India parliament elects president, BJP-backed candidate favorite

Ram Nath Kovind, nominated presidential candidate of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), delivers a speech during a welcoming ceremony as part of his nation-wide tour, in Ahmedabad, India, July 15, 2017. (REUTERS)
Updated 17 July 2017
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India parliament elects president, BJP-backed candidate favorite

NEW DELHI: India’s parliament began voting on Monday for a new president in an election likely to be won by a candidate backed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), tightening its grip over top political positions.
Ram Nath Kovind’s ascent to the highest public office would be the first by a leader who started out with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or National Volunteers’ Association, a Hindu nationalist mentor of the BJP and its affiliates.
The president’s role is largely ceremonial but as the custodian of the constitution, the president has played an important role in times of uncertainty, such as when a general election is inconclusive and a decision has to be made about which party is best placed to form a government.
Kovind, 72, who is from the low-caste Dalit community, is facing Meira Kumar, a former parliament speaker and a fellow-Dalit backed by the opposition Congress party.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, among the first to cast his vote in parliament, said he looked forward to working with Kovind.
“My government will offer full cooperation to him,” he told members of parliament from the ruling coalition.
Members of both houses of parliament and state assemblies will vote on Monday and ballots will be counted on Thursday. The BJP commands the most votes in parliament and in the states.
Some presidents, such as outgoing President Pranab Mukherjee, have tried to act as conscience-keepers, using their constitutional authority as the head of state to defend India’s founding principles as a secular, diverse democracy.
Modi’s rivals say minority Muslims have feared for their wellbeing and have been targeted by fringe Hindu groups since he took office in 2014.
Sonia Gandhi, the head of the Congress party, appealed to members of parliament to vote for Kumar to protect India’s secular values.
“We cannot and must not let India be hostage to those who wish to impose upon it a narrow-minded, divisive and communal vision,” she said.


Indian court finds spiritual guru guilty of raping devotee

Updated 25 April 2018
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Indian court finds spiritual guru guilty of raping devotee

NEW DELHI: An Indian court on Wednesday found a high-profile spiritual guru Asaram Bapu guilty of raping a teenage female devotee in 2013 and he faces a maximum of life in prison.
The verdict against 77-year-old Bapu was read out inside a prison in the city of Jodhpur in Rajasthan state because of fears that his followers may resort to violence.
The case is the latest in a series of high-profile rape cases in India that have fueled public protests and raised questions about how police handle the cases and treat the victims.
In August last year, another popular and flamboyant Indian spiritual guru, Dr. Saint Gurmeet Singh Ram Rahim Insan, was sentenced to 20 years in prison on charges of raping two female followers.
Judge Madhusudhan Sharma will announce the prison term for Bapu later after hearing arguments from the prosecution and Bapu’s attorneys.
Bapu has denied the rape and can appeal his conviction in a higher court.
The girl in her complaint to the police in 2013 accused Bapu of raping her when she visited his retreat in Jodhpur with her mother. The girl’s family said they had been followers of Bapu for more than a decade.
Bapu has been in prison since his arrest in the case in 2013.
On Wednesday, security was tight around the prison complex and in states where the self-styled guru has a considerable following.
Religious sects also wield considerable political clout in India with several politicians as followers. Asaram is also on trial along with his son Narayan Sai in a separate rape case where two sisters have accused the two men of sexual assault.