Mandya MP Sumalatha Ambareesh decides to join BJP, says not contesting LS polls

News Network
April 3, 2024

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Sumalatha Ambareesh, the Independent MP who won from Karnataka’s Mandya constituency in 2019, announced on Wednesday that she would join the BJP and not contest the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

After the BJP-JD(S) coalition has fielded former chief minister and JD(S) state president H D Kumaraswamy from Mandya, all eyes were on Sumalatha, who defeated Kumaraswamy’s son Nikhil Kumaraswamy in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The announcement came along expected lines as Kumaraswamy had met Sumalatha on Sunday, March 31, seeking her support for the elections.

In a supporters’ meeting held at Mandya to announce her decision, Sumalatha, who is the first Independent MP from the constituency, said, “I will not be contesting this election, but I am not leaving Mandya…. Some people, when they don’t get the ticket, decide to leave the party. But, I have decided to give up my seat and join the BJP”.

Sumalatha said her options were to either contest as an Independent, join the Congress or Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“If I contest as an independent, it will be to prove something to myself. Who will benefit from that and who will lose, we have to think. We have to be mature,” she said, adding that she was “not worried about self-interest” and had turned down offers from BJP to contest at either Bengaluru North, Chikkaballapur or Mysore-Kodagu to remain with the people of Mandya.

Sumalatha said that she would not join the Congress as the party did not want her. “On the other hand, the BJP leadership took me into confidence in all issues. When even the Prime Minister says that the party needs leadership from people like me and asks me not to take any other decision, do I have respect there (in BJP) or not?” the MP asked.

Riding on a sympathy wave following the demise of her husband, former Union Minister and actor-turned politician Ambareesh, Sumalatha had defeated Kumaraswamy’s son Nikhil Kumaraswamy by a margin of over 1.25 lakh votes in 2019. Though Ambareesh was from Congress, Sumalatha had contested as an Independent after the Congress denied her ticket due to the coalition arrangement of the party with JD(S) that year.

Though Sumalatha was keen on joining the BJP ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls and contesting from Mandya, it has not panned out due to BJP’s alliance with JD(S) in 2024.

Mandya, which Sumalatha represents, is a Vokkaliga bastion which has largely favoured either the JD(S) or Congress over the years. Due to this, the BJP-JD(S) coalition went with Kumaraswamy, a top Vokkaliga politician of the state.

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News Network
May 28,2024

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The United Nations humanitarian chief has hit out at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for claiming that the recent deadly aerial assault in the southern Gaza Strip was a “mistake,” saying the carnage was possibly the “most cruel abomination.”

UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths made the remarks on Monday, one day after the Israeli strike hit a camp for displaced Palestinians in the city of Rafah and killed at least 50 people and wounded 200 others.

Terrifying scenes of tents in flames and burned victims, many of whom were women and children, sparked an international outcry. 

However, Netanyahu called the air raid a "tragic mistake" and claimed that Israel was investigating the incident.

“Whether the attack was a war crime or a “tragic mistake,” for the people of Gaza, there is no debate. What happened last night was the latest – and possibly most cruel – abomination,” Griffiths said in a statement.

“To call it ‘a mistake’ is a message that means nothing for those killed, those grieving, and those trying to save lives.”

The UN relief chief also pointed to the widespread warnings of a slaughter ahead of Israel's incursion into Rafah, saying, "We've seen the consequences in last night's utterly unacceptable attack."

He further noted that no shelters, hospitals and so-called humanitarian zones are safe in Gaza.

The Rafah carnage came two days after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Israel to “immediately” halt its military offensive in Rafah.

The occupying regime began a ground offensive in the overcrowded Palestinian city on May 7, defying calls from the international community, including the United States, not to proceed.

Rafah, situated on Gaza's southern border with Egypt, is home to about a million displaced Palestinians who have fled from the rest of the besieged territory amid a genocidal Israeli war.

EU ministers discuss anti-Israel sanctions

Ireland’s Foreign Minister Micheal Martin, meanwhile, said the European Union has for the first time engaged in a “significant” discussion on sanctioning Israel over its Gaza onslaught.

He said the imposition of EU sanctions was discussed as a possible measure to be taken if Israel does not comply with the ICJ’s ruling to halt its attack on Rafah, Irish public broadcaster RTE reported.

“Certainly, if compliance isn’t forthcoming, then we have to consider all options,” he added.

Martin also said that a number of EU foreign ministers had raised the prospect of bans against Israeli officials who were aiding and abetting violent settlers in the occupied West Bank.

