North Korean leader Kim Jong-un: has arrived in the far east of Russia for a summit with President Vladimir Putin

Kim Jong-un attends a welcoming ceremony upon arrival in Vladivostok
Kim Jong-un attends a welcoming ceremony upon arrival in Vladivostok

Kim Jong-un in Russia for Vladimir Putin summit.

Mr Kim arrived in the Pacific Coast city of Vladivostok for his first talks with the Russian president by train.

He was welcomed by officials with a traditional offering of bread and salt.

The Kremlin says they will discuss the Korean peninsula’s “nuclear problem”, but analysts say Mr Kim is also seeking support after talks with US President Donald Trump collapsed.

Mr Trump and Mr Kim met in Hanoi earlier this year to discuss North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, but the summit – their second – ended without agreement.

The North Korean leader greeted Russian officials warmly on his arrival in Vladivostok on Wednesday.

After tasting traditional korovai bread and salt, Mr Kim was entertained by a brass band before he got inside a car flanked by bodyguards who – in now familiar scenes – jogged alongside the vehicle as it departed.

“I arrived in Russia bearing the warm feelings of our people, and as I already said, I hope this visit will be successful and useful,” Mr Kim told Russian channel Rossiya 24.

“I hope that during the talks with respected President Putin, I will be able to discuss in a concrete manner issues relating to the settlement of the situation on the Korean peninsula, and to the development of our bilateral relations.”

What do we know about the summit?

North Korean state media has yet to confirm a time or location for the meeting.

But Russian and North Korean national flags are already in place on Vladivostok’s Russky island, where the summit is expected to take place.

Mr Kim's train in Vladivostok
Mr Kim travelled on his armoured train

The North Korean leader reportedly crossed into Russia on Wednesday and stepped out of his private train at the border city of Khasan.

He was greeted by Russian women in traditional dress as part of a symbolic welcome ceremony.

What do both sides want?

This visit is being widely viewed as an opportunity for North Korea to show it has powerful allies following the breakdown of nuclear talks with the US earlier this year, the BBC’s says.

The country has blamed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for the collapse of the Hanoi summit in February.

Earlier this month North Korea demanded that Mr Pompeo be removed from nuclear talks, accusing him of “talking nonsense” and asking for someone “more careful” to replace him.

The summit is also an opportunity for Pyongyang to show that its economic future does not depend solely on the US, our correspondent adds.

Mr Kim may also try to put pressure on Moscow to ease sanctions.

North Korean and Russian flags flying in Vladivostok, April 2019
Flags for the two nations have already been put up on lampposts in Vladivostok

Analysts believe this summit is a chance for Russia to show that it is an important player on the Korean peninsula.

President Putin has been eager to meet the North Korean leader for quite some time. Yet amid the two Trump-Kim summits, the Kremlin has been somewhat sidelined.

Russia, like the US and China, is uncomfortable with North Korea being a nuclear state.

Map

Senior officials say the Kremlin is hoping to see a reduction in tensions on the peninsula.

Mr Putin’s foreign policy aide, Yuri Ushakov, said the situation there had “stabilised somewhat” in recent months.

“Russia intends to help in any way possible to cement that positive trend,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

Russia has previously been involved in talks to end North Korea’s nuclear programme.

Former North Korean leader and Mr Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, met then-Russian president Dmitry Medvedev in 2011.

A South Korean foreign ministry spokesman said Russia “shares our viewpoints” on denuclearisation and peace on the peninsula.

Nuclear activity seems to be continuing in North Korea, and the country said it had tested a new “tactical guided weapon” – thought to be a short-range missile – earlier in April.

India election 2019: Narendra Modi votes in Ahmedabad

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has cast his vote in his home state of Gujarat in the third phase of the country’s general election.

Mr Modi voted in Ahmedabad’s Ranip seat

He led what appeared to be a roadshow on his way to the polling booth in Ahmedabad, the city he lived in during his 13 years as chief minister.

He waved at the crowds that had gathered from an open-top jeep, which had replaced his usual bulletproof car.

Mr Modi is contesting from Varanasi, which goes to the polls on 19 May.

Around 180 million people are eligible to vote on Tuesday – 115 seats spread across 14 states and union territories are up for grabs. It is the largest stage of the whole election, which is being seen as a referendum on Mr Modi, who has been in power since 2014.

It’s also important for Mr Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as Gujarat is his home state and where his political career began. Mr Modi won his first parliamentary seat from Vadodadara in Gujarat in 2014 – but he vacated it as he also contested and won Varanasi.

On Tuesday morning, Mr Modi first travelled to the capital city of Gandhinagar to meet his mother before going to Ahmedabad to vote.

After voting in the seat of Ranip, he walked down the street along with a local BJP candidate. He was surrounded by his bodyguards as he displayed his inked finger and waved at people.

Here’s everything else you need to know about Tuesday’s vote.

Rahul Gandhi faces a crucial (first) ballot

India’s main opposition leader, Rahul Gandhi, is appearing on the ballot in Wayanad in the southern state of Kerala for the first time.

A win here is important to the Congress party, but Mr Gandhi is also standing in Amethi, his long-time constituency in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. He will be on the ballot there on 6 May and if he wins both seats, he will vacate one of them.

Supporters of Congress Party waits for Party President, Rahul Gandhi as he will arrive to file his nomination from Amethi Constituency, in Uttar Pradesh.
Image captionMr Gandhi’s supporters in Amethi, his family stronghold.

The Wayanad seat is considered “safe” for Congress: the party has won the two elections held there since the seat’s creation in 2009.

But Amethi is Mr Gandhi’s family stronghold. He has been an MP for the region since 2004 and his mother, father and uncle have all won it during their careers.

So his decision to stand in Wayanad – a lush, hilly area in the Western Ghats – was met with surprise. Congress has said it is a “message to southern states that they are deeply valued and respected”.

But opponents wondered aloud if this meant Mr Gandhi is unsure of winning Amethi. After all, his margin of victory in 2014 – a little over 100,000 votes – was seen as too close.

Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi wave at the crowd in the road show after Rahul Gandhi filing nominations from Wayanad district on April 4, 2019 in Kalpetta town in Wayanand
Rahul Gandhi is contesting from southern India for the first time

All of Gujarat is voting today

Mr Modi may not be on the ballot but there is still a lot interest in various seats – including Gandhinagar, where party president Amit Shah is contesting.

Among those hoping to unseat him is Vejli Rathod, a Dalit (formerly untouchable) man who says he is still waiting for charges to be brought following his son’s death in a police shooting back in 2012.

Fed up, he decided to run against Mr Shah, one of India’s most powerful politicians.

“Victory may come and go, but I am fighting against Amit Shah for justice,” Mr Rathod told BBC Gujarati.

Indian supporters of the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), with one wearing a mask of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, take a selfie
Image captionThis election is largely seen as a referendum on Mr Modi

Election-watchers are also likely to take an interest in Congress’s 37-year-old Sherkhan Pathan, the state’s only Muslim candidate.

Muslims account for around 9% of the state’s population, but Gujarat has not elected a Muslim MP since 1984. Only three of the five Muslim candidates who contested state polls in December won.

However, Mr Pathan argues that it isn’t his religion which won him his place on the ballot.

“I’ve been chosen to run because I’m young and represent a wide variety of voters here – not because I’m Muslim,” Mr Pathan told BBC Gujarati.

Will Sabarimala matter in Kerala’s vote?

In September 2018, the Supreme Court overturned a historic ban on women entering a prominent Hindu shrine, Sabarimala – and this sparked huge protests across Kerala.

So his decision to stand in Wayanad – a lush, hilly area in the Western Ghats – was met with surprise. Congress has said it is a “message to southern states that they are deeply valued and respected”.

But opponents wondered aloud if this meant Mr Gandhi is unsure of winning Amethi. After all, his margin of victory in 2014 – a little over 100,000 votes – was seen as too close.

Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi wave at the crowd in the road show after Rahul Gandhi filing nominations from Wayanad district on April 4, 2019 in Kalpetta town in Wayanand
Rahul Gandhi is contesting from southern India for the first time

All of Gujarat is voting today

Mr Modi may not be on the ballot but there is still a lot interest in various seats – including Gandhinagar, where party president Amit Shah is contesting.

Among those hoping to unseat him is Vejli Rathod, a Dalit (formerly untouchable) man who says he is still waiting for charges to be brought following his son’s death in a police shooting back in 2012.

Fed up, he decided to run against Mr Shah, one of India’s most powerful politicians.

“Victory may come and go, but I am fighting against Amit Shah for justice,” Mr Rathod told BBC Gujarati.

Indian supporters of the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), with one wearing a mask of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, take a selfie
This election is largely seen as a referendum on Mr Modi

Election-watchers are also likely to take an interest in Congress’s 37-year-old Sherkhan Pathan, the state’s only Muslim candidate.

Muslims account for around 9% of the state’s population, but Gujarat has not elected a Muslim MP since 1984. Only three of the five Muslim candidates who contested state polls in December won.

However, Mr Pathan argues that it isn’t his religion which won him his place on the ballot.

“I’ve been chosen to run because I’m young and represent a wide variety of voters here – not because I’m Muslim,” Mr Pathan told BBC Gujarati.

Will Sabarimala matter in Kerala’s vote?

In September 2018, the Supreme Court overturned a historic ban on women entering a prominent Hindu shrine, Sabarimala – and this sparked huge protests across Kerala.

The BJP, which argued that the ruling was an attack on Hindu values, was accused of exploiting the issue to court its mostly-Hindu support base.

