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CHANDIGARH: Shiromani Akali Dal announced on Saturday night its decision to break its 24-year-old alliance with BJP less than 10 days after it pulled out of PM Narendra Modi’s government with the resignation of Harsimrat Kaur Badal over the passage of three agri-marketing bills in Parliament.

The alliance between SAD and BJP, formed just after the parliamentary elections of 1996, had increasingly seemed untenable as the party was facing immense pressure from its main vote base, the farmers, to completely cut ties with BJP. The party was on the backfoot in Punjab, where spontaneous protests against the agri-marketing bills led by farmers had the party worried about its future, especially as both the ruling Congress party and the opposition Aam Aadmi Party were highlighting the Badal family’s so-called reluctance to quit the alliance with BJP.

SAD’s decision to pull out of the National Democratic Alliance was decided unanimously at an emergency meeting of its core committee, the party’s highest decision-making body. After the three-hour meeting, SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal said his party was BJP’s oldest ally but the Modi government did not listen to it on honouring the sentiments of farmers. He described the three agri-marketing bills as “lethal and disastrous for the already beleaguered farmers”. The party said it had quit the alliance in protest against the three agri-marketing bills and the Centre’s “stubborn” refusal to give statutory legislative guarantees to protect assured marketing of farmers’ crops at the MSP and for the Centre’s continued “insensitivity” towards the Punjabi language and issues of the Sikh community.

Shiromani Akali Dal core committee decides unanimously to pull out of the BJP-led #NDA because of the Centre’s stub… https://t.co/r92xKtDjQH

— Sukhbir Singh Badal (@officeofssbadal) 1601140927000

Promising to stand by its core principles of peace, communal harmony and guarding the interest of Punjab, Punjabi in general, and Sikhs and farmers in particular, Sukhbir said the decision was taken in consultation with the people of Punjab, especially party workers and farmers. In a direct attack on the BJP government at the Centre, Sukhbir said with successive decisions the central government had shown its “callous insensitivity” to minority sentiments and has been indifferent to peace and communal harmony in the country, especially in Punjab.

Even after quitting the Modi government, Sukhbir said the SAD had hoped that the Centre would not press on with these “murderous assaults” on farmers and other poor sections who depend on agriculture and trade. “It seems that BJP is totally out of touch with ground realities,” he said. Senior Akali leader Dr Daljit Cheema said the decision to snap ties was taken after much deliberation, adding that the three contentious bills were passed in an undemocratic manner and are being opposed in Punjab, Haryana and other states. “We had even requested President of India Ram Nath Kovind not to approve the bills passed by Parliament,” he said.

Criticising BJP for not paying heed to SAD’s repeated pleas not to force anti-farmer bills, SAD general secretary Prof Prem Singh Chandumajra said there was no point in continuing in the alliance.

Several Insets:

SAD’s Existential Crisis

SAD, which was formed in 1920 and will complete a century in December this year, is going through its worst existential crisis after it was relegated to third spot in the 2017 Punjab assembly election. The party had bagged only 18 seats while rookie AAP secured 20 seats.

Punjab BJP silent:

Despite repeated attempts, Punjab BJP president Ashwani Sharma was not available for comment after SAD pulled out of the alliance with the party. He will be addressing a press conference on Sunday, said a party spokesperson.

Desperate case of political compulsion: Amarinder

Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh has termed the Akali decision to quit the NDA as nothing more than a desperate case of political compulsion for the Badals, who, he said, were effectively left with no other option after BJP’s public criticism of SAD over the farm bills.

‘No alliance important before principles’

In Patiala on Saturday afternoon, Sukhbir Badal had indicated the possible snapping of ties with BJP just hours before the actual announcement when he said for his party no alliance was more important than principles. Claiming that his party was neither informed nor asked before passing the bills, he said SAD would not allow the end of the MSP regime.

“If Pain & Protests of 3 cr punjabis fail to melt the rigid stance of GoI, it’s no longer the #NDA envisioned by Vajpayee ji & Badal sahab. An alliance that turns a deaf ear to its oldest ally & a blind eye to pleas of those who feed the nation is no longer in the interest of Pb. (sic)”

The Times of India is an Indian English-language daily newspaper owned by The Times Group. It is the third-largest newspaper in India by circulation and largest selling English-language daily in the world. according to Audit Bureau of Circulations.

