Newsletter July 23 2018





Sounding the bugle for the 2019 General Election, the extended Congress Working Committee (CWC) on Sunday authorised party president Rahul Gandhi to forge state-specific alliances with like-minded parties to defeat the BJP and backed him as the face of the joint Congress-led Opposition alliance.

It also sent out an unambiguous message to present and potential allies that while it was open to state-specific alliances for the 2019 elections, its pan-India footprint could make it the single largest party in which case Rahul Gandhi will be the prime ministerial face.

The highest decision-making body of the Congress, after a five-hour meeting, passed a resolution authorising Gandhi to form any committee for election preparations, including one to consider pre and post poll alliances in states. “Real-time negotiations will be held. Alliances can’t be formed on rigidities and absolute stands.”

As the CWC stamped state-specific alliances, sources said former minister P Chidambaram spoke of how with smart pacts the Congress-led Opposition could reach 300 seats with the Congress alone winning 150 from 12 states where it is dominant. From these 12 states, the Congress today has 48 Lok Sabha MPs.

Attended by 239 leaders, the CWC brainstormed for nearly five hours to bring clarity on its “mission 2019” strategy and the political situation — as many as 35 leaders spoke.

“We may have won less number of seats in 2014 but that does not mean that our presence is not much larger than any other party in the country. The Congress fights, since Independence, the largest number of Parliamentary seats. Once the Congress becomes the single largest party, touching the magic figure of 200 or more, naturally, then Congress will be leading whoever else wants to come in and walk hand in hand. And naturally then the Congress president would be the only face to be projected,” Congress leader Randeep Surjewala told reporters at a press conference later.

The Congress line came a day after Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee announced a mega “federal front” rally in Kolkata on January 19 in which Opposition parties would be invited. Banerjee had also asserted that TMC will go it alone in Bengal.

“Let’s not consider one statement as a final posture,” Surjewala said. Banerjee has Congress pedigree, he said, and “everything that is said at a particular time in the run up to the alliance is not necessarily correct”.





The BJP took a dig at the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting, saying that it was actually the “Congress non-working committee” meeting held under its “non-performing president”.

BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said at a press meet, “Today, the CWC, rather Congress non-working committee, met under non-performing president Rahul Gandhi. After losing the no-confidence motion badly on the floor of Parliament, this was a meeting chaired by Rahul Gandhi, which was previously being chaired by Sonia Gandhi for 20 long years,” he said.

Patra said the Opposition party had taken a “negative decision” during the meeting, “that it does not want to win, but to stop Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP and the growth of the nation”. “The Congress has decided to play the role of a suicide bomber and hinder the growth of nation,” Patra said, adding that the country will not accept “negative politics”.

He said UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi said at the CWC meeting that the reverse countdown of the Modi government has begun. “You had been running this country in reverse gear for all those years and today you talk of reverse countdown. Sonia ji, reverse countdown of the politics of appeasement, casteism and dynasty had started in 2014 and it will continue in 2019,” Patra said.

Patra also said that when Prime Minister Modi was backing the growth and development of India, Sonia Gandhi’s only aim was to back Rahul Gandhi as Prime Minister.

Patra also took on former PM Manmohan Singh who criticised the government over “a culture of constant self praise and jumlas”, saying those who had reduced the post of the Prime Minister to a “jumla” should stay silent on this.

Targeting senior Congress leader P Chidambaram, who was present at the meeting, Patra said, “Many of those occupying high positions (in Congress) were either out on bail or almost on installments of protection from court.”

BJP’s national media in-charge Anil Baluni took to Twitter to slam the Congress. “Heard that desperate and disappointed Congress at its meeting today has set a target of contesting 150 Lok Sabha seats, while its president Rahul Gandhi is dreaming to become prime minister,” Baluni tweeted.




With less than a week to go for the publication of draft National Citizens Register (NRC) in Assam, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Sunday said there was no need to panic and all bonafide Indians will be given adequate opportunities to prove their citizenship.

In a statement, Rajnath said the NRC is being updated in accordance with the ‘Assam Accord’ signed on August 15, 1985, and is being carried out as per the directions of the Supreme Court, which is monitoring the process. “There is no reason for panic or fear. No person will be allowed to be harassed. We will ensure that every individual gets justice and is treated in a humane manner,” he said.

He assured that the exercise is being carried out in an impartial, transparent and meticulous manner and will continue to be so.

“All individuals will have sufficient opportunity for all remedies available under the law. At every stage of the process, adequate opportunity is given to all persons to be heard,” he said.

Rajnath said the Centre wants to make it clear that the NRC, to be published on July 30, is only a draft, and after publication of the draft, adequate opportunity for claims and objections will be available.

The exercise is aimed at identifying illegal immigrants in the state bordering Bangladesh, and is being carried out following a decision in 2005, after a series of meetings between the central and state governments and the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU).





