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Priyanka Gandhi Could Revive Past Congress Glories in Uttar Pradesh

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After years of speculation, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (47), the younger sister of Rahul Gandhi, chief of India’s main opposition Congress party, has formally entered active politics ahead of this year’s much-anticipated general election.

Priyanka was formally inducted on Wednesday into the party as the general secretary of Uttar Pradesh East, where she has also been put in charge of party preparations for the election. Uttar Pradesh (UP) is a key political state as it sends the largest number of parliamentarians to both the lower and upper houses of the Indian parliament. Its eastern part is the stronghold of the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP). The north Indian state helped the BJP to win power in the general elections of  2014 with a total of 73 seats out of 80.

Congress has been on the back foot in Uttar Pradesh for over a decade. With the induction of Priyanka, the party hopes to revive its fortunes there in the upcoming national polls, which are now less than two months away.

Can Priyanka become Indira?

Over the last year, the Uttar Pradesh Congress headquarters in Lucknow has finally been renovated for the first time in three decades thanks to sponsorship brought by the party’s state chief and former actor Raj Babbar. Congress HQ used to be the center of Indian politics, where former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi held party meetings.

“Raj Babbar’s new cabin on the first floor is the same place where Priyanka’s grandmother Indira Gandhi used to hold meetings in the seventies and eighties. Priyanka Ji will use the same cabin now whenever she (is) here,” said Anshu Awasthi, a Congress spokesperson.

The renovation of the office seems almost symbolic as Priyanka is usually compared to her grandmother and former prime minister Indira Gandhi. They are similar in their appearance, with short wavy hair, and share common features and traits.

Congress hopes that Priyanka will bring back the party’s past glory days. In the 1980 general elections Congress, under the leadership of Indira, took 73 seats out of 85 in the then undivided state of Uttar Pradesh. “We will win at least 40 parliamentary seats in Uttar Pradesh, double our 2009 tally, with the great leadership and managerial skills of Priyanka who has an uncanny resemblance (to) her grandmother,” Awasthi asserted.

A graduate in political science, Priyanka has been tending to the UP constituencies of Amethi and Rae Bareli for her brother Rahul and mother Sonia Gandhi for almost two decades.

Athar Hussain, director of the Center for Objective Research and Development in Lucknow, said, “She was instrumental in inking the  Congress and Samajwadi Party alliance in (the) 2017 Assembly elections. The party relied on her while picking up chief ministers of three recently won states. Her leadership skills will benefit the party to some extent but she can’t fetch many seats.”

However Congress leaders insist Priyanka’s presence will complement her brother’s and strengthen the party. “While Rahul follows the principles of simplicity set by previous leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and (India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal) Nehru, Priyanka is more practical and a quick decision maker like Indira,” a senior Congress leader said.

A close confidant of Priyanka said, “She mingles easily. She distributes party items to workers personally, calling them by name. They are more open to her than Rahul Gandhi. That’s why we were seeking her leadership for a long time.”

Priyanka Gandhi vs BJP

In early January, the BJP was expecting a clean sweep in UP, just as it had achieved in the 2014 polls. But on January 9, two regional players—the Samajwadi Patry (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) announced a pre-poll alliance that shunned involvement with Congress for the general elections.

Priyanka’s surprising entry into India’s most significant election territory has further upset the  BJP’s election calculations.

The state holds the key to winning federal elections, with 80 out of a total 545 parliamentary seats in India. In 2014, the BJP swept to victory in 71 UP seats, one-fourth of its nationwide total tally of 282. In the same elections, Congress won only two, SP five and BSP none.

Despite the poor 2014 outcome, the SP-BSP alliance polled 43% of votes in UP (mainly among the Muslims, and the backward and Dalit castes), while Congress won only 6-7% (mainly voters from the upper castes).

With his sister on board, Rahul hopes to aggressively take on the Modi-led-BJP as much as the SP-BSP alliance in Uttar Pradesh. Experts feel that, while Priyanka will strategize, decide on candidates and lead from the front in Uttar Pradesh, Rahul will focus on other parts of the country.

