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'BJP doesn't believe that non-BJP parties have right to function in democratic set up': Sharad Pawar in interview with Sanjay Raut

Mumbai: NCP president Sharad Pawar has said his offer of outside support to the BJP in 2014 to form government in Maharashtra was a "political ploy" aimed to keep the Shiv Sena away from its then ally.

Pawar admitted he took steps to "widen the distance between the BJP and Shiv Sena".

The two long-term saffron allies parted ways after the state Assembly elections last year over the issue of sharing the chief ministerial post.

Pawar said after the last year's Assembly polls, BJP leaders approached him to support the Devendra Fadnavis government in the state, but he told Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the NCP will not go with the BJP and if possible, it will form government with the Sena or sit in the opposition.

"The BJP doesnt believe that non-BJP parties have the right to function in a democratic set up," Pawar, who played a key role last year in the formation of the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) comprising the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress, said in an interview to Sena mouthpiece 'Saamana'.

The last of the three-part interview series was published in the Marathi daily on Monday. For the first time, a non-Shiv Sena leader has featured in a marathon interview series in the publication.

"I made the statement (after 2014 state polls) consciously since I didnt want the Shiv Sena and BJPto come together. When I realised the post-poll alliance could materialise, I made that statement announcing readiness to support a BJP government from outside," Pawar said.

"That didnt work out. The Shiv Sena joined the government and the alliance government completed its full term," he noted.

The 78-year-old Maratha strongman said he believed allowing the BJP to be in power in Maharashtra was not in the interest of the Shiv Sena and other parties.

"The power at the Centre was with the BJP (in 2014) and if it is the ruling party in Maharashtra, it would be a loss to the Shiv Sena. The BJP doesnt believe that non-BJP parties have the right to function in a democratic set up. I knew all other parties face a danger. The statement offering outside support was a political ploy," he said.

"I accept that I took steps to widen the distance between the BJP and Shiv Sena," the veteran politician said.

Pawar rejected the claim of former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis that he (Pawar) was in talks with the BJP to form government last year and then did a "U-turn".

"Some BJP leaders spoke to my colleagues and myself about government formation, saying they didn't want the Shiv Sena on board. They said since I had good relations with the prime minister,he should intervene and I should give my approval," he said.

"Hence, to avoid any confusion and perception about myself and my party, I met the prime minister in his chamber at Parliament House and told him the NCP will not go with the BJP. If possible, we will form government with the Shiv Sena or sit in the opposition," Pawar said.

Targeting Fadnavis over his remarks that Pawar was in talks with senior BJP leaders to form government in Maharashtra, he said, "Where was he? I dont think he has a place in the decision-making process at the national level." Fadnavis became a known face after he became chief minister, while in the opposition he was only an active legislator and had "no say in the BJP's decision-making in the state and at the national level", Pawar said.

He said Fadnavis is yet to come to terms with not being able to form government again (last year).

"Power is never permanent. Whatever responsibility is given by people, we have to take it. When I lost chief ministership in 1980, I became leader of the opposition. There was more fun in that role for me," the former CM said.

"What do we see today? A former chief minister saying it was hard for him to digest he is no longer in power. This is not good for him. He should accept the reality," he said.

Asked about 'operation Kamal', Pawar said, "'Operation Kamal' of the BJP was misuse of power, weakening and destabilising democratically elected governments by misusing the power at the Centre."

'Operation Kamal' will not work in Maharashtra and the Thackeray government will complete its full term, he asserted.

"The 'Thackeray Sarkar' will complete full term and MVA allies will contest the next election together," he added.

Pawar also said that the opposition parties have the capability to provide an alternative to the nation (at the Centre). "But, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the process has stopped. Once this crisis is over, political momentum will gain ground," he said.

Earlier this year, there were some meetings and the opposition parties discussed some policies. But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country, he said.

"I will take the initiative. Providing an alternative is the need of the hour," he said.

Speaking about the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maharashtra government, Pawar said there was no problem in the dispensation, but dialogue among allies was lacking.

"It is a three-party government and dialogue between the three parties was necessary. I can't see such a dialogue.

If it is there, you will not hear rumours of rift or differences," he said.

