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LIVE! 85 million new voters since 2014: CEC announcing polls dates

17:15  VVPATs will be sued with electronic voting machies at all polling stations in these elections, says CEC Sunil Arora.

17:13  85 million new voters since 2014: CEC announcing polls dates:  

Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora details the process of finalising the Lok Sabha poll dates:

He said that examination of all boards and religious festivals, as well as harvest season have been taken into account by the EC in deciding poll dates.

He said that the electorate has been increased by over 85 million voters since 2014.


17:02  EC holds presser to announce LS poll dates:  The much-awaited press conference by the Election Commission of India to announce the dates for the elections to the 17th Lok Sabha has commenced in Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi.  

Addressing the media are Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora, accompanied by Election Commissioners Ashok Lavasa and Sushil Chandra.


17:00  As EC set to announce poll dates, Cong calls it ‘Modi Vidai Parv’:  

The Congress on Sunday took a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, hours before the Election Commission’s scheduled announcement of dates for the Lok Sabha polls, saying it was the first day of his ‘vidai parv‘ (farewell festival).

“It’s first day of Vidai Parv of Modi ji. Voters are ready,” said All India Congress Committee spokesperson Pawan Khera.

The EC is set to announce schedule for the high-voltage Lok Sabha elections, which is likely to be spread over seven to eight phases in April-May.

“The farmers, unemployed youth, small traders, they all were waiting for this day. Don’t know why Modi ji delayed this, (may be) to cut the ribbons for projects that started in Congress regime,” Khera said.

The poll panel is scheduled to give poll dates in a press conference scheduled this evening at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi.

The term of the present Lok Sabha ends on June 3.

Khera said a new government will take over to rectify the ‘mistakes’ made by Modi’s government.

Elections are not an end for the Congress, these are means for the party for good governance, he said.

“Modi in the past five years, has only been in campaign mode. Congress party is in campaign mode during elections, and in governance mode after elections,” said the Congress spokesperson.

In reply to a question if there was any rethinking within the Congress over alliance with Aam Aadmi Party, Khera said the party’s stand was very clear.

“It is the AAP which is rethinking, it keeps rethinking over everything. As far as Congress is concerned, I think its very clear.

“Delhi Congress president Sheila Dikshit has clearly said it. Why so much doubts then?” he said in a press conference.  — PTI


16:53  ‘You hunted the hunter’: IAF praises Abhi:  

Continuing with its poetic praise on its personnel, the Indian Air Force on Sunday described Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman as someone who ‘hunted the hunter’.

Posting a poem on its official Twitter handle @IAF_MCC, ‘Sabke Bass Ki Baat Nahi’, written by Bipin Allhabadi, the IAF described the fighter pilot’s feat as something that is not possible for everyone.

What Abhinandan Varthaman did is not everyone’s cup of tea. He hunted the hunter, the Hindi poem read.

Tensions between India and Pakistan flared up after a suicide bomber of Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed terror group killed 41 Central Reserve Police Force personnel in Kashmir’s Pulwama district on February 14.

India launched a counter-terror operation in Balakot on February 26.        The next day, Pakistan Air Force retaliated and downed a MiG-21 and captured Wg Cdr Varthaman.

However, in the air fight, the Air Force pilot had also shot down Pakistan’s F-16 fighter jet.

After his capture and subsequent release, the Air Force pilot became an overnight sensation across the country.

On Friday, the IAF had tweeted another poem by the same poet ‘Hadd Sarhad Ki’, whose lines can be construed as a jibe at Islamabad.  — PTI


16:41  Swaraj says BJP will turn up poll heat on air strike sceptics:  

The Bharatiya Janata Party will use leaflets to ask people whether they would vote for parties that questioned the valour of the country’s armed forces in connection with the February 26 air strike and the aerial engagement with Pakistan fighter jets the next day.

