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Rahul Gandhi’s popularity in Amethi a source of worry for Congress?

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Is the Congress getting the jitters in Amethi, a high-profile constituency long considered a pocket borough of the Gandhis? While no Congressman openly talks about it, senior leaders concede in private of an “opposition onslaught” that was “worrying if not frightening”. 

They are emphatic that incumbent MP Rahul Gandhi will win a third term, but they are haunted by a rare spectre of a narrowed down margin of victory for the Gandhi scion. 

And it is not without reason that Rahul’s mother and Congress president Sonia Gandhi held her first election rally in 10 years in Amethi last week. 

Striking an emotional chord, Gandhi asked people to repose their faith in Rahul whom she “gave to them in 2004”. 

“Like Indira ji gave Rajiv ji, my husband, to you many years back, I gave Rahul to you in 2004 and hope your love for him will continue,” she said at the rally. 

This is very unlike the Gandhis who in the past have only held a road show prior to the nomination and leave the campaigning to local leaders and Rahul’s sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. 

The “once-in-a-decade” rally of Sonia Gandhi has caught the attention of BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, who has since been taunting the first family of Indian politics, saying when Rahul has failed to take care of Amethi, how can he look after the country? 

“Sonia ji is seeking votes for her son on an emotive note…things are clear hence,” Modi said at several rallies in the northeast. 

The worry for Congressmen does not seem misplaced too. 

Considering the near rout of the Congress in Amethi in the 2012 state assembly elections, the candidature of Kumar Vishwas by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Smriti Irani of the BJP has also made the electoral contest tough. 

Faced with a strong anti-incumbency sentiment across the country, the party is now worried that the two glib talking contestants would take the sheen off from the Congress ‘yuvraj’. 

Leading the charge is poet-turned-politician Kumar Vishwas who has been camping in Amethi for the last three months, ever since the AAP set its eyes on the VVIP constituency. 

Having rented a house for himself here, Vishwas calls himself the frontrunner and says that “history will be written May 16” when the votes are counted. 

“I am the real ‘ummeedvaar’ from here as people have ummeed (hope) from me alone,” Kumar Vishwas said. 

“He (Rahul Gandhi) has been MP from this place for 10 years, look at the state of roads and the grim power scenario,” he says as a handful of people listening attentively to him clap in agreement. 

He goes on to attack Rahul’s brother-in-law Robert Vadra, saying how Robert’s rags-to-riches story was a slap on every sane thinking, law-abiding citizen of the country. 

Worry for the Gandhis, as admitted by Priyanka to close aides, says a source, is also the presence of thousands of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) activists who are camping in the villages trying to win them over for the BJP candidate. 

Smriti Irani, a favourite TV bahu is also sweating it out, staying at a one-room accommodation. 

She is largely pinning hopes on the “Modi wave” and is appealing to the women in the countryside, assuring them of “acche din aane waale hain” (Good days will come soon) if the BJP is voted to power. 

Priyanka, who is the campaign manager of her brother, has sent an SOS to her mother Sonia Gandhi of “increased RSS activity” in the area, forcing Sonia to hold her first election rally in Amethi in a decade. 

Not ready to take any chances, the party has also rejigged the local party hierarchy. Kishori Lal Sharma has once again been given the charge of election management, while party strategist Manoj Mattoo has once again been roped in. 

Senior Congress leader Chandrakant Dubey, hitherto holding charge of Rahul’s campaigning, has been given other tasks to attend to. 

A trip to Amethi, specially the pot-holed roads in the countryside, is enough to suggest that all talk of development in the constituency is far from reality. 

People from Delhi and other places are quick to point out the back breaking journey and powerless nights in the villages of Amethi. And this is what the opposition parties are out to capatilise on. 

As the people vote May 7, the fear among the Congressmen is of the dent on the Gandhi halo.

SOUTH ASIA

Pakistani Anti-graft body wants travel ban on Nawaz Sharif, kin

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Nawaz sharif

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.

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SOUTH ASIA

Pakistan “breaches obligations’ on nuclear arms reduction, UN court told

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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.

Islamabad and its nuclear-armed neighbour India “continue to engage in a quantitative build-up and a qualitative improvement” of their atomic stockpiles, added Tony deBrum, a Marshallese government minister.

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.

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SOUTH ASIA

Bangladesh to drop Islam as official religion following attacks on Hindus

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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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