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Congress plenary sets stage for keen, bitter contest with BJP in 2019

The Congress has suffered a string of reverses after its debacle in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls but its performance in Guajarat assembly polls and victory in Lok Sabha bypolls in Rajasthan has boosted the morale of party workers.

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Rahul Sonia

The Congress made a strenuous effort to energise its workers for the electoral battles ahead at the party plenary that concluded on Sunday, pitching itself as the real alternative to BJP while also expressing its willingness to cooperate with like-minded parties to unseat the Modi government in 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The session, with fiery speeches of Congress President Rahul Gandhi and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, gave an inkling that the 2019 battle will be keenly fought and the campaign could get bitter as the election approaches.

The Congress gave indications that it will run a relentless campaign, try to set the agenda for the polls ahead and seek to put the Modi government on the defensive on various issues.

Amid calls for sustained hard work to make Rahul Gandhi the Prime Minister in 2019, the party signalled it would not shirking from a presidential-style contest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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Much will depend on the outcome of the verdict in states going to the polls this year — Karanataka first and Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh later this year. Except for Karnataka, the Congress and BJP are locked in a direct contest in the three other states.

The three-day plenary took place at a time when efforts are underway to forge a third front of parties opposed to BJP as also the Congress.

The speeches and the resolutions adopted at the plenary were a reaffirmation of the Congress claim of being the natural leader of the grouping of anti-BJP parties.

The Congress faces a stupendous challenge of building a counter-narrative against Modi to weaken his credibility among the people, win back sections that have drifted away and match the BJP’s deftness as a poll-fighting machine.

But it also has a natural advantage as a challenger to the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh and to the Modi government in 2019. In these battles, the BJP will be tasked with defending performance of its governments and beat anti-incumbency.

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The Congress is also keen to make Modi’s 2014 pitch of “acche din” an albatross around the BJP’s neck.

Rahul Gandhi, who took over as party chief in December from his mother Sonia Gandhi, sought to energise the party rank and file and promised to address their grouse that well-connected within the party often “parachute” down at the time of ticket allocation at the cost of genuine, dedicated workers.

He also promised to make party leaders more accessible to workers by breaking the “walls” and giving more tickets to the youth.

With several state units plagued by factionalism, Gandhi indicated that he would enforce discipline so that party’s effort at winning elections is not wrecked in any way.

He framed the 2019 battle as a fight for truth by the Congress and for power by the BJP — likening it to the clash between the Pandavas and the Kauravas during the Mahabharata battle.

The “worker-centric” gathering was held in a different format than the past plenaries with leaders were not seated on the stage.

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Rahul Gandhi said he had kept the stage empty for talented youth from within the party and outside.

Sonia Gandhi exhorted party rank and file not to think of personal egos and ambitions and work with determination to face challenges that are not ordinary.

While the party’s political resolution talked of adopting a pragmatic approach for cooperation with all like-minded parties and evolving a common workable programme to defeat the BJP-RSS in the 2019 elections, its leaders, in their speeches, exhorted workers to work for party’s victory in the general elections.

They also said that Congress was the only party that can reverse the “ill-effects” of BJP’s economic policies.

There was hope that Rahul Gandhi would unfurl the Tricolour from the Red Fort in 2019.
There was also hope that Congress will “once again” become a party that represents the aspirations and expectations of all the communities and is the anchor of the political and social dialogue.

While the party’s four comprehensive resolutions – political, economic, foreign affairs and on `agriculture, unemployment and poverty alleviation’ sought to address concerns of various sections of society, Rahul Gandhi, in his concluding speech, focused on youth and farmers – two sections that are perceived to be getting disenchanted with the Modi government and represent a vast section of population.

More than half of country’s population is dependent on agriculture for livelihood and almost two-third of population is below the age of 35.

The Congress has suffered a string of reverses after its debacle in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls but its performance in Guajarat assembly polls and victory in Lok Sabha bypolls in Rajasthan has boosted the morale of party workers.

By : Prashant Sood

(Prashant Sood can be contacted at [email protected])

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New 100-rupee note poses fresh headaches for ATM operators

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Rs. 100

Mumbai, July 21 : The Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) announcement launching a new series of 100-rupee denomination notes has been greeted with trepidation by the major companies engaged in the manufacture and supply of Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) in the country.

