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Kejriwal’s Woes Increase, Dalit Minister Raaj Kumar Anand Resigns From Party

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Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national convenor Arvind Kejriwal’s woes appear to be piling on. A day after he failed to get relief from the Delhi High Court in the alleged liquor policy scam case in which had been arrested by the Enforcement Directorate and subsequently sent to judicial custody, a dalit minister in his cabinet, who is himself under investigation by the ED in an unrelated money laundering case, on Wednesday announced his resignation from the primary membership of the party.

Addressing a press conference at his residence after tendering his resignation to party general secretary Sandeep Pathak, the MLA representing Patel Nagar constituency, said, “I had entered politics when Kejriwal had said that if its politics changes, the country will change. But today, I say with much regret, that politics did not change but political leaders did. The AAP was born out of a movement against corruption, but today this party is mired in the same quicksand of graft.”

On being confronted on the timing of his resignation, he maintained that he is not contemplating joining any other party.

Raaj Kumar Anand, who held the portfolio of social welfare besides many others, further accused the party of not giving due respect to Dalits and backward communities. “They (AAP) put Babasaheb (Ambedkar)’s picture in each press conference, each government office but forget when it comes to following his ideals. Reservation is mandated by law but when it comes to actual representation, not even a single one of our 13 MPs (all Rajya Sabha members) is a Dalit or someone from the backward communities,” Anand said.

A post-graduate in political science, Raaj Kumar Anand was a member of the AAP’s national council and has been with Kejriwal’s movement since 2011.

According to Indian Express, Anand is under investigation by the Enforcement Directorate and DRI in an alleged money laundering case relating to unaccounted business investments in hawala payments sent to China in 2023.

In November last year, after conducting searches at 13 places, including Anand’s premises, the ED alleged that evidence relating to unaccounted business investments and hawala payments sent to China in 2023 was recovered from some of his key employees. This, according to the agency, was apart from Rs 74 lakh in cash along with various incriminating documents/digital records that were also recovered.

Reacting swiftly to Anand’s resignation, AAP leaders Sanjay Singh and Saurabh Bharadwaj said this is another proof of how the BJP is misusing the agencies in an effort to break-up the party and topple its state governments in Delhi and Punjab.

After Years Of Wait, Sanjay Tandon Finally Gets BJP’s Nod To Contest Chandigarh LS Seat

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He had been patiently waiting in the wings for over a decade to get a shot at the Lok Sabha elections from Chandigarh as the BJP candidate. The wait is finally over for former Chandigarh BJP president for nearly a decade Sanjay Tandon as he has received the national party leadership’s nod to contest the Chandigarh Lok Sabha seat in the polls slated for June 1, 2024.

His name found a place in the list of nine party candidates from Chandigarh, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal released on Wednesday.

He is the first candidate from a prominent political party to be named for the Chandigarh seat and will be up against a Congress candidate supported by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as per a pact between the two parties. Sanjay Tandon replaces two time party MP Kirron Kher (2014-2024), who has been under treatment for cancer these past few years and was increasingly becoming unpopular because of her long absence from Chandigarh.

Son of former Punjab BJP stalwart and founding member of the Jan Sangh (late) Balramji Dass Tandon, who remained a deputy CM/minister in successive SAD-Jan Sangh/BJP coalition governments, six time MLA and governor of Chhattisgarh, the 60 years old Sanjay Tandon,  besides being a seasoned politician is a chartered accountant and cost accountant by profession. He is also member of the National Council of the BJP and co-incharge of party affairs in Himachal Pradesh.

Tandon became active in Chandigarh BJP in 1995 when he was made member of its executive committee. In 2007, he took over as the General Secretary of BJP Chandigarh. He was made incharge of the Chandigarh Lok Sabha elections during 2009 when Satya Pal Jain contested as the party candidate. Thereafter, he was elected Chandigarh BJP president in 2010 and re-elected in 2013, a post he held till 2019.

Over a span of over three decades Sanjay Tandon has built the Competent Group which is into several verticals like accounting, auditing, consulting, stock broking, commodity broking, software products, and co-working spaces. His family is known to conduct various social service activities through two NGOs Competent Foundation and Balramji Dass Tandon Charitable Foundation.

