Congress “Nearly Said No” To Alliance: AAP Chief Arvind Kejriwal

A day after a late- night opposition meeting with Congress President Rahul Gandhi,Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal said that the Congress had “nearly said no” to an alliance with his Aam Aadmi Party. 

“We are very worried about the nation, so we are more keen (on an alliance). The Congress has almost said no to an alliance,” Arvind Kejriwal told reporters today.

The Delhi Chief Minister was at a meeting at Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar’s home to prepare a united strategy for the national election due by May, which also featured Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Rahul Gandhi.

“We will compete with each other as well,” said Rahul Gandhi.

The Congress president’s comment after the meeting had indicated that his party was ready to go it alone in both West Bengal and Delhi, where his party is a rival to Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP.

Mamata Banerjee announced that the opposition parties had decided on a pre-poll alliance to take on PM Narendra Modi and the ruling BJP. On the question of an alliance in Bengal and Delhi, she said it has “not been decided yet”.

But sources said there were discussions on a possible alliance between Mr Kejriwal’s party and the Congress in Delhi. Opposition leaders reportedly noted that the lack of an alliance in Delhi could harm the unity agenda, sources said.

Delhi has seven Lok Sabha seats, all of which were won by the BJP in the 2014 national elections. But in the subsequent assembly election, Mr Kejriwal’s party had won big. AAP swept the 2015 elections, while the Congress scored a duck.

The Congress-AAP dynamics had been skewed from the beginning, with Mr Kejriwal’s party being an offshoot of the anti-corruption movement of Anna Hazare that had targeted the Congress government in Delhi led by Sheila Dikshit.

Still, the two parties had entered a partnership in 2013, which ended with Mr Kejriwal’s 49-day tenure as Chief Minister.

The parties, which have been at loggerheads since, had to re-calibrate their stance after persuasion from opposition leaders — Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, DMK chief MK Stalin and CPM’s Sitaram Yechury. Co-opted into the united opposition, Mr Kejriwal even shared stage with Rahul Gandhi.

Rafale Deal Updates: CAGs Report Compares UPA And NDA Deals

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India has presented a detailed report on the long- running argumentative Rafale deal in Parliament. In 2007, the offer was for 126 aircrafts. This included 18 aircrafts in flyaway condition and 108 were to be produced by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). However, in 2016 the contract was only for 36 aircrafts in flyaway condition. Following are the comparisons: 

ALIGNED PRICE 

To arrive at a comparative price, audit adopted the price escalation formula and used the industrial cost indices published by the French National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies. This was the Aligned Price, i.e., the price of 36 flyaway aircraft in 2016 if the prices were the same as the bid of 2007. This included going into the increase in cost of items used to make the aircraft and its weaponisation. 

The contract consisted of six different packages with 14 items.

Price of seven items were higher than the Aligned Price, i.e., the price at which the contract should have been signed. Three items, including basic aircraft, were procured at the same price. Four were purchased at lower than the Aligned Price. 

Overall, the contract of 2016 was concluded at 2.86% less than the price of the 2007 offer. 

(Prices have been redacted by the CAG at the request of MoD) 

SPEED OF DELIVERY 

In 2007, the first 18 flyaway aircraft were to be delivered between 37 months and 50 months of signing the contract. In 2016, the first 18 aircraft were to be delivered in 36 to 53 months after signing of Inter-Governmental Agreement. The remaining 18 to be delivered in 67 months. This is better than the delivery schedule of 2007 by five months. However, with India specific enhancements, the aircraft will come in 71 months as against 72 months in the 2007 offer. 

PEFORMANCE GUARANTEE 

In 2007, Dasault Aviation had offered performance and financial guarantees, which were about 25% of the contract value. This was embedded in the bid cost. In 2016, there was no such guarantee. This led to savings for Dassault not passed on to India. 

METHOD OF SELECTION

MoD said the 36 Rafale IGA procurement was undertaken with the L-1 (lowest) bidder in the DPP (Defence Procurement Procedure). 

OFFSET

CAG will come out with a separate report on all offset deals of the last five years for procurements by Army, IAF and Navy. The offset draft report has been sent to MoD for comments but is not likely to be ready before LS polls.

VK Singh Slams UPA, Seeks Strict Action Against Those Involved In ‘Planting’ Stoties Of ‘Army Coup’

Retired General VK Singh, slammed at the Congress- led previous government of 2011- 12 following the news that said it had ‘planted’ stories of an ‘Army coup’ in the media. Singh came up a day after the BJP fumed over the progress.