Speaking at a gathering of the BJP’s women workers in Mumbai on Sunday, senior leader and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj signalled that the military action against Pakistan after the February 14 Pulwama attack would be a poll issue for the ruling party.

“We should ask questions about whether our jawans should count the dead bodies (after dropping bombs on terror camps) or return safely after carrying out the air strike. BJP workers should ask counter-questions to those who raise doubts about the impact of our air strike,” Swaraj said.

The February 26 air strike is at the centre of apolitical slugfest with some opposition parties demanding that the Narendra Modi government furnish proof of its efficacy in terms of terrorist casualties at the Jaish-e-Mohammed camp that was bombed.

“We (BJP) should ask questions like whether you (voter) will support parties that side with separatists. We should ask people whether they want to vote for those who question the valour of our jawans,” she said.

“We will have two leaflets of which one will be about these logical counter statements. BJP workers should use it during the poll campaign. The other leaflet will be about government welfare schemes for women. The two leaflets will be made available soon,” Swaraj said.  — PTI


16:25  23-year-old electrician identified as brains behind Pulwama attack:  

Lesser-known Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist Mudasir Ahmed Khan, alias ‘Mohd Bhai’, has been identified as the brains behind the audacious terror strike in Pulwama that left 41 Central Reserve Police Force personnel dead on February 14, officials said on Sunday.

Piecing together evidence gathered so far, security officials said that 23-year-old Khan, an electrician with a graduate degree hailing from Pulwama district, arranged the vehicle and explosives used in the terror strike.

A resident of Mir Mohalla of Tral, Khan joined the Jaish-e-Mohammed sometime in 2017 as an overground worker and was later drawn into the JeM fold by Noor Mohammed Tantrey, alias ‘Noor Trali’, who is believed to have helped in the revival of the terror outfit in Kashmir Valley.

After Tantray was killed in December 2017, Khan disappeared from his home on January 14, 2018 and has been active since then.

Suicide attacker Adil Ahmed Dar, who blew his explosive-laden vehicle next to a bus in a CRPF convoy on February 14, had been in constant contact with Khan, they said.

After completing his graduation, Khan did a one-year diploma course as electrician from an Industrial Training Institute (ITI).

The eldest son of a labourer, Khan is also believed to be involved in the terror strike at the army camp in Sunjawan in February 2018, in which six personnel and a civilian were killed.

His role has also come under lens in the Lethpora attack on a CRPF camp in January 2018 that left five CRPF personnel dead.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA), which is probing the February 14 terror attack, had carried out searches at the residence of Khan on February 27.

A Maruti Eeco minivan was used in the Pulwama terror attack and it was bought by another Jaish-e-Mohammed operative just 10 days before the strike.

The JeM operative, identified as Sajjad Bhat, a resident of Bijbehara in south Kashmir, has since been on the run and is believed to have become an active militant now, they said.  — PTI


15:43  Ethiopian Airlines flight to Nairobi crashes with 157 on board:  

An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 crashed on Sunday morning en route from Addis Ababa to Nairobi with 149 passengers and eight crew believed to be on board, Ethiopian Airlines said, as Ethiopia’s prime minister offered condolences to victims’ families.

“We hereby confirm that our scheduled flight ET 302 from Addis Ababa to Nairobi was involved in accident today,” the airline said in a statement.

“It is believed that there were 149 passengers and eight crew on board the flight but we are currently confirming the details of the passenger manifest for the flight.”

The airline said ‘search and rescue operations are in progress and we have no confirmed information about survivors or any possible casualties’.

The plane took off at 8:38 am (0638 GMT) from Bole International Airport and ‘lost contact’ six minutes later.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office tweeted it ‘would like to express its deepest condolences to the families of those that have lost their loved ones on Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 on regular scheduled flight to Nairobi, Kenya this morning’.   — Agencies

Image only for representation.


14:40  Rajinikanth not to contest TN assembly bypoll:  

Superstar Rajinikanth on Sunday said he would not contest the bypoll expected to the Tamil Nadu assembly, nearly a month after declaring that his target was only the assembly election.