To a question on Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi being asked by the Centre to vacate the bungalow allotted to her in Delhi, Pawar said, "I dont think this is cultured behaviour. Power should be used with humility. Such things happen when the arrogance of power goes in your head." "Priyanka is the daughter of a former prime minister (Rajiv Gandhi) who was assassinated. You may havepolitical differences. But, there is no wisdom in using the power in hand to harass political opponents, he said.


India records spike of 28,701 new COVID-19 cases, tally rises to 8,78,254

With a record single-day spike of 28,701 new COVID-19 cases, India's tally rose to 8,78,254, while the death toll climbed to 23,174 with 500 people succumbing to the disease in a day, according to the Union Health Ministry data.

The number of recoveries stands at 5,53,471, while there are 3,01,609 active cases of coronavirus infection presently in the country.

The rate of recovery of the Covid-19 patients has touched 62.93 per cent. India, however, remains the third worst-affected country after the US and Brazil.

During the last 24 hours, 2,19,103 samples were tested, as the testing lab network continues to expand. As on date, more than 1,194 labs have enabled people to undergo coronavirus tests. Maharashtra remained the worst-hit state, with 2,54,427 cases and 10,289 casualties followed by Tamil Nadu with total 1,38,470 cases, including 1,966 deaths.

With 1,573 new coronavirus cases and 37 deaths in the last 24 hours, the national capital recorded a total tally of 1,12,494 cases, including 3,371 deaths. States with more than 10,000 cases included Gujarat (41,820 cases), Uttar Pradesh (36,476), Rajasthan (24,392), Madhya Pradesh (17,632), West Bengal (30,013), Haryana (21,240), Karnataka (38,843), Andhra Pradesh (29,168), Telangana (34,671), Assam (16,071), and Bihar (16,642). On the global front, the overall number of global Covid-19 cases was nearing 12.9 million, while the deaths have increased to more than 5,68,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.


‘India at good position in COVID-19 battle?’: Rahul Gandhi questions govt's claims on battling coronavirus

New Delhi: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Monday questioned the government's claims on battling COVID-19, asking is India at a "good position" in the battle against the virus.

His remarks came a day after Union Home Minister Amit Shah said India is in a "good position" in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic and the country will fight the disease with determination and enthusiasm. In a tweet, Gandhi asked, "India at good position in COVID19 battle?".

He tagged a graph of India's daily average COVID cases that showed a steady rise, against that of other countries like South Korea and New Zealand which have shown a steady decline in cases.

India saw a daily rise of 28,701 cases in the last 24 hours, taking the total number of cases to 8,78,254 as on Monday morning, while the death toll climbed to 23,174 with 500 people succumbing to the infection, according to the Union Health Ministry data. Gandhi has been critical of the government on the handling of the COVID crisis and has accused it of having failed to tackle the situation.

Two people arrested after Ashok Gehlot accuses BJP of 'bribing' Cong MLAs to destabilise Rajasthan govt

Hours after Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot alleged that the opposition BJP was trying to topple the state government by buying off MLAs, the back and forth allegations have continued. Additionally, two people have now been arrested over the allegations.

"Whether it is Satish Poonia or Rajendra Rathore, they are playing games to topple our government on the behest of their central leadership. They are offering Rs 10 crore in advance and Rs 15 crore after the government is toppled," Gehlot had said in a virtual press conference.

"BJP is terrified due to investigation (by Special Ops Group), they are involved in horse-trading as seen in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. They tried in Rajasthan too but faced the dust. The investigation will unearth the truth," added Rajasthan Government chief whip Mahesh Joshi in conversation with news agency ANI.

BJP leader and state party President Satish Poonia had responded to the allegation stating that it was "completely baseless.

"Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is a cunning politician, he is trying to blame BJP for his failure in governance. The allegations are completely baseless. He has the numbers, who will try to destabilise the government," Poonia wondered.

In the meantime, as the Special Operations Group investigates the allegations, two people have already been arrestd.

"Two people, Bharat Malani and Ashok Singh, have been arrested (in connection with alleged attempts to destabilise state government). They are being questioned and will be produced before a court," Ashok Kumar Rathore, ADG, Special Operations Group (SOG), Rajasthan told news agency ANI.

The (SOG) has also issued notices to Gehlot and Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot to record their statement in connection with the allegations. Notice has also been sent Government Chief Whip Mahesh Joshi to record his statement.

