The Election Commission (EC) on Saturday has ordered re-polling in four polling stations in three assembly constituencies in southern Assam, where normal balloting were held in the second phase of polling on April 1, officials said.
The Election Commission Secretary Ajay Kumar Verma in a letter to the Assam Chief Electoral Officer Nitin Khade said that considering all the reports and other circumstances, the EC has ordered re-polling in four polling stations on April 20.
Quoting the EC order, the elections officials said that the re-polling would be held in Indira M.V. School (Right) under Ratabari (SC) assembly constituency, Madhya Dhanchari Lower Primary School under Sonai assembly segment, Khothlir Lower Primary School and Mualdam Lower Primary School both under Halflong (ST) assembly seat.
Assam Assembly Deputy Speaker and BJP candidate Aminul Haque Laskar, who is contesting from the Sonai Assembly constituency as a BJP nominee, was quizzed twice while five police personnel attached to him were suspended after they allegedly opened fire at the public during the second phase of polling on April 1.
Cachar Deputy Commissioner (DC) Keerthi Jalli has ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident. District Development Commissioner B.C. Das has been asked to conduct the probe and submit a report in this regard.
Laskar, however, told the media that the security personnel opened fire to protect his life during a clash between the rival political parties. The opposition parties have demanded his arrest.
At least six polling personnel were suspended in Assam's Dima Hasao district after it was found that a booth -- Khothlir Lower Primary School -- with 90 valid voters registered 181 votes during the second phase of polls on April 1.
The repolling would be held at the Mualdam Lower Primary School in connection with the ballot mismatch in Khothlir Lower Primary School. The Election Commission earlier suspended the presiding officer, three other polling officials and an armed escort official associated with Indira M.V. School under Ratabari (SC) assembly constituency after an EVM was found in a BJP candidate's wife's vehicle on April 1.
The Karimganj District Magistrate (DM) Anbamuthan MP (Repeat Anbamuthan MP) has ordered a magisterial inquiry and the police arrested three people in connection with the EVM found in a BJP candidate wife's vehicle.
The three-phase elections to the 126-member Assam assembly were held on March 27, April 1 and April 6. The results would be declared on May 2.
A political controversy erupted in West Bengal during the fourth phase of the elections when BJP's IT cell released an audio tape of Trinamool' election strategist Prashant Kishor where he was heard saying a 'ClubHouse' chat that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is hugely popular in West Bengal and this is one of the factors that will decide which party sweeps the state.
BJP's IT cell chief Amit Malviya claimed that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's election strategist Prashant Kishor had accepted the BJP's victory. Malviya shared the audio of Prashant Kishor's discussion on the ClubHouse platform on social media. In this, Kishor is chatting with some journalists.
In a public chat on ClubHouse, Mamata Banerjee's election strategist concedes that even in TMC's internal surveys, BJP is winning. The vote is for Modi, polarisation is a reality, the SCs (27 per cent of WB's population), Matuas are all voting for the BJP, Amit Malviya- National in-charge of BJP's Information & Technology department wrote in his tweet.
In the audio, Kishor is saying that on a public chat at the clubHouse, Prashant Kishor admitted that BJP is winning in TMC's internal survey too. People are voting for Modi and polarization has taken place. SC and Matua, 27 per cent of Bengal's population all voted for the BJP.
Another candid admission by Kishor is that -- all that the Left, Congress and TMC ecosystem have done in the last 20 years is Muslim appeasement. Implication? It has resulted in resentment on the ground. The speakers had not realised that the chat was public, Malviya wrote.
That moment when Mamata Banerjee's strategist realised that the ClubHouse room was open and his admissions were being heard by the public at large and not just a handful of Lutyens journalist. Deafening silence followed, Malviya added.
Prashant Kishor was immediate to react. "I am happy that the people of BJP are taking my clubHouse chat more seriously than the statements of their leaders. I appeal to them to release the entire conversation except for some part of the chat. In the part that has been released, the question was being answered about how BJP is getting 40 per cent votes and how it has been thinking that the BJP is winning. He also said through social media that the BJP will not be able to cross the 100 mark in Bengal elections" Kishore tweeted.
