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3 new parties formed against CAA fail to make a mark in Assam elections

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While the assembly election results in West Bengal have thrown up a surprise, as the state has given a clear mandate again for TMC against the close contest predicted by most pollsters, there were no such surprises in neighbouring Assam. The assembly election results this year have largely repeated the 2016 results, and proved the predictions right. BJP led NDA is set to return to power with around 75 seats, the Congress-led grand alliance has managed to win 47 seats. The final results may vary by few seats as the counting is going on in several constituencies. While the political pundits in the following days will analyse why voters returned NDA to power, these elections have already proved on thing, that the voters have rejected the anti-CAA agenda.

The anti-CAA agitations may see large crowds in the state, but it has been proved yet again that it has no impact on electoral politics in the state. This because, several new political parties were formed with the anti-CAA agenda as the main objective, and all those parties have performed badly.

Ahead of the assembly elections in Assam, three new political parties were formed with one common agenda, to repeal the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Leaders of two so-called student organisations, All Assam Students Union (AASU) and Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad (AJYCP) had come together to form Asom Jatiya Parishad in September last year, with former AASU President Lurinjyoti Gogoi as the leader of the new party.

It may be mentioned that both AASU and AJYCP were also behind the formation of Asom Gana Parishad in 1985, which ruled for Assam for two terms and is now a junior partner in NDA. Both these organisations have good organisational structure in the ground level across the state, and the leaders had predicted that they will be able to achieve significate results in the polls.

The second party to be formed on anti-CAA was Raijor Dal, founded by Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti chief and career protestor Akhil Gogoi. Led by the well-known leader Akhil Gogoi, KMSS is active in Assam’s politics for the last decade, which have led several agitations in the state.

The third party was Anchalik Gana Morcha, formed by former journalist and Rajya Sabha MP Ajit Kumar Bhuyan.

Anchalik Gana Morcha decided to joined the grand alliance of seven parties led by the Congress party, and it had decided to contest in one seat only. Actually the party had released a list with two seats, but later it was seen that Congress had nominated its Dispur candidate from the same constituency. Therefore, it ended up contesting from Bokakhat only.

AJP and Raijor Dal were also invited to join the grand alliance of Congress, AIUDF and the left parties, but they declined. Actually, the presence of AIUDF meant that they couldn’t join it. Because, they were opposing the CAA saying that they don’t want any foreigner to be given citizenship, which was opposite from Congress and AIUDF demand of including Muslims in the CAA. Later, Asom Jatiya Parishad and Raijor Dal had decided to form an alliance of their own, against both the NDA and grand alliance.

While there was no dent in the popularity of the NDA govt led by Sarbananda Sonowal and Himanta Biswa Sarma, some political analysts had predicted, or maybe had hoped, that these new anti-CAA parties will make significant impact on the votes of BJP. It was said that anti-CAA sentiment is very strong in the upper Assam, where both the new parties had strong presence, and they will impact the AGP votes mostly as they share the same voters.

AJP had contested in almost 70 seats, while Raijor Dal had contested in around 34. But the results today have been disappointment for both of them. Between both of the parties that had contested in around 100 seats, they have won only one seat.

AJP, which had contested the highest number of seats in the alliance, has drawn a blank. Its chief Lurinjyoti Gogoi had contested from two seats, Naharkatia and Duliajan, and he lost from both. None of the candidates in the party won, with many losing deposits.

Raijor Dal, on the other hand, own the lone seat in the alliance, as its chief Akhil Gogoi won from Sibsagar. However, it will be difficult to attribute his win to anti-CAA sentiment, as there are few other factors behind his win. The most important is the sympathy factor, as he was lodged in jail during the elections, after he was accused of instigating violence during the anti-CAA protests in 2019. However, HC had upheld his bail on 14th April, after the elections were over.

Moreover, the leftist politician Akhil Gogoi, with alleged links to the maoists is in active politics for more than a decade now, as opposed to the new leaders heading the AJP. He has one of the most visible faces in the anti-BJP camp in the state, and has considerable popularity in Sibsagar, which has a history of electing only Congress or left candidates.

The lone Anchalik Gana Morcha candidate from Bokakhat has also lost the elections against AGP president Atul Bora.

Therefore, all the parties that were formed on anti-CAA agenda couldn’t make any mark in the Assam assembly elections, as only one leader won, that too in his personal capacity.

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Surge Tests, Vaccine Measures as B1.617.2 Covid-19 Variant Spreads Rapidly in Parts of UK

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The case numbers related to the B1.617.2 variant of Covid-19, first identified in India, have more than doubled within a week in the UK, resulting in further surge testing and enhanced vaccine measures to be deployed in parts of the country where the strain is beginning to spread increasingly rapidly. Public Health England (PHE) said on Thursday that its latest analysis shows the number of cases of the highly transmissible variant first detected in Maharashtra has risen from 520 last week to 1,313 cases this week.

Most cases are in the northwest of England, with some in London, and additional measures are being put in place to “rapidly break chains of transmission”. UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the health authorities are monitoring the situation very carefully and will not hesitate to take further action if necessary, indicating that the roadmap to lifting all lockdown measures from June 21 may have to be reassessed.

This data demonstrates why our swift and decisive measures are in place. Everyone has a part to play in controlling this variant, from participating in surge testing, to following the rules, to getting the jab, said Hancock. We are committed to working with local areas and deploying our world-leading genomic sequencing to get this variant under control. We are supporting areas where the cases of this variant are rising, he said.