(With inputs from agencies)

Strick lockdown to be imposed in Indore district on every Sunday

Amid escalating COVID-19 cases, a strict lockdown and curfew will be observed across Indore district on Sunday. This will be in effect on every Sunday, starting from July 12.

Announcing the same, the Collector and District Magistrate have released an order on Saturday afternoon. He also appealed to people to stay at home and to abide by all COVID-19 related precautions and protocols.

Further details awaited.

Kerala healthcare workers attack: Four health workers to go into quarantine as protesters spit on them

A team of health workers, including a doctor, who had gone to collect swab samples from the local people at the nearby fishing hamlet of Poonthura, where several COVID-19 positive cases have been reported, were allegedly threatened by some locals on Friday.

One of the doctors from the team also told the NDTV that one of the protesters stuck his head inside the car and coughed at them saying, 'If we have COVID, you should have it too'."

As per the report, she had begun her practice just 10 days ago.

The team had gone in a car and were forced by the agitating local people to lower the car window and they allegedly spat on those inside the vehicle, sources from the Indian Medical Association(IMA) said.

All the four health workers have been asked to go into quarantine, IMA sources told PTI.


Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Health Minister KK Shailaja, have condemned the attack on the health workers.

Blaming the opposition parties, Vijayan said "Our health workers are in the battlefield consciously knowing that they can get affected anytime and are fighting the spread of the pandemic.

They were prevented from entering the place. Some people are making the locals do the same. We can see the hands of the Opposition parties behind this," he told reporters.

Describing the incident as "most unfortunate", Shailaja said the health workers are ignoring the threat to their own lives and working to help the people.

The IMA has expressed its "strong protest" against this misbehaviour towards the health workers.

"At a time when health workers are risking their lives to help others to tide over the theCOVID-19 situation, it is unfortunate such an incident has occurred," the association said.

Hundreds of men and women had come out of their homes at Poonthura this morning protesting that they were facing isolation from various quarters due to media reports on a rising number of positive cases from the area.

The protesters, many of whom refused to wear masks, alleged that there had been instances when doctors of certain hospitals had refused to treat them and they were asked to stay away.

It was at this time that the car carrying the health workers reached the area to collect the swab samples.

Poonthura has witnessed the super spread of the viruses a fisherman is said to have infected many others in the fishing village.

Vijayan blamed a Youth Congress worker for the incident saying he had campaigned through WhatsApp to bring out people on to the streets to protest by spreading fake news.

In the containment zone at Poonthura, at least 31,985 people are living and the health measures of the state government were "sabotaged" by some people spreading fake news.

"Unfortunately, UDF leaders are at the forefront of this. A youth Congress leader campaigned through WhatsApp, against the antigen tests saying the test was useless and would spread the virus.

He also claimed that the test was just to create fear among the people and due to enmity towards Poonthura natives," Vijayan said.

Stern action will be taken against those who spread such fake messages and cause a rift among the people and force them to take to the streets, he said.

Thiruvananthapuram recorded 129 cases, the highest number for the second consecutive day on Friday out of which 122 people have been infected through contact and a majority of them are from Poonthura.

Commandos and 500 police personnel have been deputed in Poonthura to strictly enforce the lockdown there.

As reports emerged that locals had protested at Poonthura, Health minister Shailaja appealed to the people to cooperate with the state administration to prevent the spread of the infection.

"People's cooperation is needed. The whole world knows about this pandemic. The virus is spreading very fast and death cases are increasing across the world.

Why are people not seeing this and understanding the gravity of the situation? Kerala has a lesser number of cases compared to other states, due to the effective preventive mechanism adopted since the last six months.

If someone is trying to sabotage all the measures taken by the health department, we will lose control of the situation," she said.

The minister also criticised the protests being launched during the pandemic and wanted to know why all the leaders, who are aware of the crisis, were silent.

"Protests can be held, but following the COVID- 19 health protocol," she said.

Pointing out that there are over 5,500 aged persons in just three wards of Poonthura area and at least 2,250 children below 5 years, she said there was just one way to contain the spread there and that is declaring lockdown, and restricting travel.