Amid the surge in the number of Covid-19 cases in the country, Congress interim President Sonia Gandhi on Saturday hit out at the centre and said it has "mismanaged the situation", exported vaccine and allowed a shortage to be created in India.
She also stressed on transparency in the Congress and opposition ruled states to reveal the actual numbers of infections and deaths and focus on India's vaccination drive.
Her remarks came during a meeting of Congress ruled states and party's ministers from alliance states to review the efforts to fight Covid-19 including availability of vaccines, access to medicines and ventilators. Former party chief Rahul Gandhi also attended the meet.
Sonia Gandhi said, "Covid is surging and as the principal opposition party, it is our responsibility to raise issues and push the government to move away from PR tactics and act in the interest of the people."
India on Saturday recorded over 1.45 lakh fresh Covid cases and 794 deaths in the last 24 hours. Several states have red flagged the government over the shortage of the Covid-19 vaccines.
"Therefore, there must be transparency - governments must reveal the actual numbers of infections and deaths across states, whether Congress ruled or otherwise," she said.
Highlighting the lack of Covid vaccines in several states, the Congress leader said, "We must focus on India's vaccination drive first and foremost. Then only export vaccines and gift them to other countries. We must stress on responsible behaviour - adhering to all laws and Covid regulations without exception."
She also emphasised on the cooperation with states respecting federalism and in turn, "for us to be constructive and cooperate with the government in its efforts to fight the pandemic is equally important". We are all united in this fight, she said.
"The Modi government has mismanaged the situation - exported vaccine and allowed a shortage to be created in India," Sonia said.
Pointing out at the mass gatherings during the assembly polls in states of Kerala, Assam, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal and Union Territory of Puducherry, Sonia Gandhi said, "Mass gatherings for elections and religious events have accelerated Covid for which all of us are responsible to some extent. We need to accept this responsibility and keep the interest of the nation above our own."
She directed the Congress ruled states' chief ministers to take strict measures to ensure that the pandemic doesn't go out of control and ensure testing at large scale, preparation of adequate facilities, setting up temporary ones.
"We must make all efforts to support those who face the brunt of reduced economic activity as the restrictions become harder and more stringent," she said.
She also asked the state governments if there is enough vaccine available, has the central government been cooperative, what are our states doing to ensure availability of the oxygen, ventilators and other facilities as the pandemic grows, what are your view of lockdown, what about the economic fallout, how bad is the situation in your states, should not public gatherings including election rallies be cancelled?
She also asked the Congress ruled and Congress alliance ruled states about the various packages that had been announced by the central government to help MSMEs and stimulate the economy.
She said, "What impact have these packages had and what more should the government be doing to deal with the continuing crisis? Do you see economic recovery happening in the manner that is being officially claimed?"
Discussing the farmers protest, which have been going on since November last year, Sonia Gandhi said, "As per our discussion on Covid, I would like to be briefed on the latest situation regarding the agitation of farmers that has been going on now for well over five months."
She said that the Congress-ruled states have passed their own laws but these have not received Presidential assent.
"What more should we do even though the keys to the solution lies with the Centre which has created the problem in the first place," she added.
On Friday, Rahul Gandhi had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking him to place an immediate moratorium on the export of vaccines, fast track approval of other vaccines and open up vaccination to everyone who needs it.
Violence erupted in the fourth phase of elections in Bengal in which five people were killed in two separate incidents. Four persons were killed when central forces opened fire on an unruly mob in Sitalkuchi assembly constituency in Mathabhanga block in Cooch Behar district on Saturday. In another incident in the same constituency a first-time voter was killed, taking the total number of deaths to five.
Sources in the Election Commission said that a preliminary report that reached the special police observer Vivek Dubey suggests that the central forces had to open fire in self-defence.
According to the report, there was tension at booth no 126 at Amtali in Jor Patki village in Sitalkuchi since the morning and as there were more than 400 people in front of the booth, the central forces tried to disperse the mob. When they were trying to move the mob away from the booth more people started rushing in and tried to snatch the firearms from the security forces. This prompted the force to open fire in which four people were killed.
