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Two Indian opposition parties unite to challenge PM Narendra Modi | News

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New Delhi, India – A formidable opposition, a coalition of the regional Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), has been announced by the leaders of the two parties to challenge Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the general elections due in a few months.

India‘s politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh sends 80 MPs to the lower house of parliament and has produced nine prime ministers.

At a news conference in state capital Lucknow on Saturday, the SP headed by the young satrap, Akhilesh Yadav, and the BSP led by Dalit (lowest Hindu caste) leader Kumari Mayawati announced they are entering into an alliance where they will contest 76 seats as a team. 

“Today’s press conference is one which will give sleepless nights to Modi and the ruling BJP party chief, Amit Shah,” the BSP chief said.

Mayawati, former chief minister of the state and an icon to millions of Dalits, described this as a “new political revolution in the country”.

India’s lower castes, especially the Dalits, face continued social discrimination and even untouchability, despite the practice being outlawed by parliament in 1955.

Both Yadav and Mayawati took digs at Modi repeatedly.

This is a game-changer. It poses a big challenge to the BJP. This would also be a serious setback to the rise of Hindutva.

Ashutosh, senior journalist and founding editor of SatyaHindi.com

“To hide their failures, the ruling BJP has actively spread an atmosphere of fear and terror by fuelling enmity among different communities… We have decided to come together today to fight the injustice perpetrated by the BJP,” Yadav, also a former chief minister of the state, said.

SP and BSP have a large support base of lower castes and are in a position to be able to manipulate the social arithmetic of elections in the state. Some analysts say it is a “killer-alliance”. 

“This is a game-changer. It poses a big challenge to the BJP. This would also be a serious setback to the rise of Hindutva, a radical ideology of self-avowed Hindu nationalists at the national level,” Ashutosh, senior journalist and founding editor of SatyaHindi.com, told Al Jazeera.

“This is an alliance that brings together castes that were long oppressed by the upper castes of Indian society for thousands of years. This consolidation electorally will bring great benefit. In terms of votes, if the backwards and the Dalits come together, they cross more than 50 percent in the state,” he added.

The BJP is currently ruling the UP state with a Hindu nationalist monk Adityanath as the chief minister. 

Human rights campaigners say frequent military-style police operations and extrajudicial killings of alleged criminals are becoming common since the installation of the right-wing Chief Minister, Adityanath.

The ruling BJP has attempted to appeal to its hardcore Hindu nationalist base in the most politically important state ahead of a national election by promising a “grand” statue of the Hindu God Ram and erasing Muslim names of towns, roads and railways stations. 

On Saturday, the BJP dismissed the prospects of the opposition alliance saying there is no contest. 

“This alliance is not likely to be accepted by their social base because there are a lot of political and historical contradictions between the two parties,” BJP MP Rakesh Sinha told Al Jazeera.

“BJP is not threatened by any such alliance because this election is going to be a contest about who is going to lead the nation. Modi as prime minister and as a face remains the tallest and nobody can compete with Modi,” Sinha added.

Prime Minister Modi had said in a recent interview that the ruling BJP is confident of doing well in this year’s general election despite the party’s recent losses in state polls.

Although Hindu nationalist Modi remains popular, the 2019 election is slated to be a tough battle, with some voters feeling let down by his inability to create jobs and battle rural distress.

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Ottawa transit commission hopes to prioritize COVID-19 vaccines for OC Transpo workers

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Ottawa’s transit commission is pushing local and provincial health officials to recognize the role OC Transpo operators have played in keeping the city running during the COVID-19 pandemic, hoping to bump train and bus drivers in the vaccination queue amid a recent surge in coronavirus infections affecting transit workers.

More than 100 OC Transpo staff across the entire organization have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to an update at Wednesday morning’s transit commission meeting.

Of those cases, 26 employees are currently recovering from the disease in self-isolation.

OC Transpo has seen a recent jump in COVID-19 cases, with Ottawa city council receiving reports of eight operators testing positive for the virus over a recent eight-day period.

Transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert attempted to find out how many of the total cases are traced to workplace transmission, but OC Transpo boss John Manconi said he’s been advised by medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches that he can’t share that information for privacy reasons.

Transit operators are listed in the second priority group of essential workers as part of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine sequencing plans, but several commissioners speaking Wednesday wanted to get the city’s bus and train drivers bumped higher in the order.

Councillors Riley Brockington and Glen Gower both put forward motions looking to get front-line OC Transpo employees prioritization in vaccine sequencing, but others pointed out that the much-debated public health topic of who gets the vaccine and when is well beyond the scope of the transit commission.