Sanjay Tandon is also deeply into cricket administration and is currently the president of the UT Cricket Association, Chandigarh, which is an associate member of the national cricket body, the BCCI.

At various times, he has also remained director of State Bank of Hyderabad, National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) and Gail India Limited.

He is married to Priya, daughter of former Chief Justice of India (late) Justice MM Punchhi, and they have three sons.

Cong Steps Back, Paving Way For MVA Seat Sharing Pact In Maha

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MVA leaders at the press conference in Mumbai on 09.04.2024 to announce their seat-sharing pact for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections

 

The eagerly awaited seat sharing deal for the 2024 general elections between the constituents of the opposition Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance in Maharashtra, which sends the second highest (48) members to the Lower House of Parliament, Lok Sabha, after Uttar Pradesh, was announced in a joint press conference in Mumbai by NCP (SP) chief Sharad Pawar, Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Uddhav Thackeray and state Congress president Nana Patole on Tuesday after weeks of tough negotiations. The announcement incidentally was made on the day of ‘Gudi Padwa’, which marks the beginning of Marathi new year.

As per the deal, struck after the Congress stepped back and conceded the contentious Sangli and Mumbai South Central seats to the Sena (UBT) and Bhiwandi seat to the NCP (SP), the highest number of Lok Sabha seats from the state 21 will be contested by Shiv Sena (UBT), followed by the Congress (17) with the NCP (SP) contesting 10 seats.

Without waiting for the seat sharing pact to be struck, the Shiv Sena (UBT) had unilaterally declared candidates for Sangli and Mumbai South Central seats, and the NCP (SP) its nominee for Bhiwandi, from where the Congress had been hopeful of giving a good performance. The Congress eventually gave in after the other two alliance partners refused to budge.

Addressing the media at ‘Shivalaya’, the Shiv Sena (UBT) office in south Mumbai, party head and former state chief minister Uddhav Thackeray said in an alliance, winning is important and defeating the BJP is the goal.

“When victory against the BJP is the larger goal, we have to set aside certain differences,” he said when asked about the Shiv Sena (UBT) refusing to give Sangli seat to the Congress.

Maharashtra Congress president Nana Patole claimed that his party has decided to be “large-hearted” to achieve the final goal of defeating PM Modi and the BJP. The Congress workers will fight the BJP and ensure victory of the MVA candidates in Sangli, Mumbai South Central and Bhiwandi, he said. While acknowledging that there will be some heartburn among the party workers over this decision, he shared that “We have resolved all the issues and our workers should also accept the decision.”

As part of the deal, apart from Sangli, the Shiv Sena (UBT) is dominating the Mumbai landscape contesting on Mumbai South, Mumbai South Central, Mumbai North West and Mumbai North East seats.

Besides other seats, the Congress has got Mumbai North Central and Mumbai North seats.

The NCP (SP) will contest Bhiwandi, Satara, Ahmednagar South and Beed seats, among others.

Lok Sabha elections 2024 in Maharashtra will be held in five phases on April 19, April 26, May 7, May 13, and May 20.

In the 2019 elections, the BJP emerged as the largest party with 23 seats, followed by the Shiv Sena (undivided) with 18 seats.

Hindustan Times has reported that the Congress has been given seven of the 10 Lok Sabha seats in the Vidarbha region, three seats each in Marathwada and Western Maharashtra, and two seats each in North Maharashtra and Mumbai Metropolitan Region (both the seats are in Mumbai).

It is for the first time that Congress will contest only two of the six Lok Sabha seats in Mumbai where it was founded in 1885. They are Mumbai North and Mumbai North Central constituencies.

The Congress hasn’t been allocated a single seat in the Konkan region.

The NCP (SP), on the other hand, has been given five Lok Sabha seats from Western Maharashtra, two from North Maharashtra and one each from Vidarbha, Marathwada and Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR).

The three parties have not left any seats for their smaller allies in the MVA.

Thackeray shared that the MVA wanted Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) chief Prakash Ambedkar to be part of the alliance but unfortunately he chose a different path.

