Coronavirus COVID-19 Politics The Buzz

Assuming US presidency, Biden tells divided nation ‘democracy has prevailed’

Washington, January 20

Democrat Joe Biden was sworn in as president of the United States on Wednesday, assuming the helm of a country reeling from deep political divides, a battered economy and a raging coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 400,000 Americans.

With his hand on a five-inch thick heirloom Bible that has been in his family for more than a century, Biden took the presidential oath of office administered by US Chief Justice John Roberts just after noon (1700 GMT), vowing to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

“Through a crucible for the ages, America has been tested anew, and America has risen to the challenge,” Biden said as he began his inaugural address.

Read also | Committed to taking India-US ties to greater heights: PM Modi congratulates US President Biden

“Today we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate but of a cause: the cause of democracy…At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.” Biden, 78, became the oldest US president in history at a scaled-back ceremony in Washington that was largely stripped of its usual pomp and circumstance, due both to the coronavirus and security concerns following the Jan. 6 assault on the US Capitol by supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump.

The norm-defying Trump flouted one last convention on his way out of the White House when he refused to meet with Biden or attend his successor’s inauguration, breaking with a political tradition seen as affirming the peaceful transfer of power.

Trump, who never conceded the November 3 election, did not mention Biden by name in his final remarks as president on Wednesday morning, when he touted his administration’s record and promised to be back “in some form.” He boarded Air Force One for the last time and headed to his Mar-a-Lago retreat in Florida.

Top Republicans, including Vice President Mike Pence and the party’s congressional leaders, attended Biden’s inauguration, along with former U.S. Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, became the first Black person, first woman and first Asian American to serve as vice president after she was sworn in by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court’s first Latina member.

Harris used two Bibles, including one owned by Thurgood Marshall, the first Black US Supreme Court Justice.

Biden takes office at a time of deep national unease, with the country facing what his advisers have described as four compounding crises: the pandemic, the economic downtown, climate change and racial inequality. He has promised immediate action, including a raft of executive orders on his first day in office.

The ceremony on Wednesday unfolded in front of a heavily fortified US Capitol, where a mob of Trump supporters stormed the building two weeks ago, enraged by his false claims that the election was stolen with millions of fraudulent votes.

The violence prompted the Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives to impeach Trump last week for an unprecedented second time.

Thousands of National Guard troops were called into the city after the siege, which left five people dead and briefly forced lawmakers into hiding. Instead of a throng of supporters, the National Mall on Wednesday was covered by nearly 200,000 flags and 56 pillars of light meant to represent people from US states and territories.

‘Soul of America’

Biden, who has vowed to “restore the soul of America,” will call for American unity at a time of crisis in his inaugural address, according to advisers.

His inauguration is the zenith of a five-decade career in public service that included more than three decades in the US Senate and two terms as vice president under former President Barack Obama.

But he faces calamities that would challenge even the most experienced politician.

The pandemic in the United States reached a pair of grim milestones on Trump’s final full day in office on Tuesday, reaching 400,000 US deaths and 24 million infections – the highest of any country. Millions of Americans are out of work because of pandemic-related shutdowns and restrictions.

Biden has vowed to bring the full weight of the federal government to bear on the crisis. His top priority is a $1.9 trillion plan that would enhance jobless benefits and provide direct cash payments to households.

But it will require approval from a deeply divided Congress, where Democrats hold slim advantages in both the House and Senate. Harris was scheduled to swear in three new Democratic senators late on Wednesday, creating a 50-50 split in the chamber with herself as the tie-breaking vote.

Biden will waste little time trying to turn the page on the Trump era, advisers said, signing 15 executive actions on Wednesday on issues ranging from the pandemic to the economy to climate change. The orders will include mandating masks on federal property, rejoining the Paris climate accord and ending Trump’s travel ban on some Muslim-majority countries.

Although Biden has laid out a packed agenda for his first 100 days, including delivering 100 million COVID-19 vaccinations, the Senate could be consumed by Trump’s upcoming impeachment trial, which will move ahead even though he has left office.

The trial could serve as an early test of Biden’s promise to foster a renewed sense of bipartisanship in Washington.

Trump issued more than 140 pardons and commutations in his final hours in office, including a pardon for his former political adviser, Steve Bannon, who has pleaded not guilty to charges that he swindled Trump supporters as part of an effort to raise private funds for a Mexico border wall.

But Trump did not issue preemptive pardons for himself or members of his family, after speculation that he might do so. Reuters

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Delhi Politics The Buzz

PM Modi new head of Somnath temple trust, Shah hails development

Aditi Tandon

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 18

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on Monday unanimously named chairman of the Somnath Trust which manages the globally famous Somnath Temple located in Gujarat’s Gir Somnath district.