Pinarayi Vijayan’s ruled Kerala stands as the best-governed state in the country followed by Tamil Nadu, according to the Public Affairs Index (PAI) 2018 released by the think tank Public Affairs Centre (PAC). While Telangana, Karnataka and Gujarat are ranked third, fourth and fifth among the top five states delivering good governance, according to the report, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar ranked the lowest on the PAI, indicating higher social and economic inequalities in the states.

Released annually since 2016, the index examines governance performance in the states through a data-based framework, ranking them on social and economic development they are able to provide. Founded in 1994 by renowned Indian economist and scholar late Samuel Paul, the think tank works to mobilise a demand for better governance in the country.

Among smaller states (with population less than two crore), Himachal Pradesh topped the list, followed by Goa, Mizoram, Sikkim and Tripura which figured among the top five states with good governance. Nagaland, Manipur and Meghalaya were ranked at the bottom of the index among small states.

A total of 30 focus subjects and 100 indicators were measured to derive the PAI, relying solely upon government data. The PAC said it was not keen to access private data sources that may be interpreted as “biased”. This year’s PAI also included a separate index on the children of India, giving a measure of how child-friendly each of the states are.









A pair of prominent Republican US senators said on Sunday that the United States must move promptly to prepare new sanctions against Russia to discourage interference in upcoming elections.

Senator Lindsey Graham said additional sanctions needed to be teed up before President Donald Trump holds a second meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“You need to work with Congress to come up with new sanctions because Putin’s not getting the message,” Graham said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “We need new sanctions, heavy-handed sanctions, hanging over his head, and then meet with him.”

Republican Senator Marco Rubio wants a vote on a bill called DETER that would impose new sanctions if US intelligence officials determine Russia meddled in US elections. Rubio co-authored the legislation with Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen, a bipartisan effort revived by the fallout of last week’s summit.

“What I think is indisputable is that they did interfere and they will do so in the future,” Rubio said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”





Pakistan’s top court on Sunday said it had begun reviewing statements made by a judge alleging the country’s spy agencies were influencing judicial proceedings, as the powerful military called for an investigation.

Pakistan’s July 25 General Election has been hit by accusations of pre-poll rigging with ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) accusing the military of influencing the judiciary to deny it a second term.

Islamabad High Court judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui accused the country’s premier spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), of interfering in legal cases.

“The ISI is fully involved in trying to manipulate the judicial proceedings,” Siddiqui said in a speech to lawyers, adding the agency had told the court not to release Sharif and his daughter Maryam until after the elections.

“In order to safeguard the sanctity and credibility of the state institutions, the Supreme Court has been requested to initiate appropriate process to ascertain the veracity of the allegations and take actions accordingly,” the army said.








A day after a policeman was abducted and killed in South Kashmir, the J&K Police said the three militants responsible for the act had been killed in an encounter at Redwani in Kulgam district.

The militants, including a Pakistani national, were killed in a joint operation of the J&K Police, Army and paramilitary forces on Sunday morning.

On the intervening night of July 20-21, Mohammad Saleem Shah, a Special Police Officer promoted as police constable recently, was abducted from his home at Kulgam on Saturday by suspected militants and killed in the evening.

“The three militants involved in the abduction and killing of one of our constables have been eliminated,” Kashmir Inspector General of Police S P Pani said. “We followed leads that led to a brief encounter this morning.”





The Shiv Sena seems keen to keep up its provocation of ally BJP, with its leader Uddhav Thackeray giving an interview to the party mouthpiece whose advance excerpts suggest he has ripped into the bigger partner.

The Sena has already angered the BJP by staying away from Friday’s no-confidence proceedings despite being in the government, and later saying that although Prime Minister Narendra Modi won the vote, Rahul Gandhi had won hearts.

Sena mouthpiece Saamna on Sunday announced that a three-part interview of Uddhav would be published and also aired on from Monday, claiming it would generate “one hundred headlines”.

In the advance extracts, Uddhav is heard saying he had supported the ally (BJP) openly and would now oppose it openly.

With the Congress and Sharad Pawar’s NCP set to join hands in Maharashtra, the BJP needs the Sena’s support. Realising this, the Sena is trying to drive a “hard bargain”, BJP leaders said.




The GST Council has pruned the 28% slab by cutting tax rates on 191 goods over the past one year, leaving just 35 items, including AC, digital camera, video recorders, dishwashing machine and automobiles, in the highest tax bracket.

There were around 226 goods in the 28% category when Goods and Services Tax (GST) was implemented on July 1, 2017. Over the past one year, the Council, chaired by Union Finance Minister and comprising state ministers, has slashed rates on 191 items.