Like the new post-demonetisation Rs 2,000, Rs 500, Rs 200 and the new Rs 50 notes and Rs 10 notes, even the new lavender-coloured Rs 100 is a tad smaller in size compared to the blue-coloured Rs 100 notes currently in circulation.

While the existing Rs 100 notes are sized 157×73 mm, the new ones measure 142x66mm, as per the RBI announcement this week.

“This means that all the 237,000 ATMs in the country would again have to be re-calibrated to dispense the new Rs 100 notes. This entails a massive effort which is both time-consuming and adds to our costs,” Confederation of ATM Industry (CATMi) Director V. Balasubramanian told IANS.

For recalibrating all the ATMs in the country to enable them dispense the new Rs 100 notes, the operators need the concerned bank’s official Cash Agency and an engineer of the machine manufacturer together.

“Though the actual recalibration may take barely 20 minutes per ATM, there are huge logistical issues involved in getting the Cash Agency person and engineer together all the time. Even then, with best efforts they can recalibrate barely 15-20 ATMs per day depending on the banks’ cooperation. So, this will be a huge time-consuming and high-cost exercise at a national level,” Balasubramanian rued.

Hitachi Payment Services Managing Director Loney Antony estimates that the entire recalibration process could cost over Rs 1 billion (Rs 100 crore) and take a minimum of one year to complete.

“In fact, the recalibration of the new Rs 200 notes introduced last year is still not completed in all ATMs, so recalibration of the new Rs 100 notes could take even longer unless planned properly,” Antony cautioned.

The RBI said in its notification that initially, the new Rs 100 notes will be dispensed only through bank branches and printing and supply would gradually increase.

Antony said it is important to have sufficient supply of Rs 100 and Rs 200 notes to ensure there are enough lower denomination currency notes in circulation for all transactions.

Balasubramanian said the ATM industry is grappling with the problem of how to recalibrate the ATMs in terms of the new and old Rs 100 notes and may refrain from doing so till sufficient numbers of the new notes are available.

Euronet Services India Pvt. Ltd. Managing Director Himanshu Pujara said unless all the ATMs are recalibrated, the new notes will not be available through this channel to the people, and recalibration itself is a time-consuming and expensive process for the already struggling industry.

Balasubramanian — who is also the President of FSS Company that manufactures ATMs — said that since the old and new Rs 100 notes will co-exist till the RBI completely withdraws the old notes, “it will be difficult to recalibrate all the ATMs to support the new Rs.100 notes”.

“There is likelihood of an imbalance between the supply of the new notes and the withdrawal of the old notes, especially in the hinterland,” Balasubramanian pointed out.

In such a scenario, he thought it would be prudent to let the banks and service providers decide when to calibrate the ATMs for the new notes, depending on the “supply-withdrawal” situation of the old notes across all states over the next few quarters.

At present, as per National Payments Council of India Ltd (NPCIL), there are around 237,000 ATMs functional in the country, but to adequately cater to the entire country’s population, the need is almost three-four times more, or around a million ATMs.

Flying in the face of the government’s declarations about digitising the economy, a whopping 57 percent of all ATM transactions are only for cash withdrawals. Immediate Payment Service (IMPS) lags at 20 per cent followed by Point of Sale (PoS) 17 percent, and rest for Unified Payment Interface and mobile wallets. (Total = 100 percent, as per RBI).

Major industry players say that, barring the metros and urban centres, people in states like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and others have to travel 40 km or more to access an ATM.

“Moreover, as per official data, barely 30 per cent of bank account holders in the country regularly use their ATM cards… the others prefer cash transactions. There are problems of infrastructure and connectivity which hamper growth of ATMs network,” Balasubramanian pointed out.

India has among the lowest ATM penetration globally, averaging 8.9 ATMs per 100,000 population, compared to Brazil’s 119.6, Thailand’s 78, South Africa’s 60 and Malaysia’s 56.4.

Incidentally, China currently has around a staggering one million ATMs, which will touch 1.5 million by 2020.

(Qqaid Najmi can be contacted at [email protected])

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Hugplomacy: Common in Politics and Sports

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Rahul Modi Hug

After tearing into the BJP-led government in his speech during yesterday’s no confidence motion, the Congress President Rahul Gandhi walked across to the ruling benches and hugged Prime Minister Modi, taking everyone in the parliament by surprise.