The position had fallen vacant in October 2020 after the demise of veteran BJP leader and former Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel.

“The decision to appoint PM Narendra Modi as the Temple Trust chairman was unanimous,” said Trust Secretary P K Laheri.

This could well be the first time in the history of independent India that a sitting prime minister would head a famous temple trust.

Home Minister Amit Shah, one of the temple trustees, hailed the development saying, “I congratulate PM Narendra Modi on becoming the chairman of the Somnath Temple Trust. Mr Modi’s commitment towards the development of the Somnath shrine area has been unparalleled. I have full faith that the prestige and honour of Somnath Temple would be enhanced under PM Modi’s chairman-ship.”

Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani said, “Congratulations to PM Modi on becoming chairman of the trust for the Somnath Temple – a temple which was resurrected on the sacrifices of several people, a temple which was revived by Rani Ahilyabai and later by Sardar Patel.”

The Somnath Temple, believed to be one of the jyotirlinga shrines of Lord Shiva, was the subject of intense disagreement between India’s first President Rajendra Prasad and first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, as historical records reveal.

Nehru disapproved of then President Prasad inaugurating the newly revived Somnath Temple in 1951 and also of his ministerial colleagues’ participation in the process of resurrection of the temple. 

Former Congress leader from Gujarat KM Munshi who initiated the Somnath Temple revival after India’s independence records Nehru’s disapproval of his ministers’ participation in the temple rebuilding process in his book “Pilgrimage to Freedom.”

The trust meeting was held virtually. Some of the past Chairpersons of the Trust include Jamsaheb Digvijaya Singh, Kanaiyalal Munshi, Former Prime Minister Morarji Desai, Jay Krishna Hari Vallabh, Dineshbhai Shah, Prasanvadan Mehta and Keshubhai Patel.

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Delhi Politics The Buzz

Congress questions Covaxin, BJP hits back

Tribune News Service
New Delhi, January 16

Congress leader Manish Tewari on Saturday alleged that Covaxin was approved without due process.

As the vaccine rollout began, Tewari said “As vaccine rollout begins, it is all a bit puzzling that India has no policy framework for authorising emergency use. Yet, two vaccines have been approved for restricted use in emergency situation. Covaxin is another story — approvals sans due process.”

The BJP hit back with party president JP Nadda saying whenever India achieves something commendable, the Congress presents “wild theories” to “ridicule” the feats.

Meanwhile, BJP IT cell head Amit Malviya today tweeted, “Rahul Gandhi raised doubts on the government’s effort to roll out the vaccine. But on a day when India undertakes the largest vaccine drive, after PM Modi’s administration approved two made-in-India vaccines, not a single tweet and not a word of appreciation for Indian scientists and health workers too?”

Amitabh Bachchan’s Covid mobile caller tune voice was also replaced with a new message, of a woman, urging people to maintain post-vaccine precautions.

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Delhi Politics The Buzz

Farm bodies decide to intensify protest against agri laws

Tribune News service 

New Delhi, January 5

A day after the latest round of negotiations between Government of India and the conglomerate of farm bodies failed to bear the fruit, the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha announced intensifying protests against the farm laws.

Social activist Yogendra Yadav who chaired the meeting on Tuesday aimed a dig at the establishment saying it is very clear to them that Government was not serious.

“One can gauge the seriousness when a minister asked us at the last meeting whether we were serious to get all the laws repealed,” Yadav said.

Read also: Farmers’ protest: BJP leaders from Punjab meet PM Modi

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“So we have decided to intensify our protests starting with the tractor march on January 7 where farmers will get on the eastern and western expressway. It will be a dress rehearsal for our tractor march on January 26,” he added.

The farm bodies had already announced a calendar of protests before the January 4 meeting. 

Further, the farm bodies have also decided to gherao members of Parliament from the ruling alliance and burn the copies of farm laws on Makar Sankranti and Lohri.

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Delhi Politics The Buzz

Second pandemic wave forces UK PM Johnson to cancel India visit

Sandeep Dikshit

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 5

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has cancelled his India visit that included being the Chief Guest at the Republic Day parade in order to oversee the pandemic response at home, said an announcement from Downing Street.

Johnson also called up PM Narendra Modi to regret his inability to attend in view of complete lockdown in his country and reiterated his keenness to visit India in the near future, according to an official news release here.