 

 

 

AAP Names 2 More Candidates From Punjab for LS Elections 2024

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Raj Kumar Chhabewal
Import from Congress Dr Raj Kumar Chhabewal from Hoshiarpur (SC) and Malvinder Singh Kang from Anandpur Sahib

The ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has announced its second list of two more candidates from Punjab for the June 1 Lok Sabha polls in the state, fielding former deputy legislative party leader of the Congress in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha Dr Raj Kumar Chhabewal, who recently quit the grand old party and joined AAP, from Hoshiarpur (SC) constituency, and party’s state chief spokesman Malvinder Singh Kang from Anandpur Sahib.

With this the party now has candidates in places to nine of the 13 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state. In its first list for Punjab, the party had named eight candidates, including five ministers in the Bhagwant Singh Mann led Punjab government, but the repeat nominee from Jalandhar (SC) Sushil Kumar ‘Rinku’ had ditched  the party to join the BJP. He is now the saffron party’s pick from the same seat.

The party is left to find a replacement for him for Jalandhar (SC), as well as finalise candidates for the remaining three constituencies – Gurdaspur, Ludhiana and Ferozepur.

Dr Raj Kumar Chhabewal, a medical practitioner and two time Congress MLA from Chhabewal (SC) assembly constituency (2017-2024) had also contested the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from Hoshiarpur (SC) as a Congress candidate but lost to current Union minister of state Som Parkash of the BJP by over 48,500 votes.

Malvinder Singh Kang

For Malvinder Singh Kang, a former president of the Panjab University Chandigarh’s Students Council (2002-2004), this will be his first major elections outside of students’ politics. He had recently taken over as party incharge for the same constituency from which he will now be contesting as the party candidate.

BJP has also released its first list of six party candidates from Punjab.

The two other principal political parties, the Indian National Congress (INC) and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which have by turns ruled the state before AAP turned the tables on them with a massive-massive win in 2022, are apparently unsure of their ground in an atmosphere charged with intense speculations over leaders switching sides.

AAP leader Sanjay Singh Bailed Out, After Kejriwal Jailed In Liquor Policy Case

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File photo of Sanjay Singh being escorted to the court by ED
ED chooses not to oppose bail application after Apex court bench expresses inclination to accept bail application under Section 45 of PMLA

The embattled Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) received a first respite in the infamous Delhi liquor policy (now scrapped) case when the Supreme Court on 02.04.2024 granted bail to senior party leader and Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Singh.

The bail was granted after the Enforcement Directorate (ED) chose not to oppose the bail application following the bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna, Dipankar Datta, and Prasanna B Varale indicating that it was inclined to accept the bail application under Section 45 of Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and that the agency should consider the repercussions of the court’s observations on the trail in such eventuality.

Sanjay Singh’s bail comes days after the ED arrested Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal in the case. Before him, Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) leader K Kavitha was arrested in the case. Former Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia and AAP communications in-charge Vijay Nair are the other leaders who have been arrested by ED. All of them are currently in judicial custody in Tihar jail.

The news website barandbench.com, quoted Justice Dipankar Datta in the forenoon session as telling Additional Solicitor General of India SV Raju: “Mr. Raju, please keep in mind we have to, as per Section 45, observe in favor of the petitioner, please understand the implications of that during the trial. So get instructions on whether you need further custody.”

When the bench reassembled in the afternoon, Raju placed on record that through the ED has an “arguable case”, without going into merits, it has no objection in case the appellant Sanjay Singh is released on bail during pendency of the proceedings in the case. Following this the bench passed the order that Sanjay Singh be released on bail on terms and conditions to be fixed by the trial court, clarifying that nothing was being expressed on merits of the case.

According to another news website livelaw.com, the order was passed by the bench, while orally commenting that Sanjay Singh would be entitled to indulge in political activities during the period of bail, but he is not supposed to make any public statement regarding the case.

The court dismissed a second petition filed by Sanjay Singh, challenging his arrest and remand, as infructuous, the website added.

Sanjay Singh, arrested by ED in October 2023, had been in judicial custody for the last six months.

Section 45 of PMLA

Section 45 of the PMLA lays down the conditions for granting bail and states that no accused person shall be granted bail unless “the Court is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for believing that he is not guilty of such offense and that he is not likely to commit any offense while on bail.”

The case

The case against Sanjay Singh and other AAP leaders is rooted in a 2022 complaint filed by Delhi’s Lieutenant Govrenor VK Saxena alleging irregularities in the framing of the Delhi Excise Policy for 2021-22.

