Indians Become 2nd Largest Group of Overseas Visitors to Fly into US This Summer with 500
Indians are the second biggest overseas visitors to the United States this summer, a report by the US commerce department's National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO) for the second quarter of 2023 (April-June) revealed.
The “Inbound Survey of International Air Travellers (SIAT)” report showed that Indians braved the long waiting time for interviews and sky-high airfares to become the second biggest overseas visitors to the US.
Over 500,000 Indians flew to the US this summer. Almost a million visitors flew to the US from the UK this summer. The pole position was taken by Canada at 26 lakh and around 720,000 people from Mexico flew to the US this summer.
Over 4 lakh people travelled from France and Germany while close to 370,000 visitors from Brazil visited the US this summer.
This means that Indians were the second largest group of overseas visitors flying into the US this summer and, if the number of visitors from Canada and Mexico are discounted, if it is taken into account that these two countries share land borders with the US, then Indians become the third largest group of people flying into the US this summer.
A report by the Times of India citing insiders from the travel industry said that the number of Indians visiting the US could have been higher if not for visa delays.
The current wait time for B1/B2 visitor visas in India is about 1.5 years, a significant improvement from the nearly three-year wait seen last winter. The US embassy said it has taken steps to reduce this waiting period. In consulates in Mumbai and Delhi, the wait time for a B1/B2 visa interview is currently 596 and 542 days, respectively, while it is 526 days in the Chennai consulate, 539 days in Kolkata and 506 days in Hyderabad.
For the first time in India, the US Embassy has processed over a million non-immigrant visa applications this year. This is nearly 20% more than the number processed in 2019 and 2022, before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Indians now represent over 10% of all visa applicants worldwide, including 20% of all student visa applicants and 65% of all H & L category (employment) visa applicants,” the US embassy said in September.
Tamilian Married to Odia IAS Officer
Touching the feet of Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and with “Jai Jagganath” on his lips, V Kartikeyan Pandian, the 49-year-old IAS officer who opted for voluntary retirement in October this year, formally joined the Biju Janata Dal on the auspicious day of Kartik Purnima.
“As all of you know, he's been working very hard for several years for the people of our state, and has earned their respect and trust. He will continue to do so as a member of the party. I wish him all the best,” said Odisha CM and BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik, emphatically and unambiguously supporting his former private secretary's entry into the party.
Replying to Patnaik, Pandian said: “With the blessings of the Almighty, the guidance of the Chief Minister and your support, I will serve the people of Odisha sincerely, humbly and selflessly.”
What was to be an official induction mimicked the ceremonial handing over of the baton by the old guard to young blood; except that Tamilian VK Pandian would be the unlikely inheritor of a legacy that 78-year-old, five-time chief minister Naveen Patnaik built so carefully over quarter of a century since the death of his father and iconic chief minister Biju Patnaik.
While on the campaign trail in 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Patnaik was often asked on who his successor would be and his answer remained the same: “The people of Odisha will decide.”
And, there were a few occasions when the visits of Arun Patnaik, Naveen Patnaik's nephew, sparked speculation of the former joining the BJD. That, however, never happened. Therefore, the BJD supremo's endorsement of Pandian is a huge political signal to his party, the opposition and the people, coming as it does just months before the crucial Odisha elections.
“I think it's a very positive development. He brings to the table vast administrative experience and very finely honed political skills because he has worked very closely with Naveen Patnaik whose political mind is peerless. So he's had the advantage of learning at the feet of a master. The BJD will vastly benefit from these qualities. And, there is little doubt that the state will also continue to benefit from his experience and acumen. He is exceptionally hardworking and is known to work from 4am to 10pm without a break,” BJD MP Pinaki Misra said.
Incidentally, most of Pandian's visits to Puri are before daybreak.
“Pandian's whole life is service to the state. Now service to the party will be added, which everybody in the BJD will only welcome,” Misra added.
Denying speculation of any resentment within the BJD, Misra argued, “Everybody welcomes a winning ticket, and if they believe that Kartik ji joining the party will make their ticket a confirmed winning ticket, there is no question of any resentment by anyone in the BJD.”