The Election Commission asked for a detailed report from CEO Ariz Aftab. Deputy election commissioner in-charge of West Bengal Sudip Jain asked the CEO to send a detailed report including video footage of the incident. Jain also wanted to know what led the force to open fire on the people. The poll body assured of an impartial inquiry into the incident.
In another incident a first-time voter Ananda Baraman (18), son of Jagadish Barman of Pathantuli, Golenawhati GP, Sitalkuchi, Cooch Behar died when he was shot from a firearm by unknown miscreants after he cast his vote and came out from the polling booth. He was brought to the local health center (BPHC) at Sitalkuchi where he was declared dead. His mother was also injured in the incident, the police said.
"Police reached there and detained two suspects for their involvement in the said incident. Raid is going on at the probable hideouts of the suspected accused persons whose names have surfaced at the local level during preliminary inquiry. Additional S.P, Mathabhanga and OC Sitalkuchi P.S also visited the P.O and supervised the incident. Additional S.P, Mathabhanga is camping there," a senior police officer said.
Congress interim President Sonia Gandhi will on Saturday conduct a virtual meeting with senior party leaders over the worsening Covid-19 situation in the country.
The meeting at 10.30 a.m. will be joined by former Congress President Rahul Gandhi and party Chief Ministers.
On Friday, Rahul Gandhi wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying that the Indian scientific community had worked overtime to develop a solution, but their efforts have been undermined by the Centre's poor implementation and "oversight".
He also demanded that the government should place an immediate moratorium on vaccine export and open up inoculation to everyone who needs it.
"I write to you with great concern since we are once again at the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic. Over the last year, our country suffered irreparable losses, made tremendous sacrifices, and yet, we are under a renewed attack by this virus," he added in the letter.
As the National Investigation Agency (NIA) probes deep into the extortion racket, fresh evidence is pouring in on the close affiliation between suspended cop Sachin Vaze and his mentor, Pradeep Sharma, also known as the 'encounter king' of the Mumbai Police.
A prominent leader and Bharatiya Janata Party MLA told IANS that Sharma had reportedly approached the BJP government to reinstate his protege Vaze in 2016.
The BJP MLA, requesting anonymity, said: "The meeting took place at Hotel Leela Kempinski located near the Mumbai airport. Sharma, a well known personality of the Mumbai Crime Branch known for executing innumerable police encounters, had personally come to the hotel for the said meeting. He requested a BJP leader to reinstate his protege and former subordinate Vaze in the police department. But the BJP government had outrightly rejected the request.
"After Sharma's efforts turned futile, the Shiv Sena's top leadership approached the BJP for reinstating Vaze in the police department. This request was too rejected on the grounds that he was involved in court cases of serious nature."
Meanwhile NIA sleuths are gathering more evidence against Sharma who allegedly provided logistic support to Vaze in planting the explosive-laden SUV near Antilia, the multi-storey residence of top industrialist Mukesh Ambani in South Mumbai.
During his questioning, Vaze has indicated that he procured gelatin sticks, used as explosives in this case, through Sharma's contact, a revelation which obviously requires documentary evidence to be proved in court.
Commenting on Sharma's close relations with Vaze, BJP spokesperson Ram Kadam said: "I do not wish to comment on the criminal nexus of these police officers... But I can at least confirm that Sharma was Vaze's mentor, a fact known to everyone in the police."
Sharma, who resigned from his high profile police job to contest the Assembly polls on a Shiv Sena ticket in 2019, runs an NGO, PS Foundation, which has blessings of several police officers including Vaze.
He has been a frequent visitor to Vaze's Crime Branch office, housed in the sprawling Mumbai Police headquarters building.
"What makes Sharma a prima facie suspect in the case, is not just his affiliation with Vaze, but his few crucial meetings with the accused, which were held after the execution of crime. These meetings indicate that Sharma was trying to help Vaze, who was caught on camera, while planting a threat letter in the explosive laden vehicle," said an officer of the Mumbai Police associated with the probe of Mansukh Hiran murder case.
Sources said that Vaze's erstwhile boss in the Crime Branch, Sharma, had met his former subordinate at the Mumbai Police headquarters in the first week of March.