(With inputs from PTI)

Kanpur police killings: Mumbai ATS nabs two Vikas Dubey aides from Thane

A day after Uttar Pradesh gangster Vikas Dubey was killed in an encounter, a team from the Juhu unit of the Anti Terrorism Squad, led by inspector Daya Nayak arrested two of Dubey's accomplices on Saturday. The two had been involved in the ambush and murder of eight policemen in Uttar Pradesh. They had also been involved in the 2001 murder of a state minister.

The two wanted men-- Arvind alias Guddan Ramvilas Trivedi, 46 and Sushilkumar alias Sonu Suresh Tiwari, 30, were arrested from Kolshet Road in Thane.

Police said that early on Saturday they had received a tip-off that Trivedi and Tiwari, who were on the run after killing eight policemen in UP were seen in Mumbai and Thane. Acting on this information, a police team led by PI Daya Nayak rushed to Thane and laid a trap near Kolshet Road. In the wee hours of Saturday, the two suspects walked into the trap while they were looking for a hideout from the police.

Preliminary information confirmed the identities of Trivedi and his driver Tiwari, and revealed that they had been involved in the murder of state minister Santosh Shukla in 2001. Subsequently, the UP Government had also announced a cash reward for the arrest of these accused men.

Vikram Deshmane, Deputy Commissioner of Police, ATS said, "We had received information about one of the accused who was at large, and were looking for a hideout in Thane. The accused were then arrested and the UP Police were informed of the development. They will take the transit remand of the accused duo and take them to Uttar Pradesh.

According to the police, Trivedi and Tiwari, along with other henchmen, had helped Dubey kill eight policemen on July 2 when a police team had gone to arrest the gangster in Bokru village of Kanpur. They had been on the run since the incident.

The Uttar Pradesh Police had booked Dubey, Trivedi and Tiwari, along with a few others, under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code for murder, attempt to murder, voluntarily causing hurt in committing robbery and criminal conspiracy charges. They had launched a country-wide search to nab the accused.

Virologist who fled to US from Hong Kong accuses China of coronavirus cover-up

At a time when COVID-19 has infected over 12 million people across the globe, a scientist from Hong Kong has revealed that China knew about the deadly virus well before it claimed it did, in an extraordinary claim about cover-ups at the highest levels of government.

In an exclusive interview to Fox News on Friday, Li-Meng Yan, who has specialised in virology and immunology at the Hong Kong School of Public Health, said that China likely had an obligation to tell the world, given their status as a World Health Organisation (WHO) reference laboratory specialising in influenza viruses and pandemics, especially as the virus began spreading in the early days of 2020.

She added that her supervisors, renowned as some of the top experts in the field, also ignored research she was doing at the onset of the pandemic that she believes could have saved lives.

Yan, who says she was one of the first scientists in the world to study COVID-19, was allegedly asked by her supervisor at the University/WHO reference lab, Dr Leo Poon, last year to look into the odd cluster of SARS-like cases coming out of mainland China at the end of December 2019.

"The Chinese government refused to let overseas experts, including ones in Hong Kong to do research in China," she said.

Yan said very soon she and her colleagues across China discussed the peculiar virus but that she soon noted a sharp shift in tone. Doctors and researchers who had been openly discussing the virus suddenly clammed up. Those from the city of Wuhan--which later would become the hub of the outbreak -- went silent and others were warned not to ask them details.

The doctors said, ominously, "We cannot talk about it, but we need to wear masks,'" Yan said. The numbers of human-to-human transmission cases then began to grow exponentially, according to her sources.

Yan made the decision to leave. She packed her bags, sneaked past the censors and video cameras on campus, and boarded a Cathay Pacific flight to the United States, on April 28.

She had her passport and her purse and was about to leave all of her loved ones behind. If she was caught, she knew she could be thrown in jail -- or, worse, rendered one of the "disappeared".

Yan, now in hiding, claims that the government in the country where she was born is trying to shred her reputation and accuses "government goons" of choreographing a cyber-attack against her in hopes of keeping her quiet.

She divulged to the media that the Hong Kong government swarmed her hometown of Qingdao and that agents ripped apart her tiny apartment and questioned her parents. When she contacted her parents, they pleaded with her to come home and told her that she did not know what she was talking about, and begged her to give up the fight.

Yan believes her life is still in danger. She fears she can never go back to her home and lives with the hard truth that she will likely never see her friends or family there again. Still, she says, the risk is worth it.

