EXCLUSIVE: CM Harish Rawat Claims BJP Is Spending Over ₹1000 Crore To Manipulate Uttarakhand Polls

Barely 24 hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi -- in his first political rally in Uttarakhand -- took on the Congress and said 'Dev Bhoomi didn't deserve a corrupt government', Chief Minister Harish Rawat has hit back.

Speaking exclusively to Huffington Post India, Rawat dismissed the Prime Minister's pitch in Uttarakhand as jumla ( a political gimmick). He also accused the BJP of using money to influence the elections and propping rebel candidates to stymie the electoral prospects of the Congress.

Commenting on Narendra Modi, Rawat asked, "Can Prime Minister Modi mention even one deed or act that he has done for Uttarakhand? In the last two-and-half years the Prime Minister hasn't even visited Uttarakhand once," Rawat said.

"Can Prime Minister Modi mention even one deed or act that he has done for Uttarakhand? In the last two-and-half years the Prime Minister hasn't even visited Uttarakhand once"

Rawat then proceeded to challenge Prime Minister Modi to institute an inquiry into his government's alleged misdeeds. The PM, when addressing a rally in Haridwar yesterday had said the misdeeds and corruption of the Uttarakhand government would be probed. Referring to the same, Rawat asked "What is holding PM Modi back, he should order an inquiry immediately."

Launching a counter attack, he said that, "The PM wasn't able to bring back money stashed abroad, neither did he made the list of foreign bank account holders public. These are political gimmicks."

He went to allege that BJP was spending as much as Rs1000 crore in the Uttarakhand elections. "Where is all this money coming from and why do you need so much money to contest elections in a small state like Uttarakhand?" he asked and added that corporate houses had opened up their purse for the BJP.

Making a grave and controversial allegation, the Chief Minister said, "Money is being ferried in Uttarakhand in helicopters that are meant to transport central ministers. The Election Commission frequently does thorough checks on me, but the central ministers have a free run."

"Money is being ferried in Uttarakhand in helicopters that are meant to transport central ministers."

Asked why he chose not to cash-in on the public sympathy and support and go for early elections just after his government was restored, Harish Rawat said, he was "proud" that he had not put the electoral considerations ahead of Uttarakhand's development. "Had we gone for elections immediately after my government was restored, developmental work would have stopped for a year. It was a conscious choice. There was enormous support from the people when my government was dismissed, I decided to repay that," he said.

Harish Rawat accepted that rebels were hurting the electoral prospects. "Rebels are hurting both ways, but they are hurting BJP more. And the reason for that is Congress rebels have been propped up by BJP. They have been fielded to split votes," he said.


'Leaders In Power' Threatening Other Political Parties Like 'Gabbar Singh': Mamata Bannerjee

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday lashed out at the Modi government for "threatening" other political parties and accusing them of hoarding black money.

"I read newspapers reports that all of our party leaders will be arrested in the days to come," Banerjee told the Press Trust of India. "We are not afraid of such threats; if you want you can arrest all of us. The situation is just like you are threatening a kid by saying keep shut or else Gabbar Singh will come."

Banerjee did not mention Prime Minister Narendra Modi by name but the allusion was clear by the references in her tweets.

In the classic Hindi film Sholay, the evil dacoit Gabbar Singh brags about his ability to strike fear in the hearts of people, saying that mothers take his name to keep their errant children in line. The film was directed by Ramesh Sippy and featured Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, Sanjeev Kumar and Hema Malini in key roles.

In the wake of PM Modi's demonetisation announcement on 8 November, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the BJP have been trading accusations and strong words, with legal notices as well as FIRs flying back and forth.

Banerjee also said that Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was in for a huge disappointment in the Uttar Pradesh, Goa and Punjab Assembly elections.


Ayodhya Ram Temple Construction To Start Soon, Says BJP MP Yogi Adityanath

RAIPUR -- BJP MP Yogi Adityanath on Friday said the hurdles on the path of construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya will be gradually removed and its construction will start "soon".

"Chhattisgarh was Lord Ram's 'nanihal' (his mother Kaushlya's maternal home). According to 'jyotishi manyata' (astrology), when the Lord will settle at his 'nanihal', it would automatically pave the way for the construction of a (Ram) temple (in Ayodhya).

"The hurdles on the path of construction of a grand Ram temple will be gradually removed and its construction will soon start in Ayodhya," he added.

The Lok Sabha MP from Gorakhpur was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of inaugural ceremony of a Ram temple constructed on the VIP Road in the outskirts of state capital Raipur.

