The Congress party was headed for a bruising defeat in key state elections, including in the capital, early results showed on Sunday, underlining the struggle it will face to cling to power in a national election due by May.
Congress, led by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has ruled India for most of the 66 years since independence, is facing widespread anger at corruption and high inflation after two successive terms at the head of a national coalition.
The centre-left party’s main opponent, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was the clear winner in three big states that went to the polls, though with the count still on it was a neck-and-neck race in a fourth.
Markets are closely tracking the outcome of the polls, seen as a test of support for the BJP’s business-friendly candidate for prime minister, Narendra Modi. Bond, rupee and share prices rose last week after exit polls predicted a strong BJP performance.
“BJP’s victory across the states is spectacular,” Modi said on Twitter shortly after arriving at his party’s headquarters in New Delhi, where he congratulated party workers and leaders.
However, it was unclear how far Modi’s campaigning at more than a hundred energetic rallies in recent months had contributed to the BJP’s strong showing, an important factor in whether the results can be replicated nationally.
“You can argue about the extent of a Modi wave, but you can’t deny that this verdict is an anti-Congress tsunami,” Headlines Today TV news anchor Rahul Kanwal said in a Tweet.
The Congress party’s poor performance in the state assembly elections may bring fresh pressure for an overhaul of its national campaign, which is headed by Rahul Gandhi.
Gandhi is the next in line in a political dynasty that began with his great-grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister. His campaign, focused on the Congress government’s welfare programmes, has failed to capture the imagination of many of India’s aspirational young voters.
South African anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela died aged 95 at his Johannesburg home on Thursday after a prolonged lung infection, plunging his nation and the world into mourning for a man hailed by global leaders as a moral giant.
Although Mandela had been frail and ailing for nearly a year, Zuma’s announcement late on Thursday of the death of the former president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate shook South Africa.
Tributes began flooding in almost immediately for a man who was an iconic global symbol of struggle against injustice and of racial reconciliation.
U.S. President Barack Obama said the world had lost “one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this earth”.
British Prime Minister David Cameron called Mandela “a hero of our time” and said “a great light has gone out in the world”.
Ordinary South Africans were in shock. “It feels like it’s my father who has died. He was such a good man, who had good values the nation could look up to. He was a role model unlike our leaders of today,” said Annah Khokhozela, 37, a nanny, speaking in Johannesburg
A sombre Zuma made a national broadcast to announce the death of South Africa’s first black president, who emerged from 27 years in apartheid prisons to help guide Africa’s biggest economy through bloodshed and turmoil to democracy.
“Fellow South Africans, our beloved Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the founding president of our democratic nation, has departed,” Zuma said in the nationally televised address.
“Our people have lost a father. Although we knew this day was going to come, nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss. His tireless struggle for freedom earned him the respect of the world. His humility, passion and humanity, earned him their love,” he added.
“GIANT FOR JUSTICE”
Mandela would receive a full state funeral, Zuma said, ordering flags to be flown at half mast.
The U.N. Security Council was in session when the ambassadors received the news of Mandela’s death. They stopped their meeting and stood for a minute’s silence.
“Nelson Mandela was a giant for justice and a down-to-earth human inspiration,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters. “Nelson Mandela showed what is possible for our world and within each one of us if we believe, dream and work together for justice and humanity.”
The Hindu nationalist opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged as the biggest winner in four key state elections, exit polls forecast on Wednesday, a possible blow to the ruling Congress ahead of a general election due next year.
India has held elections in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh over the past month, as well as in Mizoram. Counting and results for all the states are due on Sunday.
Despite the gains predicted for the BJP it was unable to win a majority of seats in the capital Delhi, two polls showed. One poll suggested the race was close in Chhattisgarh.
The results are being closely watched by markets as a potential indicator of the mood of voters in the world’s biggest democracy before the 2014 general election.
Indian markets have rallied in recent weeks on signs the BJP’s business-friendly candidate for prime minister Narendra Modi is gaining popularity.
The Congress has led the UPA coalition ruling India for two consecutive terms but has tested voters’ patience with a string of corruption scandals and a lacklustre economy.
