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Prohibitory orders in Sabarimala can’t be withdrawn: Kerala govt

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Thiruvananthapuram | The LDF government in Kerala on Thursday made it clear that the prohibitory orders imposed at the Sabarimala temple cannot be withdrawn now, even as the ‘Satyagraha’ by three opposition UDF MLAs at the state Assembly against the curbs, entered its fourth day.The lawmakers–V S Sivakumar (Congress), Parakkal Abdullah (Indian Union Muslim League) and N Jayaraj (Kerala Congress-Mani)– had launched the indefinite ‘Satyagraha’ on December 3 demanding lifting of prohibitory orders at Sabarimala and providing more facilities to the pilgrims.

State Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran said in the Assembly that the CPM-led Left Democratic Front government was not adamant in facilitating the entry of young women at the hilltop temple and it would not have been difficult to take thousands of such women there, if it had really wanted. He was replying to a question on the Sabarimala issue raised by independent MLA and Janapaksham leader, P C George.

The Left government was bound to implement the September 28 Supreme Court verdict permitting women of all age groups into the Lord Ayyappa shrine, Surendran said, adding they had no plan to bring out any legislation regarding the entry of women of traditionally barred age group of 10-50 years there. Amid a war of words with opposition members, Surendran informed the House that Section 144 imposed at Sannidhanam (the temple complex) and the premises was not against devotees, but to regulate “anti-socials” who attempted to indulge in violence.

Referring to the incidents of alleged violence unleashed by the right-wing activists in the garb of protesting against the implementation of the verdict, the minister said the “RSS had run riot in Sabarimala” and the restrictions were to ensure that such incidents were not repeated. “Pilgrims have not faced any hardship due to the invoking of Section 144 so far. It is not against devotees, but only to regulate anti-socials. There is no way to withdraw the prohibitory orders now,” Surendran said. He rejected the UDF charge that the government had interfered in the functioning and powers of the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), the apex temple body which manages the Lord Ayyappa shrine.

Regarding the controversy over awarding the ‘annadanam’ (free meal) contract at Sabarimala to an Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) outfit, he said cutting across political lines, several individuals and outfits had been contributing rice and provisions for the scheme. “The TDB cannot take into account politics while accepting rice for annadanam,” he said. The minister also reiterated the government’s stand that the ‘tantri’ (hereditary head priest) of the Sabarimala temple was one among over 6,000 employees of the TDB.

“The tantri can act only in accordance with the rules and regulations of the Board,” Surendran added. Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala sought Speaker P Sreeramakrishnan’s intervention to end the United Democratic Front MLA’s ‘Satyagraha’, for which the latter gave assurance.

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Is she not happy? Congress questions Mamata Banerjee’s silence on Rahul Gandhi

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Mamata Banerjee

Kolkata | After its good show in the assembly elections, the Congress Wednesday asked if Trinamool leaders were having “sleepless nights” fearing their dream of Mamata Banerjee becoming the prime minister may not be fulfilled.

At a rally in Kolkata, Congress leader Gaurav Gogoi also questioned why Mamata Banerjee has not given credit to Rahul Gandhi for the massive victory. “When the entire country has congratulated Rahul Gandhi and the Congress for its victory in three states, only Mamata Banerjee has not. Is she not happy with the victory of Congress?,” Gogoi said.

Although, the West Bengal chief minister had congratulated the winners, she had stopped short of naming either Congress or Gandhi. The Congress won three Hindi-heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, where BJP was in power.

Senior Congress lawmaker Adhir Chowdhury said the Trinamool is having “sleepless nights” as victory of Rahul Gandhi in the three states has put a big question mark on the party’s “dreams of Banerjee becoming the next prime minister has gone for a toss”.

“Now their (TMC leaders) dreams are shattered as they know that Rahul Gandhi will be the next prime minister. That is why they are not ready to give Congress and Rahul Gandhi their due credit,” Chowdhury said.

Criticising the “political duplicity” of the Trinamool, Gogoi said TMC speaks against the undemocratic attitude of BJP but itself functions in an “undemocratic and authoritarian way” in Bengal.

“This political duplicity will no longer work. On the one hand TMC speaks of democratic values when it goes to opposition meets in Delhi and when it comes back to Bengal it tries to throttle the voice of opposition parties in most undemocratic ways. The Congress high-command is very well aware of the double standards of TMC,” Gogoi said. Several senior Congress leaders addressing the rally blamed the ruling Trinamool and its policies for the “growth of communal forces” in the state.

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BJP has become ‘party of the dead’: Yashwant Sinha

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Yashwant Sinha

Pune | Former Union minister Yashwant Sinha on Wednesday slammed the BJP saying it has become a “murdo ki party” (party of the dead), where only two leaders were ruling the roost, while the others were “scared” to challenge them. He ruled out the possibility of a change in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) leadership after its losses in the recently concluded assembly polls.