Misra, however, added that Pandian's induction should not be seen as a succession plan. “Naveen babu still has a long way to go. Therefore, this should not be looked upon as a succession plan. Instead, it is a reinforced and very determined bid to ensure Naveen babu comes back as Chief Minister for a record sixth term.”
Misra could very well be voicing the opinion of other senior leaders of the BJD who lined up first at Naveen Niwas, the Chief Minister's residence, and then at Sankha Bhawan, the BJD's headquarters in Bhubaneswar, to welcome Pandian to the party. The CM's open endorsement of Pandian had sent a strong political signal.
Suave, soft-spoken and impeccably mannered, Patnaik has been ruthless when it comes to dealing with any rebellion or challenge to his position. Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, the first bureaucrat Patnaik had relied on to run the government and party upon becoming CM, had nurtured chief ministerial ambitions of his own; Bijoy Mohapatra, senior BJD leader who posed a threat to Patnaik; MP Baijyant Panda who aspired for a bigger role in the state; and, most recently, MLA Soumya Ranjan Patnaik, who questioned the growing clout of Pandian were all axed mercilessly.
“I would rate Naveen Patnaik as a first-rate politician as he is clinical and unemotional. He is not attached to anybody. He does the right thing at the right time,” a veteran BJD leader had told this reporter once.
“Ahead of the 2024 elections, the rank and file within the BJD have adjusted to the changing equations that Pandian's entry into the party engenders, knowing the powerful role he will play.
After his voluntary retirement, Pandian was appointed as chairman of 5T (Transformational Initiatives) and ‘Nabin Odisha', and was given a cabinet rank. However, with his formal entry into the BJD, he will transition into the role of a politician.
In any case, over the past one year, in his capacity as 5T Secretary, Pandian has toured all 147 Assembly constituencies, addressing public gatherings, carrying out high-octane temple visits that help brush his non-Odia image, maintaining a tight grip over party affairs and ceaselessly meeting various groups of people.
Pandian's public meetings attracted criticism from the opposition, forcing Chief Minister Patnaik to clarify in the Assembly that the former was doing so at his instructions. Every move that the once publicity-shy bureaucrat has made indicates desire to be accepted by the people of Odisha.
So the question is, would VK Pandian also take the electoral plunge and contest in 2024?
Talks of Pandian inheriting the legacy of Naveen Patnaik may be too early, for, after all, he is a Tamilian who is married to Odia IAS officer Sujatha Kartikeyan.
Former BJD leader and current BJP national vice-president Baijyant Panda said: “It is one thing to rule from behind the curtain and quite another to do so openly. Only time will tell how this will play out. The founder of the Biju Janata Dal, Biju Patnaik, was a proud Odia, and today, his soul will be pained as will that of 4.5 crore Odia people, not one of whom was deemed fit to run the party.”
Odisha has already had a non-Odia chief minister in Biren Mitra from October 2, 1963 to February 20, 1965. However, 2023 is not 1963. Roots matter in politics and Pandian knows that well.
In fact, the late Biju Patnaik is not known to have had any succession plan for the BJD, with his three children — Prem, Gita and Naveen — growing up outside Odisha. Post Patnaik's death in 1997, seeing the swell of support during his funeral, the party's central leadership offered the Aska constituency to Prem Patnaik. Prem refused and then it was offered to Naveen Patnaik, who took it up. The rest, as they say, is history.
As BJD leader AU Singh Deo said once: “Bhilam looti gopiyan/wahi Arjun, wahi vaan/purush nahi/samay ho, toh balwan (As long as your time is good, you keep winning battles.)”
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Will Saving the Prized for Last Work for KCR as It Did for Siddaramaiah
Much like Siddaramaiah‘s one-day campaign in Varuna constituency during Karnataka elections this May, Telangana Chief Minister and BRS chief K Chandrashekar Rao is saving his Gajwel campaign for last.
BRS leaders claim KCR, as Rao is popularly known, has won the hearts and minds of the people in Gajwel, but political analysts deem this approach as a display of overconfidence. Gajwel constituency in Telangana has elected KCR twice before. This time, the Chief Minister extensively campaigned across the state, leaving Gajwel for last.
“KCR ji will close the campaign for Telangana elections in his constituency. There is no need for him to campaign in his seat as the work that he has done will campaign for him,” BRS spokesperson Dasoju Shravan Kumar told News18.