India’s fragmented political landscape makes a coalition government the most likely outcome after the next elections.
Opinion and exit polls have a patchy track record in India. Most surveys forecast the wrong outcome in the 2004 general election.
An exit poll by India TV-CVoter predicted the BJP would win Rajasthan from Congress and retain its majority in Madhya Pradesh. In Delhi the BJP will emerge as the biggest party but will not have a majority, the poll forecast, with the Aam Aadmi Party making a strong showing in third place.
A separate poll by India Today-ORG showed similar results but gave the BJP a majority in Delhi.
A report by Huffington Post World on the richest world leaders has placed United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi above Queen Elizabeth, Sultan of Oman, Prince of Monaco and Sheikh of Kuwait.
HuffPost World claims it has compiled a list of the 20 richest world leaders currently in power, based on available data. The roster includes a mixture of kings, presidents, sultans and queens. Most are male (as the world’s political leaders tend to be, too).
HuffPost has calculated Gandhi’s wealth at USD 2 billion, against India’s GDP per capita is USD 1,500, and placed her at the twelfth position in the list of 20. The list includes kings, presidents, sultans and queens with most rich leaders among the top 20 originating from the Middle East region.
Surprisingly, Queen of England Elizabeth II ranks much lower than Gandhi in the list with riches worth USD 400 million to USD 500 million.
The report puts Russian President Vladimir Putin as on the top of the list with a wealth of USD 40 billion, followed King of Thailand Bhumibol Adulyadej with fortunes worth USD 30 billion.
The report does not clearly state how it has arrived at the comparisons and monetary values of the leaders.
According to the National Election Watch website of the Association for Democratic Rights, Sonia Gandhi has assets worth Rs.1.38 crore. She neither owns a car nor has a house in India.
Click here to Vote Narendra Modi………. Who is Person of the Year
BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is among Time magazine’s shortlisted candidates for its ‘Person of the Year’ title and has emerged as an early favourite among the readers in an online poll.
Time has shortlisted 42 global leaders, entrepreneurs and celebrities for its ‘Person of the Year 2013′ and will announce the winner next month.
Other candidates in fray are Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, US President Barack Obama, Pakistani teenage education activist Malala Yousafzai, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and even the new heir to the British throne Prince George. On Modi, Time said “the controversial Hindu nationalist and Chief Minister of the Indian state of Gujarat is the most likely candidate to unseat India?s ruling Congress party in the world?s largest democracy.
” Modi is the only Indian in the shortlist. While Time’s editors will choose the winner, it has asked readers to cast their votes for the person they think “most influenced the news this year for better or worse”. So far Modi has got over 2650 votes and with about 25 per cent, is leading the online readers’ poll.
Modi is way ahead with Snowden, who garnered the second highest number of votes at about 7 percent as on November 20. Obama, who has twice been named ‘Person of the Year’, is in the shortlist with the US magazine saying the President’s “second term started with a slew of self-inflicted wounds and unfulfilled promise(s), from an IRS scandal and stalled immigration reform to the bungled Obamacare launch”.
Syrian President Bashar Assad is also among the contenders. Among the other candidates are New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, J P Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Pope Francis, Oscar winner Angelina Jolie. International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Germany’s re-elected Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin are other contenders.
India has decided to cancel a scandal-tainted helicopter deal with Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland, three sources said, drawing a line under a dispute that has embarrassed a government heading into elections due next year.
The decision could re-open the contract to rivals, including United Technologies Corp’s(UTX.N) Sikorsky Aircraft, EADS’(EAD.PA) Eurocopter and Lockheed Martin(LMT.N).
It comes ahead of a meeting due to be held on Wednesday between executives from AgustaWestland, a division of Italian defence group Finmeccanica(SIFI.MI), and the defence ministry officials to discuss the contract.
Scrapping the 560 million euro deal to buy 12 helicopters to transport top politicians will not necessarily lead to New Delhi blacklisting Finmeccanica, sources have previously said, a move some officials fear would set back efforts to modernise India’s military.
