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‘Easter bombers visited Kashmir for training’: Sri Lanka army chief

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The chief of Sri Lanka’s army said some of the people who carried out the April 21 serial bombings in his country had travelled to regions such as Kashmir and Kerala in India to possibly be part of terrorism training activities, according to an interview with the BBC published online on Friday.

The comments by Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayke is the first confirmation by a senior security official in either of the countries of the terrorists having traveled to India, a link that Indian security agencies have been pursuing since shortly after the attacks in the island nation.

“They had gone to India, traveling to Bangalore, Kashmir and Kerala state, (according to) information available with us,” Senanayke said.

Asked if he was aware of the purpose of those visits, the army commander replied: “It would have been for some sort of a training or to establish links with other organisations outside the country”.

Counter-terror agencies such as the National Investigation Agency have carried out raids in parts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, where they have picked up several people for suspected links to the Islamic State – the Syria-based terror group that claimed responsibility for the attack.

According to Indian officials who have not to be named, at least two of the suicide bombers had traveled to India in 2017.

A Union home ministry official did not comment on the Sri Lanka Army chief’s comment. “Sri Lanka hasn’t shared any such information with us. Importantly, Sri Lankan security agencies themselves have ruled this out after investigation,” a senior official in the security establishment, who did not wanted to named, said. Till now, Indian investigators have not mentioned a Kashmir link to the Lankan bombers, though leads were still being followed.

One of the key suspects who is believed by Indian officials to have visited India is Islamic preacher Maulvi Zahran Bin Hashim – leader of Sri Lanka National Towheed Jama’at (NTJ) and the ringleader of Easter Sunday attackers.

Indian officials refused to share details about the purpose of Hashim’s visit or the people he was in touch with. Hashim, an official said, was initially associated with Tamil Nadu Towheed Jama’at (TNTJ) but the organization was not found involved in any terror activities. He subsequently broke away from TNTJ to form his own – Sri Lanka National Towheed Jama’at (NTJ) and started preaching violent form of Islam in the island nation.

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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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