The 44-year-old MP's comments on Ram temple in Ayodhya came ahead of the Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh.

Adityanath said taking lessons from the life of Lord Ram, every section of society should march together for nation-building.

"Maryada Purushottam Ram (one who epitomes righteousness) spent his life establishing social harmony and equality.

Likewise for nation-building, there is a need to take every section of society, including Dalits, vanvasis (tribals) and other backward castes, together.

"Our biggest responsibility is to embrace our brothers (people from socially oppressed sections) and establish harmony in society," he said.

Chhattisgarh Governor Balramji Das Tandon and Chief Minister Raman Singh, among others, were present on the occasion.


200 Companies Of Paramilitary Forces Deployed As Punjab Goes To Polls

CHANDIGARH--Polling for 117 Punjab assembly seats that will decide the fate of 1,145 candidates began today amid tight security.

Punjab is witnessing a three-cornered contest between ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance, opposition Congress and new entrant Aam Aadmi Party.

Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has fielded candidates in 94 seats while its ally BJP has nominated candidates in the remaining 23 seats. Congress is contesting alone on all seats.

AAP, which is contesting Punjab polls for the first time, has fielded candidates in 112 seats, while its ally Lok Insaf Party, led by Ludhiana-based Bains brothers, has fielded nominees in five seats.

Other political outfits in the fray include BSP, former AAP leader Sucha Singh Chhotepur-led Apna Punjab Party, the Left comprising CPI and CPI-M, and SAD-Amritsar.

About 1.98 crore electors will seal the fate of 1,145 candidates by voting through EVMs during the high-stakes election.

Over 200 companies of para-military forces have been deputed for the fair conduct of polls.

Voting for Amritsar Lok Sabha seat by-poll is also being held amid tight security arrangements.

The total number of electors in the state is 1,98,79,069, including 93,75,546 females. There are 415 transgender voters as well.

The total number of candidates in the fray, include 81 women and one transgender. The polling commenced at 22,615 polling stations in the entire state.

While 84 Assembly seats are of general category, 34 are reserved.


Jaitley's Plans For Political Funding Reform Could Close One Loophole And Open Another

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley's proposals on political funding reform could affect nearly 85% of Congress funding and 100% of the BSP's funding. But his proposed scheme allowing donations through bonds could shield corporate donors to some extent.

At the moment, political parties do not have to declare cash donations of less than Rs 20,000 each; donations over Rs 20,000 have to be in cheque form, and all details about the donor need to be disclosed. It is this loophole that FM Jaitley seeks to narrow; he has proposed that this limit be lowered to Rs 2,000, a recommendation earlier made by the Election Commission and endorsed by the non-partisan electoral watchdog, the Association for Democratic Reforms. While it can be argued that parties can circumvent this too, it will at the minimum increase their paperwork and accounting effort.

An analysis by the ADR of donations to political parties between 2004-5 and 2014-15 shows that 83% of the total income of the Congress during this period and 65% of the BJP's came in the form of cash donations under Rs 20,000 and were as a result from unknown sources. The BSP is the only party which has consistently claimed that it does not receive any funds over Rs 20,000 from an individual source; 100% of its funding during this period, as a result, came from unknown sources.

Donations from unkown sources to national parties keep climbing

-500501001502002503003504004505005502004-052005-062006-072007-082008-092009-102010-112011-122012-132013-142014-15Donations from unknown sources (Rs. cr.)


Budget Presented Earlier To Hide Ill-Effects Of Demonetisation, Claims Anand Sharma

NEW DELHI -- Calling the Union Budget 2017-18 "misleading and directionless", senior Congress leader and former Union Minister Anand Sharma on Wednesday said that the government deliberately pushed ahead the budget by a month to hide the ill-effects of demonetisation.

The Union Budget was always presented on the last day of February. This year it has been presented on February 1.

"I call this budget misleading because it is based on the data of just six months. The data from the third fiscal quarter, where the ill-effects of demonetisation will be visible, is not included in it," Sharma said.

He said the data about the economy's performance in the third fiscal quarter (October-December) usually comes out by February end, and thus is included in the budget.

"The budget, and all the rosy figures the Finance Minister is showing, is based on data prior to November 8, when demonetisation was announced. The estimates and projections are thus wrong," he said.

"They did not want to show the poor performance of economy post demonetisation in their budget. But figures would come out in due course," Sharma said.

He said that demonetisation gave such a jolt to the economy, especially the unorganised sector, that recovery will be "slow and painful".