Sinha was here to speak at J S Karandikar Memorial Lecture organised at the Pune Union of Working Journalists on ‘Current Political Scenario in India and Media’. After his address, he fielded questions from the media and others.

Responding to a question, he said, “There will not be any change in the leadership (of the BJP) because everybody is scared.” “Some people in the BJP would often criticise the Congress and dub it as ‘murdo ki party’, but today the BJP has become ‘murdo ki party’…Only two people hold all the power in the party,” he said in an apparent reference to party chief Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Sinha rejected speculation that Union Minister Nitin Gadkari would be projected as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate for 2019 Lok Sabha election.

“Yes, there are speculation and theories that are making rounds that if the BJP gets less numbers in Lok Sabha polls, Gadkari will be the option before it…but I reject the theory as those who are making these speculation or theories viral, they are forgetting that two people have such a hold on the party that a third person cannot come in front of them,” he said. “No one has the courage to go against them, so the theory is rejected that Gadkari has an opportunity,” he added. Sinha took a dig at Modi saying, “Generally the prime minister is first among equals in Parliament, but today the situation is that he is the boss.”

When asked what if Urjit Patel had resigned as RBI Governor a month ago, he said, “It would have been better had he resigned when the government started the process to invoke Section 7 of the RBI Act, but that time did not come.”  Section 7 of the RBI Act empowers the government to give directions to the central bank’s governor on issues of public interest. Patel, who had a run in with the government over autonomy of the Reserve Bank of India, unexpectedly resigned Monday.

“The economic condition of the country is very bad and it is in danger…it would be good if we grasp the situation as soon as possible. But the government is painting a good picture, calling India the fastest-growing large economy. “But the situation is bad and since there is no money left, neither with the government nor in the market, they are seeking funds from the RBI,” the former finance minister said.

On the appointment of Shaktikanata Das as the new RBI Governor, Sinha claimed he has been sent to the central bank with a purpose. “I hope he does not succumb to the pressure of the government and give away the money,” he said.

The former BJP leader also alleged that the Centre took all key decisions like demonetisation, Rafale deal with France and imposing Governor’s rule in Jammu Kashmir, without consulting the concerned ministers. Sinha praised Congress president Rahul Gandhi saying he made a “responsible statement” after the results of the assembly polls came in and the BJP leaders would now “think twice before calling him ‘pappu'”.

Asked if Gandhi will be a strong contender in 2019 elections, he said the Congress’ track record had not been good. “We cannot forget their track record includes the Emergency also. However, the leadership of Rahul Gandhi is different from the previous one and I do not think he would toe the same line,” he said.

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Who goes to attend a meeting with ‘300 bags’? ED on Vijay Mallya

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CBI

Mumbai | Who goes to attend a meeting with “300 bags”, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) asked Vijay Mallya’s lawyer in a special court here on Wednesday, countering the claim that the liquor baron had left India in March 2016 only to attend an event in Geneva and did not flee the country.

Amit Desai, Mallya’s lawyer, had Tuesday told special judge for Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) cases M S Azmi that his client did not leave the country secretly as claimed by the ED.

“There was no secret departure. He left the country to attend a planned meeting (of World Motor Sport in Geneva, Switzerland)),” he had said. However, ED counsel D N Singh countered Desai’s claim.

“They don’t have anything to show that he left India to attend a meeting… Who goes to attend a meeting with 300 bags and huge cargo,” he said.

Singh made the submission while arguing before the court on the Central agency’s plea to declare Mallya a “fugitive” under the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act (FEOA).

The beleaguered business had left India on March 2, 2016 and is now based in Britain. A court in London Monday ordered the extradition of Mallya, wanted in India for alleged financial irregularities.

Responding to another claim of the defence, Singh said the application to declare the former MP a fugitive was filed before the court after all means to bring him back failed to yield any result.

Despite the issuance of summonses and three NBWs (non-bailable warrants), Mallya refused to join the probe against him, the ED lawyer said. The extradition process is a proof enough that he is not willing to return, he said.

“He is fighting not to come to India. Mallya claimed that he doesn’t want to return as the case was ‘politically motivated. He complained about the condition in the jail, where he is supposed to be kept, is bad. A video of prison was sent and UK court (which ordered his extradition) was satisfied with the same,” he said.

The ED counsel also countered Desai’s claim that FEOA was “draconian”.

It is not a “draconian” law but just an Act to bring back a person to India to join probe and face trial for offences listed under it, Singh said.

Singh said Mallya’s lawyers, during their arguments and replies in the court on the ED application, have not said anything about his return to India. “Neither during their reply or arguments, they have said anything. Even now (after the extradition order) he has not made any statement that when he is coming or how he is coming,” the ED counsel added.

Mallya, facing charges brought by the CBI and the ED, is wanted in India for alleged fraud and money laundering amounting to an estimated Rs 9,000 crore.

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