The party has been trying to make inroads in the state for some time now but it has never won a seat in Kerala. This time its contesting 14 of the 20 parliamentary seats. The rest have been left to regional allies.

What are the key issues in this election?

The economy and jobs are perhaps the two biggest issues.

The government has invested heavily in infrastructure, but it hasn’t produced the desired economic boost – annual GDP growth has hovered at about 7%.

The farming sector has stagnated and a leaked government report suggests that the unemployment rate is the highest it has been since the 1970s

In fact, Mr Modi’s government has been accused of hiding uncomfortable jobs data.

A crowd waits to get their names registered at Lal Bagh Employment Office on March 13, 2012 in Lucknow, India.
Joblessness is a major issue as the number of unemployed graduates swells

Meanwhile, national security has been thrust to the fore following a deadly suicide attack by a Pakistan-based militant group in Indian-administered Kashmir in February.

Since then, the BJP has made national security a key plank in its campaign.

For some, this election is also a battle for India’s identity and the state of its minorities, while for others it’s about enhancing India’s position in the world.

Mr Modi is a polarising figure, adored by many but also blamed for the country’s divisions. Many accuse the BJP and its strident Hindu nationalism of encouraging violence against minorities, including the lynchings of Muslims suspected of smuggling cows.

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Facts and figures about the world’s biggest democratic exercise

India chief justice Gogoi accused of sexual harassment

Ranjan Gogoi
Ranjan Gogoi was appointed chief justice last October

India’s Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi has been accused of sexual harassment by a former Supreme Court employee.

The 35-year-old woman has filed an affidavit alleging two instances of misconduct in October last year, shortly after Mr Gogoi was appointed.

She says her family was victimised after she refused the advances.

A statement said Mr Gogoi, 64, “totally denied” the “false and scurrilous” accusations. He has labelled them an attempt to “destabilise the judiciary”.

What does the woman allege?

The allegations were filed in a sworn affidavit that has been sent to Supreme Court judges.

In it the married woman, who cannot be named under Indian law, alleges the misconduct occurred on 10 and 11 October at the offices in Mr Gogoi’s residence.

She alleges Mr Gogoi “hugged me around the waist, and touched me all over my body with his arms” and pressed his body against her.

When he did not stop, she says she “was forced to push him away from me with my hands”.

The woman says Mr Gogoi then told her not to mention what had happened or her family “would be greatly disturbed”.

The woman alleges she was transferred three times, then fired in December. She says her husband and brother were both suspended from their jobs.

In March a resident of the city of Jhajjar filed a complaint alleging she had kept money she had taken as a bribe to get him a job at the court.

She denies the accusation and says she attended a police station with family members in March where they were subjected to abusive treatment.

“It now seems like the harassment, victimisation, and torture will not stop unless I speak out about the origin and motive for the harassment,” she alleges in the affidavit.

What has Mr Gogoi said?

The first response came in a statement from the secretary general of the Supreme Court on the chief justice’s behalf.

It says the allegations are “completely and absolutely false and scurrilous and are totally denied”.

It says the woman “had no occasion to interact directly with the chief justice”.

The statement refers to the criminal case of bribery lodged against the woman, saying: “It appears that these false allegations are being made as a pressure tactic to somehow come out of the various proceedings which have been initiated in law.”

It says the employee was dismissed “as per procedure” after an incident of “inappropriate conduct”.

Mr Gogoi himself addressed the issue in front of a special bench of the Supreme Court on Saturday.

“I don’t want to stoop so low as to answer these charges,” he said. “All employees of the Supreme Court are treated respectfully by me.”

He added: “There are forces that are trying to destabilise the judiciary. There are bigger forces behind these allegations hurled at me.”

India election 2019: The debunked fake news that keeps coming back

Voters line up in Uttar Pradesh state

The largest democratic exercise in history is under way to decide who will govern India for the next five years – but there are serious concerns about the extent of false information circulating online.

In the lead-up to the vote, there have been vigorous efforts by fact-checking organisations and social media platforms to debunk misleading information or misrepresentation.

These efforts are a first step, but it’s clear that false information is still being spread.

Reality Check looks at some of the misleading rumours that have persisted during this election campaign.

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Sonia Gandhi and the Queen

A false story that has been widely shared on social media claims Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born leader of the main opposition Congress party, is richer than the Queen. But the story was debunked six years ago.

In a country where income inequality is a highly emotive issue, inaccurate stories about levels of personal wealth, particularly of politicians, can be highly damaging to reputations.

The story has its origins in newspaper articles dating back to 2012.

Local reports picking up on claim that Sonia Gandhi is richer than the Queen

And the Huffington Post published a rich list of world leaders that included Sonia Gandhi in 2013, but later removed her name after the amount they said she was worth was called into question.

Mrs Gandhi declared assets worth 90 million rupees (around £1m) during the last elections in 2014. Estimates of the Queen’s wealth are far higher.

But the story has still been widely shared during this election campaign, including by a spokesman for the ruling BJP.

Separately, Mrs Gandhi has also been the target of posts that claim to show her as a young woman in photographs in glamorous settings, with comments questioning her moral standards.

But the photographs being shared are of famous Hollywood actresses and are nothing to do with Mrs Gandhi.

Narendra Modi at school

Another widely shared story concerns the educational qualifications of the current prime minister.

The son of a tea-seller in Gujarat state, Narendra Modi makes much of his modest upbringing and it plays well with many of his supporters.

He says he succeeded in completing undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.

A video in circulation, however, apparently featured Mr Modi saying he hadn’t studied beyond high school (10th grade). It has been shared by Congress supporters.

But the video is just one part of an old interview in which Mr Modi makes clear his higher education qualifications were attained through external exams after leaving formal schooling.

The shorter, misleading video clip, despite having its context clarified, is still circulating on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

The surveys that weren’t

The spreading of fake opinion surveys and non-existent awards are particular favourites on social media.

There was a story doing the rounds for quite a while that the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) had named Mr Modi as the world’s best prime minister.

It was patently false as Unesco does not have such an award.

However, the story has persisted and has been back in circulation during the election campaign.

In a similar vein, the BBC has falsely been named as the source of surveys declaring Congress the fourth most corrupt political party in the world.

The BBC has also been used in fake stories spreading on social media suggesting it has predicted a win for the BJP.

Yet other fake posts suggest the BBC predicts that Congress are leading in the polls.

The BBC has made it clear that it does not conduct election surveys in India.

Fake fingers?

Plenty of false information about voting procedures can also spread during election campaigns.

In India every voter is required to dip a finger in purple dye so they can’t vote more than once.

Voter's finger being marked

One false rumour that has resurfaced this month claims that prosthetic fingers are being used to allow people to vote multiple times.

The idea here, presumably, is that you’d dip the fake finger in the ink, then return to vote again using your own real finger, or perhaps another fake finger.

How can the fake news problem be tackled?

Although some social media organisations have begun to devote resources to tackling viral fake news  it is an immense task.

The flow of information in private networks cannot really be controlled despite efforts by social media platforms, says Professor Usha Rodrigues, from Melbourne’s Deakin University, who studies social media and Indian politics.

For those inclined to believe a story, “they may not believe the information is false even after it’s been debunked”, she says.

“And the social media machinery of political parties may continue to insert the false information in their distribution of various messages for political gain.”

India election 2019: The debunked fake news that keeps coming back
Smartphone usage in India has been growing rapidly

Messages tend to be shared within trusted circles with algorithms only encouraging confirmation biases, says Kanchan Kaur, an India assessor for the International Fact-Checking Network.

Users tend to share videos in particular “because seeing is believing”, according to Shalini Narayan, co-author of India Connected: Mapping the Impact of New Media.

Online searches may prioritise fact-checked results, but Ms Rodrigues says the debunked details might not reach the private networks where false information is shared.

 

Jet Airways: India’s aviation boom runs into turbulence

On the face of it, India’s airline industry is flying high – the country is the fastest growing major aviation market in the world.

The airports are bursting at the seams: 138 million passengers flew last year, up from 51 million in 2010. International traffic has burgeoned. On-time performance has improved.

Not surprisingly, the future looks rosy. More than 600 planes are in service and another 859 are on order. The country is poised to become the world’s third largest aviation market by 2020, and the largest by 2030, according to consulting firm KPMG.

All this, however, masks the turbulence within.

The latest evidence came on Wednesday when Jet Airways, India’s oldest private airline, temporarily suspended its operations after failing to find fresh funding. The airline used to fly 115 planes on nearly 1,000 domestic and international routes. Although Jet had lost its position as the domestic leader to low cost carrier Indigo, it commanded a leading 12% share of the international market.

Indian Jet Airways employees hold placards and shout slogans against their company"s management as they march towards the Jet Airways head office from the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport
The debt-stricken Jet Airways has more than 16,000 employees

Yet the airline was drowning in more than a billion dollars of debt and bleeding badly. Last year’s rise in fuel prices and depreciation of the rupee had increased costs. The partnership with Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways, which had picked up a 24% stake in the airline, was fraying. Despite having a valuable frequent flyer programme, prime airport slots, and owning more than a dozen planes, the airline sank. “The fiasco was waiting to happen,” an aviation consultant, who preferred to remain unnamed, told me.

In the short term, the Jet shutdown will hurt consumers. With 20% of India’s fleet suddenly out of service, air fares – especially international – will soar. Domestic fares will rise and passenger traffic will decline if the surviving carriers are not able to bring more planes. Vendors, airports, oil companies, lessors and lenders will be hit. Foreign lenders will be wary of investing in the industry. “There’s negative growth ahead,” says Bhavesh Agarwal, an aviation consultant.

