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"Big Scam": Congress Walkout In Parliament Over Electoral Bonds

Protests broke out in both houses of parliament today over electoral bonds and privatisation of public sector units (PSUs), leading to interim Congress President Sonia Gandhi leading a walkout in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha being adourned till noon. The Congress, which called both issues "big scams", accused the government of "making corruption official". The protests in the Lok Sabha, which included a 15-minute period where MPs stormed the Well while chanting slogans, also featured a sharp exchange of words between Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the Congress's leader in the House, and Speaker Om Birla.

The issue began with senior Congress leader Manish Tewari raising the issue of electoral bonds. He said that the government's decision to go ahead with the scheme despite the central bank's reservations "made government corruption official".

However, on making a reference to the Prime Minister's Office, the Speaker cut his microphone and asked another member to raise the issue. At this point Mrs Gandhi left her seat to lead the walkout.

Earlier, as Congress leaders approached the Well chanting slogans the Lok Sabha Speaker appealed for order, reminding protesting MPs that it was their "responsibility to maintain decorum and dignity".

"This is wrong. The House is discussing a very important issue on sports persons. No, no. Don't talk to the chair from the Well. It is the responsibility of every member to maintain decorum and dignity of the House," he said, adding, "I am a new member. You are senior. Don't come to the Well,"

To this Mr Chowdhury shot back, calling the electoral bonds issue and the sale of PSUs a "big scam".

"This is a big scam. The country is being looted. Please allow us to speak," the Congress's leader in the house, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, replied, adding, "You are not new. You are the chair of the House. We are forced to give the adjournment motions to raise very important issues, not to disrespect the chair. We have given the notice because this is a big scam. The country is being looted".

Manish Tewari said the electoral bonds scheme "made government corruption official"

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi also got involved, declaring that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was running a clean government with no scope for corruption. He also said the Congress comes "everyday with an adjournment motion bringing some issues".

Meanwhile, in the Rajya Sabha Congress leaders had filed a notice to discuss electoral bonds with reference to the Reserve Bank of India's reservations. Rajya Sabha Chairperson Venkaiah Naidu said the issue did not warrant suspension of scheduled items and, with the opposition refusing to relent, he adjourned the house.

The confrontation erupted soon after ministers laid listed papers on the table. Mr Naidu confirmed he had received notices to suspend scheduled business to discuss the central bank's objections to electoral bonds and disinvestment and privatisation of public sector units (PSUs) such as Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL).

"They (the notices) do not warrant suspension of other business and (notices) taken upon priority," he said, adding that it was the Chair's prerogative to decide on which discussions would be taken up.

The Congress was yesterday equally vociferous in its demand the government disclose all details of electoral bonds before parliament. Describing it as a "political bribery scheme", the party said it was a scam that tarnished the image of the Indian democracy.

Senior leader Ghulam Nabi Azad alleged the scheme of electoral bonds resulted in money laundering and destroyed transparency in the funding of political parties.

Under the electoral bonds scheme, the government has offered complete anonymity to those making donations. A donor can now anonymously buy a bond and deposit it with the party of their choice.

On Monday Huffpost reported the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had objected to the scheme and the amendment to the RBI Act, contending this could encourage money laundering, undermine the faith in Indian banknotes and erode a core principle of central banking legislation.

But its objections were brushed away by the government. Electoral bonds were announced by then Finance Minister Arun Jaitley two days later and a month later, the Finance Bill 2017 was passed.

Do you think the Electoral Bond made government corruption official?

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India, US resolve important trade issues; may sign initial trade package

India and the US are understood to have resolved most of the important trade issues, thus paving the way for an 'initial trade package' wherein the two countries are looking for an equitable market access.

The much-needed progress is believed to have been made during the meeting between the Union Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal and US Trade Representatives Robert Lighthizer in Washington DC on Wednesday.

The two leaders spoke over phone again on Thursday.

A high-powered US delegation is slated to travel to India next week to give a final shape to what is being described as an initial trade package which will eventually pave the way for a major trade pact between the two countries.

Trade issues started cropping up between the countries when the US imposed high customs duties on certain steel and aluminium products, which are affecting India''s exports of these items to America.

The US had also rolled back export incentives for Indian exporters, under its Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) programme. India exports goods worth about USD 6 billion to America under the scheme.

