Pilgrims ascend Mount Arafat in high point of Hajj

News Network
July 19, 2021

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Makkah, July 19: Muslim pilgrims ascended Saudi Arabia's Mount Arafat on Monday in the high point of this year's Hajj, being held in downsized form and under coronavirus restrictions for the second year running.

Just 60,000 people, all citizens or residents of Saudi Arabia, have been selected to take part in this year's Hajj, with foreign pilgrims again barred.

The mask-clad faithful, who had spent the night in camps in the Valley of Mina, converged on Mount Arafat where it is believed the Prophet Mohammed delivered his final sermon, for the most important of the Hajj rituals.

Worshippers will assemble on the 70-metre (230-foot) high hill and its surrounding plain for hours of prayers and Quran recitals to atone for their sins, staying there until the evening.

After sunset, they head to Muzdalifah, halfway between Arafat and Mina, where they will sleep under the stars before performing the symbolic "stoning of the devil".

The scene was dramatically different to past pilgrimages, which have drawn up to 2.5 million people, and this year the mountain was free of the huge crowds that descend on it in normal years.

Privileged few

Being one of the lucky few "gives you a feeling that our God is forgiving and has chosen us to be in this place," said Selma Mohamed Hegazi, a 45-year-old Egyptian. "God willing, our prayers will be accepted."

"My whole body is shivering," she said as she stood among the other emotional pilgrims, wearing the ihram, the traditional seamless white garment worn during the Haj.

Worshippers described a sense of tranquillity descending on the mountain, also known as the "Mount of Mercy".

"To be one of only 60,000 doing haj ....I feel like I am part of a (privileged) group that was able to reach this place," said Baref Siraj, a 58-year-old Saudi national.
The Haj, one of the five pillars of Islam and a must for able-bodied Muslims with the means to travel at least once in their lifetime, is usually one of the world's largest religious gatherings.

Participants were chosen from more than 558,000 applicants through an online vetting system, with the event confined to fully vaccinated adults aged 18-65 with no chronic illnesses.

Safety first

Authorities are seeking to repeat last year's successful event, which took place on the smallest scale in modern history with just 10,000 participants, but which saw no virus outbreak.
Saudi health authorities said Sunday that not a single Covid case had been reported amongst the pilgrims this year.

The kingdom has so far recorded more than 509,000 coronavirus infections, including over 8,000 deaths. Some 20 million vaccine doses have been administered in the country of over 34 million people.

The Haj, which typically packs large crowds into congested religious sites, could have been a super-spreader event for the virus.

But Saudi Arabia has said it is deploying the "highest levels of health precautions" in light of the pandemic and the emergence of new variants.

Pilgrims are being divided into groups of just 20 to restrict potential exposure, and a "smart Haj card" has been introduced to allow contact-free access to camps, hotels and the buses to ferry pilgrims around religious sites.

Black-and-white robots have been deployed to dispense bottles of sacred water from the Zamzam spring in Makkah's Grand Mosque, built around the Kaaba, the black cubic structure towards which Muslims around the world pray.

Ibrahim Siam, a 64-year-old Egyptian pilgrim who comes from Dammam in the east of the country, said that high-tech procedures introduced to manage the Haj "have made things a lot easier."

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News Network
September 20,2022

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New Delhi, Sept 20: After over two decades, the Congress is likely to see a contest for the post of party chief with Shashi Tharoor looking set to enter the fray after his meeting with Sonia Gandhi and Ashok Gehlot being seen as the other contender.

It would, however, be interesting to see if a surprise candidate or candidates also throw their hat in the ring.

The upcoming polls would certainly be historic as the new president would replace Sonia Gandhi, the longest-serving party president who has been at the helm since 1998, barring the two years between 2017 and 2019 when Rahul Gandhi took over.

The party last saw a contest for the post in November 2000. Jitendra Prasada had lost to Sonia Gandhi in 2000 and prior to that Sitaram Kesri had defeated Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot in 1997.

With Rahul Gandhi likely to stick to his earlier stance of not taking on the mantle of party president, it seems the party will have its first non-Gandhi president in over two decades.

