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Maharashtra Congress leaders meet Sonia Gandhi

The leaders included Maharashtra Congress President Balasaheb Thorat, Working Presidents Nitin Raut, Baswaraj M. Patil, Yashomati Chandrakant Thakur and Muzaffer Hussain.

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UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandh

New Delhi, Aug 16 : Senior Congress leaders from Maharashtra on Friday met the party interim chief Sonia Gandhi at her residence here.

The leaders included Maharashtra Congress President Balasaheb Thorat, Working Presidents Nitin Raut, Baswaraj M. Patil, Yashomati Chandrakant Thakur and Muzaffer Hussain.

Congress General Secretary (Organisation) K.C. Venugopal was also present during the meeting.

After meeting Gandhi, Raut told IANS: “It was a courtesy meeting with Soniaji. We had not met since she was appointed the interim President.”

Asked if there were any talks regarding the Maharashtra assembly elections, Raut said, “We did not discuss elections with her as it was our first meeting with her since the time she was appointed the interim chief.”

Sonia Gandhi was elected the interim party chief on August 10 during the Congress Working Committee meeting.

She was made the party chief after Rahul Gandhi stepped down from the top post taking moral responsibility of Congress’s loss in Lok Sabha elections.

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Public hearings start in Trump’s impeachment process

William Taylor, the top diplomat dealing with Ukraine, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, George Kent, testified defying Trump’s edict against administration officials testifying.

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Donald Trump MSNBC

New York, Nov 13 : The hearings for US President Donald Trump’s impeachment moved from an underground secret chamber to national television on Wednesday with two diplomats testifying before a Congressional committee investigating allegations against Trump.

Adam Schiff, the Chair of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, started the hearings by charging Trump with affecting US national security interests by undermining Ukraine, a US ally, in its confrontation with Russia by withholding military aid and asking for a favour in return for the aid.

The ranking member of the Republican Party on the Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, denounced the impeachment process asserting that there were no grounds for it.

Only three impeachment proceedings have taken place against a US President — Andrew Johnson in 1868, Richard Nixon in 1974 and Bill Clinton in 1998.

Following Schiff’s line, the two diplomats put the focus on Ukraine’s conflict with Russia and how it was important for the US to unequivocally back Kyiv.

William Taylor, the top diplomat dealing with Ukraine, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, George Kent, testified defying Trump’s edict against administration officials testifying.

After holding secret hearings examining officials and other witnesses, the Democrats, who control the House, agreed to hold the hearings in public after demands from the Republicans.

The transcripts of the hearings were later released after selective leaks during the hearings.

But a Politico/Morning Consult Poll found that 62 per cent of the voters said that they have made up their minds and the impeachment hearings won’t change them.

Fifty per cent of voters support the impeachment inquiry while 41 per cent oppose it.

It also found that 51 per cent of the voters believe that the House will vote to impeach Trump, but the Senate will not convict him.

Even if the impeachment hearings in the year leading to the 2020 presidential election are unlikely to lead to Trump’s removal from office, the Democrats hope it will undermine him in the elections.

The impeachment is the first step in the constitutional process to remove a President and it is basically the filing of a chargesheet against him for the Senate to hold a trial with the presiding Supreme Court Chief Justice.

The Democrats control the House and the chargresheet known as the Articles of Impeachment is expected to be passed. But the Republicans control the Senate, where a two-third majority is required to convict and remove Trump, and it is very unlikely that there would be enough votes to convict him.

Trump tweeted, “The most powerful tool the legislative branch has, Impeachment, & they’ve turned it into a political cudgel, which is not at all what the Founders intended.”

Laying out the charges against Trump, Schiff said that he is guilty of “high crimes” and “bribery” because he asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenski to investigate Vice President Joe Biden and his son over business dealings there.

That amounts to getting a foreign country involved in US elections because Biden is a front-runner to challenge Trump in next year’s election and that he had tried to withhold military aid as a condition for holding an inquiry into the Bidens, Schiff said.

Biden’s son Hunter had landed a $50,000 a month directorship of a Ukrainian gas company with no prior experience in the energy field and as Vice President, Biden had pressed Ukraine to fire a prosecutor who may have been investigating the company.

The Democrats have turned attention away from it by putting Trump on the defensive by making it a case of Trump misusing his office against a political rival.

The Republicans want to question Biden’s son Hunter during the investigation, but Adam Schiff, the chair of the Democrat-controlled Intelligence Committee, has resisted the demand saying that the hearings are not about him.

The Republicans also want to question a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer who started the whole impeachment process by complaining that he had heard from other sources at the White House that Trump had made an improper request to Zelensky in a July phone call to him.

The Democrats don’t want him to testify because they say it could endanger him. Officials and the mainstream media have kept his identity secret.

Nunes crticised how the secret inquiry had been conducted “as an audition” for the public one.

He also alleged that Schiff had sought nude pictures of Trump from Russian broadcasters.

The Republican defence has been at two levels. Nikki Haley, a former Trump cabinet member and UN ambassador, has said that although it may not be proper to ask for favours from a foreign official, it is not impeachable. She added that impeachment is like a “death sentence” for a public official.

The other defence by Republicans is that since the aid was released, there was no Ukrainian inquiry.

(Arul Louis can be contacted at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @arulouis)

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Token seat not accepted this time: Chirag Paswan

The LJP is a part of the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre.

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Chirag Paswan

New Delhi, Nov 13 : The Lok Janshakti Party, which is ready to contest the Assembly elections in Jharkhand alone on 50 seats, has made it clear that it doesn’t want to contest polls on a token seat.