"The fall in Gross Domestic Production (GDP) is much more than the one per cent being accepted by government. The fundamentals of economy are nosediving post demonetisation, investment is down and capital formation is in negative in real terms," Sharma, a former Industry and Commerce Minister, said.

"The huge informal sector has suffered a massive blow. But there is no mention of it in either the Economic Survey presented yesterday (Tuesday) or in today's budget," he said.

He said that the "sanctity" of the budget was violated by the Prime Minister on December 31 when in his address to the nation he announced all major schemes, sops etc.

"The Finance Minister only parroted what the Prime Minister had said on December 31. There was little left to be announced by the Finance Minister," Sharma said.

The Congress leader said that the budget is not likely to spur growth.

He said the budgetary allocations for the rural sector, including the MGNREGA allocation was "a forced move" by the government as there was huge distress in the rural sector post demonetisation.

He also sought to know why the budget was silent on non-performing assets (NPAs) of the banks.

"By high sounding words, they cannot change the ground realities," Sharma said.

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Modi Likely To Make His First Visit To Israel In June-July 2017 To Mark 25 Years Of Diplomatic Ties

JERUSALEM -- Prime Minister Narendra Modi's much-anticipated visit to Israel could take place in mid-2017 in what would be the first such tour by an Indian Premier to the Jewish state, as the two countries mark 25 years of their diplomatic ties.

India's Ambassador to Israel Pavan Kapoor told news portal 'Ynet' about the visit and mentioned about efforts to boost defence cooperation with Israel, which is looking to set up manufacturing units in India under 'Make in India' initiative.

Informed sources told PTI the dates for Modi's visit have not been finalised but "it is likely to happen in June-July of 2017."

Modi's visit is being discussed amid talks of a "close chemistry" between him and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

India-Israel ties have steadily progressed since the two countries established diplomatic relations in January 1992 but India has shied away from such high-level visits in the past.

However, BJP-led governments seem to have accorded a greater priority to this relationship with President Pranab Mukherjee visiting Israel in October 2015 in what was the first such visit by an Indian Head of State to Israel.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin made a reciprocal visit last year at Mukhejee's invitation. It was the second visit by an Israeli Head of State to New Delhi, coming after a gap of almost 20 years.

The only visit of an Israeli Prime Minister to India happened in 2003, when Ariel Sharon visited New Delhi. Yet, bilateral ties have been on an upward trajectory, irrespective of the governments in power in New Delhi.

The two leaders have met twice on foreign soil on the sidelines of UN-related events and are said to be constantly in touch with each other over the phone.

During their meeting on the sidelines of Paris Climate summit in 2015, Modi had told Netanyahu: "I am happy that often we can talk easily on telephone, we can discuss everything. It has very rarely happened. In your case it has happened."


AAP Is Creating A Buzz In Punjab, But The Missing Chief Ministerial Face Haunts Its Campaign

The anger against the Badal family, and consequently the ruling Akali Dal-BJP combine, explodes with frightening ferocity. "Ae te vapas nai andene (they aren't coming back)." The refrain is unanimous from Amritsar through Badal territory in the Malwa region all the way to Chandigarh. And it's said with a finality that brooks no debate.

In the weeks since the election dates were announced and the model code of conduct enforced, the mood in Punjab has galloped from subterranean dissatisfaction with the present regime to openly expressed revulsion and disgust at the manner in which one family controls all the levers of power and money. It is evident even in a whistle-stop three-day road trip through the state that the Akali-BJP alliance could face the kind of electoral rout that hit the Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls after ten years of UPA rule.

Till the election process began, it was widely assumed that a triangular contest was brewing between the Akali-BJP, the Congress and Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party, throwing up predictions of a hung assembly. But as the February 4 polling date nears, the Akali-BJP combine seems to be falling off the election map. The Battle for Punjab 2017 has turned into a straight fight between the Congress and AAP.

AAP brings a breath of fresh air with a heady promise of change. And change is what people want.

Only the very brave, or a fool, would risk a prediction. Few elections in Punjab have been so keenly contested or so close to call. On the face of it, the Congress would seem to have the edge. The party's vote base remains largely intact and it's still formidable even though the Congress has been out of power for a decade. Despite losing the 2012 assembly election, it bagged 40.9% of the popular vote. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, its vote share fell but did not go below 33%. That's a big number and with the Congress in contention to form the next government, a chunk of the votes it lost two years ago are likely to come back.