Besides meeting Vaze, Sharma had also seen Vinayak Shinde, an accused along with Vaze in murder of Hiran, whose SUV was used in planting explosives.
Shinde, a tainted constable had earlier worked with Sharma and was reportedly introduced to Vaze through the encounter specialist.
Sources said that another important meeting between Vaze and Sharma was held outside the Crime Branch office, probably somewhere in western suburbs of Mumbai.
After a series of such meetings, Vaze was subsequently not seen in his office for days, and was finally arrested by the NIA on the night of March 13.
It is perceived that Sharma and Vaze were close since their early days in the police department. Later the encounter duo came close to the Shiv Sena leadership.
It was initially Vaze who joined Shiv Sena in 2007 and was appointed as party spokesperson. In late 2019, when the Shiv Sena came to power in Maharashtra, Vaze, who was placed under suspension for years, got reinstated in service by the state government in 2020.
Close on the heels of Vaze, Sharma too resigned from police service and joined Shiv Sena in 2019. He was given a ticket by the party to contest from the Nallasopara seat but lost the polls.
However Sharma's relations with Vaze and Shiv Sena grew more stronger. No wonder, Sharma was spotted in all important functions of Shiv Sena leaders held in Mumbai.
Both Sharma and Vaze had gunned down dozens of sharpshooters of the Dawood Ibrahim gang. While Vaze claimed to have killed 63 gangsters in police encounters, Sharma reportedly eliminated over 300 criminals in his 35-year-old police career.
Sharma who has a large following in police, is also known as "Encounter King" by his team members for killing the highest numbers of wanted gangsters. Scripts of several Bollywood films, including "Ab tak Chappan", "Satya", "Company" and many more were inspired by Sharma's action against the dreaded Mumbai underworld dons.
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat has tested Covid-19 positive and is undergoing treatment in a private hospital here.
According to an RSS functionary, he was suffering from some minor cough and cold issues and underwent an RT-PCR test.
After the report came Covid-19 positive, he was admitted to the Kingsway Hospital on Friday.
Incidentally, the 70-year-old Bhagwat - who had taken his first dose of Covid-19 vaccine on March 7 - is responding well to the treatment and his condition is described as stable.
Currently, Nagpur - the state's second capital is amongst the worst-hit Corona hotspots in the state besides Mumbai and Pune in the ongoing ferocious second wave of the pandemic.
India has reported 1,45,384 new Covid-19 cases and 794 deaths in the last 24 hours, the Health Ministry said on Saturday.
India is now the fourth-worst Covid-hit country worldwide after the number of active cases rose to 10,46,631. The death toll stood at 1,68,436 the Health Ministry said.
A total of 77,567 patients recovered in the last 24 hours, taking the number of recoveries to 1,19,90,859 with a recovery rate of 90.80 per cent.
The Health Ministry said that a total of 11,73,219 samples were tested in the last 24 hours. So far, 25,52,14,803 samples have been tested.
A total of 34,15,055 people were vaccinated in the last 24 hours taking the total vaccination count to 9,80,75,160.
Brisk polling is being recorded in the fourth phase of elections for 44 assembly constituencies when 1,15,94,950 electorates spread across five districts namely South 24 Parganas, Hooghly, Howrah, Alipurduar and Coochbehar are exercising their franchise on Tuesday morning.
According to Election Commission data, around 15.85 per cent polling has been recorded in the first two hours, a shade better than the first three phases held on March 27, April 1 and April 6. Alipurduar, where five constituencies are going for the polls recorded the highest percentage of 17.97 per cent followed by Howrah where 17.48 per cent of polling was recorded in the 9 assembly constituencies.
Hooghly, where 10 seats are up for grab, has witnessed a polling percentage of 17.04 per cent. Five assembly constituencies in Coochbehar have recorded 15.39 per cent in the first two hours of polling. The 11 constituencies of South 24 Parganas have recorded the lowest polling percentage with with 13.26 per cent votes cast till 9 a.m.
However, a long queue of voters is seen at most of the polling stations in Bengal.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Friday continued the questioning of arrested Mumbai Police officer Sachin Vaze for the second consecutive day in connection with the preliminary enquiry it registered for a probe into allegations of corruption against former state Home Minister Anil Deshmukh.