Something is clearly amiss in India’s indisputable aviation boom story. A dozen airlines have folded since 1981. Business tycoon Vijay Mallya’s sparkly Kingfisher Airlines made annual losses for five years in a row and collapsed in 2013 after lenders refused to give it fresh loans. Plans to sell state-run Air India, saddled with some $8bn of debt and now run on taxpayers money, were abandoned last year after it found no buyers.

At the heart of this crisis, say analysts, is a structural problem within India’s aviation industry.

Air India planes are pictured at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi on September 10, 2018.
Air India, India’s oldest running commercial airline, has failed to find buyers

The business is run on razor thin margins. High taxes, volatile aviation fuel prices and creaking infrastructure raise costs. But fares are low, and airlines compete to fill seats at the expense of profits. Airlines also place fat orders for planes, punting on further growth. Only one private airline, say insiders, has enough cash to fund expansion and service debt. “It is profitless growth. It is the survival of the fittest,” says Mr Agarwal.

Critics say there is a “toxic environment” for commercial aviation in India. Airports are stretched because of the surge in passenger traffic. Air traffic control in main airports are understaffed and overworked. An international aviation safety audit found India was one of the lowest ranked countries when it came to air safety. The aviation regulator, they say, is a technical body, but “ends up asking the airlines not to increase fares”. Airports are run by a handful of private players, sparking allegations of cronyism. “Apart from the airlines, there’s no real competition in the airline ecosystem,” says Mr Agarwal.

Clearly, Indian aviation needs a root and branch reform to help make it truly sustainable.

Dalai Lama discharged from Delhi hospital

The Dalai Lama has been discharged from a Delhi hospital, three days after being admitted with a chest infection.

The Tibetan spiritual leader said he felt, “normal, almost normal,” the Associated Press reports.

His spokesman Tenzin Taklha said the 83-year-old had suffered from a “light cough” but was “doing very well”.

The Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, fled to India 60 years ago after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

He now lives in exile in the Indian city of Dharamsala.

“He was discharged from the hospital at eight o’clock in the morning (02:30 GMT),” Mr Taklha told AFP news agency on Friday.

A day earlier, Mr Taklha said the Dalai Lama had already resumed his “normal routine” and was doing some exercise.

He is expected to spend several days resting in Delhi before returning to Dharamsala.

China took control of Tibet in 1950 and sees the Dalai Lama as a dangerous separatist. The question of who will succeed him when he dies is highly contentious.

China says its leaders have the right to choose a successor. But last month, the Dalai Lama reiterated that any leader named by China would not be accepted by Tibetans.

In Tibetan Buddhist belief, the soul of its most senior lama is reincarnated into the body of a child.

#India election 2019: Voting begins in world’s largest election

Indians have begun voting in the first phase of a general election that is being seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Tens of millions of Indians across 20 states and union territories will cast their votes in 91 constituencies.

The seven-phase vote to elect a new lower house of parliament will continue until 19 May. Counting day is 23 May.

With 900 million eligible voters across the country, this is the largest election ever seen.

Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a historic landslide in the last elections in 2014.

The Lok Sabha, or lower house of parliament has 543 elected seats and any party or coalition needs a minimum of 272 MPs to form a government.

The BJP has been campaigning to retain a commanding majority, but faces challenges from strong regional parties and a resurgent Congress party, led by Rahul Gandhi.

Mr Gandhi’s father, grandmother and great-grandfather are all former Indian prime ministers. His sister, Priyanka Gandhi, formally joined politics in January,

Modi at a rally in Meerut
Mr Modi has made national security a key election issue

Some observers have billed this vote as the most important election in decades and the tone of the campaign has been acrimonious.

Mr Modi, who stakes his claim to lead India on a tough image, remains the governing BJP’s main vote-getter. But critics say his promises of economic growth and job creation haven’t met expectations and India has become more religiously polarised under his leadership.

How big is this election?

It is mind-bogglingly vast – about 900 million people above the age of 18 will be eligible to cast their ballots at one million polling stations. At the last election, vote turn-out was around 66%.

No voter is meant to have to travel more than 2km to reach a polling station. Because of the enormous number of election officials and security personnel involved, voting will take place in seven stages between 11 April and 19 May.

India’s historic first election in 1951-52 took three months to complete. Between 1962 and 1989, elections were completed in four to 10 days. The four-day elections in 1980 were the country’s shortest ever.

Which states are headed to the polls?

On Thursday, the following states will vote, with polling stations opening from 07:00 local time (02:30 BST):

Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Odisha, Sikkim, Telangana, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Andaman and Nicobar islands and Lakshadweep.

Polling in some states, such as Andhra Pradesh and Nagaland, will conclude in one day. But other states, such as Uttar Pradesh, will hold polls in several phases.

Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi wave at the crowd in the road show after Rahul Gandhi filing nominations from Wayanad district on April 4, 2019 in Kalpetta town in Wayanand, India.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, and his sister Priyanka Gandhi, come from a political dynasty

What are the key issues?

Hundreds of millions of Indians have escaped poverty since the turn of the millennium but huge challenges remain.

Under Mr Modi, the world’s sixth-largest economy appears to have lost some of its momentum. Although annual GDP growth has hovered at around 7%, unemployment is a major concern.

Mr Modi’s government has been accused of hiding uncomfortable jobs data. In fact, a leaked government report suggests that the unemployment rate is the highest it has been since the 1970s.

Farm incomes have also stagnated because of a crop glut and declining commodity prices, which has left farmers saddled with debt.

officials check voting machines
Officials check Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines in West Bengal

Unsurprisingly both parties have targeted the rural poor in their campaign manifestos. The BJP has promised a slew of welfare schemes to India’s farmers, while Congress has promised a minimum income scheme for the country’s 50 million poorest families.

National security is also in the spotlight this election after a suicide attack by a Pakistan-based militant group killed at least 40 paramilitary police in Indian-administered Kashmir in February. India then carried out unprecedented air strikes in Pakistan.

Since then, the BJP has made national security a key plank in its campaign.

Graphic showing scale of 900 million eligible voters; that there are 83 million new voters and that there are 15 million 18-19 year-olds eligible to vote

Pakistan accuses India of plotting fresh military attack

Pakistan says it has “reliable intelligence” India is planning a military attack this month, something India dismissed as “war hysteria”.

Foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi made the comments on Sunday.

Already tense relations between the two deteriorated this year when Pakistan-based militants killed dozens of Indian troops in Indian-administered Kashmir.

India responded with air strikes on what it said was a militant training camp in Pakistani territory.

Soon afterwards, Pakistan shot down an Indian jet in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and captured its pilot. He was handed back to India days later.

The aerial attacks in February across the Line of Control (LoC) dividing Indian and Pakistani territory in Kashmir were the first since a war in 1971.

Both nuclear-armed nations claim all of Muslim-majority Kashmir, but only control parts of it.

What has Pakistan said?

Tensions seemed to have eased after the clashes, but on Sunday the Pakistani foreign minister said his country had intelligence to suggest an imminent Indian attack.

“There are chances of another aggression against Pakistan and according to our information this action can take place between April 16 and 20,” Mr Qureshi told reporters.

Pakistan's foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi addressing reporters in Multan, April 2019
Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the UN Security Council was informed of the alleged plans two days ago

The foreign minister said he made the allegations “with responsibility”, arguing the aggression aimed to raise “diplomatic pressure” against his country.

Pakistan has also summoned India’s deputy high commissioner to protest against what it says are India’s plans.

How did India respond?

Foreign officer spokesman Raveesh Kumar said Pakistan had “a clear objective of whipping up war hysteria in the region”.

“This public gimmick appears to be a call to Pakistan-based terrorists to undertake a terror attack in India,” the spokesman said.

He insisted that Pakistan “cannot absolve itself of responsibility” for the militant car bomb in Kashmir.

India has long accused Pakistan of giving safe haven to militants from the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) group, which said it was behind the attack in Pulwama.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has denied his country had any role in the bloodshed. He has offered to cooperate with an investigation if India could provide evidence of Pakistan’s involvement.

India is due to vote in general elections soon, and opponents of Prime Minister Narendra Modi allege he is using tensions with Pakistan to boost support for his party. Mr Modi’s BJP party has strongly denied the suggestion.

Pakistan detained dozens of suspected militants after the Kashmir attack, including relatives of Masood Azhar, the founder of JeM.

The allegations of an imminent Indian attack came on the same day Pakistan released the first batch of about 360 Indian prisoners.

The 100 people set free on Sunday are mostly fishermen who strayed into Pakistani waters.

Since the beginning of the Pakistan-India crisis earlier this year, Pakistani officials have attempted to lay claim to the moral high ground: portraying Indian politicians as cynical warmongers, who pushed for military action against Pakistan in order to cash in on nationalist sentiment during India’s elections (due to start this week).

News of this alleged planned Indian attack comes as authorities in Delhi face increasing pressure from their own public – their claims to have shot down a Pakistani plane, and struck a militant training camp in Pakistan in February look increasingly dubious.

But the Pakistani Foreign Minister didn’t provide any evidence of these alleged Indian plans at his press conference, and the Pakistani Army has so far remained silent on the issue. The remarks also come ahead of the arrival in Islamabad of a number of senior international journalists, many based in India, who were last week invited to come and meet the Pakistani leadership.