The Congress in Punjab is very much alive and kicking, unlike in states like UP, Bihar and Tamil Nadu where it is almost invisible. The party's robust health means AAP has a lot of ground to cover to win. AAP got 24% of the votes in the Lok Sabha elections two years ago when it won 4 seats. Since then, the party has split multiple times and lost some of its well known and influential local leaders.

But as Kejriwal has proved in Delhi twice over, he should not be underestimated. He sprang a surprise in the 2013 Delhi assembly election when his fledgling party, contesting its first polls, came second and stopped the BJP from winning a majority. And then in the 2015 assembly poll, he wiped out both his opponents, to win 67 of Delhi assembly's 70 seats.

Today, there's a buzz about AAP in Punjab, a state weary of the feudal, corrupt politics of mainstream parties. The Akali Dal and the Congress, which have dominated the political landscape for decades, are seen as two sides of the same coin. AAP brings a breath of fresh air with a heady promise of change. And change is what people want. The challenge for AAP is to convert the buzz into votes and then into seats.

The fight between a party seen as the ancient regime and the new kid on the block has thrown up interesting battle lines that are almost unique in India where elections are often fought on the basis of caste and creed. Mandate 2017 in Punjab is a battle between the haves and the have nots. The demographics of the support base of the two main contenders show a clear class divide.

Congress strategists acknowledge that AAP is going strong in areas dominated by the Scheduled Castes.

The establishment, consisting of traders, shopkeepers, businessmen, middle classes and urban residents, is solidly with the Congress. These groups are worried that an AAP government could upset their applecart and shake things up. Stories from Delhi, especially reports of the constant bickering between the AAP government and the Centre, have served to deepen these fears. And the turmoil in the party in Punjab in the last few months, which led to the exit of a number of people including the convenor Sucha Singh Chhotepur, has strengthened charges by its opponents that AAP means anarchy, not governance.

None of these issues matter lower down the socio-economic ladder. The concerns of the establishment completely bypass vast swathes of the rural poor who in 2017 still have patchy access to metal roads, piped clean drinking water and proper sanitation. Civil society activist Manjinder Singh aka Pappi, based in Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal's assembly constituency of Lambi, laments that most villages in the area have to depend on tankers to bring them drinking water. "This is when Badal has been chief minister for the last ten years," he exclaims in disgust.

Congress strategists acknowledge that AAP is going strong in areas dominated by the Scheduled Castes. This is particularly evident in Malwa which has as many as 69 seats but even in Punjab's smallest region, Doaba, with just 23 seats, there is visible support for AAP among the SC groups. It's an important demographic for Kejriwal's party because Punjab has the highest SC population at 32 %.

AAP's chief weakness is that it does not have a chief ministerial face. Captain Amarinder Singh, who was finally declared the CM candidate of the Congress just a week before polling, remains a popular figure despite his royal ways and his feudal style of functioning. On the other side, there is only Kejriwal who announced that he will not leave Delhi to shift to Punjab. So who will be CM if AAP pulls off a victory? The question haunts its campaign.

Significantly, the Congress is banking heavily on Amarinder Singh's popularity. It is interesting that there are virtually no hoardings or posters bearing photographs of the party's holy trinity of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and Manmohan Singh. The Captain's face dominates everywhere.

"The AAP concept has become a part of Punjab's imagination," says political science professor at Guru Nanak University Jagrup Singh Sekhon. But with a buoyant Congress on the other side, can Kejriwal pull it off? Few in Punjab were willing to answer the question.


Modi Govt Should Rename Its Development Model 'Sabka Paisa, Sarkar Ka Vikas', Jibes Congress

NEW DELHI -- The Congress on Tuesday took a jibe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led NDA government by terming the development model as 'sabka paisa -sarkar ka vikas' and alleged that the Centre has taken the money from people and eluded the development which was promised.

"What kind of corruption they are talking I don't understand. The only evidence we have seen is so called demonetisation. Today we are totally cashless I hope the Prime Minister is very happy and he achieves his target of 'Sabka paisa, sarkar ka vikas'. They should now alter their statement," Congress leader Renuka Chowdhury told ANI here.

"After the December 31 speech, petrol and diesel prices have gone up four times. If that is called development, we are impressed," she added.

On similar lines, Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav called the speech given by President as hollow.

"The speech of the President was the Prime Minister's 'Mann ki Baat'. It was hollow," he said.

President Mukherjee enumerated various policies that the present government introduced for the welfare of the poor, farmer, youth and women.

The President also highlighted various measures taken to encourage tourism in north-eastern states of India.

The Budget Session this time will witness the merger of the Railway Budget and General Budget for the first time, with government also discussing the benefits economy will get with it.