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PM’s phone call to Patnaik signals thaw in frosty BJP-BJD relations

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New Delhi:The Biju Janata Dal’s (BJD) likely support to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) candidate in the election for the Rajya Sabha deputy chairman on Thursday is the third sign in recent weeks of a new warmth in the otherwise frosty, even hostile, relationship between Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It is also a part of a larger ‘softening’ of ties between the two parties as their goals converge, said two leaders, one from each party.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Patnaik over phone to seek his support for the deputy chairman’s election, according to people familiar with the matter, and the two leaders cited above described the gesture as illustrative of a direct engagement between the top leaders of the two parties.
Even before that, the BJD did not support the Opposition’s no-trust vote against the Narendra Modi government in the Lok Sabha on July 20— the message was communicated to MPs just minutes before the debate started — and stood with the government on the issue of National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam.
Patnaik had also supported Modi’s call in June for simultaneous assembly and parliamentary elections across the country. Odisha already votes simultaneously for the parliamentary and assembly elections.
Patnaik turned down Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar’s request for support to the Opposition’s candidate in election for the Rajya Sabha deputy chairman, telling him that he had already told Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar that he would support Janata Dal (United) leader Harivansh, according to people familiar with the development.
“There is a certain climbdown in position from both the sides — BJP and BJD,” one of Patnaik’s aides said on condition of anonymity. “There is a realisation on both sides that they may need each other after polls.”
“Naveen is least interested in politics of Delhi,” this person added. “He wants to be comfortable in Bhubaneswar. The changed equation brings that comfort.” Also, he added, it helps keep the door open in case he needs support from outside to run the state.
“Between the BJP and the Congress, the former will be the choice,” the aide said
The BJP pushed Patnaik’s traditional arch-rival, the Congress, to the third position and emerged as his principal challenge during the last year’s panchayat elections in Odisha. But the general sense in the party’s state unit and the central leadership is that while the BJP will strive to expand as much as it can in Odisha, it may not be able to replace the BJD as the number one party in the state in 2019, said a second senior BJP? leader who asked not to be named.


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Centre declares Kerala floods a ‘calamity of severe nature’

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Thiruvananthapuram/New Delhi: The Union government declared the devastating floods in Kerala a “calamity of severe nature”, paving the way for higher Central monetary help, as the state braced for the gigantic task of reconstruction and rehabilitation of lakhs of people rendered homeless.
The death toll in the current spell of monsoon fury that began on August 8 has risen to 223, officials said. “Keeping in view the intensity and magnitude of the floods and landslides in Kerala, this is a calamity of a severe nature for all practical purposes,” a home ministry official said in New Delhi.
This categorisation will enable the state get greater monetary and other assistance from the Centre.
Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram, “Over 10.78 lakh displaced people, including 2.12 lakh women and one lakh children below 12 years of age, have been sheltered in 3,200 relief camps. Today, 602 persons were rescued from various places as the rains receded.”
Mr Vijayan said there has been demands from various quarters to declare the floods as a national calamity.
“Our demand is also the same. But the Centre is pointing out certain technical difficulties to make such an announcement. What we need now is to evaluate the total loss and get an equivalent assistance from the Centre,” he said.
“As per preliminary estimates, the state has so far suffered a loss of nearly Rs 20,000 crore. The Union government has so far rendered all help to the state. Kerala received Rs 210 crore towards the Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund and a promise of Rs 160 crore,” he said.
With flood water level receding in many places, people have started returning to their homes and begun cleaning operations. The state government has also decided to distribute cleaning kits to them, Mr Vijayan said.
Commercial flight operations from the naval airport at Kochi commenced on Monday with the first Air India flight from Bengaluru arriving this morning. Small aircraft are being operated from the naval airport.
Relief material, including provisions, water and fuel have started arriving at the Kochi port from different parts of the country, official sources said.

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Sidhu hits out at those criticising him for hugging Pak Army chief

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Chandigarh:Punjab Local Bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu on Tuesday hit out at those who had criticised him for hugging Pakistan Army chief General Bajwa in Islamabad.
Addressing a press conference here, Sidhu said Gen Bajwa warmly met him barely for a minute before the swearing-in started and he did not meet him later.
The minister said he got emotional for a moment. He said his seat was changed at the last minute and he did not know who sat next to him.
He said Prime minister Narendra Modi was also welcomed in Pakistan when he went there to meet Nawaz Sharif.
He said his visit was a tribute to former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee who wanted peace between the two nations.
Sidhu said he received a lot of love and affection in Pakistan and was disappointed by some of the reactions.
The former cricketer said he would not speak against Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh, who had disapproved of the act.
Sidhu said he repeatedly received the invitation from Imran Khan and sought permission from the government. Two days after Pakistan gave him the visa, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj called him and said that he had been given the permission, he added.

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Congress ‘misinformed, misdirected and misled’: Ambani to Rahul on Rafale deal

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New Delhi: Reliance Group today said its Chairman Anil Ambani has written to Congress president Rahul Gandhi on the Rafale fighter jet deal saying his party has been “misinformed, misdirected and misled” by “malicious vested interests and corporate rivals” on the issue.
Ambani, who had first written to Gandhi on the issue in December, last week again wrote to him saying not a single component worth a single rupee is to be manufactured by his group for the 36 Rafale jets India is buying from France, the company said in a statement here.
Gandhi has been attacking the government for inking the deal at a much higher price than the one the previous UPA regime had negotiated. While he has accused the government of changing the deal to benefit “one businessman”, his party has demanded a JPC probe into the deal.
“Allegations of Reliance benefitting by thousands of crores is a figment of imagination, promoted by vested interests,” the company statement said, quoting from Ambani’s letter. “Simply put, no contract exists with the Government of India.”
French company Dassault, which is supplying the fighter jets, has entered into a joint venture with Reliance Group to meet its offset requirement of the contract.
Under defence offset, a foreign supplier of equipment agrees to manufacture a given percent of his product (in terms of value) in the buying country. Sometimes this may take place with technology transfer.
While direct offsets are linked to the original defence contact where companies often agree to transfer relevant technological know-how or use local suppliers to build the equipment they are selling to the government, indirect offsets have nothing to do with the deal and can include the company making up investments in local industries.
In case of Rafale deal, which will give new comer Reliance Group a foothold in the defence industry, the companies have not specified what components will they manufacturer in India.
Ambani in the letter expressed “deep anguish over continued personal attacks by Rahul Gandhi on him”, the statement said. He termed all allegations as “baseless, ill-informed and unfortunate”
Explaining the role of Reliance in offset exports/ work share with Dassault, he said: “The Congress has been misinformed, misdirected and misled by malicious vested interests and corporate rivals.”
He said Rafale fighter jets are not being manufactured by Reliance of the Dassault Reliance joint venture. “All 36 planes are to be 100 per cent manufactured in France, and exported from France to India.”
“There is no contract from the Ministry of Defence to any Reliance Group company related to 36 Rafale aircraft,” the statement said.
Ambani said his group’s “role is limited to offset/ export obligations. More than 100 medium, small and micro enterprises (MSMEs) will participate in this, along with public sector undertakings like BEL and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
“This role strengthens Indian manufacturing capabilities, and is in pursuance of the Offsets Policy introduced by the Congress-led UPA government itself from 2005 onwards.”
He said Reliance Group announced its decision to enter the defence manufacturing sector in December 2014-January 2015, “months before the intention for the purchase of Rafale aircraft”.

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