Breaking into Modi-Yogi’s turfs

Uttar Pradesh is usually divided into four parts: the western, eastern, central and Bundelkhand regions. However, Congress has divided it into two, with roughly 40 seats each in east and west. Western Uttar Pradesh will be supervised by another young Congress leader, Jyotiraditya Scindia, who was instrumental in the party’s victory in neighboring Madhya Pradesh. Both announcements have come at a time when Congress is facing an existential crisis in Uttar Pradesh due to the lack of big leaders.

Priyanka, who until now has been working for the party behind the scenes, will now look after eastern Uttar Pradesh. The eastern region is the stronghold of the BJP, its parent organization RSS, and other right-wing groups. The region has not received much developmental work and is affected by illegal mining and crime.

The eastern region includes Varanasi and Gorakhpur, the electoral turf of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Ajay Singh Bisht (also known as Yogi Adityanath). Other big leaders of the party such as Home Minister Rajnath Singh (Lucknow constituency), Union minister Manoj Sinha (Ghazipur) and BJP’s state chief Mahendra Pandey (Chandauli) also hail from the same area.

But hope springs eternal in opposition circles after the BJP lost two key parliamentary by-elections in the region—Gorakhpur and Phulpur—to the Samajwadi Party last year. Priyanka is likely to set out to galvanize anti-incumbency sentiment against the BJP in the region.

Congress leaders in Uttar Pradesh now believe that she will at some point replace her mother Sonia who has held the Rae Bareli seat for many years. Sonia has suffered ill-health for some time now.

Insiders say Rahul sees his sister as a future chief minister, after he expressed his wish on Wednesday to see a Congress chief minister in Uttar Pradesh in future.

Brighter prospects for Congress

Amid all the buzz, the woman-of-the-moment was missing from the scene. Priyanka has apparently gone to London to be there while her daughter undergoes surgery.

“She will assume charge in the first week of February. On February 10, the sister-brother duo will convene a joint public meeting in Lucknow to sound the poll bugle”, party leaders said.

Moreover, the Congress seems to have emerged from the shadow of accusations against Priyanka’s husband Robert Vadra. He was accused of illegal land deals during the Congress regime. The Enforcement Directorate is likely to call Vadra next month to answer the case. Observers feel that Priyanka’s formal plunge into politics has been delayed by her husband’s problems.

On Wednesday, none of the BJP leaders including PM Modi mentioned Vadra’s case while reacting to Priyanka’s nomination. Their criticism was limited to “dynasty politics”. Observers who earlier predicted up to 25 seats for BJP, 45 seats for SP-BSP and 10 seats for Congress in the state, are no longer confident about their predictions.

“Priyanka will influence women and upper caste voters (20%), especially Brahmins who had moved toward (the) BJP over the years. This might increase Congress’ vote share but it is not easy to predict seats”, said political analyst Ramesh Dixit.

The BJP has taken note. Union Minister Smriti Irani decided to take 20,000 Amethi residents to the Ardha Kumbh Fair being held in the historic city of Prayagraj.  Irani seeks to once more contest the Amethi constituency where she was defeated by Rahul in 2014 despite a Modi-wave. She had also criticized Priyanka’s plunge into politics earlier. However, when news agencies had asked Priyanka to react to Irani’s charges, she asked them who Irani was. The result was exactly as expected. Irani launched into a tirade, but Priyanka h

ad made her point. ATIMES

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William Barr Briefed Trump On Probe Over Discarded Pennsylvania Ballots: Report

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump listens to a question as he appears at the "Retired American Warriors" conference during a campaign stop in Herndon, Virginia, U.S., October 3, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Attorney General William Barr personally briefed President Donald Trump on a probe into what the Justice Department is calling “reports of potential issues with a small number of mail-in ballots” in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, a DOJ official told ABC News on Friday.