Taking to social media platform Facebook, Singh, who is a minister in the National Democratic Alliance government, said that those behind the entire act were “willing to openly destroy the institution of the army to achieve personal objectives”.

“By splashing it across banner headlines, this was nothing short of treason, for the gentleman (who had put out the story) was willing to openly destroy the institution of the army to achieve personal objectives. With those in power backing him then, virtually all institutional platforms of redress were not available to me, even though I was the serving Chief of the Army,” Singh said.

Calling for strict action against those responsible for this, Singh further said, “Though six years have passed, there should be a detailed enquiry and the guilty (should be) brought to book. The age-old saying that truth must always prevail is timeless. It’s a shame so many people who played games and falsified news, are even today not accountable.”

The BJP on Wednesday accused the Congress-ruled United Progressive Alliance-II government of ‘planting’ information of a ‘fake’ Army coup to the media and sought the identity of the minister in the UPA government who had ‘planted’ the information. BJP leader GVL Narasimha Rao, in an address to the media, also sought clarification from the Congress if the Pakistan Army’s intelligence unit, the ISI, had aided in this process.

The UPA government come under attack from the NDA government at the Centre after a newspaper report on Saturday claimed that the UPA had tried to malign the Indian Army and that a coup was being plotted by the Army and then-General VK Singh against the UPA-2 government.

What Is Making The BJP Take So Much Efforts For West Bengal ?

BJP President Amit Shah, senior qBJP leaders and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in the past few months prior to the upcoming elections have held several rallies in West Bengal. The party, putting in all the possible efforts, failed to take out a rath yatra and is consistently trying hard for the controversial bill that seeks to provide citizenship to ‘non-Muslim’ immigrants. 

Recently, PM Modi addressed two consecutive rallies in West Bengal marking the start of BJP’s campaign for the upcoming elections. The question is, why is the BJP making all these extra efforts in Bengal?

For quite some while now, political analysts have been speculating that BJP might not be able to repeat its 2014 Lok Sabha performance in the upcoming polls, mainly on account of a possible poor show in the Hindi-heartland.

The party had swept the heartland in 2014, bagging 192 out of the 226 seats available in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Delhi. It was this region that propelled it to an absolute majority in the Parliament for the first time.

Among these 192 seats, the BJP had won 71 of the 80 seats in UP the last time. But with Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party forming an alliance this time around, the competition is expected to be much tighter. 

Similarly, BJP had swept Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand in 2014 but with recent defeats in the first three states, the chances of the replication of previous results look bleak.

Looking  east

Since 2014, BJP has managed to form governments—either on its own or in alliance—in six out of the seven states in the North-East. The BJP has been eyeing the region, which holds 24 seats in total, to make-up for its losses elsewhere.

But that probably won’t be enough and that’s where West Bengal becomes crucial for the party. The state has 42 seats, the third largest share in the parliament after Uttar Pradesh (80) and Maharashtra (48). Amid the Modi wave, BJP had won two seats in the state with a vote share of 17 percent, its highest ever and behind only the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) and the CPM. 

Other than the seats won, BJP had a vote share of over 20 percent in at least 9 constituencies and was at the second spot in three of those.

The gains

Data shows that although AITC still stands tall in the state, BJP has slowly been able to invade the vote share of the Congress and CPM. Consider this: BJP’s vote share of 17 percent in 2014 was almost thrice what it got in 2009. At the same time, CPM’s vote fell by 10 percentage points while for the Congress, it came down to 9.7 per cent in 2014 from 13.5 per cent in 2009.

The party has emerged as the main opposition to the AITC, collecting the second highest vote share in all the bye-elections held since 2015 in the state.

Even in last year’s Panchayat polls, where AITC registered a landslide victory, BJP performed significantly better than CPM and Congress and its own performance in 2013. So, while the CPM came down to one Zila Parishad seat from 213 in 2013, BJP went from zero in the last election to 23 in 2018. 

Similarly, CPM won 24 Gram Panchayats in 2018 compared to 810 in 2013. BJP on the other hand, went from 32 Gram Panchayat seats in 2013 to 202 in 2018.

Sanjay Kumar, director at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), said that BJP is targeting West Bengal because it may not be able to offset its losses from southern states.

“There are definite chances of BJP losing seats in the Hindi-heartland compared to the number of seats (BJP) won in 2014. So, if they are losing in these five-six states, they need to make up for these losses. They cannot make up for the losses in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana or in Kerala because BJP’s presence in these states is very less. So, they have to look for some states and look for the possibility whether they will be able to increase their tally. In that context, West Bengal is the target for BJP,” said Kumar.