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INDIA

Snowfall in Gulmarg, other areas of Kashmir

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SRINAGAR: Gulmarg and other places in the higher reaches of Kashmir received fresh snowfall on Sunday, causing the mercury to drop across the valley, officials said.

Gulmarg, the famous ski resort in north Kashmir‘s Baramulla district, received light snowfall in the evening. It continued for most part of the evening before making way for rain, they said.

Snowfall was also recorded in Sonamarg tourist resort in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district and Zojila Pass along the Srinagar-Leh highway, according to the officials.

There were reports of snowfall in several other areas in the higher reaches of Jammu and Kashmir including areas along the Mughal Road – the alternate roadway connecting the valley with Jammu, the officials said.

The road has been closed for traffic, they said.

The snowfall in the higher reaches of Kashmir led to a drop in temperature across the Valley.

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INDIA

All citizens in the country to get free Covid-19 vaccine: Union minister

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BHUBANESWAR: Union minister Pratap Sarangi on Sunday said that all people of the country will be given free Covid vaccine, amid the demand by opposition parties in the country for it and not only in poll-bound Bihar as announced by the BJP.

The BJP announcement of free Covid vaccine for Bihar, where assembly polls begin this week, had kicked up a controversy with the opposition parties tearing into the NDA government alleging that the ruling party was using the pandemic for political reasons.

Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said the announcement was in order as it was an election manifesto announcement.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced that all people will be provided free of cost vaccines. An estimated Rs 500 odd will be spent on vaccination of each person, Sarangi told reporters after addressing a campaign meeting for the November 3 assembly by-poll in Balasore.

Modi had in a televised adddress to the nation on October 20 said that Indian scientists are in the process of developing several vaccines that are at different stages of clinical trials and the results seem encouraging.

Sarangi, the union minister of state for animal husbandry, dairy, fisheries and micro, small and medium enterprises spoke in reply to question raised by Odisha Food Supplies and Consumer Welfare Minister, R P Swain.

Swain had earlier in the day sought clarification from Dharmendra Pradhan and Sarangi, the two union ministers from Odisha questioning them for their silence on their party BJP’s stand on free Covid-19 vaccination for the people of the state along the lines of the one being promised in Bihar.

The governments of Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Assam and Puduchchery have already announced free of cost Covid vaccines for the people of their states, while Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has demanded free vaccine for all citizens across the country.

Swain had tweeted “I am asking questions to two Odisha union ministers from Balasore soil to clarify as to why the people of the state will not get free of cost Covid vaccine. The union ministers should clarify BJPs stand on the corona vaccination in Odisha.

On the state governments steps for vaccination, Swain said it has signed an agreement with a vaccine manufacturer and is committed to extend the facility to all people of the state.

He, however, did not say whether the state government will provide the vaccine to the people free of cost.

BJP deputy leader in Odisha Assembly Bishnu Charan Sethi said the Centre has been supporting Odisha fully during the pandemic and has granted Rs 22,000 crore for the purpose.

“But large scale lapses have been detected in the utilisation of the fund,” he alleged.

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INDIA

Wheels up for trip to India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Indonesia: Pompeo

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WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on Sunday boarded the flight for the trip to India for the third edition of the two-plus-two ministerial dialogue, that begins in New Delhi. The visit comes a week before the American presidential election scheduled on November 3.

The State Secretary will be travelling along with Secretary of Defence Mark T Esper from October 25 to 29. Pompeo will also visit Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia to engage the countries in discussions on how free nations can work together to thwart threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party.

Taking to Twitter, Pompeo said, “Wheels up for my trip to India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Indonesia. Grateful for the opportunity to connect with our partners to promote a shared vision for a free and open IndoPacific composed of independent, strong, and prosperous nations.”

Wheels up for my trip to India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Indonesia. Grateful for the opportunity to connect with ou… https://t.co/DtIxmxpQUK

— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) 1603642892000

This will be the third India-US 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue. They will be meeting Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on October 27 and will also have bilateral meetings with their counterparts.

They will also be meeting NSA Ajit Doval and will jointly call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The India-US 2+2 talks will focus on four themes — regional security cooperation, defense information sharing, military-to-military interactions, and defense trade, said the US State Department on Friday. The first two 2+2 Ministerial dialogues had been held in New Delhi in September 2018 and Washington DC in 2019.

Besides, Pompeo will be urging the Sri Lankan officials to make decisions about its relationship with China and to review the option that the United States offers for transparent and sustainable economic development, according to an earlier statement by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Dean Thompson.

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