"The reason I came to the US is that I deliver the message of the truth of COVID," she told Fox News from an undisclosed location.

She added that if she tried to tell her story in China, she "will be disappeared and killed".

Meanwhile, the University of Hong Kong has also taken down her page and apparently revoked access to her online portals and e-mails, even after she says that she was on an approved annual leave.

In a statement to Fox News, a school spokesperson said that Yan is not currently an employee.

'Asatyagrahi': Rahul Gandhi attacks PM Modi over assertion that solar project in MP's Rewa is Asia's largest

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Saturday attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi over his assertion that the Rewa Ultra Mega Solar project in Madhya Pradesh is the largest in Asia.

Prime Minister Modi on Friday launched the 750 MW solar project in Rewa in Madhya Pradesh through video-conferencing.

"Asatyagrahi" (which roughly translates to 'one who does not believe in the struggle for truth'), said Gandhi on Twitter, tagging a tweet by the Prime Minister's Office which quoted Modi as saying that Rewa has been identified with Narmada and white tigers, but now the name of Asia's largest solar power project has also been added to it.

D K Shivakumar, the Congress' Karnataka unit chief and a former energy minister in the state, had on Friday said, "Union Power Minister must answer as to how the Central government can claim that the Rewa Solar Park (750 MW) opened today is Asia's largest when clearly the Pavagada Park in Karnataka is much larger (2,000 MW) and was opened two years back!"

On Friday, PM Modi had said that solar energy is the pure form of energy and would help the country towards achieving "atmanirbharta" (self-reliance).

"Not just for the present, solar energy will be a medium of energy needs of the 21st century because solar power is sure, pure, and secure. It is sure because the sun would shine throughout the world; it is secure because solar energy rather than polluting the environment, helps in replenishing it and it is secure because it is a testimony and inspiration towards 'atmanirbharta'," the Prime Minister said in his address, via video-conferencing.

"It is important that if we want to become Atmanirbhar Bharat, then we would have to be 'atmanirbhar' in the field of electricity as well. When we speak of self-reliance and progress, the economy is a pivotal part of it. The whole world is in a conundrum that whether to focus on the environment or focus on the economy," he said.

Azaan resounds in Hagia Sophia, first prayers will be on July 24

When Istanbul (formerly known as Constantinople) was conquered by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II in 1453 it was converted to a mosque


ISTANBUL: Call for prayer from loudspeakers is heard for the first time from Hagia Sofia in Istanbul after the stunning edifice was once again turned into a mosque.

Brushing aside international warnings not to change the status of the the 15-century-old structure that is revered by Christians and Muslims alike, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed the decree revoking its status as a museum.

Following a court ruling, people awaiting outside it chanted “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is great!) when the news broke.

A video of an imam calling on the faithful to pray from Hagia Sophia is posted on Twitter and a crowd of Muslims later prayed at the UNESCO cultural site.

First prayers at Hagia Sophia
Erdogan said that the first prayers at famed Sophia will be held on July 24 for Jumma (Friday) prayers after 86 years.

“God willing, we will perform Friday prayers all together on July 24 and reopen Hagia Sophia to worship,” Erdogan said an a televised address to the nation.

“Like all our mosques, the doors of Hagia Sophia will be wide open to locals and foreigners, Muslims and non-Muslims.”

Turkey‘s highest administrative court issued a ruling Friday that paves the way for the government to convert Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia – a former cathedral-turned-mosque that now serves as a museum – back into a Muslim house of worship.

The Council of State threw its weight behind a petition brought by a religious group and annulled a 1934 cabinet decision that changed the 6th century building into a museum. The ruling allows the government to restore the Hagia Sophia’s previous status as a mosque.

History of Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia-Turkey’s most popular tourist site has a long and complicated history.

It began in the year 537 when it was built on the order of Byzantine emperor Justinian I as the great Christian cathedral of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire.

When Istanbul (formerly known as Constantinople) was conquered by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II in 1453 it was converted to a mosque and the Friday prayers was performed inside Hagia Sophia by the victorious conqueror.

During the rule of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey  in the 1930s, the nearly 1,500-year-old monument was re-opened as a museum in a drive to make Turkey more secular.