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Cyclone Fani moves into Bengal; no major damage reported yet

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Kolkata escaped the direct fury of Cyclone Fani as it followed a path through West Midnapore, Hooghly and Nadia districts and passed about 40km to the west of the West Bengal capital.

Cyclone Fani, which crossed Odisha coast close to Puri between 8am and 10am with a maximum wind speed of around 175 Kmph, caused huge damage in Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Puri, and Khordha districts in the state. It smashed through Odisha, where eight people died, triggering rains in several towns and cities and leaving a trail of destruction in its path.

Officials of the India Meteorological Department said Cyclone Fani has lost its severity as it moved towards Bangladesh. It will lose its cyclone status and turn into a deep depression as it enters Bangladesh.

“It has turned into a cyclonic storm rapidly losing severity. It will start moving into Bangladesh by 10am,” Sanjib Bandyopadhyay, IMD Kolkata’s deputy director, said on Saturday morning.

There will be rains in a few districts of Bengal, but there was no apprehension of any further damage in the state, said Bandyopadhyay.

The met department official also said that since Cyclone Fani kept losing severity fast and wind speed was recorded around 50-55km per hour in Kolkata instead of the 70-75km they expected on Friday night.

Kolkata airport resumed operations from 8am on Saturday after remaining closed for 17 hours.

Eastern Railway, which suspended all local train services from Sealdah station between Friday midnight and 6am on Saturday, resumed services from Sealdah. At important city crossings, some people were seen waiting for traffic.

In Digha, some of the tourists who stayed back ignoring the instructions of the administration to leave, went to the beach to watch the sea.

On Saturday morning, the sky was overcast in Kolkata and adjoining districts with moderate winds.

The administration in West Bengal said it prepared to meet any emergency by marshalling men and materials to launch relief operations.

In Kolkata, about 45,000 people living in dilapidated buildings were evacuated and shifted to safe shelters. “These persons were accommodated in different school buildings of Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC),” said an official of KMC.

A few markets and two shopping malls were closed down on Friday afternoon. The civic authorities have also locked the gates of different parks in the city. After South City Mall, the authorities of Gariahat Mall in south Kolkata also closed down on Friday afternoon.

West Midnapore district magistrate P Mohan Gandhi said on Friday evening that 3,130 persons were evacuated. In East Midnapore district about 18,000 people were evacuated, said district magistrate Partha Ghosh.

Till 8:30pm on Friday, 339 houses were damaged in West Midnapore district.

Though there were indications that the cyclone might have damaged more houses and crops in the districts of West Midnapore, East Midnapore and Hooghly on Friday night, there was no official confirmation of it till 8am.

On Friday, chief minister Mamata Banerjee cancelled all her political programmes and parked herself in Kharagpur, a town about 60km from Odisha, and on the projected path of the cyclone to monitor the situation and coordinate relief efforts. Almost all election-related programmes of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) were also cancelled on Friday.

Cyclone Fani is expected now to enter Bangladesh, which has ordered the evacuation of 2.1 million people before the storm arrives. The neighbouring country’s junior disaster minister Enamur Rahman said 56 thousand volunteers were working to move millions out of the storm’s path.

Met office spokesperson Omar Faruque said on Friday the cyclone is likely to “enter Bangladesh through Khulna coastlines and will take the entire night to cross the country, ravaging southwestern” coastline districts.

Bangladesh’s disaster management minister Enamur Rahman said the government was fully prepared to face the cyclone. “Army, navy, coastguards and other agencies are ready to be called out for disaster operation,” he said in a news briefing.

The government has ordered all fishing boats and trawlers over North Bay and deep sea to remain in shelter till further notice.

Weather experts said the wrath of Fani is likely to be lesser in Bangladesh coasts as compared to that of Odisha since the cyclone would lose its strength on its land routes, minimising risks of a high number of casualties.

However, it could damage standing crops and infrastructure on a vast landmass. Besides, heavy rains, along with strong winds, will continue throughout Saturday in many parts of the country, they said.