According to Kumar, the contest in West Bengal will only be between Mamata Bannerjee’s AITC and the BJP in 2019 as Congress and the Left have lost their relevance in the state.

“There is no doubt that BJP is the number two party in West Bengal now. And the contest of 2019 is going to be between Mamata Banerjee and BJP. I won’t be surprised if both Congress and the left end-up with zero seats or maybe just one or two seats between both of them in West Bengal. While I don’t think that Mamata Banerjee has lost ground, BJP is just trying to galvanise all the anti-Mamata votes in its favour because people don’t see Congress and the left in the contest. I won’t be surprised if BJP ends up with 9-10 seats in WB,” Kumar opined. 

With continuous gains in recent years, if the BJP manages to put up a good show in West Bengal in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections then they could very well offset at least some of their damage in the Hindi-heartland.

Congress Manifesto to Be Released in Braille?

From bringing out Congress manifesto in Braille, setting up gender-neutral toilets to steps for removing inequalities in education system and caste discrimination in society, the conversation touched diverse issues as the youngsters opened up to a “warm and affable” Rahul Gandhi.

Seven students from across the country had a “surprise” dinner interaction with Congress president Rahul Gandhi in Delhi on Friday. Over Chinese food, they shared ideas about improving lives and the leader promised that some of them may be included in the party manifesto.

The group of students was the first to interact with Rahul Gandhi under his “Apni Baat Rahul ke saath” outreach programme.

Congress has often mocked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for engaging with students, including his recent “Pariksha Pe Charcha” programme and his radio programme ”Mann ki Baat”.

“He is not an ‘I know everything’ kind of person and he was open to a conversation and discussion in trying to understand things,” Deveshwar, a student said.

“Such a friendly humble person, he was actually serving me from his plate. You do not expect such things from a person of this stature. It really breaks the ice between the big politicians and the ”aam aadmi”,” another student said.

Abhilash Karri, an IIT student from Mumbai, recalls how surprised they were when they saw a beaming Rahul Gandhi walking into the dining area of an upmarket Chinese food joint in Delhi, late Friday evening. The students had been told that will interact with the Congress party, but not that it will be the party president himself.

The meeting was informally structured with Rahul Gandhi hearing the new age voters on their priorities for themselves and their countrymen.

Among the invitees was an LGBTQ rights activist who suggested gender neutral toilets for the transgenders.

Kunal Ramteke of the prestigious Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) said he discussed caste based discrimination with Rahul Gandhi and described him  as one who is sensitive towards the issue. “I hope he will implement suggestions to end caste based discrimination…. His talk was very inspirational,” he said.

By-Election Concludes With A 70% Turnout in Haryana

The ruling BJP, Congress, the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and and the Jannayak Janata Party (JJP), which was formed after a split in the INLD, have pulled out all the stops for a victory, which could prove to be a morale booster for the rank and file.

Over 70 per cent turnout was reported on Monday in the by-election to the Jind assembly constituency in Haryana, dubbed as a prestige battle for all four major contenders ahead of parliamentary and assembly polls.

As per preliminary figures, poll percentage at 5 pm has crossed 70 per cent.

According to the officials, the final turnout is likely to be higher as there were people in queues in several booths after 5pm, the scheduled time for voting to end. The polling began at 7 AM.

The bypoll was necessitated following the death of INLD MLA Hari Chan Middha, whose son Krishna Middha recently joined the BJP and is the saffron party’s candidate for the by-election.

The Congress fielded chief national spokesperson and sitting MLA from Kaithal constituency Randeep Singh Surjewala.

The INLD is banking on Umed Redhu to retain the seat.

The JJP has put its weight behind Digvijay Chautala, the younger son of jailed leader Ajay Singh Chautala, who broke away from the INLD and floated the party.

Twenty-one candidates including two women are in the fray.

In the 2014 Haryana Assembly polls, Jind constituency had registered 75.91 poll percentage.

In the final two hours of polling, there was a rush outside booths, especially in rural parts of the assembly constituency, as voters queued up to exercise their franchise.

Officials here said 15 per cent polling was recorded in the first two hours and by 3 pm, the poll percentage had crossed 60 per cent.

The polling remained peaceful, they said.

A couple of nonagenarians were amongst those to cast votes early in the morning.

