Kolkata: You can always bet on West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to come up with surprises, be high on drama and keep people guessing and bewildered. All these elements were in abundant display when she announced Saturday that the central government has decided to keep on hold its decision to allow foreign equity in retail. The basis of her immensely significant statement were two telephonic conversations with union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee earlier in the day. The Trinamool Congress supremo quoted the veteran Congress troubleshooter, who had hours back visited her ailing mother in a state-run hospital: “He has told me that the centre has decided to suspend implementation of the decision to allow FDI in retail. He has told me that the decision will not be implemented unless consensus was evolved on the issue.” It was like a magician producing a rabbit out of her hat. Banerjee seemed ga ga over the triumph of her party, which had been vehemently opposing the United Progressive Alliance regime’s move to allow 51 percent foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail. She made it a point to mention that the rethink was done “after I spoke to Pranabda”, and reminded everyone that her party was the first to oppose the decision of the union cabinet. ”The issue is now over. They have taken a pro-people decision now. The issue is now settled,” she said. But “settled” it was definitely not, at least after Banerjee’s media meet at the state secretariat, with the unexpected announcement leaving mediapersons agape. In fact, many national and local media houses went unrepresented at the meet. The suddenness of the announcement raised more questions than it answered. Firstly, notwithstanding her status as the unquestioned leader of the second largest partner in the UPA, she was neither a part of the union government, nor its spokesperson. And such a monumental announcement on a sensitive issue that had already seen angry traders going on strike, and the opposition and some UPA allies kicking up a strong protest – needed to be confirmed by top government ministers or bureaucrats. Secondly, what seemed more puzzling, was the 180 degree turnaround by the UPA government, whose mandarins had been eloquent in ruling out any rollback of the decision even on Friday. Clearly taken aback, Communist Party of India (CPI) MP Gurudas Dasgupta said: “Let the government announce it. How do I know what is the official position?” Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Ravi Shankar Prasad lost no time in seeking a formal comment from no less than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh or Mukherjee. But the finance minister refused to play ball. “It is not possible for me to make an announcement. Any government announcement will be made in parliament,” Mukherjee said at his south Kolkata residence. Others in the top echelons of the government also remained mum. Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) Lok Sabha leader Basudeb Acharia demanded a complete withdrawal of the decision. “Mere suspension of decision won’t do. They can very well implement it at a later stage. We demand a complete rollback.” Two theories float. One, it was a clever move by the UPA spearhead Congress to kill two birds with one stone. By leaving the announcement to Banerjee, who is herself directly not a part of the union government, the UPA pre-empted any censure for violating parliamentary norms by announcing a major policy decision outside it when it is in session. It also was aimed at placating Banerjee, who has been cut up with the Congress for not being benevolent enough to sanction a special financial package for her state. Two, Mukherjee did discuss the issue – informally or formally – with Banerjee, but little did he fathom that the Trinamool chief would straightaway go to town with a formal announcement. The political being that she is, Banerjee saw in the announcement a great opportunity to tom tom her party’s triumph and ensure the support of four crore small traders, shop employees and their families.
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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