The conflict between Pakistan and India is being fought on the airwaves as well as the battlefield, and separating facts from spin is not easy.

Nasa: India’s satellite destruction could endanger ISS

Nasa has called India’s destruction of a satellite a “terrible thing” that could threaten the International Space Station (ISS).

The space agency’s chief, Jim Bridenstine, said that the risk of debris colliding with the ISS had risen by 44% over 10 days due to the test.

However he said: “The international space station is still safe. If we need to manoeuvre it we will.”

India is the fourth country to have carried out such a test.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the test – Mission Shakti – with great fanfare on 27 March, saying it had established India as a “space power”.

In an address to employees, Mr Bridenstine sharply criticised the testing of such anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons.

He said that Nasa had identified 400 pieces of orbital debris and was tracking 60 pieces larger than 10cm in diameter. Twenty-four of those pieces pose a potential risk to the ISS, he said.

“That is a terrible, terrible thing to create an event that sends debris in an apogee that goes above the International Space Station. And that kind of activity is not compatible with the future of human spaceflight that we need to see have happen.”

A day after India successfully carried out its ASAT test, acting US defence secretary Patrick Shanahan warned that the event could create a “mess” in space but said Washington was still studying the impact.

Delhi has insisted it carried out the test in low-earth orbit, at an altitude of 300km (186 miles), to not leave space debris that could collide with the ISS or satellites.

Nasa: India's satellite destruction could endanger ISS
Is India’s prime minister right when he calls his country a space superpower?

“That’s why we did it at lower altitude, it will vanish in no time,” G Satheesh Reddy, the chief of India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation, told Reuters in an interview last week.

Mr Bridenstine said that it was true that this would eventually happen. “The good thing is, it’s low enough in Earth orbit that over time this will all dissipate,” he said.

China provoked international alarm with a similar test in 2007. The Nasa chief said “a lot” of the debris created by that test remained in orbit. The US military is in total tracking about 10,000 pieces of space debris, nearly a third of which is said to have been created by the Chinese test.

Arms control advocates have expressed concern about the increasing militarisation of space. ASAT technology would allow India to take out the satellites of enemy powers in any conflict, and the test is likely to fuel the growing regional rivalry between India and China.

The announcement also angered opposition parties in India, who have accused Mr Modi of using the test as a political stunt ahead of a general election. Indians will begin voting in national elections on 11 April.

Mission Shakti: Space debris warning after India destroys satellite

The acting US defence secretary has warned that the testing of anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons can create a “mess” in space after India destroyed one of its own satellites on Wednesday.

Patrick Shanahan said the US was still studying the Indian test, which Delhi insisted it carried out in low-earth orbit to not leave space debris.

India is the fourth country to have carried out an ASAT test.

China provoked international alarm with a similar test in 2007.

“My message would be: we all live in space, let’s not make it a mess. Space should be a place where we can conduct business. Space is a place where people should have the freedom to operate,” Mr Shanahan told reporters after India’s test.

Debris from such tests can harm civilian and military satellite operations, and collide with other objects in space. But India said that it had intentionally carried out its ‘Mission Shakti’ test in the lower atmosphere – at an altitude of 300km (186 miles) – to ensure that there was no debris and that whatever was left would “decay and fall back onto the earth within weeks”.

Some experts have cast doubt on this claim, saying that the path of debris cannot be controlled. The US military is monitoring more than 250 pieces of debris from the Indian test, Reuters news agency quoted a Pentagon spokesman as saying. The US carried out its first ASAT test in 1959.

China’s 2007 test – which destroyed a defunct weather satellite at an altitude of 865km – left a large debris cloud in orbit.

Mission Shakti: Space debris warning after India destroys satellite
Is India’s prime minister right when he calls his country a space superpower?

Nasa has also warned of the risk of debris following the Indian test.

“Some people like to test anti-satellite capabilities intentionally and create orbital debris fields that we today are still dealing with,” the US space agency’s chief Jim Bridenstine told Congress on Wednesday.

“And those same countries come to us for space situational awareness, because of the debris field that they themselves created,” he said.

In 2012, the then head of the Indian Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) said that while India had “all the building blocks” for an ASAT weapon it did not want to test the system by destroying a satellite “because of the risk of space debris affecting other satellites”.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the ASAT test in an unexpected national address on Wednesday, saying India had “established itself as a global space power”.

Arms control advocates have expressed concern about the increasing militarisation of space. ASAT technology would allow India to take out the satellites of enemy powers in any conflict, and the test is likely to fuel the growing regional rivalry between India and China.

Pakistan, India’s neighbour and rival, launched two satellites last year with the help of China.

India’s foreign ministry characterised the test as peaceful and said it had “no intention of entering into an arms race in outer space”.

The announcement has enraged opposition parties, which have accused Mr Modi of using the test as an electoral stunt. Indians will begin voting in national elections on 11 April.

The Election Commission has announced it will investigate whether Mr Modi breached election rules, saying it had received complaints.

India election 2019: Modi says India now a ‘space power’

India has entered full election mode: voting is due to begin on 11 April, with the final ballot cast more than five weeks later on 19 May. Every day, the BBC will be bringing you all the latest updates on the twists and turns of the world’s largest democracy.

PM Modi’s ‘big’ announcement

What happened?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an unexpected address to the nation on Wednesday.

He said that India was now an “established space power” and in space “super league” because it had successfully managed to shoot down a low-orbit satellite in a missile test.

He had earlier tweeted that he would be addressing the nation, without mentioning what he would be talking about, sparking fevered speculation.

Why does this matter?

According to Mr Modi, with the successful launch of an anti-satellite missile (ASAT), India has become only the fourth country after the US, China and Russia to have this technology.

He said that it would “make India stronger, even more secure and will further peace and harmony”.

Jonathan Marcus, the BBC’s defence correspondent, said the announcement was “yet one more aspect of the trend towards the militarisation of space”.

He pointed out that the Trump administration has proposed establishing a fully-fledged “space force” as a separate element of its armed forces.

“The news will also lead to renewed calls from arms control advocates who see an urgent need to control this ongoing militarisation of space,” says our correspondent.

When China carried out a similar test in 2007 – destroying a weather satellite – it caused international alarm over a possible space arms race.

There are also concerns that the debris from such tests can harm civilian and military satellite operations.

India has not released further details of the test, called Mission Shakti.

The timing of the announcement has raised questions among Indian observers.

Journalist Shekhar Gupta said that the fact that India had this technology was not unknown and called the timing “odd”.

Although the announcement is significant, it did come as a bit of an anti-climax to the country’s media, who had worked themselves into a frenzy after seeing Mr Modi’s initial tweet. The guess was that the address would about national security and, therefore, something to do with Pakistan.

Pundits came into television studios and “Dawood” began trending on Twitter. Dawood Ibrahim is a fugitive in India and is accused of masterminding serial bombings in Mumbai in 1993. India alleges that Ibrahim lives in the Pakistani city of Karachi, but Islamabad has always denied the charge.

People also began pointing to a recent Financial Times interview with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who said he was afraid of further hostilities ahead of the Indian elections, as further proof that the announcement would involve India’s nuclear-armed neighbour.

Tensions between the two countries escalated sharply after a suicide attack in Indian-administered Kashmir last month.

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Money, money, money

What happened?

Police have seized nearly 540 million rupees ($80m; £60m) worth of cash, alcohol, narcotics, gold and other valuables across India in poll-related inspections, the election commission has said.

They recovered all of this just two weeks – between 10 March, when the polls were announced, and 25 March.

Why does this matter?

Well, it shows that the parasitic relationship between elections, cash and freebies continues.

The country’s elections have always been notorious for this – candidates and parties are known to bribe voters with cash, alcohol, gold and even TVs and laptops.

So, police are deployed in every consistency and it’s common for them to stop vehicles for inspection.

Data released by the election commission shows that police found more than $22m in cash alone – the largest haul was made in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh ($7.9m). They recovered an additional $13.5m worth of alcohol and $19.2m in narcotics.

Research suggests that bribes don’t actually win votes in India, but that doesn’t seem to stop political parties from trying anyway.

On Tuesday… farmers ran for election as protest

What happened?

Farmers in the southern state of Telangana have resorted to an unusual form of protest to demand better prices for their crops.

As many as 236 of them filed election nomination papers in a single constituency on Monday.

Farmers in Nizamabad photographed after filing their election nomination papers.
The farmers are running for election as a form of protest

They are contesting as independents from Nizamabad, a seat they chose so they could run against Kalvakuntla Kavitha, who is the sitting MP and daughter of the state’s chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao.

Why does this matter?

It shows how India’s deepening agrarian crisis has become a crucial issue in this year’s election.

In recent years, farmers across the country have staged large and at times dramatic protests to draw attention to their plight. Agriculture has been adversely affected by a depleting water table and declining productivity, which has meant that many farmers have been caught up in a massive debt trap.

Nizamabad’s farmers, for instance, say they have been demanding higher crop prices – which are set by the federal government – for years now. They told BBC Telugu that they were promised price increases during the last election but the government has not delivered.

Representational photo: Indian farmers wait for mangoes to be auctioned at the Gaddiannaram fruit market on the outskirts of Hyderabad on April 30, 2018.
Indian farming has been in crisis for many years

“No matter how much we protested, we did not receive a response,” says Venkatesh Kola, a farmer from the village of Armoor, who will be one of those running against Ms Kavitha.

He said they decided to run against Ms Kavitha because she had personally “vowed” that she would not seek their votes again if she did not fulfil their demands. And yet, he added, she was still contesting the election this year.