A defence ministry spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The deal for the AW101 helicopters went off track in February after the then-chief executive of Finmeccanica was arrested by Italian police for allegedly paying bribes to secure the deal, prompting India to freeze payments.
Italy and India are separately investigating the allegations. AgustaWestland and Finmeccanica deny any wrongdoing.
Sri Lanka’s human rights record was glaringly absent from a communique issued by Commonwealth leaders on Sunday at the end of a fractious summit dominated by allegations of war crimes during the bloody climax of the island’s 26-year civil war.
The normally sedate two-yearly meeting of mostly former British colonies ran into controversy this year before it had even begun after some members objected to it being hosted by a government accused of shelling civilians just four years ago.
Sparks flew at the summit when British Prime Minister David Cameron threatened to push for an international inquiry into the allegations of large-scale civilian deaths during the army’s final victory over the Tamil Tiger separatists in 2009.
Some 300,000 civilians were trapped on a narrow beach during the onslaught and a British panel has estimated that 40,000 non-combatants died. It concluded that, while both sides committed atrocities, army shelling killed most victims.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government has also been criticised for not stopping attacks on journalists and critics of the government, as well as political pressure on magistrates, since the war ended.
Cameron said he would raise the issues at the United Nations if Sri Lanka did not conduct its own independent inquiry by March.
The ultimatum was dubbed “hostile diplomacy” by Sri Lankan state media. Some detected colonial overtones in the finger-wagging and accused Britain of acting like a “big brother that punishes rather than guides”.
“I will do it. But you can’t say, ‘Tomorrow, do it, within one week, or three months, or four months’. That’s very unfair,” Rajapaksa told the final news conference on Sunday.
VISIT TO JAFFNA
Cameron left Colombo on Saturday, and the final communique mentioned human rights in only a general way. The official focus of the summit was on “Growth with Equity”.
Ethnic Tamils were overjoyed that a visit by Cameron to the northern town of Jaffna drew attention to a continued military presence in the former war zone and continuing attacks on journalists.
Sri Lanka issued visas to hundreds of foreign journalists before the summit, and invited them to visit any part of the country to witness progress on post-war reconstruction. However, pro-government protesters stopped reporters from Britain’s Channel 4, which has run a series of documentaries alleging atrocities and war crimes, travelling to the north.
Other reporters, including some from Reuters, were able to travel but were held up at numerous military checkpoints and were closely tracked by military intelligence.
The rights dispute dominated the chaotic final news conference, where Commonwealth spokesman Richard Uko repeatedly tried to put the focus on the summit’s development agenda.
“I can see I am being consistently ignored,” he said, after yet another question about rights abuses was addressed to Rajapaksa.
Finance minister pledged on Thursday to meet the country’s fiscal and current account deficit targets, as fears of the U.S. Federal Reserve reducing its stimulus fuel concern over India’s vulnerability to foreign sell-offs.
P. Chidambaram’s comments follow those of Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan, who on Wednesday highlighted a fall in core consumer inflation and announced an 80 billion rupee bond purchase.
The rupee slumped this week to a two-month low against the dollar as renewed talk of an early reduction in U.S. stimulus raised concern about the impact on a country that depends on foreign investments to bridge a current account deficit that hit a record high last fiscal year.
The fall in the currency comes as the ruling Congress Party, hit by corruption scandals and a toxic mix of a weak economy and surging inflation, campaigns in five state elections in November ahead of national elections next year.
Some are concerned the government will crank up spending to win votes, threatening a fiscal deficit target of 4.8 percent of gross domestic product for the year ending in March.
“I have said and I repeat it: This year the fiscal deficit will be contained at below 4.8 percent no matter what requires to be done. It will be contained at below 4.8 percent. We will address both the revenue side and the expenditure side,” Chidambaram said in a speech to a private bank in Mumbai.
Indian markets have experienced a tough week, with bonds and shares also falling, as stronger-than-expected U.S. jobs data sparked concerns about an early taper of the Fed stimulus.
Markets were also hit hard in the summer by the same fears, sending the rupee to a record low of 68.85 to the dollar, although it has recovered 12.9 percent since then.