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Sushma Swaraj congratulates PM Narendra Modi on ‘big win’ in Lok Sabha elections

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Senior BJP leader and Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj on Thursday congratulated Prime Minister Narendra Modi and thanked the people on the BJP’s “big victory” in the Lok Sabha polls.

Riding on a massive Modi wave sweeping through most parts of India, the BJP was set to return to power as it led in 295 seats while the Congress trailed far behind with 50, according to trends released Thursday by the Election Commission for all 542 seats that went to polls.

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi — Many Congratulations for securing such a big victory for the BJP. I am thankful to the people,” Swaraj tweeted.

With its allies, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance could win 343 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha. In the last election, the NDA had 336 seats while BJP accounted for 282.

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Lok Sabha election results: 2019 is more like 1977 and 1980 than 2014 elections

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The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has firmly established itself as the dominant pole of Indian politics in the 2019 general elections.

If the current trends hold , the 2019 verdict will have a close resemblance to the results of the 1977 and 1980 elections in terms of the dominance of one political party in India. Data scarped from the Election Commission of India (ECI) website shows that at 11:03 am, around 19% of the total votes had been counted in the country. The BJP is leading in 288 parliamentary constituencies (PCs) with a vote share of around 40%, nine percentage points more than what it had in 2014.

No political party in India has had such a high level of vote share after the 1984 elections, which were held in an extremely polarised environment months after the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. The Congress had a vote share of 48.1% and it won 415 PCs in the 1984 elections.

The 2019 results, if the current trends hold, will be closer to what the Janata Party and the Congress achieved in the 1977 and 1980 elections. In 1980, the Congress won 353 PCs with an all-India vote share of 42.7%. In 1977, it was the Janata Party which got 295 PCs with a vote share of 41.3%.

The 2019 verdict, or what it looks like as of now, also has some regional exceptions to the overall trend, like in 1977 and 1980. Even though the Janata Party swept the northern region of the country in 1977, the Congress performed really well in Andhra Pradesh (41 out of 42 PCs) and Karnataka (26 out of 28 PCs). Similarly in 1980, the Congress could win only 4 PCs in West Bengal despite winning the majority of seats in almost all major states.

As of now, the BJP and its partners in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) are either leading or making major advances in all major states except Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, which are voting clearly for the Dravida Munnetra Kazhgam (DMK) led alliance and YSR Congress Party respectively.

The Congress, despite adding around four percentage points to its 2019 vote share has not been able to make any significant gains in terms of seats. Also, the party has suffered major reverses in the Hindi heartland states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh where it defeated the BJP in the 2018 assembly elections.

After the 2014 elections, when the BJP crossed the half way mark in the Lok Sabha with just 31% vote share, lack of opposition unity was seen as a key factor behind the party’s victory. With the BJP all set to cross the 40% vote share mark, the opposition will have to reinvent its chemistry with the electorate rather than just arithmetic.

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Supreme Court dismisses new petition on verifying all votes with VVPAT, says ‘let country elect its government’

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The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a new petition that sought matching of all voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) slips with electronic voting machines (EVMs) during the counting of votes on May 23.

Calling the petition a “nuisance”, the court said, “We won’t entertain such a plea over and over again. Can’t come in the way of people electing their representatives. Let country elect its government.”

A vacation bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra refused to entertain the plea filed by a Chennai-based organisation ‘Tech for All’ saying that a larger bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi had already dealt with the matter and passed an order, news agency PTI reported.

The apex court had on May 7 dismissed a review plea filed by 21 Opposition leaders led by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu seeking that random matching of VVPAT slips with EVMs be increased to 50 per cent.

The top court had on April 8 directed the Election Commission to increase random matching of VVPAT slips with EVMs from one to five polling booths per assembly segment in Lok Sabha polls, saying it would provide greater satisfaction not just to political parties but also to the entire electorate.

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