Mr Kola also said that more farmers had been planning to run as candidates but had been pressured not to by local political leaders.

It is likely that not all of the farmers will end up on the ballot – once filed, nomination forms have to be approved by the election commission.

But as a form of protest, it is still significant.

Ms Kavitha has alleged that the farmers are proxy candidates, propped up by the two national parties – BJP and Congress.

BJP hits back at Congress’ income scheme

What happened?

Finance minister Arun Jaitley has slammed the main opposition Congress party after its leader Rahul Gandhi pledged to create “the world’s largest minimum income scheme”  if his party wins the election.

A party with such a terrible track record of poverty alleviation has no right to make lofty assurances,” Mr Jaitley told reporters on Monday evening, adding that it was a “bluff announcement”.

Why does this matter?

The scheme, which guarantees a basic income for 50 million of India’s poorest families, is Congress’ biggest offering to voters so far.

The Congress first mentioned an income scheme in January amid rumours that the government was preparing to unveil a similar programme.

That never happened. So, Mr Gandhi’s announcement was seen by some, including activist Prashant Bhushan, as the Congress beating the BJP to the punch.

Given the scale of the scheme, it is likely to capture the imagination of voters -which could be a threat to the BJP.

Mr Jaitley took to social media on Monday, where he posted a lengthy response, outlining how the BJP has supported the poor while attacking the Congress’ policies.

“No political party has betrayed India for more than seven decades other than the Congress Party,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

Other ministers also joined the attack.

“This showing of false dream to the people of India, is not going to cut any ice because the Congress record of 55 years has always been anti-poor,” information minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told local media.

French economist Thomas Piketty, noted for his work on income inequality, told the BBC he supports “all efforts to reduce income inequality in India” and “to move away the political debate from caste-based political to class-based redistribution of income and wealth.”

But some Indian economists have questioned the preference for targeted schemes over universal ones.

On Monday… the battle for UP got ugly

What happened?

It was the last day for political parties to hand in their nominations for the first phase of voting that begins 11 April. And campaigning has started in earnest, warts and all.

In the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, the chief minister, firebrand Hindu monk Yogi Adityanath, referred to one of the opposition Congress party candidates – a Muslim named Imran Masood – as the “son-in-law” of militant Masood Azhar.

Senior Leader of India"s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) M. Venkaiah Naidu (R) Uttar Pradesh BJP Leaders Prasad Maurya (2L) and Dinesh Sharma (2R) look on as Yogi Adityanath (C) is presented with a floral bouquet during a ceremony in Lucknow on March 18, 2017,

Azhar is the Pakistani-based founder of the militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad, which in February carried out a suicide attack in Indian-administered Kashmir that killed 40 troops and sparked tit-for-tat strikes between India and Pakistan.

Why does this matter?

Mr Adityanath’s comments indicate what tone the campaigning is going to take in the days leading up to voting in Uttar Pradesh, which sends the most number of MPs to parliament

However, Imran Masood is also a controversial figure. He was arrested in 2014 after a speech in which he threatened Mr Modi, saying he would “cut him into pieces”.

“Saharanpur [constituency] also has the son-in-law of Azhar Masood, who speaks in his language. You have to decide whether you will elect a person who speaks in Azhar Masood’s language or Modi-ji’s lieutenant in Raghav Lakhanpal, who will ensure development for all,” Yogi Adityanath said at a rally on Sunday.

In 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), of which Mr Adityanath is a member, swept Uttar Pradesh with what political commentators described as a clever mix of communal division and promises of development.

Mr Adityanath seems to be following a similar formula this time around.

In the wake of the Kashmir suicide attack a tough stance on Pakistan has become a major theme of the BJP’s campaign. On Sunday India’s foreign minister Sushma Swaraj had a Twitter spat with Pakistan’s information minister over a news report that two Hindu girls had been abducted and forcibly married off in Pakistan.

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But here are the highlights:

  • The week began with a tussle for the state assembly of Goa, following the death of its chief minister Manohar Parrikar. His death sparked some late-night political wrangling as the BJP rushed to retain its hold over the coalition government in the wake of a challenge from the opposition Congress party which tried to woo away some independent lawmakers. However, the BJP prevailed and swore in new chief minister Pramod Sawant on Tuesday.
  • Wednesday was all about Dalit leader Mayawati who delivered a poll shock by saying she would not contest the general election. She said she would instead concentrate on ensuring the victory of the coalition between her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and regional rival Samajwadi Party (SP).
  • Thursday saw a break for the spring festival of colours Holi, although the BJP released its first list of candidates for the polls later that night. Highlights included the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would contest once again from the northern city of Varanasi, and the official sidelining of party stalwart LK Advani in favour of BJP president Amit Shah.
  • Friday ended with fire and fury as the prime minister went after several opposition leaders and those associated with opposition parties. He launched a particularly fierce attack on Sam Pitroda, a close aide of the Congress government who is credited with being the father of the Indian telecom revolution. He picked up an interview in which Mr Pitroda objected to “vilifying all Pakistanis” over the Kashmir suicide attack, and accused him of demeaning the armed forces and supporting terrorism.
  • The Congress meanwhile unveiled its much anticipated alliance with the regional Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in the northern state of Bihar. And former Indian cricketer Gautam Gambhir joined the BJP, saying: “I have been influenced by the prime minister and his vision for the country.”
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How do the Lok Sabha elections work?

India’s lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha, has 543 elected seats. Any party or coalition needs a minimum of 272 MPs to form a majority government.

Some 900 million voters – 86 million more than the last elections in 2014 – are eligible to vote at 930,000 polling stations.

Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) will be used at all polling stations. The entire process will be overseen by the Election Commission of India.

Who are the main players?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi who won a landslide victory in 2014 is seeking a second term for both himself and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

His main challengers are the main opposition Congress party led by Rahul Gandhi, and a consortium of regional parties called the Mahagathbandhan (which translates from the Hindi into massive alliance).

The Mahagathbandhan has seen some of India’s strongest regional parties, including fierce rivals, come together.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing BJP party workers during a public meeting on October 29, 2017 in Bengaluru.
Many see the upcoming election as a referendum on Mr Modi

This includes the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) led by Dalit icon Mayawati, normally fierce rivals in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, which sends the most number of MPs to parliament.

The alliance also includes the Trinamool Congress which is in power in the state of West Bengal and Arvind Kejriwal whose Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) rules Delhi.

The aim of the alliance is to consolidate regional and anti-BJP votes, in order to oust Mr Modi from power.

Other regional players including Tamil Nadu’s DMK and AIADMK and Telangana’s TRS in the south are not part of the alliance, but are expected to perform well in their own states, which is likely to make them key to any coalition government.

When do I vote? The dates at a glance

11 April: Andhra Pradesh (25), Arunachal Pradesh (2), Assam (5), Bihar (4), Chhattisgarh (1), J&K (2), Maharashtra (7), Manipur (1), Meghalaya (2), Mizoram (1), Nagaland (1), Odisha (4), Sikkim (1), Telangana (17), Tripura (1), Uttar Pradesh (UP) (8), Uttarakhand (5), West Bengal (2), Andaman & Nicobar (1), Lakshadweep (1)

18 April: Assam (5), Bihar (5), Chhattisgarh (3), Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) (2), Karnataka (14), Maharashtra (10), Manipur (1), Odisha (5), Tamil Nadu (39), Tripura (1), UP (8), West Bengal (3), Puducherry (1)

23 April: Assam (4), Bihar (5), Chhattisgarh (7), Gujarat (26), Goa (2), J&K (1), Karnataka (14), Kerala (20), Maharashtra (14), Odisha (6), UP (10), West Bengal (5), Dadar and Nagar Haveli (1), Daman and Diu (1)

29 April: Bihar (5), J&K (1), Jharkhand (3), MP (6), Maharashtra (17), Odisha (6), Rajasthan (13), UP (13), Bengal (8)

6 May: Bihar (1), J&K (2), Jharkhand (4), Madhya Pradesh (MP) (7), Rajasthan (12), UP (14), Bengal (7)

12 May: Bihar (8), Haryana (10), Jharkhand (4), MP (8), UP (14), Bengal (8), Delhi (7)

19 May: Bihar (8), Jharkhand (3), MP (8), Punjab (13), Bengal (9), Chandigarh (1), UP (13), Himachal Pradesh (4)

23 May: Votes counted

Key: Date: State (number of seats being contested))

Find out exactly when you are voting by visiting the Election Commission of India’s website

India election 2019: Have 100 ‘smart cities’ been built?

India’s urban population is growing rapidly and is expected to reach 600 million in the next decade.

Its cities are already creaking under the strain of poor infrastructure and inadequate public services.

The government has undertaken a major investment programme to modernise selected cities across the country.

In the run-up to the Indian election, which gets under way on 11 April, BBC Reality Check is examining claims and pledges made by the main political parties.

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Pledge: In 2015, the Indian government made a commitment to invest in 100 ‘smart cities’ over five years.

Verdict: The project timeline has been delayed as not all the cities were not chosen at the start of the programme, and only a small portion of the funds allocated have been used so far.

Reality Check quote card
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What is a smart city?

The government makes it clear there’s no single definition of a smart city.

But it’s pledged to allocate funds to improve the quality of life in 100 selected cities, using the latest technological developments.

An Indian delegate talks on a phone during the Smart Cities India 2016 expo in New Delhi on May 12, 2016.

Under the government’s Smart Cities Mission, 100 cities were chosen from across the country, with the last batch only selected in 2018.