The party has gone its own way from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and has announced that it will contest alone on 50 out of the 81 seats.

The LJP’s national President and son of Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, Chirag Paswan told IANS on Wednesday: “Last time (previous Assembly elections) the Bharatiya Janata Party allowed the LJP to contest on just one seat. But this time the LJP has made it clear that we won’t contest on any token seat. We will contest the election only on the seat where our party has a public base”.

Junior Paswan who took over the party reigns earlier this month said: “Last time we were given the Shikaripada seat where we did not have any candidate also. If the BJP does it again, we are not ready”.

The LJP is a part of the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre.

He said the LJP has strengthened in the state in the recent past and the party’s state unit wanted to go solo in the Assembly elections. Still, we demanded six seats from the BJP but the efforts went in vain.

Chirag said: “I made an honest effort by contacting the BJP’s central leadership and demanded six seats to contest. But we could not get their consent. Therefore, the LJP has decided to contest this election alone”.

However, he made it clear that even if the LJP wins any seat in the election, it will support the NDA. “We are with the NDA at the Centre and state as well,” he said.

Replying to a query about the impact of the LJP’s decision to go solo in the election, he said it won’t affect the alliance.

“If some opposition parties are happy that they (BJP and LJP) lack coordination in Jharkhand and Shiv Sena has gone its own way in Maharashtra, they should not be overwhelmed,” said Paswan.

He said we had no alliance in Jharkhand, our pact is based on Bihar. We entered into an alliance in Bihar under which we contest the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections there together.

Chirag added that the BJP, LJP and the Janata Dal (United) would contest the 2020 Bihar Assembly elections together.

We will win more than 225 seats in the Assembly elections in Bihar like we won 39 out of 40 seats during the Lok Sabha elections. Chief Minister (Nitish Kumar) will retain power, he said.

The LJP chief said that the party will contest the upcoming Delhi Assembly elections alone.

Asked about the imposition of President’s Rule in Maharashtra and the break-up between the BJP and the Shiv Sena, he said: “People of Maharashtra have given a clear mandate to the NDA. People wanted to form a government under NDA but the decisions from parties and their political aspirations took things to President’s Rule. It’s unfortunate”.

The LJP has announced the candidates for 10 seats in Jharkhand. The state will go to the polls in five phases between November 30 and December 20 while counting is scheduled for December 23.

(P.K. Jha can be contacted at [email protected])

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‘Operation Kamal’ may return, all 17 rebels to join BJP in Karnataka

Earlier, Yeddyurappa had created a row when he was heard trying to allegedly influence a JDS MLA in a purported audio.

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karnataka rebel mla

New Delhi, Nov 13 (IANS) All the 17 rebel MLAs, who so far are not BJP members, will formally join the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party on Thursday and 15 of them are very likely to be fielded in the upcoming by-election in Karnataka to be held on December 5, says a senior functionary of the party. What’s more? The ‘Operation Kamal’ may be back with more opposition MLAs jumping to BJP, post the by-elections.

All 17 Rebels to join BJP:

Sources told IANS, Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa has given his in-principle okay for the induction. In fact, BJP state unit spokesman G. Madhusudana told IANS, “All the 17 MLAs, including 14 from the Congress and 3 from the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) will join our party on Thursday here and 15 of them will contest in the by-elections on our party symbol,” However, it needs a final green signal from BJP Chief Amit Shah, which is a mere formality. This move comes after the Karnataka unit of the BJP went into a huddle in Bengaluru on Wednesday.

A senior BJP functionary explained requesting anonymity, “If one has to fight on BJP ticket, the basic requirement is that he or she has to be a member of the BJP. At present none of the rebels are BJP members. Hence the induction is a natural progression.”

All rebels preferred over BJP cadres:

As fifteen assembly constituencies are going to bypolls, chances are all the fifteen sitting MLAs who were disqualified by the Speaker following their defection, which on Wednesday has been upheld by the Supreme Court, will be fielded by the saffron party. “Will you field a BJP cadre who couldn’t win a few months back or someone who won the seat and willing to fight this time for the BJP”, asked the BJP leader. Moreover, the saffron party doesn’t have a strong organisational base in the belt in which the bypolls are taking place.

If the ruling BJP which currently has 106 MLAs, manages to win 6 of the 15 seats, it will cross the halfway mark (leaving out Maski and RR Nagar) and be in a majority.

Operation Kamal 2.0?

But the Bharatiya Janata party, which claims it will win all the 15 seats, hints at more turncoats joining the saffron fold in Karnataka. A senior party functionary who has been privy to developments, suggested December 5, which is the day of bypoll, will not be the end of BJP’s open arms policy for those who feel “suffocated in their respective parties and want a change”. There are signs that the BJP is actively in touch with more opposition MLAs, not to just reach majority but beef up its numbers.

Earlier, the opposition blamed it on the BJP for its alleged poaching of 17 MLAs that toppled the Congress-JDS Government in the southern state, reiterated its blame on Wednesday. Congress’s media cell chief Randeep Singh Surjewala on Wednesday, soon after the apex court allowed the disqualified MLAs to seek re-election, alleged, “The Supreme Court decision upholding the disqualification of ‘defector MLAs’ has burst the bubble of BJP’s ‘Operation Kamal’. It is now proved that BJP brazenly and illegally brought down an elected JDS-Congress Government in Karnataka.”

Earlier, Yeddyurappa had created a row when he was heard trying to allegedly influence a JDS MLA in a purported audio.

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