“I don’t have an iota of hatred or hard feelings against you. You may hate me and call me Pappu. You may use a stream of expletives for me but I don’t hate you or have any anger against you. I am the Congress,” Gandhi concluded his 40-minute fiery speech with these words.

Rahul during his power-packed speech attacked Modi government on multiple issues ranging from farmer suicides to the controversial Rafale jet deal. After finishing his speech, Mr Gandhi strode across the Lok Sabha to hug a surprised PM Modi to the amazement of the House members and millions who watched the debate live on TV.

Later on, talking to the newsmen, the Shiv sena party leader Sanjay Raut said “The Congress chief has now graduated from the real school of politics”. He further added that Rahul’s hug to the prime minister at the end of his speech was actually a shock for Narendra Modi.

In the recently concluded Soccer world cup, the Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic won a million hearts with her kind of hugplomacy. The game of football has always been beautiful but the World Cup final was also made beautiful by this lovely gesture by the President of Croatia, a country of only 40 lakh people.

She accepted that it wasn’t planned but came straight from the heart and the occasion melted the protocol of office. She was wearing the official jersey of the Croatian team, which made its maiden entry into the most prestigious sporting event final. She also travelled economy class because she wanted to boost the morale of her countrymen and also her team.

She continuously cheered her team from the VIP area and was gracious in defeat and hugged each player from her home team and the French. She may have encouraged a bunch of young boys to chase many rainbows in life. At the presentation ceremony, both Croatian president and her French counterpart threw protocol and caution to the winds, giving in to the abandon of the moment, not minding wee bit about getting drenched in pounding rain.

They were so engrossed in the moment that even the lack of courtesy on the part of Russian President Vladimir Putin to not share his giant umbrella couldn’t diminish their enthusiasm. These two leaders held their own and showed that the human touch was always worth a legacy beyond the glory and value of the office.

President Kolinda showed how a woman public figure could demonstrate humanity and emotions over gender sensitivities and stiffness of politics and be a true ambassador of a cultural consciousness that defined her country.

The benefits of hugging and the biological releases that come with it, go beyond social bonding which can also manifest positively in our mental and physical health. It can inspire positive thinking and expand trust among people and also the leaders of opposite political parties.

Oxytocin, known as the “feel good” hormone, helps inspire positive thinking and maintaining an optimistic outlook about the world. The role of oxytocin for bonding also extends much beyond as it helps to generate a feelings of compassion during interactions which in turn can contribute to an expansion of trust among individuals during social situations.

It also reduces social anxiety and stress because the physical touch increases levels of dopamine and serotonin; two neurotransmitters that help regulate our mood as well as help our body relieve stress and anxiety. Dopamine is also known to regulate the pleasure center in our brain that is a good counter to feelings of anxiety.

There was one study made on breast cancer patients where it was found that massage therapy in the form of stroking, stretching, and squeezing helped to relax the participants and increased their dopamine and serotonin levels.

It also boosts immunity and lowers blood pressure because physical touch is known to improve the function of our immune system and it also reduces diseases such as those associated with the heart and blood. One particular study on women found that receiving more hugs from their partners led to lower heart rates and blood pressure.

All these thoughts must have been going on in Rahul Gandhi’s mind when he was taking those bold steps leading to the treasury bench to give a much needed hug to a leader who is known for this Hugplomacy among the world leaders. So, finally for a change, Narendra Modi, the serial hugger was taken for a hug!

(ChandraKant Singh is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])

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Modi has no direct answers to Rahul Gandhi’s accusations

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As the vote of no-confidence motion moved against  Narendra Modi led NDA government  has been defeated but Congress President Rahul Gandhi has emerged as a politician with leadership qualities.

The 2018 no-confidence motion debate that lasted 12-hours presented the broad themes that will dominate in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Rahul was at his best, specifically attacked Prime Minister on the specific commitments which Modi had made during 2014 and in the last fours he has failed to deliver.

Congress President  used the occasion to define the vision of his party  and setting the 2019 agenda by displaying that Congress is not in favour of divisive politics and believes in uniting India in a democratic manner.

He ambushed Modi on several issues of economic , defence and foreign policies including the social problems such as atrocities against Dalits, minorities, tribals and women safety prevailing across the country.

Rahul used the ammunition provided by Modi himself  against the NDA government  and termed that hollow promises  which Narendra Modi made during 2014 Lok Sabha elections were actually “Jumla strikes”- a 21st century political weapon of the saffron party .