The complaint alleged that a criminal conspiracy had been hatched by leaders of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAM), including former Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia and other unidentified and unnamed private persons/ entities at the stage of the excise policy’s formulation.

The conspiracy, it was alleged, involved loopholes “intentionally” left or created in the policy. These loopholes were allegedly meant to benefit certain liquor manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers after the tender process.

Here are a few more links to browse through more details of the case:

https://www.barandbench.com/news/supreme-court-grants-bail-aaps-sanjay-singh-ed-no-objection

https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/supreme-court-grants-bail-to-aap-mp-sanjay-singh-in-pmla-case-after-eds-concession-254013

https://www.livemint.com/news/india/sanjay-singh-bail-delhi-liquor-policy-case-pmla-ed-supreme-court-arvind-kejriwal-manish-sisodia-sv-raju-11712056334533.html

Ex-Diplomat Taranjit Sandhu Among BJP’s First List of 6 For Punjab

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Taranjit Singh Sandhu named BJP candidate from Amritsar for the June 1 Lok Sabha polls in Punjab

 

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has played second fiddle to its senior electoral alliance partner Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in Punjab for decades, in its first independent foray appears to have put its best foot forward by announcing seemingly strong candidates to six of the 13 Lok Sabha seats in the border state which goes to the polls in the seventh and last round on June 1, 2024.

Expectedly, the party has fielded career diplomat and former Indian Ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu, who recently joined the party after his retirement, from Amritsar, where he has very strong family roots, including in Sikh politics and in the educational sphere.

The saffron party has replaced ‘perpetual absentee’ actor Sunny Deol from Gurdaspur with former Deputy Speaker of the Vidhan Sabha and three-time BJP MLA from Sujanpur, Dinesh Singh ‘Babbu’, in Gurdaspur and shifted renowned Punjabi folk and Sufi singer Hans  Raj Hans from North West Delhi to Faridkot (SC).

The other three are all sitting MPs and recent entrants into the party fold from other parties – Preneet Kaur (ex-Congress), former Union minister of State and four-time MP, from Patiala; three time MP Ravneet Singh ‘Bittu’ (ex-Congress) from Ludhiana; and Sushil Kumar ‘Rinku’ (ex-Aam Aadmi Party) from Jalandhar (SC).

These six were named in the 8th list of 11 candidates from Punjab, Odisha and West Bengal announced by the BJP for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

The ruling AAP is the only other party in the state to have announced candidates so far. They have fielded five existing members of the Bhagwant Mann council of ministers among the candidates named for eight of the 13 constituencies. Among the ministers, Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal will contest from Amritsar, Laljit Singh Bhullar from Khadoor Sahib, Gurmeet Singh Khudian from Bathinda, Gurmeet Singh ‘Meet Hayer’ from Sangrur and Dr Balbir Singh from Patiala.

A former Congress MLA Gurpreet Singh ‘GP’ was named the party candidate from Fatehgarh Sahib (SC) a day after he joined AAP. Popular Punjabi singer, comedian and actor Karamjeet Anmol, understood to be a close friend of Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, once himself a well known comedian, was inducted into the party and given the party ticket to contest from Faridkot (SC).

Sitting party MP from Jalandhar Sushil Kumar ‘Rinku’ was given the party ticket again from the same constituency, but he embarrassed the party by scooting to the BJP.

The SAD and the Congress are yet to name their candidates as they play the wait and watch game in a very fluid scenario of party-hopping.

Taranjit Singh Sandhu from Amritsar

61-year-old Taranjit Singh Sandhu, who recently retired from the India foreign service after putting in 35 years (his last posting being Indian Ambassador to the US), comes from an illustrious family of Amritsar. His grandfather, Teja Singh Samundari, who left the British Army to lead ‘morchas’ for the liberation of gurdwaras (Gurdwara Reform Movement), has a building in the Golden Temple complex dedicated to his memory, the Teja Singh Samundari Hall.

His father Bishan Singh Samundari remained principal of the famous Khalsa College, Amritsar, and was the first Vice Chancellor of Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU) Amritsar. His mother Jagjit Kaur did a doctorate from the US and on returning to India become principal at Government College for Women, Amritsar.

