28 February 2021
A) Rift out in open as Congress dissenters pitch for Ghulam Nabi Azad at Jammu meeting.
Congress party’s internal differences spilled out in the open today, with the dissenting group, popularly known as G-23, holding a rally in Jammu ostensibly to felicitate Ghulam Nabi Azad on his retirement from the Rajya Sabha but effectively challenging the party’s central leadership in a show of strength. The G-23 leaders said they wanted a strong Congress rooted in Gandhi’s principles and see an experienced leader in Ghulam Nabi Azad. People say ‘G23’, I say Gandhi 23. With the belief, resolve and thinking of Mahatma Gandhi, this nation’s law and Constitution was formed. Congress is standing strongly to take these forward. ‘G23’ want Congress to be strong, Congress leader Raj Babbar said during the party’s ‘Shanti Sammelan’ in Jammu. Other senior Congress leaders Anand Sharma, former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Kapil Sibal, and Vivek Tankha, apart from Azad, also spoke on the occasion. The truth is that we see Congress party getting weak. That is why we have gathered here. We had gathered together earlier too and we have to strengthen the party together, Sibal said. In August last year this group, led by Azad, had written to party President Sonia Gandhi urging her to ensure full time and visible leadership. Gandhi returned to helm as an interim chief, after her son Rahul Gandhi’s abrupt resignation. It is the first time that the letter writers have come out in the open, dropping all pretence. The Congress leadership has remained mum about renominating Azad and the G-23 members find themselves sidelined in the scheme of things within the party. Azad, speaking at the rally, said that he may have retired from Rajya Sabha but he has not retired from politics.
B) Onus of creating ‘enabling environment’ rests with India, says Imran Khan.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday welcomed the ceasefire agreement with India but said the onus of creating an enabling environment for further progress in bilateral relations rests with New Delhi. In his first comments since the militaries of India and Pakistan jointly announced on Thursday that they have agreed to strictly observe all agreements on the ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) and other sectors, Khan said Pakistan remains ready to move forward to resolve all outstanding issues with India through dialogue. He welcome restoration of the ceasefire along the LOC. The onus of creating an enabling environment for further progress rests with India. India must take necessary steps to meet the long-standing demand & right of the Kashmiri people to self determination according to UNSC resolutions, Khan tweeted. They have always stood for peace & remain ready to move forward to resolve all outstanding issues through dialogue, Khan said in a series of tweets. India and Pakistan issued a joint statement on Thursday to strictly observe all agreements on ceasefire along the LoC and other sectors after hotline discussions by their Director Generals of Military Operations (DGMO). The decision by the two countries came into effect from the midnight of February 24/25.
C) AG refuses consent for contempt proceedings against ex-CJI Ranjan Gogoi.
Attorney General K.K. Venugopal has refused to give consent to an activist to initiate criminal contempt proceedings against former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi for his comments about the Supreme Court. Activist Saket Gokhale said Justice Gogoi’s remarks, during a widely publicised interview given during the India Today conclave in February, had scandalised the court and lowered its dignity in the eyes of the public. It was reported that Justice Gogoi, now a Rajya Sabha MP, had used terms like ramshackle judiciary and so on. Venugopal, in a letter to Gokhale, agreed that Justice Gogoi’s statements were indeed very strong but it was said for the good of the institution and would not in any manner scandalise the court or lower its authority in the eyes of the public. The statements apparently reflect his deep frustration with the ills that undoubtedly beset the justice delivery system, Venugopal explained to Gokhale. The consent of the Attorney General is necessary to initiate contempt proceedings in the Supreme Court. He accordingly decline consent to initiate proceedings for criminal contempt under Section 15 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. Venugopal concluded in his letter dated February 26.
D) Covid Watch: Numbers and Developments.
The number of coronavirus cases reported from India stood at 1,10,94,731 with the death toll at 1,58,403. With Maharashtra, Punjab, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bengal, Telangana and Jammu and Kashmir reporting a high active Covid-19 caseload and an increasing trend in new cases in the last week, Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba today reviewed the situation with the Chief Secretaries. The States have been advised not to lower their guard, to enforce pandemic-appropriate behaviour, and deal firmly with violations. They are also required to follow effective surveillance and tracking strategies in respect of potential super spreading events. The Health Ministry said Maharashtra, Kerala, Punjab, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat have also shown a surge in new cases in the last 24 hours, taking the active caseload to 1,59,590. Maharashtra continues to report the highest daily new cases at 8,333, followed by Kerala with 3,671 while Punjab reported 622 new cases, it said. India reported 16,488 new cases in the 24 hours ending 8 a.m. on Saturday. Private hospitals functioning as COVID-19 vaccination centres can charge up to ₹250 per person per dose, the Union Health Ministry announced on Saturday along with a list of 20 medical conditions that will enable those between 45 and 59 years to avail the vaccine.
A) Saudi Arabia rejects U.S. intelligence report on Khashoggi’s killing.
Saudi Arabia said it rejected completely the negative, false and unacceptable assessment of the U.S. intelligence report released on Friday that found Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had approved the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler approved an operation to capture or kill the Washington Post columnist in 2018, the U.S. report said, as the United States sanctioned some of those involved but not the crown prince himself. The government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia completely rejects the assessment in the report pertaining to the Kingdom’s leadership, and notes that the report contained inaccurate information and conclusions, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by state news agency SPA. The crime was committed by a group of individuals that have transgressed all pertinent regulations and the kingdom’s leadership took the necessary steps to ensure that such a tragedy never takes place again, the foreign ministry statement added. A Saudi Arabian court jailed eight people last year for between seven and 20 years over the murder of Khashoggi after his family forgave his killers and enabled death sentences to be set aside. Khashoggi, a critic of the crown prince, was last seen at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, where he had gone to obtain documents for his impending wedding. His body was dismembered and removed from the building and his remains have not been found. The murder caused a global uproar and tarnished the reformist image of Prince Mohammed, and strained the relationship between the U.S. and its closest Arab ally.
B) U.S. airstrike in eastern Syria a warning to Iran, says Biden.
President Joe Biden said on Friday that a U.S. airstrike against an Iranian-backed militia in eastern Syria, the first since he took office, should be seen by Iran as a warning. Asked what the message was from the air strike, Mr. Biden said that he can’t act with impunity. Be careful, he added, speaking in Houston during a tour of relief efforts after a huge winter storm in Texas. Syria and Iran on Friday condemned the attack, with Damascus calling it a bad sign from the new Biden administration and Tehran saying it would further destabilise the region. John Kirby said two F-15E Strike Eagles dropped seven precision-guided munitions on Thursday on facilities in eastern Syria used by the militias believed to be behind a spate of rocket attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Mr. Biden was sending an unambiguous message. He’s going to act to protect Americans and when threats are posed, he has the right to take an action at the time and in the manner of his choosing, Ms. Psaki said. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the administration wanted to make it very, very clear notably to Iran that they cannot act with impunity against our people, our partners, our interests. Syria condemned the strike as cowardly American aggression. The Iranian Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the U.S. attack as a clear violation of international law, saying it would intensify military conflicts and further destabilise the region.