Priyanka Gandhi Jumps into the Battle Ground; Will Fight from Sonia Gandhi’s Constituency

47-year-old Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who reminds many of her grandmother and former prime minister Indira Gandhi, for both her charisma and the stunning likeness, is seen as a natural in politics but she has confined herself to the constituencies of her brother Rahul and mother Sonia Gandhi – Amethi and Raebareli – till now. In national and state elections since 2004, the mother-of-two has campaigned exhaustively in the family seats where the Gandhis enjoy almost royal status.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the sister of Congress president Rahul Gandhi, has finally taken the plunge into politics, just months ahead of the national election due by May. She may contest the Lok Sabha elections from her mother Sonia Gandhi’s constituency, Raebareli, Congress sources have said. Often dubbed the “Brahmastra” or the mythical ultimate weapon of the Congress, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra will debut as the party’s general secretary in charge of the eastern part of Uttar Pradesh, which pitches her against the ruling BJP’s top two mascots, Prime Minister Narendra Modi – whose constituency Varanasi will be in her share – and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.

“I have not sent Priyanka and Jyotiraditya for just two months. I have sent them to take the Congress’ ideology forward in Uttar Pradesh,” Rahul Gandhi told reporters.

Sources say her appointment to a key position reflects the Congress’s realisation that in a politically vital state like Uttar Pradesh, which has 80 parliamentary seats and is considered the route to power at the centre, the party needs to up its game and cannot afford just one in-charge. It is a huge gamble for the Congress, a sign that the party is all for aggressively taking on PM Modi and the BJP in the coming election.

The Congress dropped the Priyanka bombshell in the third para of a press statement that also announced that Jyotiraditya Scindia will be in charge of western UP. The giant announcement came as Rahul Gandhi began a two-day visit to Amethi. Priyanka Gandhi is in New York and is expected to return on February 1.

Congress leaders say Priyanka Gandhi’s arrival in party politics will galvanise the ranks that have been demoralised by the Mayawati-Akhilesh Yadav move to form an alliance in UP for the national election without the Congress, which has been pitching for a grand opposition alliance to take on the BJP.

Rahul Gandhi commented that the BJP was “panicking”.

PM Modi Lashes Out At Kerala Government for Sabarimala Mismanagement

In Kollam today for the launch of two projects, PM Modi said: “The CPM government’s conduct on Sabarimala will go down in history as the most shameful action of any government in power… We know CPM government never respected spirituality, religion… but no one thought it would turn so shameful”.

The Congress-led UDF, which is now in the opposition, is “no better”, he said. Accusing the Congress of having multiple stands, he challenged the UDF to “clearly state your stand”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi today ripped into Kerala’s Left-led government and the opposition Congress over the handling of the Sabarimala temple issue since the Supreme Court verdict ended the shrine’s traditional ban on women of reproductive age. Amid the massive protests — against the verdict and the women who reached Sabarimala — the state government had said it was duty-bound to implement the top court’s orders.

The state’s stand had drawn enormous criticism from the right-wing groups who had hit the streets over the issue. Attacks also came from the BJP, which has been trying to expand its footprint in the state.

While the state BJP had openly backed the traditional ban and the strikes to protest against the court order, the Congress had not been vocal about its support.

In his interview of ANI on New Year’s day, PM Modi said the ban on women between the ages of 10 and 50 at the Sabarimala temple was a matter of tradition. “There are some temples which have their own traditions, where men can’t go. And men don’t go,” he said.

Further, referring to the dissenting verdict of Indu Malhotra — the only woman judge in the top court bench that delivered the order — the Prime Minister said she had made certain “observations”.

“It needs to be read minutely. There is no need to attribute those to any political party. As a woman, she has made some suggestions. There should be a debate on that as well sometimes,” he had added.

PM in Kerala: The conduct of Kerala LDF govt on Sabarimala issue will go down in history as one of the most shameful behaviour by any party & govt. We knew that communists do not respect Indian history, culture and spirituality but nobody imagined that they will have such hatred.

Critics, however, said the method of the Kerala government’s implementation of the top court’s order left much to be desired. With nominal police protection, the women who had attempted the arduous trek to the hill shrine had to turn back in face of angry protesters, who, the government said, were backed by the BJP and right-wing groups.

After three months of protests,  a young woman managed to enter the shrine for the first time on January 3.

Punjab Government Increased Security of Navjot Singh Sidhu- Cabinet Minister1

In November 2018, the Congress had sought the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) security cover for Mr Sidhu citing a “growing threat perception” to his life.

The Punjab government has increased the security cover of cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu in the wake of threats issued to him, sources said on Wednesday.

A bullet-proof vehicle has also been provided to Mr Sidhu by the state government, the sources close to the former cricketer said.

Congress’ chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala had written a letter to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in this regard as Mr Sidhu was to campaign outside Punjab for the party.