New Delhi: The UPA Friday named Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, one of India’s most versatile politicians, as its presidential candidate, tripping mercurial ally Mamata Banerjee and virtually ensuring his journey to Rashtrapati Bhavan next month.
Minutes after Congress president Sonia Gandhi made the formal announcement, after a meeting of UPA partners minus the Trinamool Congress, Mukherjee earned the support of several parties, including the Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Rashtriya Janata Dal.
The Left, Mamata Banerjee’s bitter foes, immediately congratulated Mukherjee, with Left sources saying a decision on backing him would be taken Saturday.
As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh quickly telephoned political leaders, including BJP’s Sushma Swaraj, seeking support for the finance minister and Congress troubleshooter, a confident looking Mukherjee, 76, made a similar appeal. “We have requested and appealed to all political parties to lend their support (to me),” he said. Political pundits said he was expected to earn more than 50 percent of all votes in an electoral college comprising MPs and members of state assemblies.
After Gandhi’s announcement, DMK leader T.R. Baalu draped a pink shawl around Gandhi’s shoulder and gave her a bouquet. He then presented orange stoles to the prime minister and Mukherjee.
The UPA decision left West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee floundering, with her nominee and former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam reportedly declining to contest.
If that happens, the only other person left in the contest would be former Lok Sabha speaker Purno Sangma, who has been propped up by the AIADMK and Biju Janata Dal (BJD). The BJD also refused to back Mukherjee.
Interestingly, Sangma does not enjoy the backing of his own Nationalist Congress Party, part of the ruling alliance.
The days of suspense over the UPA candidate ended Friday evening when Gandhi announced at the prime minister’s official residence that Mukherjee had been chosen because of his “long and distinguished record of public service standing over five decades”.
SP president Mulayam Singh Yadav, who only two days ago appeared to be sailing with Mamata Banerjee, echoed the view in Lucknow saying Mukherjee was an intellectual and a hugely capable leader.
Asked why he ditched Banerjee, who had earlier said Kalam would be the joint nominee of her party and SP, he replied: “In politics, you have to sail with developments.”
Earlier, former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati extended her BSP’s support for Mukherjee. She added in Lucknow that Mukherjee would win hands down.
Congress sources said the UPA expected the BJP-led National Democratic Front (NDA) to also back Mukherjee, who is one of the most senior members of parliament, having been first elected to the house in 1969. He first became a minister in the Indira Gandhi government way back in 1973.
But even as it announced Mukherjee’s candidature, Congress sources admitted Friday that the UPA would sorely miss his presence in parliament where he often single-handedly demolished opposition onslaughts.
Mukherjee’s candidature means the Congress will have to find a new finance minister — at a time when India is facing economic problems — and also a leader of the house in the Lok Sabha.
According to party insiders, Manmohan Singh may like to appoint Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia or C. Rangarajan, who heads the prime minister’s Economic Advisory Council, as the next finance minister. Gandhi is known to prefer a party veteran for the finance ministry.
Born Dec 11, 1935 at Mirati in West Bengal’s Birbhum district, Mukherjee, whose father too was in the Congress, took to politics in the 1960s after a brief career as a college teacher and a journalist.
The father of two sons and a daughter, he has held several portfolios, including finance, external affairs, defence and commerce. He was elected to the the Rajya Sabha in 1969, and re-elected in 1975, 1981, 1993 and 1999. He was elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time in 2004 and again in 2009.
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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