These delays have led to the project missing its original deadline, which has now been extended to 2023.

Under the programme, each smart city is to be provided annual federal support, with some contributions from state and local city bodies.

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Has the project delivered?

By February 2019, the government had approved 5,151 projects worth about 2,000bn rupees (about $29bn) under the Smart Cities Mission.

It says 715 of the projects have now been completed, and another 2,304 are under way.

Smart Cities Mission 2015-19

Billions of rupeesSource: Indian government statement

However, the official data shows a significant difference between allocated funding and actual project spending.

A total of about 166bn rupees ($2.39bn) had been allocated to the Smart Cities Mission between 2015 and 2019.

But in January this year, the government acknowledged that just 35.6bn rupees ($0.51bn) had been utilised – about 21% of the total.

Control and command centre of Bhopal smart city project inaugurated in May 2018 in Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh state
The command and control centre in Bhopal city

There’s also been concern voiced about how the money is being used.

Out of the projects approved so far, about 80% will be spent on developing areas within cities – rather than the whole city.

One NGO, the Housing and Land Rights Network, has labelled the Smart Cities Mission a “smart enclave scheme”.

Some analysts argue the mission focuses on new projects, rather than on enhancing the capacity of existing local bodies in urban areas.

So, offering bicycle-sharing facilities or building parks may not be enough unless thought is given on how to integrate them into overall city planning, they say.

The lack of coordination between implementing agencies is a major reason why the intended benefits are still not visible to the public,” said a parliamentary committee report.

The government says it has offered training courses to boost the capacity of existing local bodies – but it’s not clear how successful these have been.

The government says the pace of the project has picked up significantly in the last year.

“There has been a 479% increase in projects completed since October 2017,” it told India’s parliament in December.

Hardeep Singh Puri, the minister of state for housing and urban affairs, told the BBC that 15 integrated command and control centres are already operational under the project.

“If we have 50 of these completed by December 2019 out of the 100 required, my view is that this is one of the fastest implemented projects of this kind anywhere in the world.”

Delhi Crime: New drama tells story of bus rape investigation

Almost everyone in India remembers the Delhi bus rape – known as the Nirbhaya case.

The horrific events of December 2012, when a young student was gang raped and assaulted as she travelled home from an evening at the cinema, were so shocking, they left a collective scar on the psyche of an entire country.

So when it was revealed that the brutal attack was to be made into a police procedural drama for Netflix, many asked: Why?

For actress Shefali Shah, though, there was never a question that this particular story should be told.

“As a person – as a woman – yes, Nirbhaya was about the sheer loss of light, the pain, the agony,” she told the BBC.

But when I read the script, I realised there was another woman – not a man – who picked this up and fought it through and got justice. She fought for all the women in this country.”

That other woman was Chhaya Sharma, then the deputy commissioner of police (DCP) for south Delhi, and renamed Vartika Chaturvedi in director Richie Mehta’s seven-part series called Delhi Crime.

She is the star of the show – but that is exactly how it had to be, says Mehta. Without DCP Sharma, he believes, this could have been a very different story.

“To me, it all stems down to the fact that if the female DCP was not the first person to arrive at the hospital and did not get a chance to see this victim, and react the way she reacted, they probably wouldn’t have caught these guys,” he explains.

“It was her reaction as a human being, as a woman, that marshalled everybody to make this happen.”

Protesters outside Delhi's parliament in December 2012
Anger over the rape spilled out into the streets in 2012

That night is seared on Chhaya Sharma’s memory, but as for whether or not there would have been a different outcome had she not been the first high-ranking officer to arrive, she cannot say.

“I don’t know that if a male DCP handled it, the case would have been different. I can’t really say – it depends on the sensitivity of the officer, male or female,” she told the BBC.

“But being a woman, I think it gave some credence to the case. When it’s rape, something happens to me – seeing the critical condition the victim was in, it moved me.”

Indeed, the viewer is not spared the truth about the condition of the young woman – who had been brutally raped and assaulted with an iron instrument, causing appalling, and ultimately fatal, internal injuries. A doctor’s description of the damage inflicted by the men is breathtaking in its horror.

Sharma says that Shah, who plays her alter-ego DCP Chaturvedi in Delhi Crime, captured her reactions perfectly: the need to distance herself and be professional. But under the surface, she was feeling many of the same things people across the nation would feel over the next few weeks.

“If you can’t protect somebody else’s daughter, how can you protect your own? I didn’t look at this objectively – I reacted with empathy.

“My first thought when I understood what had happened was disbelief. I thought no one could have done something like this. A lot of rapes happen but the level of injuries here was astonishing. I just felt like I had to take this on.”

Sharma did not go home again for another three days: everything was focused on finding the men who, she knew, could slip through their fingers. It is this investigation – and the team of officers which Sharma formed – which Delhi Crime focuses on.

Yet some of the criticism in Indian newspapers ahead of the series’ release has been on the decision to focus on the police, rather than the victim.

“The only people the show humanises are the police. All other characters – protesters, families of the culprits, victim’s kin, media, politicians and civil society – spout synthetic dialogues that help them fit perfectly into the narrative of how the Delhi police fought a brave battle to nab the culprits and earned very little praise for it,” Piyasree Dasgupta wrote in HuffPost India.

“And here’s what the Delhi police actually did: a job they are paid to do.”

Delhi Crime: New drama tells story of bus rape investigation
BBC Reality Check: Has India become a safer place for women?

Indeed, there is a general feeling of mistrust towards the police in India, especially when it comes to reporting sexual offences. A Human Rights Watch report, published in November 2017, found many victims trying to report sexual assaults were still being humiliated by the police who “frequently” refused to even register their complaints.

Official statistics show how hard it is to get a conviction, even if you do go through the process. A recent Reality Check report for the BBC noted that just a quarter of cases that reach conclusion resulted in convictions – but few cases even get that far.

The fact that this case was a success for the police, though, was one of the main reasons why Mehta – who dedicated years to the project, speaking to as many of the officers involved as possible – felt it was a story worth telling.

“In this particular case, there was so much public anger pointed towards them. ‘Why did this happen? You have failed us, you have let us down as individuals as an institution’,” he explained.

“As I got to know them, I wanted to look into that. Like, wait a second, in this case, they didn’t let anyone down. They did everything they possibly could – everything humanely possible to do this right.”

It does not take long for the viewer to see just how hard it was to even do that: from struggling to get a forensics team to the scene, to not having the right vehicles, not to mention the long hours and difficult colleagues.

“It’s not just that they do their job – in this show, you see the circumstances they are working under,” Shah points out.

“All these guys are spending out of their own pockets. And then they do not get appreciated for what they do. Some of the cops see their families once in two months. They work round the clock under not great circumstances. They are doing the best they can.”

Of course, there is always something that feels slightly unsavoury about a case like this one being turned into entertainment – Mehta even admits that he was initially reluctant to create a drama series.

A still from the series showing DCP Chaturvedi speak to three police officers

“I initially didn’t think it was appropriate – I didn’t think anyone should make a film on it, certainly not me,” he said, recalling the moment it was first suggested to him six years ago.

He changed his mind after reading the court verdict, and meeting the people involved.

But there is another reason for making this series.

“The point of making something like this is not just a creative one. You’re dealing with such a sensitive subject that affects all of us,” Shah noted.

“The conversations are already being had around something important – and it will raise more conversations.”

Indeed, that is the hope of the victim’s parents, who Mehta spoke to before the series came out.

“Their response was if something good can come from this, this interpretation, then go for it,” he said.

Jet Airways founder Naresh Goyal steps down amid crisis

The founder of cash-strapped Indian airline Jet Airways has stepped down as chairman of the company.

Naresh Goyal’s resignation will likely pave the way for potential investors to save India’s oldest private carrier.

They were held back by Mr Goyal’s reluctance to give up control of the company, reports say.

Jet’s debt exceeds $1bn (£750m) and the airline has grounded some flights as it is struggling to pay employees, suppliers and leasing companies.

Within minutes of Monday’s announcement, the company’s stock jumped 12%.

In a stock market filing which also announced the resignation, the company said that banks would lend around $210m to keep it afloat until it starts to sell shares to new investors.

In recent weeks, it had grounded more than two-thirds of the 119 aircraft in its fleet. Thousands of flights were cancelled, affecting passengers flying on both international and domestic routes.

A pilots’ organisation had also warned that its members would stop flying for the carrier if their salaries were not paid by the end of March.

Trevor Noah sorry for India-Pakistan comments

Comedian Trevor Noah has said he is sorry for making jokes about the sharp rise in tensions between India and Pakistan over disputed Kashmir.

He said a war between the two would be “the most entertaining”, adding “it would also be the longest war of all time – another dance number!”

The gag, in an episode of The Daily Show, caused most anger in India where thousands poured fury onto Twitter.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars and a limited conflict over Kashmir.

Both countries claim all of Kashmir, but each controls only parts of it and the events of the past two weeks has seen an almost unprecedented escalation, which culminated in Pakistan shooting down an Indian fighter jet and capturing – and later releasing – an Indian pilot.

But shelling over the de facto border continued over the weekend, resulting in casualties of several civilians on both sides.

How did the row unfold?

After Noah’s Daily Show appearance last week , criticism built up online which saw Noah condemned as “racist” and “insensitive”.

When one Twitter user accused him of mocking “war through a Bollywood stereotype”, Noah responded with an explanation of his comedy process – but also said “I am sorry that this hurt you and others, that’s not what I was trying to do”.

