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Church body for Catholic stance on political situation

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New Delhi, Feb 12 (IANS) The Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) Council for Laity, one of the influential Christian bodies in the country, has launched a nationwide drive to formulate a Catholic stance on the current political situation in the country ahead of the general elections.

The Council for Laity will organize a series of events in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections to raise issues within the community like attacks on churches, growing danger of communalism and challenges to Catholic faith in India.

After the exercise, which will take the campaign to the grass roots, a report will be submitted to CBCI on March 10 to firm up a position. CBCI has 14 regional councils and 174 Diocesan Pastoral Council.

Among the topics that will be thrown up for discussion include violation of constitutional rights and denial of minority welfare schemes to Christians, challenges to areas of service like educational institutions, hospitals and orphanages and growing dangers of communalism.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had assured Catholic church leaders that their concerns about the attack on churches and other issues will be looked into.

Election

Thai court to hear EC plea as Thaksin-linked party nominates princess for polls

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THAILAND PRIME MINISTER NOMINATION

Bangkok, Feb 14 (IANS) Thailand’s Constitutional Court on Thursday agreed to hear an Election Commission petition seeking to dissolve a political party for nominating Princess Ubolratana Mahidol as candidate for the post of the Prime Minister in the upcoming polls.

The party had on last Friday filed the nomination of Princess Ubolratana, King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s elder sister, for March 24 polls. It was the first time a close relative of a Thai monarch was to contest polls.

But her candidacy was invalidated by the Election Commission after the King called her involvement in politics “highly inappropriate”.

The poll panel on Wednesday moved the Constitutional Court seeking to dissolve the opposition Thai Raksa Chart Party.

The court decided to accept the petition on Thursday and gave the party seven days to submit a written defence, a statement said. The court will convene to hear the matter again on February 27, Efe news reported.

The dissolution of the party would mean banning members of its executive (including Ubolratana) from politics for 10 years and will also prevent them from contesting the upcoming elections even if they join another party.

After the court’s decision, the party announced suspension of its campaign to prepare its defence.

It’s the first general election in the country after the military seized power in a bloodless coup in 2014.

The Thai Raksa Chart Party is linked to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose Puea Thai Party has won every election held since 2001. His sister Yingluck Shinawatra was the Prime Minister when the government was overthrown nearly five years ago.

Educated in the US, Ubolratana relinquished her royal titles in 1972 around the time of her marriage to an American. But following their divorce in 1998, she returned to Thailand with their children.

She was not the first member of the royal family to contest elections in Thailand, but she is the first direct relation of a monarch to run.

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Election

Pawar to contest Lok Sabha polls from Maharashtra’s Madha

Patel also expressed optimism that the Congress-NCP-led Mahagatbandan would win 35 out of total 48 seats in the state.

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Sharad Pawar

Mumbai, Feb 14 (IANS) Nationalist Congress Party supremo Sharad Pawar will re-enter electoral politics by contesting the upcoming Lok Sabha polls from Maharashtra’s Madha seat, party leader Praful Patel said here on Thursday.

Addressing the media here after Pawar discussed preparations for the Lok Sabha polls with top party leaders, Patel said: “At the earlier meeting, we had requested him (Pawar) to reconsider his decision and agree to contest from Madha. He has accepted our request.”

On Wednesday, IANS had first reported Pawar’s plans to return to the electoral battlefield, after a senior state leader confirmed the development.

Patel also expressed optimism that the Congress-NCP-led Mahagatbandan would win 35 out of total 48 seats in the state.

At Thursday’s meeting, the NCP has reportedly finalised the names of a majority of its Lok Sabha candidates.

“We (NCP and Congress) have come to an informal understanding about the allocation of seats. We are discussing it with other constituents of Mahaghatbhandan. We plan to declare all the candidates of the Mahagatbandan in a week or so,” a senior party leader said.

A Rajya Sabha Member since 2014, Pawar had earlier been elected to Lok Sabha seven times.

Six terms out of these were from his home constituency Baramati in Pune but he shifted to Madha, created in 2008 after delimitation of seats was implemented, in 2009. He chose not to contest the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and entered parliament through the Rajya Sabha.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ridiculed Pawar’s decision, attributing it to “the NCP’s realisation” that if he did not contest the polls, then the party would not retain even the four seats it bagged in 2014.

“The NCP is finding it difficult to retain even the four seats it had won in the last election. That’s why Pawar has decided to contest,” state BJP spokesperson Madhav Bhandari tweeted.

In 2014, in Maharashtra, the Congress and NCP had fielded 26 and 21 candidates respectively.

Of these, they won two and four seats respectively, in view of the strong BJP wave then.

Later in the 2014 Assembly elections, both contested separately and suffered another massive drubbing at the hands of the BJP and the Shiv Sena.

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No links with Congress, says London journalist who organised EVM-hacking event

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EVM VVPAT

New Delhi, Feb 14 (IANS) International Journalists’ Association (IJA) President Ashish Ray on Thursday said he has never been part of the Congress and that he was only performing his duty as a journalist when he organised the controversial press conference involving an Indian techie who claimed that EVMs used in the elections here were hackable.

Ray was the man responsible for giving platform to Syed Ahmed Shuja, a Hyderabad man claiming to be part of the team which built the EVM for the Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL).

Shuja was granted asylum in the United States in March 2018, Ray said.

The conference, which took place on January 21 this year in London, was billed as an event where Shuja — all his claims, Ray said — will hack an EVM live in front of journalists.

However, he missed the conference and instead addressed it through Skype with a bandage on his head, claiming he was attacked a few days before the conference, Ray said. One of the claims made by Shuja was that EVMs were hacked in the 2014 general election to the benefit of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The event, since having snowballed into a controversy involving the Election Commission of India, forced Ray to come to India, where he said he had never been part of the Congress nor was the conference organised at its behest.

“Let me clarify, I have never spoken about it. My grandfather Sarat Bose was a member of Congress. He was a senior Cabinet Minister in the interim government in 1946. His younger brother Subhas Chandra Bose was twice elected President of the Congress. I have never been a part of Congress,” Ray told reporters in the capital.

A day after the London event, BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad had alleged that it was organised at the behest of Congress and that Ray had connection with the party. Prasad also said Ray “praises Rahul Gandhi in columns in National Herald”.

On senior Congress leader Kapil sibal’s presence at the London EVM conference, Ray said he had sent the invitation to presidents of six political parties — Congress, BJP, NCP, BSP, CPI and CPI-Marxist, but didn’t hear from any of them except from Aam Aadmi Party, which “made the complaint why they were not invited”.

“Kapil Sibal was in London on some other work. He was perfectly fine in attending it since the invitation was sent to his party,” he said.

Ray also demanded the United States government to come up with asylum-granting documents related to Shuja, which he said will clear a lot of air about the mysterious man.

“It’s not easy for a man from India to be granted asylum in the US… unlike those from communist countries,” he said.

Ray said he was in touch with Shuja for three months and did due diligence before deciding to grant him the platform in his capacity of an organiser only.

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