very keen to strengthen the brand and accelerate the growth of the business at a time when the retail industry is consolidating whereby scale has become important. Lodha & Co advised Godrej Industries on the deal.

RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group sector head (retail and FMCG) Shashwat Goenka said Nature’s Basket stores are located in prime residential locations and have high sales throughout per square feet. “Nature’s Basket is positioned as an aspirational brand like ours and hence fits our business. We will continue with the Nature’s Basket brand and may even extend it to other markets where it is not present since it is positioned in the premium segment,” he said.

Goenka said the group will also evaluate this opportunity to relaunch the Spencer’s Retail brand in western India. “The potential is huge for integration. For starters, we would expand the distribution reach of the private brands by immediately launching Nature’s Basket gourmet food private brands in the Spencer’s stores and vice versa,” he said.

In its financial results announced on Friday, Spencer’s Retail said that in the fourth quarter of 2018-19, it clocked sales of ₹523.46 crore and a net profit of ₹2.79 crore. It said the results were not comparable with that of the year-ago period since the retail businesses were demerged from CESC in 2017 and hence the financial result included the operation of such undertaking from October 2017.


Kashmir: Top Jaish commander among 5 terrorists killed

A top Pakistani Jaish-e-Muhammed commander who had masterminded the 2017 fidayeen attack on a CRPF camp in Lethpora that left five jawans dead was among five terrorists killed in two separate encounters in Kashmir’s Pulwama and Shopian districts. Two civilians and two soldiers also lost their lives.

A third encounter was reported from Kandi forest in Kupwara district. Kupwara SSP Ambarkar Shriram Dinkar said the encounter was on in the upper reaches of Kandi when reports last came in.

A police spokesman said the Jaish commander, Khalid Bhai, and two other JeM terrorists — Naseer Pandith of Karmibad Pulwama and Umar Mir of Shopian — were slain at Dalipora village of Pulwama on Thursday. The exchange of fire had started early on Wednesday when the terrorists fired on a joint team of police and Army personnel conducting a cordon-and-search operation in the village.

In the initial phase, three soldiers and two civilians, brothers Younis Dar and Rayees Ahmad Dar, were injured. Rayees died soon after while his brother was rushed to a nearby hospital, from where he was referred to Srinagar. The injured soldiers were airlifted to the Army’s 92 Base hospital at Badami Bagh, Srinagar, where one of them, Sandeep Kumar, died.

Soon after the encounter ended, villagers clashed with security forces at various places in Pulwama district. The authorities then imposed curfew and suspended internet services in the south Kashmir district. Khalid had been active in Kashmir for the last eight years, a police officer said, terming his killing a “major success”. According to police records, Naseer Pandith had a long history of crime before he joined JeM. He was also involved in the 2018 killing of a policeman, Mohammad Yaqoob Shah of Pulwama, on the eve of Eid. Umar Mir was involved in several terror strikes and had been part of groups responsible for attacks on security forces, the police said.

The second encounter, in the Handew area of Shopian, broke out as Army and CRPF personnel were carrying out a cordon-and-search operation on Thursday afternoon. A police officer confirmed that two militants were killed along with a civilian and a soldier.