In retaliation, India imposed high customs duties on 28 US products, including almonds.

Goyal and Lighthizer are believed to have had a constructive meeting in Washington on Wednesday, during which they covered a very wide range of issues that are on the table on the trade side.

A number of very important items that were on the table are understood to have been resolved and are reported to have been made part of the initial trade package that the two countries are working on.

Goyal had a behind the scene engagements in Washington and left for New York on Wednesday evening.

On Thursday afternoon, he and Lighthizer had another telephonic conversation as a follow up to their meeting a day earlier.

Good progress has been achieved, according to those familiar with the trade talks.

The two countries then will continue discussions on a more substantive India-US agreement on trade. While the final details of the initial trade package continue to be under wraps, the two countries are looking for an understanding based on equitable market access.

Both India and the US have been working on this principle and there is some level of measure of success, it is understood.

During the meeting, Indian officials from Ministry of Agriculture, Union Health Ministry and Indian Council of Medical Research are also believed to have participated in the deliberations.

Last month, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, during a lecture at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs in the US, said trade negotiations between India and the US were going well and will conclude sooner than expected.

"I think the trade talks would conclude sooner. The talks are going on very well. Yes, we couldn't conclude it before the Prime Minister's visit (to the US) happened. But both sides are engaged with all commitment," Sitharaman had said.

FM Sitharaman says India-US trade negotiations going in full speed'.

U.S. negotiating grant of special trade privilege to India, says US Commerce Secretary

Do you think it's a good progress?

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BJP's "Second Act Of Use And Throw": Sena Hits Out Over Power-Sharing

The Shiv Sena on Thursday again indicated that it had not given up its claim on the post of Maharashtra chief minister, saying that equal sharing of power must mean sharing of the top post too.

Adopting a harsh tone, it accused the BJP of enacting the "second act" of the "use and throw" policy while dealing with its ally.

After emerging victorious in the assembly elections, saffron allies Sena and BJP are locked in a dispute over the power-sharing formula for the new government.

Whatever was decided when the two parties stitched up alliance before the Lok Sabha elections should be implemented, the Sena mouthpiece Saamana said in an editorial.

"Maharashtra chief minister in that press conference (held after the two parties sealed the alliance) had said all government posts would be equally shared," it said.

"If the post of chief minister does not come under it, then we need to rewrite the syllabus of political science," the Sena said.

"The BJP, after the spectacular performance in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, parted ways with the Shiv Sena and is trying to enact a second act of `use and throw''," the editorial said.

"But we will not die out easily, because we have people's support," it said.

"Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the possibility of alliance between the BJP and Shiv Sena materializing was bleak. Hence, whatever was decided to seal the deal, should be implemented, that is the only demand of the Shiv Sena," said the Uddhav Thackeray-led party.

"It is more important to follow the agreement between the two parties than playing the number game," said the Sena which has won 56 assembly seats against the BJP's 105.

"There is no need of any evidence to show what has been decided, but we are living in a time when people lie under oath," the Sena said.

It also took a swipe at BJP MLAs wearing saffron turbans when Devendra Fadnavis was elected leader of the party in the state legislature.

Do you agree with Shiv Sena's statement?

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Jailed Congress Leader DK Shivakumar Gets Bail In Money Laundering Case

DK Shivakumar, the Congress's troubleshooter in Karnataka, has been freed from Delhi's Tihar Jail on a Rs. 25 lakh bail bond. Mr Shivakumar, who faces allegations of money laundering running into crores of rupees, cannot leave the country, the Delhi High Court said today.

Justice Suresh Kait, while granting bail to Mr Shivakumar, said he is not a flight risk, according to news agency Press Trust of India. The judge said Mr Shivakumar cannot tamper with evidence as the documents are with the investigating agencies and there is no material to show he has influenced witnesses.

He was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate in September and sent to Tihar Jail, where another Congress leader P Chidambaram is lodged in a separate alleged corruption case.

The investigators alleged that Mr Shivakumar, 57, had not been paying taxes and made transactions worth crores of rupees.