While bypolls are expected to 21 assembly constituencies in the state, Rajinikanth, when asked if he would fight the bypoll since he had declared the assembly polls to be his only target, tersely said, “No.”

The actor is yet to launch his political outfit, though on December 31, 2017, he had announced that his political entry was sure to fructify.

To questions like which party he would support (in the bypolls), Rajinikanth told reporters at the airport in Chennai, “Sorry, I cannot say anything now.”

Asked whether he had meant a national or a regional party when he had mentioned last month that only that party should be supported which would resolve the ‘water problem’ of Tamil Nadu, he said, “Both.”

On February 17, Rajinikanth had said ‘water is Tamil Nadu’s important problem’ and asked his fans and people to vote for a party whom they thought would permanently resolve the issue by formulating and implementing projects.

The jargon ‘water problem’ is perceived as a reference to water scarcity in parts of the state and the vexed Cauvery issue as well.

Rajinikanth had strongly pledged his support for interlinking rivers on more than one occasion in the past.

The top actor had also said last month that he would not contest the upcoming Lok Sabha election.

“Our target is only the assembly polls. I am not supporting anyone,” he had said and barred anyone from using his images or the flag of the Rajini Makkal Mandram for political purposes.  — PTI


13:49  Congress being arrogant; its candidates will lose deposits: Kejriwal:  

Days after the Congress said it would go it alone in the general elections, Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party supremo Arvind Kejriwal Saturday termed the party ‘arrogant’ and claimed that its candidates would lose their deposits in the polls.

At a public meeting in the Mustafabad area, Kejriwal claimed his party tried persuading the Congress to forge an alliance, but ‘it did not understand’.

Recently, Delhi Congress chief Sheila Dikshit had said there’s unanimity in the party against an alliance with the AAP for Lok Sabha polls in Delhi.

“Congress (candidates) will lose their deposits in Delhi in Lok Sabha elections,” Kejriwal claimed.

The Delhi CM, while addressing the gathering in minority-dominated Mustafabad, requested people to make sure that votes don’t get split between the Congress and the AAP.

“Vote for the AAP in Delhi because only it can defeat the BJP in Lok Sabha elections,” he said.

Speculation over a pre-poll alliance between the Congress and the AAP still persists, even as Rahul Gandhi has already said the Delhi unit of his party is against it.  — PTI


13:26  Patnaik declares 33% quota for women in allocation of BJD tickets:  

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Sunday announced 33 per cent quota for women in the allocation of Lok Sabha tickets of Biju Janata Dal.

Addressing the Women Self Help Group’s (SHGs) Conclave under ‘Mission Shakti’, Patnaik said, “I would like to announce here at Kendrapara, the ‘karma bhoomi‘ of legendary Biju Babu, that Odisha will send 33 per cent women to Parliament in the coming elections.”

“The women of Odisha will lead the way in women empowerment in India. If India is to lead the world, if India is to be an advanced nation like America and China, then women empowerment is the only answer,” he added.

Patnaik also called upon national parties to be ‘true to their words and must follow what they are propagating for women empowerment’.

The chief minister also sanctioned Rs 1 crore for Mission Shakti Bhawan in Kendrapara.In November 2018, Patnaik had passed the proposal seeking implementation of 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and state assemblies.

The resolution also had garnered the support of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress in the state assembly.

However, they criticised BJD calling it a poll stunt.In February this year, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women (UN Women) had also lauded the Naveen Patnaik-led Odisha government for the women’s reservation proposal.

In a letter addressed to the chief minister, the UN Women said: “We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for the support extended by your government in the implementation of the joint programme between UN Women and Panchayati Raj Department, Government of Odisha, to promote Gender Responsive Governance in the state.”

The Women’s Reservation Bill has been gathering dust for several years now for want of unanimity among different parties over the issue.