Also, with Sonia Gandhi asserting that she would remain neutral in the polls and there would be no "official candidate" it could be a keener contest than the one in 2000.

Tharoor on Monday met Sonia Gandhi and expressed his intention to contest the upcoming AICC chief polls, while the Congress president conveyed that she would stay "neutral" in the elections, according to sources.

Gandhi welcomed the idea of more people contesting the polls and dispelled the notion that there would be an "official candidate", they said.

The feedback by Gandhi on Tharoor's desire to contest is being seen by many as an encouragement to him to contest and he could announce his candidature in the next few days.

With regard to Tharoor's meeting with Gandhi and the speculation over it, the Congress said no one needs a nod to contest the presidential election as it is an open, democratic and transparent process.

In a tweet on Tuesday, Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said, "Entire party is immersed in making Bharat Jodo Yatra a success. Even so it is important to reiterate that any member is welcome to contest for Congress president".

"This is a democratic and transparent process. Nobody needs anybody's nod to contest, especially that of party leadership," he said.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Gehlot is being considered as a candidate for the top post favoured by the present dispensation, according to some sources.

Gehlot, however, denies that he is a candidate and has been saying that he will try and convince Rahul Gandhi to contest.

Adding to the buzz over the possibility of his contesting Congress president polls, Tharoor had met Gandhi at her 10 Janpath residence here on Monday. He, however, refused to divulge any details about the meeting.

Tharoor, who was among the group of 23 leaders who had written to Gandhi in 2020 demanding organisational overhaul, also endorsed a petition on Monday by a group of young party members seeking "constructive reforms".

The petition shared by Tharoor on Twitter sought reforms and a pledge by AICC president candidates to implement the Udaipur Declaration in entirety, if elected. The former Union minister said it had been signed by over 650 people so far.

"I welcome this petition that is being circulated by a group of young @INCIndia members, seeking constructive reforms in the Party. It has gathered over 650 signatures so far. I am happy to endorse it & to go beyond it," Tharoor tweeted with screenshots of the petition.

The petition that Tharoor endorsed said, "We are members of the Congress party with a desire to strengthen the party to reflect the hopes and aspirations of our nation."

The petition stated some of the tenets of the Udaipur Declaration that was made on May 15, 2022, after the party's brainstorming session.

"We appeal to each candidate in the election for the President of the All India Congress Committee to undertake a public pledge to involve party members from block committees up to the CWC and implement the Udaipur Declaration in entirety within the first 100 days of assuming office," the petition said.

In its declaration, the Congress had announced wide-ranging organisational reforms to make the party battle ready for the next round of assembly and Lok Sabha polls, stressing on wider representation to those under 50 years of age and enforcing 'one person, one post' and 'one family, one ticket' rules with riders.

Asked about the possibility of him running for the post of the Congress president, Tharoor had told PTI earlier this month, "I have only welcomed the fact that an election will be held. I believe that is very good for the party."

"Of course it is gratifying that this general statement of democratic principle has immediately led to large numbers of people around the country welcoming the prospect of my contesting. But as I have made it clear, I have not declared my candidacy," Tharoor had said.

"I hope many will contest in order to give the membership a wide choice. So far I have neither ruled myself in nor ruled myself out," the former Union minister had asserted.

The process for filing nominations for the election will be held from September 24 to 30. The last date for withdrawal of nominations is October 8 and the election, if required, will be held on October 17. The results will be out on October 19. 

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News Network
September 17,2022

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New Delhi, Sept 17: Hyderabad today celebrates, depending one's political persuasion, the state's 'integration' to the Indian Union or 'liberation' from the rule of the Nizam. While Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao or KCR celebrates 'Telangana National Integration Day', a few kilometers away Union Home Minister Amit Shah is celebrating the same historical event but under a slightly different name: 'Hyderabad Liberation Day'.

A day that marks the integration of Hyderabad state to the Indian Union in 1948 bears witness to what a combative KCR calls the BJP's "divisive agenda". The BJP's political ambitions are not lost on anyone: with a weakened Congress unable to challenge the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, the BJP sees a glimmering opportunity in Telangana.

