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Byelections to 64 Assembly seats and Samastipur Lok Sabha seat on same day

Maharashtra and Haryana will hold Assembly elections on October 21 and the votes will be counted on October 24, the Election Commission announced on Saturday.

Byelections to 64 Assembly seats across States as well as the byelection to the Samastipur Lok Sabha constituency in Bihar would also be held on October 21, it said.

Making the announcement, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said the notification would be issued on September 27. The last date for filing of nominations would be October 4, and the nominations scrutinised the next day. The last date for withdrawal of candidature would be October 7.

The term of the Haryana Assembly, with 90 seats, ends on November 2 and that of the 288-member Maharashtra Assembly on November 9.

Mr. Arora said Election Commission officials had visited the States and found them to be prepared.

A total of 1.82 crore electors in Haryana and 8.95 crore in Maharashtra would be eligible to vote, according to the Election Commission. As in the Lok Sabha election earlier this year, Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines would be used with every Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) so that voters could cross-check their votes with the paper trail. In the Lok Sabha election, about 22,000 VVPATs were tallied and some mechanical errors found in eight cases, all of which were too small to change the result, he said.

The seats where byelection would be held include 15 in Karnataka that were vacated by rebel JD(S) and Congress MLAs recently, leading to the BJP forming the government. With the terms of the Jharkhand and Delhi Assemblies ending in January and February respectively, the Election Commission would not be holding the elections early, Mr. Arora said.

Asked about the BJP’s push for simultaneous elections, Mr. Arora said: “That debate is there, but it has not been settled at all. Unless there is a very clear consensus amongst political parties on this issue, this cannot be taken already as a given template.”

Replying to criticism during the Lok Sabha election that the Election Commission was not quick to act on complaints of violation of the model code by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he said: “99% of all complaints had been settled in 48 hours.”

‘Recruitment of locals, though, is at an all-time low’

Around “60 foreign militants” have infiltrated into Jammu and Kashmir in the last one month, three government officials told The Hindu.

Director General of Police (DGP) Dilbag Singh, however, claimed that recruitment of locals into terror groups had been at an all-time low. In the past 45 days, only two men have joined terror groups, he told The Hindu.

An official said the number of foreign militants was arrived at after an assessment by multiple agencies, including the Army and the Border Security Force (BSF).

Several instances of movement of militants in Srinagar and other areas were being viewed with utmost concern in the security establishment.

Locals threatened

The senior government official said there had been incidents in Srinagar of militants firing in the air to threaten locals.

Another official said the local conduits of terrorist groups were travelling to Punjab to make calls to their handlers in Pakistan as mobile phone communication remains blocked in the Kashmir Valley and in areas along the Line of Control (LoC).

“We have intercepted a few calls that were made from Punjab to handlers in Pakistan, and the security remains heightened in the wake of this. Pakistan is trying to push as many terrorists as possible,” said the official.

There would be attempts to carry out spectacular strikes before September 27, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to address the United Nations General Assembly in New York, he said.

Asked how the foreign militants were communicating as mobile phone and Internet services remained suspended, he said, “They have split into groups, and some are also using wireless sets. Their presence and movement was confirmed by residents of villages where they stopped for food.”

March halted after Centre agrees to five of their demands

Symbol of solidarity: BKS members being stopped while marching towards Delhi on the U.P. border. R.V. Moorthy

The farmers’ protest on the Uttar Pradesh-Delhi border came to an end after negotiations between the farmer delegation under the banner of Bhartiya Kisan Sangathan (BKS) and officials of the Agriculture Ministry bore fruit. Lalit Rana, a senior BKS leader who was part of the delegation, told The Hindu that five of their 15 demands have been met.

“The government would ensure payment of sugarcane dues within 14 days and has agreed to write to the U.P. government to increase the daily payment for cow maintenance,” said Mr. Rana after meeting Vivek Agarwal, Joint Secretary in the Ministry. He claimed the official also agreed to focus the resources of the Namami Gange programme towards making Hindon and Kali rivers pollution-free. “Also, we have been told that farmers will have a greater say in deciding the crops’ MSP,” said Mr. Rana. BKS national president Pooran Singh said the government had called the delegation again for further deliberations. He said the BKS would keep a close watch on the promises made by the government. “We believe in constitutional means to put our point across,” Mr. Singh said. “I also appeal to the government to keep a check on farmer leaders as we have observed that over the years they are becoming richer while the farmer is unable to make ends meet,” he said.

Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra also tweeted in support of the farmers’ cause.

Inspired by rappers Divine and Naezy

The jury felt the feel-good factor of the film was important for nomination.

It’s back to Bollywood for India’s official entry to the 92nd Academy Awards in the Best International Feature Film category, with Zoya Akhtar’s Ranveer Singh-Aalia Bhatt starrer Gully Boy the chosen one.

The last mainstream Hindi film to represent India was the controversial Barfi! in 2012.

Centred on Murad, an aspiring rapper from the Dharavi slums, Gully Boy is inspired by the lives of street rappers Divine and Naezy.

According to filmmaker-actor Aparna Sen, the chairperson of the jury that met in Kolkata this week for the screening and selection process, it was felt that the feel-good factor of the film was important for the Oscar nomination.

There were 28 films in contention this year.

Hindi scored big with nine entries, including Gully Boy.

Local force went out of its way to enable residents to receive calls from worried kin

Helping out: Calls came from several countries, including from Kashmiri students studying in Pakistan.

Following the communications blackout after August 5, the Jammu & Kashmir police went out of their way to facilitate telephone calls for the public through designated phones, according to officials and sources.

“As calls came in, we wrote down the addresses and asked for landmarks as the names of villages are sometimes overlapping. Then people were located and brought to the station to enable them to talk. In some cases, we took phones to houses and enabled people to talk,” said Baramulla DSP Javed Ahmed, speaking to The Hindu on the phone.

Calls came from several countries — the U.S., the U.K., Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Australia and Austria and even from Pakistan from Kashmiri students studying there, Mr. Ahmed said.

Recounting the challenges the security forces faced, he said people were wary that the police had come to arrest someone while inquiring for addresses.

“We had to first get friendly with them or they wouldn’t reveal the address,” Mr. Ahmed said.

Another senior police officer, requesting anonymity, said the phone calls for the public began two days after the withdrawal of Article 370 and went on at a frenetic pace for the next 20 days. “In the initial few days, there were 10-20 phones; later, there were about 150 phones in the Valley. And soon senior officials, including the Commissioner, the Superintendent of Police and the DSP, were doing it,” he said.

On average, over 100 people were calling every day, he said, and on the whole, over one lakh calls were made. The number of such calls on public phones, however, has fallen considerably after the landlines were restored.

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