PM Modi expressed his understanding of the exceptional situation in the UK, and conveyed his best wishes for quick control of the pandemic. He looked forward to receiving Johnson in India at the earliest opportunity after normalisation of the situation, added the news release.

US President Donald Trump had declined PM Modi’s invite to be the Chief Guest at the 2019 Republic Day celebrations but made up for it by attending the ‘Namaste Trump’ rally in Ahmedabad. But, Trump had conveyed his regrets nearly three months in advance, giving South Block enough time to invite South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

India had suffered a last-minute pull out in 2013 when the Sultan of a West Asian monarchy declined the invitation with just a month to go for the Republic Day. But the King of Bhutan Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who was the Chief Guest barely eight years back, graciously stepped in.

PM Modi had converted the guest list at Republic Day parades from a statement of intent regarding the foreign policy into an event that appeared to suggest India’s coming out party. The first two parades during his tenure continued with the tradition of inviting India’s close allies. But in 2017 there were seven chief guests and 10 in 2018. Last year, plans to continue with the multi-person format did not work out, and South Block invited the Brazilian President.

Johnson announced the pull out on a day his Foreign Office announced the filling up of the vacant High Commissioner’s slot here with Deputy National Security Adviser Alex Ellis.

The previous incumbent Philip Barton is now the Permanent Under-Secretary of the Foreign Office. Ellis takes over at a time when Britain is eyeing a major defence deal; its previous mega order of advanced jet trainers to the Indian Air Force having run its course. He has served as the British Ambassador to Brazil and Portugal.

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Delhi Politics The Buzz

Supreme Court approves Central Vista project

Satya Prakash

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 5

The Supreme Court on Tuesday gave the green signal to the Central Vista Redevelopment Project that included construction of a new Parliament Building and a common Central Secretariat, with certain riders.

By a 2:1 majority, a three-judge Bench headed by Justice AM Khanwilkar cleared the project

for which Prime Minister Narendra Modi had laid down the foundation last month.

Justice Khanwilkar and Justice Dinesh Maheshwari held that there were no infirmities in the clearances given for the project, including with regard to change in the land use and environmental clearances.

“We hold that the exercise of the Central Government under DDA Act is legal and valid and the impugned notification stands confirmed. Recommendation by Environmental Committee is just and legal and we uphold the same,” Justice Khanwilkar said.

However, it said the project will have to get clearances from Heritage Conservation Committee.

The top court – which had on November 5 reserved its verdict on PILs challenging various permissions given by authorities for redevelopment of Central Vista in Lutyens’ Delhi —  also asked the project proponent to set up smog towers as being integral part of new parliament building project.

It asked the Ministry of Environment and Forests to install smog towers in future projects, particularly in those cities where pollution was an issue.

Justice Sanjiv Khanna — who delivered a dissenting verdict — said the change in land use and environmental clearances given to the project were “bad in law”.

Justice Khanna, however, agreed with the majority on the aspect of notice inviting bid for the project, award of the contract and order of urban commission.

The Central Vista redevelopment plan – which aims to free up 75-acre land in the heart of the capital – involves demolition of around 10 buildings, including Shastri Bhawan, Udyog Bhawan, Krishi Bhawan, Vigyan Bhawan, Vice-President’s House and Lok Nayak Bhawan.

Announced in September last year, it envisages a new triangular Parliament building, with seating capacity for more than 1,200 MPs, expected to be constructed by August, 2022, when the country will be celebrating its 75th Independence Day. The common Central Secretariat is likely to be built by 2024.

Gujarat-based architecture firm HCP Design, Planning and Management Pvt Ltd has won the consultancy bid for the ambitious project to redevelop the Central Vista to construct a common central secretariat complex and a new Parliament building.

The petitioners, including activist Rajeev Suri, have challenged various permissions given to the project by the authorities, including the nod for change of land use. They have questioned the project over environmental clearance granted to the project and the historical value of the existing building.

Asserting that there was no element of arbitrariness or favouritism in selection of the consultant for the project, the Centre has defended the project, saying it would “save money” paid as rent for housing Central government ministries in the national capital.

The Centre had contended that “Courts cannot strike down policy decisions merely because it feels a better policy decision could have been taken.”

Last month, the Bench had expressed displeasure over the Centre going ahead with the project without waiting for its verdict. However, it had allowed the foundation laying for the project by PM Modi on December 10.

“It should not be a fait accompli presented to the court. Stop at the foundation laying ceremony. Some deference must be shown to the Court,” it had said.

“Just because there is no stay it does not mean that you (Centre) can go ahead with everything”, said the Bench that had on April 30 refused to stay the project.