The Rajya Sabha had passed the Constitution 108th Amendment Bill in 2010. However, the Bill lapsed after the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014.

The legislative assemblies of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh have already taken a lead and passed a resolution calling on the Central government to enact the Women’s Reservation.

In December last year, Patnaik had also requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to initiate the move to ensure one-third reservation for women in Parliament and State legislatures.

In 2011, the Odisha government had also enhanced the reservation for women in Panchayat and Urban Local Bodies to 50 per cent. — ANI


12:32  Apple CEO changes Twitter name after Trump gaffe:  

Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook has quietly changed his Twitter profile, replacing his last name with an emoji of the company’s logo, after United States President Donald Trump mistakenly referred to him as ‘Tim Apple’, a verbal slip which netizens poked fun at by sharing rib-tickling memes on social media.

At a meeting of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board at the White House on Wednesday, President Trump while addressing the leaders of industries appreciated Cook for his ‘big investment’ in the US and referred to the tech executive with a new nickname ‘Tim Apple’.

“We have so many companies coming in. People like Tim, you’re expanding all over and doing things that I really wanted you to do right from the beginning.

“I used to say, ‘Tim, you’ve got to start doing it over here’, and you really have. I mean, you’ve really put a big investment in our country. We appreciate it very much, Tim Apple,” Trump said.

Cook responded to the funny side of the situation by changing his Twitter name to ‘Tim Apple’ on Thursday, with the Apple an emoji of his company’s logo, ABC News reported.

Trump is known for using nicknames and ‘mispronouncing names’ of people such as ‘Jeff Bozo’ in reference to Jeff Bezos of Amazon.

Last year, he had called Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson ‘Marillyn Lockheed’.

Trump’s gaffe did not go down well with many netizens poking fun at the President’s awkward slip of tongue by sharing rib-tickling memes on social media.

“Hey look, it’s Tim Apple, son of Apple founder Steve Apple,” said one user.

“A Tim Apple a day keeps the doctor away,” wrote another.

Earlier in 2016, Trump was critical of Apple as the tech giant refused to unlock the suspected San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

He even called for a boycott of the company’s products. When Trump was running his presidential campaign, he tweeted that he had sold his stock in Apple as the company wasn’t making bigger phones ‘like Samsung’.

Cook has previously criticised Trump’s decision to withdraw from the landmark Paris climate accord and condemned the president’s travel ban.  — PTI


12:05  Enough is enough, can’t keep suffering till eternity: PM on terror:  

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday issued a stern warning to terrorist forces targeting India, saying the country cannot keep suffering forever.

“Enough is enough,” he said, while referring to the terror attacks in Pulwama and Uri. “We cannot keep suffering till eternity.”

Addressing the 50th raising day of the Central Industrial Security Force as the Chief Guest in Ghaziabad, Modi said the role of security forces like the CISF becomes very significant when the country faces a hostile neighbour that gets encouragement from some elements within the country in hatching conspiracy.

“When the neighbour is very hostile but does not have the capability to fight a war and various conspiracies hatched within the country is getting encouragement from across the border and when the ghastly pictures of terror come to light, under such difficult situations, (ensuring) security of the country and its institutions becomes very challenging,” the PM said.

Modi also said VIP culture in the country sometimes creates hurdle in the security systems of the country. Modi said sometimes the government has to take certain decisions and hence it took some strong steps.

Congratulating the CISF, the Prime Minister also said it is easier to protect an individual but very difficult to protect any institution where there is a daily footfall of 30 lakh.  — PTI


11:30  Govt cancels sixth, seventh rounds of coal mines auction:  

The Centre has cancelled the sixth and seventh rounds of coal mines auction under which it was planning to put on sale 19 blocks.

The coal ministry in a notice to the bidders said that ‘the 6th Tranche and 7th Tranche of auction stands cancelled’.

However, the government did not specify the reasons for the cancellation.