He said that he used comedy to “process pain and discomfort”, pointing out that he had even made jokes about his mother being “shot in the head”.

He followed up by saying that he was amazed that his joke over the conflict “trended more than the actual conflict itself”.

That sentiment also clearly struck a chord. Some users said the outrage that trended over his jokes was “unnecessary”, and just another example of the social media echo chamber that amplifies all offence.

On The Daily Show’s own YouTube page, some expressed dismay but many chimed in to say they found the segment funny.

Twitter is the social media platform where political controversy in India tends to play out – and so this is where offence escalated most. In addition, there isn’t a well established tradition of political satire in India, so Noah’s comedy was bound to have its detractors.

A Facebook page called Humans of Hindutva became notorious in India for poking fun at political leaders and parties. It amassed a large following quickly – but was also seen as very controversial in India and felt compelled to pause its satire.

Indian celebrities have also been castigated for taking a political stand – and sometimes, for not taking one.

Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra’s recent tweet in support of the Indian air force has now spurred a petition in Pakistan against her, calling on Unicef to strip her of her Goodwill Ambassador title.

How did the Kashmir conflict escalate?

On 26 February, India carried out air strikes on what it said was a militant camp in Pakistan in retaliation for a suicide bombing that killed at least 40 Indian troops in Indian-administered Kashmir on 14 February.

A Pakistan-based group said it carried out the attack – the deadliest to take place during a three-decade insurgency against Indian rule in Kashmir.

Pakistan – which denies any involvement in the 14 February attack – said it had no choice but to retaliate with air strikes last week.

That led to a dogfight and an Indian fighter jet being shot down in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The fighter pilot, who was captured by Pakistan, was released on 1 March and arrived in India, where he has been hailed as a hero.

Contact Email, bbcnews.co.uk@bbcnewslight.co.uk or Johnsonmichael@post.com

Pakistan ‘to free Indian pilot on Friday’

Pakistan will release a captured Indian pilot as a “peace gesture” on Friday, Prime Minister Imran Khan has said. Mr Khan revealed the decision in parliament after a speech in which he said Pakistan was focused on de-escalation. Pakistan shot down the pilot’s jet on Wednesday, as tensions rose with India over the disputed region of Kashmir. The capture of Abhinandan Varthaman was a major setback for India. Both sides are under pressure to calm tensions.

Abhinandan: Crowds gather for Indian pilot’s release

Pakistan says Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman is being treated well

Crowds of Indians are gathering near a border crossing with Pakistan ahead of the release of an Indian fighter pilot captured by Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said the pilot would be released as a “peace gesture” on Friday. India’s military welcomed the move.

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman’s plane was shot down in the disputed region of Kashmir on Wednesday.

Both countries are under pressure to calm tensions.

At Thursday’s news briefing in Delhi, Indian Air Force officials said they were “extremely happy” that the pilot would be released.

On Tuesday, India struck what it said was a militant camp in Pakistan in retaliation for a suicide bombing that killed at least 40 Indian troops in Kashmir on 14 February.

A Pakistan-based group said it carried out the attack – the deadliest to take place during a three-decade insurgency against Indian rule in Kashmir.

People and media gather before the arrival of Indian Air Force pilot, who was captured by Pakistan on Wednesday, near Wagah border, on the outskirts of the northern city of Amritsar, India, March 1, 2019
Indians are gathering at the Wagah border crossing to wait for the pilot’s return

Pakistan – which denies any involvement in the 14 February attack – said it had no choice but to retaliate to the Indian raids with air strikes on Wednesday. That led to a dogfight and the Indian fighter jet being shot down in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Tens of thousands of troops remain positioned on either side of the border in the disputed region.

At the height of the tension Pakistan closed its airspace, disrupting major air routes, but is expected to reopen it on Friday.

On Friday, thousands of Indians had gathered at the Wagah border crossing, clutching sweets, banners and garlands as they waited for the pilot’s return, an AFP reporter said.

“We are very happy that the hero of our country is coming back. We have come here to support him,” a supporter told AFP.

What did PM Khan say?

“As a peace gesture we are releasing the Indian pilot tomorrow,” Mr Khan told Pakistani lawmakers in the National Assembly on Thursday.

People watch Pakistani PM Imran Khan's address in parliament in Peshawar, Pakistan. Photo: 28 February 2019
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speech was televised across Pakistan

He also repeated his call for the de-escalation of the situation, saying that Pakistan and India “have to live in peace”.

Amid the rapidly escalating tensions, Mr Khan on Wednesday pushed for talks with Delhi to prevent the risk of a “miscalculation” between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

On Wednesday, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said “India does not wish to see further escalation of the situation,” speaking from a meeting with Russian and Chinese foreign ministers in China.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who held an urgent meeting with the country’s security chiefs on Wednesday, is yet to publicly comment on the crisis.

Delhi has been demanding an immediate release of the pilot, who is being hailed as a hero in India.

What happened to the pilot?

The Indian Air Force pilot, identified as Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, had been reported “missing in action” by Indian officials.

Image showing captured Indian pilot
Pakistan’s information ministry tweeted a video showing the captured Indian pilot

Images then circulated of his capture, which were both condemned for what appeared to be a physical attack at the hands of residents in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, and praised for the actions of the Pakistani soldiers who intervened to create a barrier.

Pakistan’s information ministry published – but subsequently deleted – a video showing the blindfolded pilot, who could be heard requesting water, just after he had been captured.

Villagers in Horran threw stones at the pilot, who fired several warning shots in response, eyewitnesses later told the BBC.

What were the air strikes about?

Pakistan’s military spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor said Pakistan fighter jets had carried out “strikes” in Indian-administered Kashmir on Wednesday.

Two Indian air force jets then responded, crossing the de facto border that divides Kashmir. “Our jets were ready and we shot both of them down,” he said.

Pakistan soldiers by what Pakistan says is a downed Indian jet
Pakistani soldiers by what Pakistan says is wreckage from a downed Indian jet

Pakistan’s information ministry also tweeted what it said was footage of one of the downed Indian jets.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Raveesh Kumar acknowledged the loss of a MiG-21 fighter jet and its pilot.

He also said that an Indian plane had shot down a Pakistani fighter jet, and Indian ground forces observed it falling on the Pakistani side of the LoC.

Pakistan denied any of its jets had been hit.

What is the political fallout?

The sequence of events over the last few days have rapidly shifted from being seen as a boost for the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of upcoming parliamentary elections, to a general feeling of disenchantment over the way things have turned out.

On Wednesday evening, when news of the captured pilot dominated headlines, India’s opposition parties issued a statement in which they attacked the ruling BJP of “blatant politicisation of the armed forces’ sacrifices”.

In a series of tweets, India’s finance minister Arun Jaitley hit back, saying the joint statement was “being used by Pakistan to bolster its case”.

There is mounting pressure on Mr Modi – who will face an election by the end of May – to say something about the current situation.

Many have compared his silence to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s public calls to India.

Map of region

Balakot: Indian air strikes target militants in Pakistan

India says it launched air strikes against militants in Pakistani territory, in a major escalation of tensions between the two countries.

The government said strikes targeted a training camp of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) group in Balakot.

Pakistan said the strikes hit an empty area but vowed to respond.

Relations between the nuclear-armed neighbours have been strained since a suicide attack earlier this month that killed more than 40 Indian troops.

India accuses Pakistan of allowing militant groups to operate on its territory and says Pakistani security agencies played a role in the 14 February attack – claimed by JeM. Pakistan denies any role and says it does not provide safe haven to militants.

Tuesday’s air strikes are the first launched across the line of control – the de facto border that divides India-administered Kashmir from Pakistan-administered Kashmir – since a war between the two countries in 1971.

Balakot is in Pakistan’s north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Residents there told BBC Urdu they were woken by loud explosions. Pakistan condemned the strike and said it would respond “at the time and place of its choosing”.

What does India say happened?

Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale told a news conferencethat the strikes had killed a “large number” of militants, including commanders, and had avoided civilian casualties.

India's foreign secretary said the air strikes hit a militant training camp
India’s foreign secretary said the air strikes hit a militant training camp

“Credible intel [intelligence] was received that JeM was planning more suicide attacks in India. In the face of imminent danger, a pre-emptive strike became absolutely necessary,” he said.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not directly mention the air strikes when he addressed a political rally in Rajasthan later on Tuesday but he told cheering crowds: “I understand your enthusiasm and your energy. Today is a day we bow before our heroes.”

India is due to hold elections by the end of May.

File image of an Indian Air Force Mirage 2000 aircraft
Indian Air Force sources said Mirage 2000 fighter jets took part in the raid

How has Pakistan responded?

Pakistan’s army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said the strikes caused no casualties. He tweeted that Pakistani jets were scrambled and forced the Indian planes to make a “hasty withdrawal”, dropping their payload in an open area.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan later convened an urgent meeting of national security chiefs and condemned “irresponsible Indian policy”.

“Once again [the] Indian government has resorted to a self-serving, reckless and fictitious claim,” a statement issued after the meeting said. “This action has been done for domestic consumption, being in an election environment, putting regional peace and stability at grave risk.”

The government called a joint session of parliament for Wednesday to give a unified response to the “violation” of the line of control.

Mr Khan has also summoned a special meeting of the National Command Authority (NCA) – the body that oversees Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal – to take place on Wednesday, officials said.

Meanwhile, residents in several towns near Balakot reported hearing explosions early on Tuesday. Mohammad Adil, a farmer in Jaba village, told BBC Urdu he and his family were woken at about 03:00 by “a huge explosion”.