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Delhi Politics The Buzz

World’s biggest Covid vaccination programme set to begin in India, country proud of its scientists: Modi

New Delhi, January 4

*World’s biggest Covid vaccination programme set to begin in India, country proud of its scientists: Modi.

*We have to ensure ‘Made in India’ products not only have global demand but also global acceptance: PM Modi at National Metrology Conclave.

*Quality is as much important as quantity, our standards should rise with our scale in our quest for ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’: PM at conclave. PTI

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Delhi Politics The Buzz

Must keep humanism at core of our policies: Modi

New Delhi, December 21

*Indo-Japan Samwad Conference: PM Modi proposes creation of library of traditional Buddhist literature, scriptures.

*Will be happy to create library of Buddhist literature, scriptures in India; will provide appropriate resources for it: PM at conference.

*Discussions on global growth cannot happen only among a few; table must be bigger: Modi.

*In past, humanity often took path of confrontation; from Imperialism to world wars, from arms race to space race: PM.

*We had dialogues in past but they were aimed at pulling others down, now let us rise together: Modi.

*We must keep humanism at core of our policies; must make harmonious co-existence with nature as central pillar of our existence: PM. PTI

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Delhi Politics The Buzz

IRCTC sends out nearly 2 crore emails in 5 days highlighting Modi’s relationship with Sikhs

New Delhi, December 13

IRCTC sent out nearly two crore emails between December 8 and December 12 to its customers listing 13 decisions taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to support the Sikh community, amidst farmers’ protest against the Centre’s three farm laws.

Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation, (IRCTC), a railway PSU, emailed to its customers the 47-page booklet—‘PM Modi and his government’s special relationship with Sikh”—as part of the government’s ‘public interest’ outreach to make people aware of the bills and also to squash myths about them, officials said.

The booklets are in Hindi, English and Punjabi.

The emails, which were discontinued on December 12, were sent to the entire database of IRCTC, where passengers key in their details while booking tickets, the officials said.

The PSU denied reports that the emails had been sent to only members of the Sikh community. 

“The mails have been sent to all, irrespective of any particular community. This is not the first instance. Earlier also such activities have been undertaken by IRCTC to promote government welfare schemes in public interest,” an official statement from IRCTC said.

“IRCTC sent out 1.9 crore emails in five days till October 12,” a source in the national transporter said.

Officials also said that the move to send out the emails was a conscious choice as part of a communication strategy for public interest.

“Which professional company or corporate doesn’t analyse the demographic profile of the audience where the communication is to be delivered to? Why are some surprised if a government organisation is able to do as much or even better than what the corporates do day in and day out? One should be happy that the government of the day is as good in disseminating information in public interest,” said an official.

The booklet speaks of the justice given to the 1984 riot victims, FCRA registration granted to Sri Harmandir Sahib, Jallianwala Bagh Memorial, no taxes on langar, the Kartarpur corridor among other things under 13 heads.

The booklet was released by Union ministers Prakash Javadekar and Hardeep Singh Puri on the occasion of Guru Nanak Jayanti on December 1.

Thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana, are protesting at various border points of Delhi against the new farm laws.

The Centre’s offer to amend the contentious laws has failed to cut ice with the protesting farmers who have stuck to their demand for a repeal of the legislations. — PTI



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Delhi Politics The Buzz

More US Congressmen back farmers’ protest against farm Acts

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 8

More members of the US House of Representatives have come out in support of the agitating farmers here. From California, a Democrat and Republican Congressmen have backed the farmers.

Republican Congressmen Doug LaMalfa, representing the second-largest district in California, said he stood in solidarity with the Punjabi farmers protesting for their livelihoods and protection from “misguided, manipulative government regulations”.

They must be allowed to protest peacefully against their government without fear of violence, he demanded.

Joshua Keck Harder, another US Representative from California and a Democrat, wanted the Indian government to uphold the right to peaceful demonstration and ensure their citizens’ safety

He also asked for the rights of farmers protesting to be respected and felt meaningful dialogue was the way forward.

A former Congressman, TJ Cox encouraged “these folks” and PM Modi to have peaceful, productive discussions.

Politicians from countries with substantial Punjabi population have been backing the farmers’ stir with the first shot fired by Canadian PM Justin Trudeau.

With 18 Sikh members in the Canadian Parliament, Trudeau has spoken twice on the farmers’ protests along with his Cabinet colleagues.

In the UK, 36 Parliamentarians across parties have written to their Foreign Secretary expressing concern over the agitation.

Support has also come from Australia, New Zealand and Germany among other countries.

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