“Accordingly, the tender process of the coal mines…stands cancelled,” the ministry said.

Under the sixth round, the government had earlier announced the auction of 13 blocks for the regulated sectors, including iron and steel, cement and aluminum.

The mines were Brahampuri, Bundu, Gondkari, Gondulpara, Jaganathpur-A, Jaganathpur-B, Khappa and Extn, Bhaskarpara, Marki Mangli- IV, Sondiha, Chitarpur, Jamkhani and Gare Palma IV/1.

While in the seventh tranche the coal ministry had said it would auction six coking coal blocks for iron and steel sector.

The blocks were Brahmadiha, Choritand Tilaiya, Jogeshwar and Khas Jogeshwar, Rabodh, Rohne and Urtan North.

The tender process under the sixth and seventh rounds was ‘initiated vide notice inviting tender dated October 25, 2018’, the ministry had said.

A source had earlier said the successful allottees of the 19 coal blocks will be allowed to sell up to 25 per cent of the actual production in open market at prices fixed by state-owned Coal India.

The government had last month allowed sale of 25 per cent of coal production from captive mines in the open market, a move aimed at increasing competitiveness and making future auction of blocks attractive.

The decision was taken during a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an official release had said.

The allottee of a coal mine for specified end use or own consumption was not permitted to sell coal in open market earlier.  — PTI


11:14  Pak resorts to mortar shelling at Poonch:  

Pakistan violated ceasefire in Krishna Ghati Sector of Poonch district at about 04.30 am onwards today by resorting to shelling with mortars and firing of small arms.

Indian Army retaliated and firing stopped at about 07.30 am.

More details awaited.


10:59  EC to announce Lok Sabha poll dates at 5 pm this evening:  

The Election Commission will be holding a press conference this evening at 5 pm where it will be announcing the Lok Sabha poll dates. 

The elections are likely to be spread over 7-8 phases in April-May. The term of the 16th Lok Sabha ends on June 3.

The poll body is in the final stages of completing its logistical preparations for holding elections.

The Election Commission is also likely to hold assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh along with the Lok Sabha polls. Also, it is likely to that assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir will be held simultaneously. The Jammu and Kashmir Assembly was dissolved on November 21 last year and the Election Commission is bound to hold fresh polls there as well within a six-month period.

In 2014, the Election Commission had announced the elections schedule on March 5. The nine-phase exercise was held between April 7 and May 12. The counting was held on May 16.


10:34  Kamal Haasan’s MNM gets battery torch as party symbol:  

Actor turned politician Kamal Haasan’s political party Makkal Needhi Maiam has been allotted torch and battery as a symbol to contest elections. 

The official allotment has been made by the Election Commission.

On February 21 2018, Kamal Haasan had launched his political party unfurled its flag that symbolises the strength of unity.

Then in December of 2018, the 64-year-old actor had said he would contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Haasan said his party’s campaign would focus on Tamil Nadu’s development and that they are open to alliances with like-minded parties. 


10:00  Raj Thackeray predicts ‘Pulwama-like’ attack before Lok Sabha polls:  

Linking Pathankot and Pulwama terror attacks to elections, MNS chief Raj Thackeray said another “Pulwama like strike” could occur in near future in a bid to win polls.

He also slammed as “insult to jawans” Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement that presence of Rafale jets could have added to more firepower to the February 26 raids by Air Force on a terrorist camp in Pakistan’s Balakot. Thackeray was addressing party workers on the 13th Foundation Day of the MNS.

Thackeray also alleged that the warnings issued by intelligence agencies prior to the Pulwama attack were ignored. “40 jawans were martyred in the Pulwama attack. Should we still not ask questions? In December, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval had met his Pakistani counterpart in Bangkok. Who will tell us what transpired at the meeting?” he questioned.

Taking a dig at the BJP president Amit Shah’s statement on the number of casualties in the Balakot strike, the MNS chief said whether Shah was one of the the “co-pilots” who participated in the air strike.