A CBI source related to the probe told IANS: "The agency sleuths are recording the statement of Vaze, who is presently in NIA custody."
The CBI team arrived at the NIA office, where Vaze was kept.
He was questioned by CBI on Thursday for several hours. Besides Vaze, the CBI also recorded the statement of former city Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh, who dropped a letter bomb on March 20, accusing Deshmukh of asking Vaze and other Mumbai Police personnel to extort Rs 100 crore monthly from bars, hotels and restaurants.
Besides the two, the agency also recorded the statement of ACP Sanjay Patil and petitioner Jayshri Patil and Raju Bhujbal in connection with its Preliminary Enquiry (PE).
The names of Sanjay Patil and Bhujbal were taken by Singh in his letter to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.
The CBI had registered a PE on Tuesday night. Two teams of CBI-led by SP level officers have arrived in Mumbai on Tuesday and Wednesday to probe the matter.
The Bombay High Court directed the CBI to conduct a preliminary probe against Deshmukh on Monday. Soon after the ruling, Deshmukh stepped down from his post.
The Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed the pleas of the state government and Deshmukh challenging the High Court order.
The NIA arrested Vaze on March 13 after taking over the case of the explosive laden SUV found outside Reliance Industries chief Mukesh Ambani's residence. Vaze is also being probed in the mysterious death of businessman Mansukh Hiran.
Five terrorists have been killed in an ongoing encounter between the terrorists and security forces in South Kashmir's Shopian district, police said on Friday.
The gunfight started on Thursday after a joint team of the police and the Army cordoned off the area and launched a search operation on the basis of a specific information about the presence of terrorists.
As the security forces zeroed in on the spot where the terrorists were hiding they came under a heavy volume of fire that triggered the encounter.
Three terrorists were killed on Thursday evening.
After a lull in the night, the gunfight resumed on Friday morning in which two more terrorists were gunned down.
A search operation by the security forces is underway in the area.
The Election Commission (EC) has again issued a show cause notice to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, seeking a written explanation for her "attempt to berate and vilify the central forces by making false, provocative and intemperate statements".
This is the second EC notice to the Trinamool Congress supremo in a week. Banerjee was issued another notice earlier on Wednesday in which the EC directed her to submit a written clarification explaining her open demand for votes on communal grounds for her party in the ongoing Assembly elections in the state
The new EC notice, issued on Thursday night, has asked the chief minister to submit her written explanation to the commission before 11 a.m. on April 10 failing which the "commission shall take a decision without further reference to you".
In a two-page notice sent to the chief minister the commission mentioned that a report by the CEO of West Bengal with an authenticated transcript of the chief minister's speech made on march 28, said: "Who gave so much power to them that the central police are threatening the women without allowing them to cast their votes. I saw the same thing in 2019. I saw the same thing in 2016".
In another portion she said: "I know under whose instruction they beat up and how they beat up, It is your duty to save the family of the people. If any of your mothers and sisters suffer a single stroke with a stick attack them... I am telling you. It is the right of the women. And if anyone of our mothers and sisters is denied entry in the voting compartment all of you come out and revolt."
The commission also refers to a speech made by her at Cooch Behar on April 7 where she said, "And if CAPF create disturbances, I will tell you, ladies and group of you go and restrain (gherao) them which another group will go to cast their votes. If you engage yourself only in restraining them then they will be happy that you didn't cast your vote. It is their plan. It is the plan of BJP. And your plan will be that you will not be scared if they try to intimidate you coming to your village on the one hand, and on the other you just talk to them. Talking to them will tantamount to restrain them."
The commission in its notice mentioned that "going by the statements, and the historicity of the subsequent statements, it is more than obvious that Banerjee has been consisting in berating and demoralising the Central Para Military Forces who often played a significant role in assisting the concerned state government. Banerjee has been trying to make an emotional pitch for women voters to go to the extent of inciting them to attack the personnel of CPFs".
Election Commission is prima facie convinced that your statements are in violation of Model Code of Conduct as well as sections of 186, 189 and 505 of Indian Penal Code 1860, the notice said.