New Delhi: Manmohan Singh would continue as prime minister till 2014, the Congress declared emphatically Thursday but the crucial question of who would be India’s 13th president continued to be mired in uncertainty with the political intrigue and hectic consultations through the day yielding no answers.
Though it was being hoped that the Congress core committee, comprising party chief Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh amongst others, would take a decision on who would be its candidate in the race for Rashtrapati Bhavan and end the suspense that did not happen. The announcement, it was believed, would be made only after the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) meets Friday.
With the prime minister leaving for an eight-day trip to Mexico and Rio de Janeiro Saturday, this is a decision that can be delayed no longer.
The Mamata-Mulayam nexus of the Trinamool Congress chief and the Samajwadi Party (SP) president said former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was their first choice. The 81-year-old was president from 2002-2007 and would be 86 by the time he finishes his second tenure. “Kalam is our candidate,” was all that Banerjee told the battery of media personnel after meeting Mulayam Singh Thursday night. She had earlier stressed that her relationship with the SP was strong. She also said she had not yet left the UPA but the “ball was in the Congress’ court”.
But Banerjee was categorical in her assertion that she would not be attending the meeting of the UPA. Banerjee and Mulayam Singh had Wednesday thrown a spanner in the presidential poll works with its shock list of Manmohan Singh, former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and former speaker Somnath Chatterjee as their preferred choices.
The two regional satraps, which together account for 10.7 percent of the electorate for the presidential election and had Wednesday virtually rejected the Congress choices of Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Vice President Hamid Ansari, are key allies of the government.
But in the shifting sands of politics, there are no real friends and no permanent enemies.
While there were reports that Mulayam Singh and Banerjee would meet to firm up their bond against the Congress, there were also indications that the ruling party would woo the SP against the Trinamool.
The Congress, party insiders said, was simultaneously also making efforts to neutralise the newly-formed Mamata-Mulayam axis in the presidential elections through smaller parties and even sections of the Left.
Congress insiders said the party’s ‘reach out policy’ for the presidential election was an attempt to widen its support base. Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad and Lok Janshakti Party leader Ram Vilas Paswan are already on board.
Stymieing the efforts of the SP and Trinamool, the Congress, which had retreated into a shell Wednesday broke its silence Thursday afternoon, to say that Manmohan Singh would be prime minister till 2014. It also summarily rejected Kalam and Chatterjee.
Sources in the Congress, which had been cultivating SP as a possible buffer against the mercurial Banerjee, admitted that “there could be back channel talks” with the party.
The Congress knew that the Yadav leader cannot tango with Banerjee for long as he needs the central government’s support to develop Uttar Pradesh being ruled by his son and chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, party insiders said.
Close aides of the SP seemed to concur and said that Mulayam Singh was not averse to a “slight climbdown” on union Mukherjee as president but was completely against Ansari.
The opposition BJP-led National Democratic Alliance also did not let on who would be its choice for the post. It meets Friday to take a decision. Could Mukherjee still emerge as the UPA’s presidential candidate or would it be a dark horse like Speaker Meira Kumar?
It was anybody’s guess this Thursday night, just two days before the presidential elections are to be notified.
Pakistani Anti-graft body wants travel ban on Nawaz Sharif, kin
Pakistan’s anti-corruption watchdog has asked authorities to place ousted premier Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and son-in-law on the Exit Control List to prevent them from leaving the country.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) sent a formal request to the ministry of interior. The interior ministry officials confirmed that the NAB wrote that names of Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar should be put on the Exit Control List (ECL), which listed individuals not allowed to leave Pakistan.
The NAB argued that as the trial of the three nears its conclusion, it is feared that they would leave the country.
Earlier, a similar request to place name of finance minister Ishaq Dar on ECL was not accepted, allowing him to go to London and never return.
Sharif, 68, and his family this week filed an application with the accountability court seeking a fortnight’s exemption from personal appearance from February 19 onwards to let them go to London to see Sharif’s ailing wife. Three cases were filed against Sharif and his family last year, including Avenfield properties, Azizia & Hill Metal Establishment, and Flagship Investments.
Maryam and Safdar are accused only in Avenfield properties case. The NAB had filed two supplementary references against Sharif, his sons Hasan and Hussain regarding Al-Azizia Steel Mills & Hill Metal Establishment and Flagship Investment cases.
Pakistan “breaches obligations’ on nuclear arms reduction, UN court told
The Hague: Pakistan is violating its “obligations” to the international community by failing to reduce its nuclear arsenal, the Marshall Islands told the UN’s highest court on Tuesday.
The small Pacific Island nation is this week launching three unusual cases against India, Pakistan and Britain before the International Court of Justice.
Majuro wants to put a new spotlight on the global nuclear threat, its lawyers said yesterday, by using its own experience with massive US-led nuclear tests in the 1940s and 1950s.
“Pakistan is in breach of its obligations owed to the international community as a whole,” when it comes to reducing its nuclear stockpile, said Nicholas Grief, one of the island nation’s lawyers.
DeBrum warned that even a “limited nuclear war” involving the two countries would “threaten the existence” of his island nation people.
Pakistan and India have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.
In 1998, the rival neighbours both demonstrated nuclear weapons capability.
The ICJ’s judges are holding hearings for the next week and a half to decide whether it is competent to hear the lawsuits brought against India and Pakistan — neither of which have signed the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
A third hearing against Britain — which has signed the NPT — scheduled to start on Wednesday will be devoted to “preliminary objections” raised by London.
The Marshalls initially sought to bring a case against nine countries it said possessed nuclear arms: Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the United States.
Israel has never admitted to having nuclear weapons.
But the Hague-based ICJ, set up in 1945 to rule in disputes between states, has only admitted three cases against Britain, India and Pakistan, because they have accepted the ICJ’s compulsory jurisdiction.
Pakistan’s lawyers did not attend Tuesday’s hearings.
It did however file a counter-claim against Majuro’s allegations saying “the court has no jurisdiction to deal with the application” and insisting that the case is “not admissible”, said ICJ President Ronny Abraham.
Bangladesh to drop Islam as official religion following attacks on Hindus
New Delhi: Bangladesh is likely to drop Islam as its official religion following a series of attacks on people from other faiths in the country. The country’s Supreme Court is hearing a plea challenging the status of the official religion of the country to Islam.
Bangladesh, which was declared a secular country after its formation in 1971, was declared an Islamic country following a constitutional amendment in 1988.
According to a report in the Daily Mail, the plea has challenged the declaration of Islam as the national religion of the country.
The move is being supported by leaders from the minority communities like Hindus, Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.
Bangladesh has 90 per cent of Muslims, 8 per cent Hindus and remaining constitutes Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.
In last month, a Hindu priest was hacked to death following an attack on a temple in Panchgarh district. Two others were seriously injured in the attack. There have been several lethal attacks on writers and bloggers.
According to a report in the Independent, Islamist groups Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh and Ansarullah Bangla Team are believed to have carried out at least seven attacks on foreign and minority people in Bangladesh in the past year.
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