Instances of the Centre and state not seeing eye-to-eye have become more common in recent months, however, today's events are significant. While Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao raised the national flag in Public Gardens, Nampally celebrating 'Telangana National Integration Day', 7 km away from him at Secunderabad, Union Home Minister Amit Shah also unfurl the national flag marking 'Hyderabad Liberation Day'.

KCR, who declined an invite to Amit Shah's event today, asked why the BJP was not celebrating the integration of Gujarat's Junagadh to India on November 9 and only "wants to focus on Hyderabad".

BJP's attempts at outdoing KCR are apparent as they one-up the TRS's three-day festival with a year-long celebration of Hyderabad's integration, which has been tagged alongside the central government's ongoing "Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav".

This aggressive competitive politics being played out today as the two leaders address separate public rallies and carry out independent celebrations.

KCR's three-day celebration of Telangana National Integration Day, which began yesterday with rallies being taken out by students, women and youth groups in constituency headquarters, has included him unfurling the national flag at the Central Lawns in Nampally's Public Gardens today. Simultaneously, ministers also unfurled the national flag and took salute at all district headquarters.

There will also be a rally taken out displaying Girijan and Adivasi artifacts which will culminate in a public meeting. Tomorrow, cultural programmes will be organised, and freedom fighters and artists will be facilitated.

On the other hand, Amit Shah's day-long visit for 'Hyderabad Liberation Day includes floral tributes to Sardar Vallabhai Patel, the first Home Minister of India who had unfurled the national flag after Hyderabad acceded to India.

Amit Shah was joined by the Chief Ministers of Maharashtra and Karnataka. Both states include parts that ceded from the former Hyderabad state. Another important aspect that the two states share is that they are governed by the BJP.

A cultural programme follows Mr Shah's unfurling of the national flag at Parade Grounds in Secunderabad. Additionally, at 2 pm, Mr Shah will distribute "free divyang aids, appliances ... and mechanised sanitation equipment to schools" at Classic Gardens, Secunderabad to mark Narendra Modi's birthday.

This is not the first time that the BJP has weaponised Hyderabad Liberation Day against the TRS. They have for years accused KCR's party of not celebrating the day, alleging that it was engaging in "vote-bank politics".

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News Network
September 28,2022

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Hyderabad, Sept 28: AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi on Wednesday slammed the Centre for banning Popular Front of India (PFI) saying the "draconian" ban is dangerous as it is a ban on any Muslim who wishes to speak his mind. 

"While I have always opposed PFI's approach and supported democratic approach, this ban on PFI cannot be supported. Actions of some individuals who commit crime does not mean that the organisation itself must be banned. SC has also held that mere association with an organisation is not enough to convict someone," Owaisi said in a tweet.

He added that the way India's "electoral autarky" is approaching "fascism", every Muslim youth will now be arrested with a PFI pamphlet under the UAPA. 

"Muslims have spent decades in prison before being acquitted by courts. I have opposed UAPA and will always oppose all actions under UAPA. It runs afoul the principle of liberty, which is part of basic structure of the Constitution," said Owaisi. 

After years of investigations and demands from BJP-ruled states, the Narendra Modi government on Wednesday banned PFI and its eight affiliates for five years, charging them with being involved in "several criminal and terror cases" and having links with the terror outfits like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Jamat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).

The ban, which was notified by the Ministry of Home Affairs in the gazette at 5:43 am, came following multi-agency raids in around 15 states, including Karnataka and Kerala, led by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) that led to the arrest or detention of over 350 PFI leaders and activists on September 22 and 27. The MHA said in the notification that the ban was recommended by BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Gujarat governments.

Along with the PFI, its affiliates Rehab India Foundation (RIF), Campus Front of India (CFI), All India Imams Council (AIIC), National Confederation of Human Rights Organisation (NCHRO), National Women’s Front, Junior Front, Empower India Foundation and Rehab India, Kerala were banned under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. 

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