“We are not in a position in transit commission to be decreeing, or making an edict, about what group of essential workers is more at risk than others and should be prioritized. That should be left up to public health experts,” Wright-Gilbert said.

Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli, who also chairs the Ottawa Board of Health, reflected on the board’s four-plus-hour meeting on Monday evening, during which vaccine sequencing and prioritizing essential workers dominated the conversation.

“Vaccine sequencing is obviously a very difficult maze to get through,” he said.

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COVID-19: Ottawa police announce end of 24-7 presence at Ontario-Quebec border

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Less than two days after the Ontario government’s latest COVID-19 restrictions came into effect, calling for non-essential traffic to be stopped at the province’s borders with Quebec and Manitoba, the Ottawa Police Service has announced it is stopping its 24-hour checkpoints.

According to a statement issued by the service Tuesday evening, the around-the-clock border checkpoints were set to end as of 8 p.m. on Tuesday in favour of rotating checkpoints across the city throughout the day until Ontario’s temporary regulations end.

“Since the onset of the border operations, the OPS has been working closely with Ottawa Public Health (OPH) along with local stakeholders and interprovincial stakeholders (the City of Ottawa, the City of Gatineau, the Ontario Provincial Police etc.) to assess any local public health, traffic and safety impacts. The assessment resulted in today’s operational changes,” the statement said.

“The operational changes announced today are designed to better ensure the health and safety of all, to minimize delays and/or hazards for travellers and to ensure essential workers can get to their places of employment on time.”

The statement also said the police service, while working to comply with the provincial order, was focused on education and enforcement actions that “support improved public health outcomes and respect the concerns of our most marginalized and racialized communities”

Officers said they will be conducting daily assessments on border crossings and that there could be further changes.

In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said that the border closures are ultimately subject to the discretion of local police enforcing the regulations.

“Local police services are best positioned to determine the operational deployments necessary to ensure the continued safety of their communities,” the spokesperson said, noting that the order’s regulations still apply to individuals entering the province.

The temporary order restricts Quebec residents from entering Ontario. If prompted, individuals must stop when directed by an enforcement officials and provide their reason for entering the province.

The main exemptions to the restrictions include if the person’s main home is in the province, if they work in Ontario, if they’re transporting goods, if they’re exercising Indigenous or treaty rights, if they need health care or if there’s a basis on compassionate grounds.

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COVID-19 vaccines in Ottawa: Nearly half of all residents in their 60s have at least one dose

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Public Health’s latest COVID-19 vaccination update shows that nearly half of all residents 60 to 69 years old have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a figure that has all but doubled in the past week.

OPH’s COVID-19 vaccination dashboard shows 58,000 residents 60 to 69 have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, accounting for 49.3 per cent of that age group’s population in Ottawa. Last Wednesday, OPH reported 30,000 residents 60 to 69 had had at least one dose, which was 25.4 per cent.

As age demographics get younger, the population grows larger and the coverage by percentage may appear to grow more slowly, even if clinics are vaccinating greater numbers of people. For example, the latest figures show that 83 per cent of people aged 70 to 79 have had at least one dose. By raw population that’s 60,000 people, only slightly higher than half of all people in their 60s.

Vaccinations are open through the Ontario portal to anyone 60 and older and, this week, the AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for administration at pharmacies and primary care clinics to anyone in Ontario 40 and older.

OPH reported a new shipment this week of 25,740 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. To date, Ottawa has received 305,130 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from the provincial government.

The number of eligible residents (i.e. 16 and older) with at least one dose of a vaccine is now up to 28 per cent.

Tuesday was Ottawa’s second-busiest day for vaccinations overall, with the OPH reporting 9,729 shots administered. Last Friday saw 9,887 shots administered in a single day.

QUICK STATS

  • Ottawa residents with at least one dose: 248,668
  • Ottawa residents with two doses: 26,722
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with at least one dose: 28 per cent
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with two doses: 3 per cent
  • Percent of total population with at least one dose: 24 per cent
  • Percent of total population with two doses: 3 per cent

VACCINATION COVERAGE BY AGE FOR OTTAWA RESIDENTS WITH AT LEAST ONE DOSE

  • 10-19: 1.6 per cent (1,804 people)
  • 20-29: 8.3 per cent (13,452 people)
  • 30-39: 9.5 per cent (14,999 people)
  • 40-49: 12.9 per cent (17,350 people)
  • 50-59: 28.8 per cent (40,320 people)
  • 60-69: 49.3 per cent (58,627 people)
  • 70-79: 82.9 per cent (62,808 people)
  • 80-89: 87.5 per cent (29,358 people)
  • 90+: 89.2 per cent (7,893 people)
  • Unknown age: 2,057 people 

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