That information comes a day after the Justice Department took the unusual step of revealing details about an ongoing investigation, which White House critics decried as an attempt to bolster Trump’s repeated and largely baseless claims that mail-in voting is ripe for fraud.

The DOJ did so after Trump began discussing it during an interview with Fox News Radio.

“They were Trump ballots … and they were thrown in a garbage can. This is what’s going to happen,” Trump said in the interview. “This is what’s going to happen, and we’re investigating that.”

Later that day, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania shared more details, saying there were nine discarded ballots for Trump. The office later corrected the statement to say only seven of the votes were for the president, raising questions among election experts about the details of the situation and the way they were announced.

“At this point, we can confirm that a small number of military ballots were discarded,” a statement from the office said. “Investigators have recovered nine ballots at this time. Some of those ballots can be attributed to specific voters and some cannot. Of the nine ballots that were discarded and then recovered, 7 were cast for presidential candidate Donald Trump. Two of the discarded ballots had been resealed inside their appropriate envelopes by Luzerne elections staff prior to recovery by the FBI and the contents of those 2 ballots are unknown.”

The Justice Department also sent a letter to Luzerne County Bureau of Elections director Shelby Watchilla saying the staff appeared to be at fault.

“The preliminary findings of this inquiry are troubling and the Luzerne County Bureau of Elections must comply with all applicable state and federal election laws and guidance to ensure that all votes—regardless of party—are counted to ensure an accurate election count,” the letter read.

Luzerne County Manager C. David Pedri released a statement later Friday saying a “temporary seasonal independent contractor” who started Sept. 14 was the employee who threw out the ballots. The person was fired thereafter.

After discovering what happened, the FBI and other authorities sorted through all the trash from the days that employee was in service in order to retrieve the ballots. Both county- and state-level authorities are providing “supplemental extensive training” to everyone working in the Luzerne elections department, Pedri said. Huffin

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Trump aims to boost rural turnout in critical Wisconsin

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Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

President Donald Trump is aiming to boost enthusiasm among rural Wisconsin voters Thursday, looking to repeat his path to victory four years ago.

The event is scheduled to start at 9 p.m. EST. Watch Trump’s remarks in the player above.

Making his fifth visit to the pivotal battleground state this year, Trump views success in the state’s less-populated counties as critical to another term. He is set to hold a rally Thursday evening in Mosinee, in central Wisconsin, an area of the state that shifted dramatically toward Republicans in 2016, enabling Trump to overcome even greater deficits in urban and suburban parts of the state.

Trump, hinging his campaign on turning out his core supporters, has increasingly used his public appearances to elevate cultural issues important to his generally whiter and older base. Earlier Thursday, in a speech at the National Archives to commemorate Constitution Day, he derided The New York Times’ “1619 Project,” which aims to reframe the country’s history by highlighting the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans.

“For many years now, the radicals have mistaken Americans’ silence for weakness. But they are wrong,” Trump said. “There is no more powerful force than a parent’s love for their children — and patriotic moms and dads are going to demand that their children are no longer fed hateful lies about this country.”

Trump’s last visit to Wisconsin came on Sept. 1, when he met with law enforcement and toured damage from protests in Kenosha that turned violent after the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man hit seven times in the back during an attempted arrest. Trump has sought to use the unrest after the August shooting of Blake and the May police killing of George Floyd to tout a “law and order” message and to paint an apocalyptic vision of violence if Democrat Joe Biden wins on Nov. 3.

Trump won Marathon County, which includes Mosinee, by more than 12,000 votes in 2016 — over three times more than the margin by which 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney won the area. Trump’s team is wagering the 2020 contest on a similar performance in the county and the dozens of others like it across battleground states.

Trump’s path to 270 Electoral College votes may well hinge on Wisconsin, and his campaign is investing tens of millions of dollars on advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts in the state.