Taranjit Singh Sandhu studied at The Lawrence School, Sanawar and graduated with History Honours from St. Stephens’ College, Delhi. He pursued a Master’s Degree in International Relations at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He is married to another career diplomat Reenat Sandhu, who is currently India’s Ambassador to the Kingdom of the Netherlands. They have two children.

Dinesh Singh ‘Babbu’ from Gurdaspur

A former Deputy Speaker of the Punjab Legislative Assembly, ex-Chief Parliamentary Secretary and three-time MLA from Sujanpur constituency (2007-2022), Dinesh Singh ‘Babbu’ belongs to Manwal village, Pathankot and comes from a Suriyavanshi Rajput Barswal/Barsal family. In the last assembly elections in 2022, he lost to Naresh Puri of the Indian National Congress (INC).

Hans Raj Hans from Faridkot (SC)

Born in Shafipur village, near Jalandhar, renowned Punjabi folk and Sufi singer, Hans Raj Hans (Padma Shri), has been moved from North West Delhi seat, which he won as a BJP candidate in 2019, to Faridkot (SC).

An interesting contest is on the cards here since the ruling party in Punjab, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has already fielded another popular Punjab singer, comedian and actor Karamjeet Anmol, though much junior to Hans. Anmol’s maternal uncle Kuldeep Manak is also a highly respected Punjabi folk singer.

Hans Raj Hans, who started his innings in politics after joining the SAD, later moved to the Congress before crossing over to the BJP, as whose candidate he won the North West Delhi Parliamentary seat in his first attempt.

Faridkot is home to the famous Tilla Baba Farid, believed to be the resting place of the revered Sufi saint Baba Farid during his visit to the area nine centuries ago. The popular Baba Farid Mela is organised there in the memory of the great Sufi saint in which Hans has been a regular participant and visitor.

Preneet Kaur from Patiala

Preneet Kaur, wife of two-time chief minister of Punjab as also state Congress president Capt Amarinder Singh, remained Union minister of state in the Manmohan Singh council of ministers during his second term as Prime Minister. Besides being the sitting MP from Patiala, she has represented the constituency thrice before in 1999, 2004 and 2009 as a Congress candidate. After losing the elections in 2014, she made a comeback in 2019.

She was suspended by the Congress in 2023 for supporting her husband who quit the Congress after being removed as chief minister and formed his own party which eventually merged into the BJP. She recently quit the Congress and joined the BJP.

Ravneet Singh Bittu from Ludhiana

Grandson of assassinated Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh during terrorism in Punjab, Ravneet Singh ‘Bittu’, besides being the sitting MP from Ludhiana, has been MP twice earlier – first from Anandpur Sahib and then Ludhiana. He too recently quit the Congress and joined the BJP.

Sushil Kumar Rinku from Jalandhar

A former Congress MLA from Jalandhar West, Sushil Kumar ‘Rinku’ was lured into the AAP fold and fielded as the party candidate in the by polls to the Jalandhar (SC) Lok Sabha seat, necessitated by the death of Congress MP Santosh Singh Chaudhary, which he won by a margin of 58,000+ votes in 2023. Despite getting a repeat party ticket from the same constituency, ‘Rinku’ preferred to shift his allegiance to the BJP within a year of joining AAP, and was promptly adopted as the party candidate from Jalandhar (SC).

 

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It’s A Baby Girl! Proud Father, Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann!

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Picture of the baby girl shared by Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann on his X handle on Thursday.

Trust the baby girl was delivered in a spruced up Govt hospital!

Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann and his wife Dr Gurpreet Kaur have been blessed with a baby girl. The chief minister took to his X handle on Thursday to share the news in Punjabi. The message, when translated, reads: “God has given the gift of a daughter… Both the mother and the child are healthy.”

Bhagwant Mann had married Gurpreet Kaur from Pehowa in Haryana, an MBBS doctor by profession, within months of being chosen to head the Aam Aadmi Party’s government in Punjab following a landslide victory for the party in the 2022 assembly elections.

This is Bhagwant Mann’s second marriage. He and his first wife Inderjeeet Kaur were divorced in 2015. They have two children, daughter Seerat Kaur (22) and Dilshan (19). Inderjeet Kaur is currently based in US.

Trust that the baby girl was delivered in a government hospital in Punjab! going by the claims that all government hospitals have been spruced up by upgrading their infrastructure and providing the latest facilities.