Israel unleashed its US-backed war on Gaza on October 7 after the Palestinian Hamas resistance group carried out a surprise operation against the usurping entity in retaliation for its intensified atrocities against the Palestinian people.

The Tel Aviv regime has so far killed at least 36,050 Palestinians, mostly women and children, and injured 81,026 others.

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News Network
May 27,2024

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The death toll from the Israeli regime’s airstrikes against a designated safe zone for displaced people in the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip has risen to at least 50 people.

ActionAid UK, the British chapter of an international relief organization, reported the fatalities on Sunday.

Earlier in the day, Israeli warplanes fired eight missiles toward makeshift shelters housing internally-displaced persons in the city’s northwest.

“These shelters were supposed to be safe havens for innocent civilians, yet they became targets of brutal violence,” the organization said.

“Children, women, and men are being burned alive under their tents and shelters,” it noted, warning that the number of fatalities could rise.

Reacting to the massacre, the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas called it an “egregious affront” to a recent ruling by the International Court of Justice, which ordered the Israeli regime to “immediately” halt its offensive against Rafah.

The movement called on all parties, especially Egypt, to pressure the regime into ending its occupation of the city’s Rafah crossing, which borders the country and serves as the main point of entry for vital supplies into Gaza.

Hamas also urged the international community, the United Nations, and all concerned parties to scramble to support the Palestinian nation in the face of the Israeli massacre, which has been seeking to bring about the mass exodus of the Palestinian people and destroy their national cause for the past seven months.

It was referring to an October-present genocidal war that the regime has been waging against Gaza in response to a retaliatory operation by the territory’s resistance movements.

The war has so far claimed the lives of around 36,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, in Gaza.

Hamas called on the world’s Muslim and Arab peoples to step up their anti-Israeli activism in the face of the genocide.

Israel must face sanctions: UN

Francesca Albanese, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, meanwhile, reacted to the “horror” created by the Israeli regime in Rafah, calling for pressure on Tel Aviv.

“The Gaza genocide will not easily end without external pressure: Israel must face sanctions, justice, suspension of agreements, trade, partnership and investments, as well as participation in international forums.”

Balakrishnan Rajagopal, the world body’s special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, also denounced the bloodletting, saying, “Attacking women and children while they cower in their shelters in Rafah is a monstrous atrocity.” 

“We need concerted global action to stop Israel’s actions now,” he added.

The Israeli massacre in Rafah was also followed by mass protest rallies across the West Bank, including in the city of Ramallah and the town of Anabta, which is located to the east of the city of Tulkarm in the northern part of the occupied territory.

The Emirati Hospital in Rafah also condemned the Israeli attacks on Rafah as “a heinous massacre.”

Similar demonstrations also erupted elsewhere throughout the region, including at the Baqa’a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan and in front of the Israeli consulate in Istanbul.

In Iraq, enraged people stormed the KFC’s branch in the capital Baghdad, inflicting damage on the restaurant in protest at the United States’ ongoing support for the Israeli regime’s war on Gaza.

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News Network
May 17,2024

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In scorching heat on a busy Kolkata street last month, commuters sought refuge inside a glass-walled bus shelter where two air conditioners churned around stifling air. Those inside were visibly sweating, dabbing at their foreheads in sauna-like temperatures that were scarcely cooler than out in the open.

Local authorities initially had plans to install as many as 300 of the cooled cabins under efforts to improve protections from a heat season that typically runs from April until the monsoon hits the subcontinent in June. There are currently only a handful in operation, and some have been stripped of their AC units, leaving any users sweltering.

“It doesn’t work,” Firhad Hakim, mayor of the city of 1.5 crore, said on a searing afternoon when temperatures topped 40C. “You feel suffocated.”

Attempts in Kolkata and across India to improve resilience to extreme heat have often been equally ill-conceived, despite a death toll estimated at more than 24,000 since 1992. Inconsistent or incomplete planning, a lack of funding, and the failure to make timely preparations to shield a population of 140 crore are leaving communities vulnerable as periods of extreme temperatures become more frequent, longer in duration and affect a wider sweep of the country.

Kolkata, with its hot, humid climate and proximity to the Bay of Bengal, is particularly vulnerable to temperature and rainfall extremes, and ranked by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as among the global locations that are most at risk.

An increase in average global temperatures of 2C could mean the city would experience the equivalent of its record 2015 heat waves every year, according to the IPCC. High humidity can compound the impacts, as it limits the human body’s ability to regulate its temperature.

Even so, the city — one of India's largest urban centres — still lacks a formal strategy to handle heat waves.