Trump’s event was set to take place at an aircraft hangar at the Mosinee airport, his campaign’s preferred format for mass rallies amid the coronavirus, though Trump has been willing to host large events indoors as well, sometimes in violation of state and federal distancing guidelines. – PBS


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Federal Judge Blocks Postal Service Changes That Slowed Mail

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A U.S. judge on Thursday blocked controversial Postal Service changes that have slowed mail nationwide, calling them “a politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service” before the November election.

Judge Stanley Bastian in Yakima, Washington, said he was issuing a nationwide preliminary injunction sought by 14 states that sued the Trump administration and the U.S. Postal Service.

The states challenged the Postal Service’s so-called “leave behind” policy, where trucks have been leaving postal facilities on time regardless of whether there is more mail to load. They also sought to force the Postal Service to treat election mail as first class mail.

The judge noted after a hearing that Trump had repeatedly attacked voting by mail by making unfounded claims that it is rife with fraud. Many more voters are expected to vote by mail this November because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the states have expressed concern that delays might result in voters not receiving ballots or registration forms in time.

“The states have demonstrated the defendants are involved in a politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service,” Bastian said.

He also said the changes created “a substantial possibility many voters will be disenfranchised.”

Bastian, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, issued a written order later Thursday that closely tracked the relief sought by the states. It ordered the Postal Service to stop implementing the “leave behind” policy, to treat all election mail as first class mail rather than as slower-moving categories, to reinstall any mail processing machines needed to ensure the prompt handling of election mail, and to inform its employees about the requirements of his injunction.

Postal Service spokesman Dave Partenheimer said the organization is reviewing its legal options, but “there should be no doubt that the Postal Service is ready and committed to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives.”

Lee Moak, a member of the USPS Board of Governors, called the notion any changes were politically motivated “completely and utterly without merit.”

Following a national uproar, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a major donor to President Donald Trump and the GOP, announced he was suspending some changes — including the removal of iconic blue mailboxes in many cities and the decommissioning of mail processing machines.

But other changes remained in place, and the states — including the battlegrounds of Michigan, Wisconsin and Nevada — asked the court to block them. Led by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, the states said the Postal Service made the changes without first bringing them to the Postal Regulatory Commission for public comment and an advisory opinion, as required by federal law. They also said the changes interfered with their constitutional authority to administer their elections.

At the hearing, Justice Department attorney Joseph Borson sought to assure the judge that the Postal Service would handle election mail promptly, noting that a surge of ballots in the mail would pale in comparison to increases from, say, holiday cards.

He also said slow-downs caused by the “leave behind” policy had gotten better since it was first implemented, and that the Postal Service in reality had made no changes with regard to how it classifies and processes election mail. DeJoy has repeatedly insisted that processing election mail remains the organization’s top priority.

“There’s been a lot of confusion in the briefing and in the press about what the Postal Service has done,” Borson said. “The states are accusing us of making changes we have not in fact made.”

Voters who are worried about their ballots being counted “can simply promptly drop their ballots in the mail,” he said, and states can help by mailing registration form or absentee ballots early.

Borson also insisted that the states were required to bring their challenge not in court, but before the Postal Regulatory Commission itself — even though by law the commission has 90 days to respond. Bastian rejected that notion, saying there was no time for that with the election just seven weeks away.

The states conceded that mail delays have eased since the service cuts first created a national uproar in July, but they said on-time deliveries remain well below their prior levels, meaning millions of pieces of mail that would otherwise arrive on-time no longer are.

They also noted some of the effects the changes had already wrought: Michigan spent $2 million earlier this year on envelopes that met election mail standards — only to learn that the Postal Service wouldn’t treat them as first class mail. In Madison, Wisconsin, the number of ballots that weren’t counted because they arrived late for the August primary doubled from the August 2018 primary.

Further, they cited research from information technology consultant Mynor Urizar-Hunter, who helped start a website tracking the USPS changes, noting that 78% of the machines slated for removal were in counties won by Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.

The states suing are Washington, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia — all led by Democratic attorneys general.

Pennsylvania is leading a separate multistate lawsuit over the changes, and New York and Montana have filed their own challenges.

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