The BRS chief will be facing friend-turned-foe and former colleague Etela Rajender from the BJP in this high-profile seat. Rajender had joined the BJP after quitting the BRS in 2021 following a major fallout with the party's leadership. He successfully contested the bypolls from Huzurabad seat and declared he would defeat KCR in a direct contest. The Congress has nominated Thumkunta Narsa for the seat.
KCR is contesting from two seats, Gajwel and Kamareddy, which is also perceived to be a decision based on his waning hold on the fortress. He won the Gajwel seat in 2018 and 2014, the two elections Telangana has voted in since formation.
BRS leaders say the welfare initiatives implemented by KCR's government, including Rythu Bandhu, the Aasara pension scheme, enhancements in road infrastructure, housing projects, and youth employment initiatives, have yielded positive results and are expected to secure a resounding victory for the party.
KCR is acknowledged for transforming Gajwel into a model constituency, marked by well-maintained interior roads, the creation of an Outer Ring Road, and the establishment of a 100-bed super-specialty hospital dedicated to women and children.
“Gajwel has some of the best infrastructure, drinking water, sanitation, and development. People have seen the city grow and it will soon be top class like any other city. When one can see the development first hand… people see that there is development and investments beyond Hyderabad. Why won't they trust KCR for another term then,” said a senior BRS leader.
Political analyst Gali Nagaraja thinks KCR has a tough challenge ahead as he contests against Etela Rajender. He points out that the Mallanna Sagar project led to the displacement of numerous farmers, some of whom died by suicide after failing to receive rehabilitation and relocation package from the government. Voters in Gajwel as well as across the state speak of KCR's inaccessibility, citing his confinement to his farmhouse.
“Four issues that KCR is facing in Gajwel are anti-incumbency, being inaccessible to people, local problems like the displacement of farmers under the Mallanna Sagar project, as well as social engineering. All this shows it's not an easy ride for him,” said Nagaraja.
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Seat-sharing formula in Maharashtra for Lok Sabha polls only after …
Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis Monday said the seat-sharing arrangement for the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha elections would be decided only after discussions with alliance partners. This comes in the wake of Fadnavis’ earlier statement in which he stated that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) intended to contest 26 out of 48 seats in the state, news agency PTI reported
While underlining the "basis" of the seat-sharing formula, the Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister had emphasized that respective parties should get to retain the constituencies they had contested earlier.
Fadnavis clarified that the discussions among alliance partners are yet to commence, and any formula would be decided only after these deliberations.
"Discussions between allies are yet to begin and a formula would be decided only after the deliberations. The basis of the formula will be: the seats should go to those (parties) who have already contested that particular constituency," PTI quoted Fadnavis as replying to reporters when asked about his earlier remarks regarding seat-sharing in the state.
Highlighting the dynamic nature of the seat-sharing formula, the Deputy Chief Minister further said the party will make necessary changes and discuss it with Mahayuti alliance partners which comprises Shiv Sena led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, and the Ajit Pawar faction of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) beside the BJP.
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In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP and Shiv Sena (Undivided) contested 41 seats in Maharashtra and won 23 and 18, respectively.
Apart from the seat-sharing formula, the Deputy Chief Minister said the Maharashtra government would help farmers whose crops were affected by unseasonal rains.
"Officials of the affected districts should conduct the primary assessment of the crop loss and send the reports. The government will certainly help the farmers," he added.
Citing the quasi-judicial nature of the issue, Fadnavis declined to comment on upcoming hearings by the state assembly speaker on disqualification pleas of NCP MLAs loyal to the Ajit Pawar faction.
"The hearing issue is quasi-judicial and the speaker has the tribunal status. It won't be appropriate to comment," he added.
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Source: Live Mint
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Vice-President draws parallels between Mahatma Gandhi and PM Modi
Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar on Monday drew parallels between Mahatma Gandhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, describing the father of the nation as "mahapurush" of the last century and PM Modi as “yugpurush" of this century. He called them “two great personalities" while focusing on common things between them.
Addressing an event dedicated to Jain mystic and philosopher Shrimad Rajchandraji, Dhankhar said, “Mahatma Gandhi freed us from the slavery of the British through satyagraha and non-violence. India's successful Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken us to a path where we always wanted to be."
Source: Live Mint
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