Mr Shivakumar's 23-year-old daughter, Aisshwarya, was also questioned by the Enforcement Directorate days after he was arrested last month. The investigators said they wanted to ask her how her net worth grew from around Rs. 1 crore in 2013 to over Rs. 100 crore in 2018, and whether the financial transactions between her and her father involved unaccounted money.

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and her party colleague Ambika Soni went to Tihar Jail this morning to meet with Mr Shivakumar. His brother DK Suresh was also present during the meeting of the Congress leaders.

Mr Suresh told reporters that Mrs Gandhi assured Mr Shivakumar the party is with him and will stand in his support. Mrs Gandhi told him this is a case of "political vendetta" and other Congress leaders are also being targeted by the BJP government at the centre, Mr Suresh said.

"We have to fight them and come out of this," Mr Suresh said, quoting the Congress president, according to news agency Press Trust of India.

Mr Shivakumar made national headlines in 2017 when he agreed to accommodate 44 Congress legislators from Gujarat at a resort to prevent them from being poached by the BJP ahead of a crucial Rajya Sabha election.

Soon after, income tax officials came knocking on Mr Shivakumar's door. Several properties linked to the Congress leader were also raided in August 2017.

Do you think the decision to grant him the bail is right?

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Ayodhya Case: Daily Hearings In Supreme Court End, Verdict Reserved

The daily hearings in the decades old temple-mosque dispute in Ayodhya came to an end at the Supreme Court this afternoon after 40 days. The verdict in the case - which has dominated politics and the headlines for decades - is expected to come before November 17, when Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who is leading the five-judge constitution bench hearing the case, is slated to retire.

The judges had been sticking to a strict timeline after attempts to sort out the case through mediation failed. Over the last weeks, they have extended the timing of the hearings and rebuked the advocates for spinning it out.

This morning, Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, declaring "Enough is enough" after a lawyer asked the top court for more time for arguments, said they would finish the hearing by 5 pm. Justice Gogoi had earlier expressed concern that in the current schedule, there would hardly be time to write the judgment.

On the last day of hearing, there were dramatic moments as a senior lawyer tore up a map and relentless interruptions infuriated the judges.

Rajeev Dhavan, representing Muslim petitioners including the Sunni Waqf Board in the title suit, tore up a pictorial map showing the Ram Janmasthan after asking the court's permission. He said the map, forwarded by the Hindu petitioners, could not be submitted as evidence since the court had earlier refused to accept it.

Following the commotion it caused and interruptions from both sides, Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi threatened to walk out.
The six-decade dispute involves 2.77 acres of land in Ayodhya, which right-wing activists believe was the birthplace of Lord Ram. In December 1992, right-wing activists razed a 16th Century mosque which stood at the spot. The activists believed that the mosque was built by Mughal Emperor Babur after demolishing a temple that marked Lord Ram's birthplace. In the days that followed, 2,000 people died in riots across the country.

The five-judge Constitution bench began day-to-day hearings on August 6 after mediation proceedings by a court-appointed three-member team failed to find an amicable solution to the dispute.

The team --  comprising former Supreme Court judge FM Kalifulla, spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravishankar and senior advocate Sriram Panchu - told the court that "some parties" were not ready to sort out the issue through mediation. This morning, the team presented their final inputs on the issue to the court in a sealed cover.

The Muslim respondents have said that there was no claim for the title of the land in Ayodhya by Hindus until 1989. They asked for the restoration of the Babri Masjid as it stood before it was demolished in December 1992. The Hindus have contended that a mosque can be built anywhere, but there is only one birthplace of the Lord Ram.

Fourteen appeals have been filed in the top court against the 2010 Allahabad High Court judgment, delivered in four civil suits, that the 2.77-acre land be partitioned equally among the three parties - the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla.

A campaign for the Ram temple at Ayodhya had propelled the BJP into a major political force in the 1990s. Ahead of the coming national election, the temple issue again vaulted to the forefront. Right-wing groups pushed for fast-tracking the temple through an ordinance or executive order passed by the government. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi said no decision can be made until the judicial process is over.

Accusing the Congress for delaying a decision on the issue for 70 years, PM Modi said, "We have said in our BJP manifesto that a solution would be found to this issue under the Constitution... Let the judicial process be over. After the judicial process is over, whatever be our responsibility as government, we are ready to make all efforts".

Are you following the Ayodhya's court case hearing?

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