Congress leader P Chidambaram on Sunday took a dig at the government for reducing GST rates on nearly 100 items ahead of assembly elections in four states, saying holding frequent polls is good for the people.

In a series of tweets, Chidambaram said the present GST regime is still “unreformed” and the government must notify three rates immediately and signal its intention to move to a single rate in the medium term, which will be the true GST. “When elections are round the corner, government cuts rates. I suppose that makes a good case for frequent elections in different states!,” he said.




MS University of Vadodara has cancelled stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra’s show, which was scheduled for August 11, after the Vice-Chancellor received a letter from 11 ex-students calling his content “anti-national”.

The letter sent by 11 alumni of different faculties of the university, states, “What message do we want to convey by organising such antinational flagbearer youth comedians’ comedy show in Gujarat’s most prestigious university campus?…He has mimicked on National Anthem, he has openly supported Tukde-Tukde Gang, he is opposed by all the nation-loving universities in the nation, then why are we allowing him to enter our sacred alma mater??? We seriously suspect some ideological conspiracy to pollute the minds of Barodian youth ahead of 2019.”





Public sector banks are expected to close down around 70 of their total 216 foreign branches and other operations by the end of this year in order to cut costs and preserve capital, a senior Finance Ministry official said.

“The banks have initiated sale of non-core assets, closure of unviable branches and other steps to reduce capital. So far, they have closed down 37 overseas operations and another 60-70 operations will be closed down by the end of the year. These operations are a combination of full-fledged branches, representative offices and remittances offices,” the official said, adding that some of the branches are being converted into smaller representative offices.

As part of its Rs 2.11 lakh crore capital infusion in banks announced last year, the government had asked them to rationalise overseas branch operations among a series of other measures.





As Google revamps Gmail with new features as part of its redesign, cyber security officials in the US claim that the email service could expose personal data of its users. ABC News, which obtained an intelligence note from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), reported that Gmail’s ‘Confidential Email’ mode has vulnerabilities that could create phishing risks, and expose private information.

‘Confidential Email’ allows Gmail users to access content through a link, through which users can choose to prevent the forwarding, copying, downloading or printing of emails. Also, users can set an expiry date for confidential emails, to ensure limited validity, or revoke access to the same from the recipient, even after the email is sent. In addition, users can protect emails by asking the recipient to enter two-step authentication.

Gmail users should note that the redesigned email platform will continue to allow users to send ‘Confidential Emails’. On the other hand, users will receive such emails, only if they activate the ‘Confidential Emails’ feature. Also, this vulnerability will affect those users who operate Gmail via third-party services like Apple Mail and Outlook.




Germany midfielder Mesut Ozil announced his retirement from international football with immediate effect on Sunday, hitting out at what he perceived to be unfair discrimination surrounding his meeting with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May.

Ozil, 29, was part of the Germany squad that exited the World Cup in Russia at the group stage and was the target of criticism for his performances as well as his meeting with Erdogan who has been accused of human rights abuses. The Arsenal playmaker has Turkish ancestry and defended his actions in a lengthy statement, the first time he has publicly addressed the matter.

“For me, having a picture with President Erdogan wasn’t about politics or elections, it was about me respecting the highest office of my family’s country,” Ozil said in a statement on Twitter. “My job is a football player and not a politician, and our meeting was not an endorsement of any policies. “The treatment I have received from the DFB (German Football Association) and many others makes me no longer want to wear the German national team shirt,” Ozil added.

“I feel unwanted and think what I have achieved since my international debut in 2009 has been forgotten. People with racially discriminative backgrounds should not be allowed to work in the largest football federation in the world that has players from dual-heritage families. Attitudes like theirs simply do not reflect the players they supposedly represent.” “I used to wear the German shirt with such pride and excitement, but now I don’t.”




Lewis Hamilton went from 14th to first to seize a “miracle” German Grand Prix victory for Mercedes on Sunday and retake the Formula One championship lead from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who crashed.

Vettel, now 17 points behind the Briton after starting eight ahead, led from pole position until rain caused chaos in the closing laps, with the German sliding into the barriers in front of his home fans.

Hamilton, the reigning world champion, took the chequered flag for a record-equalling fourth German Grand Prix win, ahead of his Finnish team mate Valtteri Bottas and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. “I’ve never had a race like this,” he said.

It was the 66th win of his F1 career and minutes after the finish, the heavens opened with an array of thunder and lightning and a fierce downpour that would have stopped any race.




A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin. – HL Mencken


The patient requested the doctor, “Doctor, if there’s anything wrong with me, don’t frighten me half to death by giving it a long scientific name. Just tell me in plain English.”

“Well,” the doctor replied hesitantly, “To be perfectly frank, you are just plain lazy.”

“Thank you, doctor,” said the patient. “Now give me the scientific name so I can tell my family.”

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