The entire debate of no confidence motion  transformed into a politico-ideological fight with some significant outcomes: First, Rahul was extempore and cornered the government like never before and pin pointedly attack Narendra Modi and Amit Shah while PM Modi who is known as the best communicator ,was weak in his oratory; Second Rahul exposed Modi over the alleged corruption by Amit Shah son Jay Shah and categorically questioned the secrecy of the government for not divulging the details of the Rafale deal.

His most lethal attack came when he argued that  the UPA government had negotiated the deal at Rs 520 crore per aircraft, but after Modi’s visit to France  the price had shot up to Rs 1,600 crore a piece. Rahul questioned that why the maintenance contract, which had earlier been given to HAL through a technology transfer agreement was cancelled  and  given to Reliance Aerostructure, a joint venture between Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group and Dassault, the French company which manufactures the Rafale combat planes.The businessman, who has “never ever built an aircraft”, benefited from the deal to the tune of Rs 45,000 crore.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi launched a scathing attack on prime minister Narendra Modi and his government’s policies. He used the entire parliamentary exercise to make one allegation after another at the government, accusing both the prime minister and his ministers  in the cabinet of being “untruthful” to the Indian public.

Third, Rahul tore into BJP’s unfulfilled promises and hollow slogan of ‘sabka saath sabka vikas’ by directly accusing PM Modi of colluding with select rich businessman to benefit them and simultaneously marketing himself through advertisement for instance Jio advertisement carried Modi’s photos.

But PM Modi presented a weak speech by twisting each and every accusation made by the Congress President Rahul and refused to  respond why the price was increased exponentially, and why a businessman with no expertise in the aviation industry was granted the contract.

When he attacked Modi on Rafale deal and said PM is nervous to the extent that he is not looking into his eyes, PM  again applied the same tactic of twisting the accusations by labeling it an ST /SC argument  or Naamdaar and Kaamdaar .

Modi outrightly avoided to answer the speicific questions raised by Rahul and in turn gave bizarre arguments to prove that 2 crore jobs were generated every year .

It is interesting that PM Modi feel elated by singing the same tune for the last four years and has shunned the culture of listening to the problems of the poor and marginalized people.  “This government waived off Rs 2.5 lakh crore debts of around 20-25 richest people of India. But when lakhs of farmers request the prime minister with folded hands to give them some loan relief, Gandhi said implying that  crony capitalist practices  are being followed under Modi government  and talks or terming BJP as pro-poor is just a false propaganda.

PM Modi chooses to carry out personal attacks on Rahul and Sonia Gandhi but on the contrary the congress president preferred to maintain the ethical politics by reminding him about the failures of the government and the faulty decisions of Modi such as demnonetisation and GST  that ruined  MSME sector ,small traders and farmers who were largely dependent on cash transactions .

PM Modi’s speech was lengthy but has no answers on why he decided to not to raise Doklam issue in China and why he allowed Beijing to become a leader of South Asia, Why the people of India are being cheated by not divulging the details of Rafale deal,which otherwise ,PM Modi is duty bound to respond because taxpayers’ money is involved.

Rahul charged Modi of seriously compromising India’s security and said  while Modi was welcoming China’s president in Gujarat, Chinese soldiers had occupied Indian territory.“Modiji went to China but did not have any agenda. He refused to speak about Doklam which the Chinese army had illegally occupied. A lot of our soldiers had to die because of this agenda-less foreign policy,” he said.

To save his skin, Modi again mislead the nation by twisting the statement of Congress president, saying “Opposition is attacking soldiers on surgical strike. “

With folded hands, Rahul thanked Modi again for teaching him the meaning of what it is to be Hindu.When he walked across the aisle to embrace Modi, the Prime Minister chose to spurn that offer and confirmed that  he would continue to hate the Opposition.

He talks of ‘beti bachao Beti Padao’ but crime against women are on the increase and unemployment is rampant and if Modi continues to give absurd reasoning behind his concocted, fake and manufactured data of providing jobs, he is bound to face the music in 2019 lok Sabha polls. Modi said, “If we see passenger vehicles, then this sale figure was 25,40,000. Out of that, if 25 per cent was a replacement of old vehicles, then 20 lakh new vehicles were on the roads. Even if 25 per cent of these new vehicles get a driver and conductor, then 5 lakh new jobs were created.”

Blog: By Arti Bali,
arti

(Senior Journalist)

 

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