Lone AAP MP Rinku & MLA Angural Switch To BJP In Punjab

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Lone AAP MP Sushil Kumar Rinku from Jalandhar (extreme right) and party MLA from Jalandhar West Sheetal Angural (holding bouquet) being admitted to the BJP in New Delhi on 27.03.2024

The victor & vanquished in the 2022 assembly polls become buddies in joining BJP

Within hours of announcing to go it alone in the Lok Sabha elections in Punjab, after prolonged negotiations on striking a poll alliance with old senior partner in the state Shiromani Akali Dal failed, BJP has begun to show its cards, striking the ruling AAP in the state with a thunderbolt within 24 hours of giving a jolt to the Congress.

After weeks of rumours floating around, AAP’s only Lok Sabha member Sushil Kumar Rinku, its repeat pick for Jalandhar constituency for the 2024 elections, along with Sheetal Angural, the party’s MLA from Jalandhar West, formally joined the BJP in New Delhi on Wednesday. Both had been denying the rumours, claiming that they will stick with the AAP.

Coming a day after three-time Congress MP Ravneet Singh Bittu, representing Ludhiana Lok Sabha constituency for the past two terms from 2014, switched to the BJP, these sensational developments have given credence to the widespread expectations that more crossovers to the BJP can be expected ahead of the polls in the state slated in the last phase on June 1.

Interestingly, the grassroots level politician, Rinku who had first entered the Vidhan Sabha winning on the Congress ticket from Jalandhar West in 2017, was beaten in the next election of 2022 by then AAP candidate Angural from the same seat by over 4,000 votes during the AAP wave which saw the party win a mammoth 92 seats in the 117 member state assembly.

Subsequently, he was drafted into the AAP ahead of the 2023 by-elections to the Jalandhar Lok Sabha seat, necessitated by the death of then MP Santosh Singh Chaudhary of the Congress. He was given the AAP ticket and won by a comfortable 58,000+ votes, becoming the only party Lok Sabha member at the time. He remained in the party less than a year before switching loyalties again in favour of the BJP.

Rinku blamed the AAP government for not giving him enough support for fulfillment of the developmental promises made to the people of the Jalandhar Lok Sabha constituency, pointing to the bad state of roads and other civic amenities both in the urban and rural areas.

On the other hand he acknowledged the support extended to him by the central government in terms of expediting work to complete the Adampur civil airport and providing a Vande Bharat Express stopover to Jalandhar among other developmental initiatives, which he wants to carry forward.

An apparently embarrassed AAP, which had again announced the party ticket for Rinku from Jalandhar for the upcoming elections, termed him as a turncoat who will not be pardoned by the people of the state.

State BJP chief Sunil Jakhar, who was present at the joining ceremony where party national general secretary Vinod Tawde formally welcomed Rinku and Angural in the party fold, hit out at both his ex-party Congress and AAP in Punjab, claiming that both were two sides of the same coin – rudderless and lacking creditable leadership. For AAP, he said, it is a shame that it could not retain its only Lok Sabha member.

Ravneet Singh Bittu Latest Cong Leader To Join BJP

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Congress MP from Ludhiana, Punjab Ravneet Singh Bittu joining the BJP in the presence of party national general secretary Vinod Tawde in New Delhi on 26.03.2024

The trend of Congress leaders quitting the grand old party for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is continuing unabated. After the six unseated MLAs in Himachal Pradesh, and former MP Naveen Jindal in Haryana, it is the turn of the Congress in Punjab to be given a big jolt. Three-time Congress Lok Sabha member, currently representing the Ludhiana constituency in the state Ravneet Singh Bittu today quit the party and joined the BJP in New Delhi.

The formalities were completed at a press conference in New Delhi where the national general secretary of the saffron party Vinod Tawde welcomed Bittu to the party fold.

The joining comes a day after state BJP president Sunil Jakhar announced that the party will contest the lok sabha elections 2024 on its own, putting an end to the suspense over stitching a poll alliance with its old ally in the state Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).

Bittu has been representing the Ludhiana constituency in the Lok Sabha since 2014, before which the assassinated Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh’s grandson won his first lok sabha elections from Anandpur Sahib in 2009. Beant Singh was killed in a bomb blast triggered by Khalistani terrorists in the heavily guarded state secretariat complex in 1995.