Several regions across India will see as many as 11 heat wave days this month compared to 3 in a typical year, while maximum temperatures in recent weeks have already touched 47.2C in the nation’s east, according to the Indian Meteorological Department. Those extremes come amid the Lok Sabha election during which high temperatures are being cited as among the factors for lower voter turnout.

At SSKM Hospital, one of Kolkata’s busiest, a waiting area teemed last month with people sheltering under colorful umbrellas and thronging a coin-operated water dispenser to refill empty bottles. A weary line snaked back from a government-run kiosk selling a subsidized lunch of rice, lentils, boiled potato and eggs served on foil plates.

“High temperatures can cause heat stroke, skin rashes, cramps and dehydration,” said Niladri Sarkar, professor of medicine at the hospital. “Some of these can turn fatal if not attended to on time, especially for people that have pre-existing conditions.” Extreme heat has an outsized impact on poorer residents, who are often malnourished, lack access to clean drinking water and have jobs that require outdoor work, he said.

Elsewhere in the city, tea sellers sweltered by simmering coal-fired ovens, construction workers toiled under a blistering midday sun, and voters attending rallies for the ongoing national elections draped handkerchiefs across their faces in an effort to stay cool. The state government in April advised some schools to shutter for an early summer vacation to avoid the heat.

Since 2013, states, districts and cities are estimated to have drafted more than 100 heat action plans, intended to improve their ability to mitigate the effects of extreme temperatures. The Centre set out guidelines eight years ago to accelerate adoption of the policies, and a January meeting of the National Disaster Management Authority pledged to do more to strengthen preparedness.

The absence of such planning in Kolkata has also meant a failure to intervene in trends that have made the city more susceptible.

Almost a third of the city’s green cover was lost during the decade through 2021, according to an Indian government survey. Other cities including Mumbai and Bengaluru have experienced similar issues. That’s combined with a decline in local water bodies and a construction boom to deliver an urban heat island effect, according to Saira Shah Halim, a parliamentary candidate in the Kolkata Dakshin electoral district in the city’s south. “What we’re seeing today is a result of this destruction,” she said.

Hakim, the city’s mayor, disputes the idea that Kolkata’s preparations have lagged, arguing recent extreme weather has confounded local authorities. “Such a kind of heat wave is new to us, we’re not used to it,” he said. “We’re locked with elections right now. Once the elections are over, we’ll sit with experts to work on a heat action plan.”

Local authorities are currently ensuring adequate water supplies, and have put paramedics on stand-by to handle heat-induced illnesses, Hakim said.

Focusing on crisis management, rather than on better preparedness, is at the root of the country’s failings, according to Nairwita Bandyopadhyay, a Kolkata-based climatologist and geographer. “Sadly the approach is to wait and watch until the hazard turns into a disaster,” she said.

Even cities and states that already have heat action plans have struggled to make progress in implementing recommendations, the New Delhi-based think tank Centre for Policy Research said in a report last year reviewing 37 of the documents.

Most policies don’t adequately reflect local conditions, they often lack detail on how action should be funded and typically don’t set out a source of legal authority, according to the report.

As many as 9 people have already died as a result of heat extremes this year, according to the meteorological department, though the figure is likely to significantly underestimate the actual total. That follows about 110 fatalities during severe heat waves during April and June last year, the World Meteorological Organization said last month.

Even so, the handling of extreme heat has failed to become a “political lightning rod that can stir governments into action,” said Aditya Valiathan Pillai, among authors of the CPR study and now a fellow at New Delhi-based Sustainable Futures Collaborative.

Modi's government has often moved to contain criticism of its policies, and there is also the question of unreliable data. “When deaths occur, one is not sure whether it was directly caused by heat, or whether heat exacerbated an existing condition,” Pillai said.

In 2022, health ministry data showed 33 people died as a result of heat waves, while the National Crime Records Bureau – another agency that tracks mortality statistics – reported 730 fatalities from heat stroke.

Those discrepancies raise questions about a claim by the Centre that its policies helped cut heat-related deaths from 2,040 in 2015 to 4 in 2020, after national bureaucrats took on more responsibility for disaster risk management.

Local officials in Kolkata are now examining potential solutions and considering the addition of more trees, vertical gardens on building walls and the use of porous concrete, all of which can help combat urban heat.

India’s election is also an opportunity to raise issues around poor preparations, according to Halim, a candidate for the Communist Party of India (Marxist), whose supporters carry bright red flags at campaign events scheduled for the early morning and after sundown to escape extreme temperatures.

“I’m mentioning it,” she said. “It’s become a very, very challenging campaign. The heat is just insufferable.”

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