The minister said it is imperative that people who live in one of the 15 areas currently covered by surge testing processes get a free PCR test and everyone who’s eligible needs to come forward and get their vaccine. PHE said that while there is no firm evidence yet to show this variant has any greater impact on the severity of disease or that it evades vaccines, the “speed of growth is concerning”.

UK Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said the authorities are looking at how to best utilise the vaccine roll-out to protect the most vulnerable in the context of the current epidemiology, including the possibility of bringing forward the second doses for the most vulnerable in some of the most affected areas. Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Manchester, one of the hotspots of the variant, has also called for a speeding up in the age eligibility criteria for vaccines in the affected areas. The National Health Service (NHS) is now offering a jab to all over the age of 38.

Cases of this variant are rising in the community and we are continuously monitoring its spread and severity to ensure we take rapid public health action, said Dr Susan Hopkins, Covid-19 Strategic Response Director at PHE. Testing and isolating when required not only limits spread, it helps us to better understand how the variant behaves in the community which is vital to taking effective and proportionate action moving forward “The way to limit the spread of all variants is the same. Keep your distance, wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, cover your nose and mouth when inside, keep buildings well ventilated and meet people from other households outside, she said.

The variant was confirmed as a “Variant of Concern” by PHE on May 7 after a rise in cases and evidence of spread in some areas. Since then across the northwest of England, significant work is underway with local councils and partners. In Bolton, mobile testing units have been deployed and door to door PCR testing has been offered to 22,000 residents. A vaccine bus has been established in the heart of the community to increase vaccine uptake as part of a wider drive.

PCR testing, whole genome sequencing and enhanced contact tracing are being used throughout London to target the many small dispersed clusters. All positive tests in London with a high enough viral load are also being prioritised for genomic sequencing to check for variants, and surge testing can begin immediately if it is needed. Taking this community-led approach has already proved effective in reducing transmission of variants in London to date, PHE said.

To help identify variant cases, surge testing is being deployed in 15 areas across England to suppress transmission, with more than 800,000 additional PCR test kits distributed. According to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), over 4,400 cases and over 14,000 close contacts have been traced and instructed to self-isolate.

Over 200 existing test sites and 130 schools have distributed test kits, with Mobile Testing Units deployed to provide PCR testing for people without symptoms. The public is also being urged to continue to take up the offer of two free rapid tests a week, to help identify asymptomatic cases. Anyone who does test positive in this way should take a follow-up PCR test, which can be sent for genome sequencing to help catch new variant cases.

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National Platform to Determine Impact of Covid-19 Vaccines to Be Established Soon

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A national tracking platform will be established soon to determine the impact of the jabs against COVID-19 and the breakthrough infections that are likely to occur among those with complete and partial immunisation, official sources said. The recommendation of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) to establish such a platform has been accepted by the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 and the Union Health Ministry, they said.

“The COVID-19 Working Group which is part of NTAGI has strongly recommended to urgently establish a national vaccine tracking platform to determine the impact of the COVID vaccine(s) and the breakthrough infections that are likely to occur among those with complete and partial immunisation,” said Dr N K Arora, the INCLEN Trust chairperson who heads the COVID-19 Working Group. The vaccine tracker will be particularly important to monitor the impact of increasing the dosing schedule of Covishield, he said, as the government on Thursday accepted the working group’s recommendation to extend the gap between the two doses of the Covishield vaccine from 6-8 weeks to 12-16 weeks.

The current data harmonisation work of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and other agencies can be leveraged to set up this facility for review of ground realities on real-time basis, the NTAGI has recommended. The government panel has also recommended that pregnant women may be offered the choice to take any of the COVID-19 vaccines and that lactating women can be inoculated any time after delivery.

The NTAGI has also stated that those having laboratory test proven SARS-CoV-2 illness should defer COVID-19 vaccination for six months after recovery, the sources said. According to the health ministry’s current protocol, vaccine is to be taken four to eight weeks after recovery from COVID-19 infection and pregnant and lactating women are not to be administered the shots.

The NTAGI recommended that all pregnant women visiting for antenatal care (ANC) may be informed about risks and benefits associated with Covishield and Covaxin. Based on the information provided, a pregnant woman may be offered the choice to take any of the vaccines. An educational tool comprising information on risk of COVID-19 infection during pregnancy, benefits associated with the vaccination and rare complications associated with vaccines like thrombosis and thrombocytopenia (with Covishield) may be developed.

In case of individuals who have received the first dose and before completion of the dosing schedule if they test positive for COVID-19, they should wait for 4-8 weeks after clinical recovery from the illness. Also, COVID-19 patients who have been given anti-SARS-CoV-2 monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma may defer vaccination for three months from the day of discharge from hospital, the recommendations stated.

Individuals having any other serious illness requiring hospitalisation or ICU care should also wait for 4-8 weeks before getting the vaccine, it added.

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Delhi Police Quiz Youth Congress President Srinivas BV Over Covid Assistance to Public

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Indian Youth Congress (IYC) president Srinivas BV on Friday said the Delhi Police’s Crime Branch questioned him about the assistance being provided by him to people during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Police called me this morning and came to my office around 11.45 am. They questioned that how you are doing it,” he said.

However, the Delhi Police said the questioning has been done following a Delhi High Court order. The high court has directed the city police to conduct inquiry into politicians involved in distribution of COVID-19 medicines and other items, and take steps for lodging of FIR in case of offence, a senior police officer said.

In compliance with the directions of the high court, inquiry is being conducted into several people, the officer said. On May 4, the Delhi High Court had asked the police to examine the instances of politicians allegedly procuring and distributing Remdesivir, used in treatment of COVID-19 patients, in the national capital and take steps for lodging of FIR in case of offence.

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