Bittu has been vocal against terrorism and terrorist groups and has reported received threats on several occasions to silence his voice.

During his joining press conference Ravneet Singh claimed that he was joining the BJP to strengthen the hands of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah who have always had big plans for the development and progress of Punjab and for the farmers and farm labourers. While other states were progressing rapidly, Punjab was being left behind, he added.

On the other hand, while looking visibly disturbed over the development, state Congress President Amrinder Singh Raja Warring tried to put up a brave face saying that Bittu’s exit will not make any difference to the electoral prospects of the party in the state.

A Long Summer Election Schedule; Polling In 7 Phases From April 19

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Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar announcing schedule for 2024 elections to Lok Sabha and state assemblies in New Delhi on March 16, 2024.

Counting on June 4; Uttarakhand in 1st phase, Haryana in 6th and Punjab, HP & UT Chd in last; J&K assembly immediately after LS polls

While announcing the schedule for simultaneously holding election to the Lok Sabha, four state assemblies and bypolls to 26 assembly constituencies in seven phases, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has again dismissed the criticism of the electronic voter machines (EVMs), asserting that after due deliberations various high courts and the Supreme Court of India have at various times dismissed 40 petitions challenging the use of the EVMs.

CEC Rajiv Kumar showing a ECI book compilation of the 40 petitions against use of EVMs dismissed at different times by various high courts and the Supreme Court.

“The EVMs are safe,” declared Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Rajiv Kumar at the media briefing organized in New Delhi on Saturday (March 16, 2024).

In the press release shared with the media the ECI assured that the Supreme Court order regarding mandatory verification of VVPAT paper slip will be strictly followed.

“In pursuance of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India’s Order dated 8th April, 2019, the commission has mandated VVPAT slips count of five randomly selected polling stations in each assembly constituency/segment of the parliamentary constituency of the states/UTs by the returning officer, by draw of lot in presence of candidates/their counting agents & ECI observer, for verification of the result obtained from the control unit,” it said.

CEC and other Election Commissioners at the media briefing.

The CEC committed to holding the much anticipated elections to the Jammu & Kashmir assembly immediately after the conclusion of the Lok Sabha elections. Giving reasons for the delay, he informed that the amendment to the J&K Reorganisation Act of 2019 was made as late as in December 2023 to incorporate the changes necessitated by the recommendations of the Delimitation Commission.

Subsequently, during discussions with ECI the entire administrative machinery in the Union Territory opposed holding simultaneous elections on security grounds, and hence it was decided to hold polls in J&K after the conclusion of the Lok Sabha elections, when adequate security forces would be available for deployment, he added.

As per the schedule announced, the elections will be held in seven phases starting from April 19 and ending on June 1. The counting of votes will be on June 4.

The model code of conduct has come into immediate effect.

The CEC said elections to 102 constituencies will take place in first phase, 89 in second, 94 in third, 96 in fourth, 49 in fifth, 57 in sixth and 57 in seventh phase.

Assembly elections in Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim will be held on April 19 and in Andhra Pradesh on May 13. Elections to the Odisha Assembly will be held in four phases on May 13, May 20, May 25 and June 1.

Bypolls will also be held for 26 assembly constituencies simultaneously.

The total electorate in the country as per finally published electoral rolls, with reference to 01.01.2024 as the qualifying date: 96.9 Cr (compared to 89.6 Cr in 2019; increase of more than 7.3 Cr electors).

First time electors (in 18-19 years age group): 1.84 Cr (1.89% of total electors; 85.3 lakh among them female electors; more first time electors, who attain eligible age as on 01.04.2024, will be added from among advance applications received)

Young voters (age group 20-29 years): 19.74 Cr

Indian overseas electors: 1,18,439

Services electors: 19,08,194.

Senior Citizen electors above 85 years: 81,87,999

Senior Citizen electors above 100 years: 2,18,442

No. of states with elector sex ratio above 1,000: 12 (meaning greater No. of female electors per 1,000 male electors)

Polling dates for northern states

Uttarakhand: Phase 1: polling date: April 19 (Friday)

Haryana: Phase 6: polling date May 25 (Saturday)

Punjab, Himachal Pradesh & UT Chandigarh: Phase 7: polling date June 1 (Saturday)