“Intelligence agencies had sounded off warnings before Pulwama, however they were ignored. Is the NSA not responsible if jawans were killed despite prior intelligence?” he asked. Thackeray claimed the Indian Air Force “missed” targets it had intended to hit in Balakot because of “wrong information” provided to them by the Modi government.

“If the prime minister himself says that results would have been better had the country have Rafale jets, it was an insult to our jawans,” he said. Disputing that terrorists were killed in the air raids, Thackeray said had that been the case, Indian Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman would not have been allowed to return home from captivity by Pakistan.


09:33  Congress leader quits over party’s demand for air strike proof:  

In what could be seen as a jolt to Bihar Congress ahead of the parliamentary election, senior leader and spokesman Binod Sharma resigned, contending that the party should not have demanded evidence of Balakot air strike.

In a letter addressed to Congress president Rahul Gandhi, Sharma said the party high command has hurt the sentiments of ground-level workers and the common people by raising questions over the “pre-emptive” strike on the terror camps in Balakot, days after the Pulwama attack on a CRPF convoy.

The senior leader also said that he wrote to Gandhi several times in the last one month, apprising him of the sensibilities of the party workers in the state, but his requests were not entertained.

Terming the repeated demands for proof of air strike as “shameful and childish”, he said, “I am resigning from the Congress with a heavy heart after serving it for 30 years. The party high command has hurt sentiments by breaking the Army’s morale while boosting the spirits of terrorists.”

Sharma alleged that some Congress leaders have “strayed from the path shown by party’s stalwarts Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi”.

“Today, we (Congress members) are seen as Pakistani agents. I feel ashamed of being called a Congressman. Since the nation is above party, I am resigning from Congress,” he stated in his letter.

The senior leader also said that many party workers, who are disappointed with the high command’s stance over the airstrike, may follow in his footsteps.

Without taking names, Sharma said he would join a party that puts the nation ahead of “petty politics”.

A former general secretary of Bihar Congress, Sharma had unsuccessfully fought the Paliganj assembly by-poll on a Congress ticket in 1996.


08:43  Sri Sri Ravi Shankar dismisses Owaisi’s comment against him:  

Spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar dismissed AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi’s comment doubting his suitability as a mediator in the Ayodhya dispute.


He said people will keep saying as they please.

The spiritual leader is part of a three-member panel appointed by the Supreme Court to mediate on the decades-old Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute in Ayodhya.

Owaisi had on Friday said Ravi Shankar was “not a neutral person”.

“Ravi Shankar had made controversial statements on November 4, 2018 on the Ayodhya issue and threatened that India may become like Syria if Muslims do not give up their claims on the disputed land,” he told reporters in Hyderabad. 



08:12  EC asks political parties to not display photos of defence personnel:  

The Election Commission asked political parties to “desist from displaying photographs of defence personnel” against the backdrop of a picture showing a hoarding with images of Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman as well as leaders of a party.


In a fresh instruction issued to all political parties, the EC referred to its December 2013 letter in which it had “called upon all political parties to advise their candidates and leaders to desist from displaying photographs of defence personnel or photographs functions involving defence personnel in advertisements”.

The instructions came after the photograph of a hoarding displaying pictures of the IAF pilot as well as senior BJP leaders was circulated on social media and came to the EC’s notice. However, it was not known where the hoarding had been put up.

In 2013, the defence ministry had informed the EC about photographs of defence personnel being used by leaders and candidates and had urged the poll panel to issue suitable instructions in this regard.

An Indian Air Force MiG-21 Bison, piloted by Wing Commander Varthaman, had shot down a Pakistan Air Force F-16 fighter aircraft on February 27. However, his plane was also shot down and he was arrested in Pakistan.

The pilot returned home after his nearly three-day captivity in Pakistan on March 1.  


Source: Rediff