“Then we heard jets flying over. We went to the place in the morning. There was a huge crater and four or five houses were destroyed,” he said.

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Tensions reach a dangerous level

Analysis by M Ilyas Khan, BBC News, Islamabad

The Indian air strikes that hit a target inside Pakistani territory have taken tensions to a dangerous level.

In September 2016, an attack on an Indian army base in Uri created a similar situation when Delhi decided to respond with so-called “surgical strikes”.

Indian claims then that they airdropped special forces to destroy militant camps on the Pakistani side of Kashmir were found to be largely exaggerated, but Indian troops did cross at several points along the Line of Control (LoC), inflicting some casualties on Pakistani forces.

This time they have hit a target across the international border, inside Pakistani territory, at a location where a training camp of Kashmiri militants is known to have existed for several years.

Pakistan’s military has cordoned off the area and not even the local police are allowed in, so it will be some time before details of the attack become known.

Also, Pakistani officials have been underplaying the severity of the incident by describing it as a strike “across the LoC”, not one across the international border.

Pakistan has vowed to respond but this may not go beyond diplomatic measures. However, as some observers point out, there may be punitive attacks by militants against Indian forces in Kashmir “at an appropriate time”.

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In Srinagar city, in Indian-administered Kashmir, residents expressed concerns over the spike in tensions. “Whatever is happening between these two hostile neighbours, it’s us who are in the middle of this war theatre,” Shabir Aakhoon, a banker, said.

Local reporter Sameer Yasir says a heavy military build-up in the past three days has caused panic. Anticipating full-scale war, civilians have stockpiled food and crowded petrol pumps, triggering traffic jams in many places, he adds.

What happened in Pulwama?

On 14 February, more than 40 Indian paramilitary police were killed in a militant operation in Indian-administered Kashmir. It was the deadliest attack on Indian forces in Kashmir for decades.

The assault was claimed by Pakistan-based JeM, and prompted a spike in tensions. Pakistan denied involvement, while India said its neighbour had had a “direct hand” in the attack, and accused it of providing sanctuary to the militants.

Both India and Pakistan claim all of Muslim-majority Kashmir, but control only parts of it. The nations have fought three wars and a limited conflict since independence from Britain in 1947 – and all but one were over Kashmir.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Sunday his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi should “give peace a chance”. He added that if India provided “actionable intelligence” regarding the Pulwama attack that proved Pakistani involvement, “we will immediately act”.

On Saturday, Mr Modi had called on Mr Khan to join India in fighting poverty and illiteracy, instead of the pair fighting each other.

In December Yogita Limaye examined why there had been a rise in violence in Kashmir
In December Yogita Limaye examined why there had been a rise in violence in Kashmir
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Timeline of India-Pakistan tensions

October 1947: First war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir just two months after they become independent nations.

August 1965: The neighbours fight another brief war over Kashmir.

December 1971: India supports East Pakistan’s bid to become independent. The Indian air force conducts bombing raids inside Pakistan. The war ends with the creation of Bangladesh.

May 1999: Pakistani soldiers and militants occupy Indian military posts in Kargil mountains. India launches air and ground strikes and the intruders are pushed back.

October 2001: A devastating attack on the state assembly in Indian-administered Kashmir kills 38. Two months later, an attack on the Indian parliament in Delhi leaves 14 dead.

November 2008: Co-ordinated attacks on Mumbai’s main railway station, luxury hotels and a Jewish cultural centre kill 166 people. India blames Pakistan-based group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

January 2016: Four-day attack on Indian air base in Pathankot leaves seven Indian soldiers and six militants dead.

18 September 2016: Attack on army base in Uri in Indian-administered Kashmir kills 19 soldiers.

30 September 2016: India says it carried “surgical strikes” on militants in Pakistani Kashmir. Islamabad denies strikes took place.

Rakbar Khan: Did cow vigilantes lynch a Muslim farmer?

A Muslim dairy farmer was stopped late one night last July as he led two cows down a track in rural Rajasthan, south of the Indian capital, Delhi. Within hours he was dead, but who killed him, asks the BBC’s James Clayton – the “cow vigilantes” he met on the road, or the police?

It’s 4am and Dr Hassan Khan, the duty doctor at Ramgarh hospital, is notified of something unusual.

The police have brought in a dead man, a man they claim not to know.

“What were the police like when they brought him in? Were they calm?” I ask him.

“Not calm,” he says. “They were anxious.”

“Are they usually anxious?” I ask.

“Not usually,” he says, laughing nervously.

The dead man is later identified by his father as local farmer Rakbar Khan.

This was not a random murder. The story illustrates some of the social tensions bubbling away under the surface in India, and particularly in the north of the country.

And his case raises questions for the authorities – including the governing Hindu nationalist BJP party.

Cow-related violence – 2012-2019

IndiaSpend map of cow violence

Rakbar Khan was a family man. He had seven children.

He kept cows and he also happened to be a Muslim. That can be a dangerous mix in India.

“We have always reared cows, and we are dependent on their milk for our livelihood,” says Rakbar’s father, Suleiman.

“No-one used to say anything when you transported a cow.”

That has changed. Several men have been killed in recent years while transporting cows in the mainly Muslim region of Mewat, not far from Delhi, where Rakbar lived.

“People are afraid. If we go to get a cow they will kill us. They surround our vehicle. So everyone is too scared to get these animals,” says Suleiman.

Everyone I speak to in the village where the Khans live is afraid of gau rakshaks – cow protection gangs.

Nawal Kishore Sharma's cow vigilante gang
Nawal Kishore Sharma’s cow protection group in 2015

The gangs often consist of young, hardline Hindus, who believe passionately in defending India’s holy animal.

They believe that laws to protect cows, such as a ban on slaughtering the animals, are not being fully enforced – and they hunt for “cow smugglers”, who they believe are taking cows to be killed for meat.

Often armed, they have been responsible for dozens of attacks on farmers in India over the last five years, according to data analysis organisation IndiaSpend, which monitors reports of hate crimes in the media.

On 21 July 2018, Rakbar Khan met the local gau rakshak.

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There are some things we know for certain about what happened that night.

Rakbar was walking down a small road with two cows. It was late and it was raining heavily.

Then, out of the dark, came the lights of motorbikes. We know this, because Rakbar was with a friend, who survived.

Cow vigilantes on motorbikes in Yadavnagar, Rajasthan

At this point the details become a little sketchier. There are three versions of the story.

The gang managed to catch Rakbar, but his friend, Aslam, slipped away. He lay on the ground, in the mud and prayed he wouldn’t be found.

“There was so much fear inside me, my heart was hurting,” he says.

“From there I heard the screams. They were beating him. There wasn’t a single part of his body that wasn’t broken. He was beaten very badly.”

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Find out more

Watch James Clayton’s report for Newsnight, on BBC Two

The documentary India’s Cow Vigilantes can be seen on Our World on BBC World News and on the BBC News Channel (click for transmission times)

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Aslam says that Rakbar was killed then and there.

But there is evidence that suggests otherwise.

Much of what happened next focuses around the leader of the local cow vigilante group, Nawal Kishore Sharma.

Aslam claims he heard the gang address him by name that night, but when I speak to Sharma, he denies he was there at all.

Nawal Kishore Sharma
Nawal Kishore Sharma

“It was about 00:30 in the morning and I was sleeping in my house… Some of my group phoned me to say they’d caught some cow smugglers,” he says.

According to Nawal Kishore Sharma, he then drove with the police to the spot. “He was alive and he was fine,” he says.

But that’s not what the police say.

In their “first incident report” they say that Rakbar was indeed alive when they found him.

“Nawal Kishore Sharma informed the police at about 00:41 that some men were smuggling two cows on foot,” the report says.

“Then the police met Nawal Kishore outside the police station and they all went to the location.

“There was a man who was injured and covered in mud.

“He told the police his name, his father’s name, his age (28) and the village he was from.

“And as he finished these sentences, he almost immediately passed out. Then he was put in the police vehicle and they left for Ramgarh.

“Then the police reached Ramgarh with Rakbar where the available doctor declared him dead.”

Ramgarh at night
Ramgarh at night

But this version of events is highly dubious.

I go to the hospital in Ramgarh, where Rakbar was taken. Hospital staff are busily going through bound books of hospital records – looking for Rakbar’s admission entry.

And then, there it is. “Unknown dead body” brought in at 04:00 on 21 July 2018.

Hospital record of unknown dead body

It’s not a long entry, but it contradicts the police’s story, and raises some serious questions.

For a start, Rakbar was found about 12 minutes’ drive away from the hospital. Why did it take more than three hours for them to take him there?

And if the police say Rakbar gave them his name, why did they tell the hospital they didn’t know who he was?

Nawal Kishore Sharma claims to know why. He paints a very different picture of what happened to Rakbar.

He tells me that after picking up Rakbar, they changed his clothes.

He then claims to have taken two photos of Rakbar – who at this point was with the police.

Nawal Kishore Sharma's photograph of Rakbar Khan
Nawal Kishore Sharma's photograph of Rakbar Khan

Sharma says that he went to the police station with the police. He claims that’s when the beating really began.

“The police injured him badly. They even beat him with their shoes,” he says.

“They kicked him powerfully on the left side of his body four times. Then they beat him with sticks. They beat him here (pointing at his ribs) and even on his neck.”

At about 03:00 Nawal Kishore Sharma says he went with some police officers to take the two cows to a local cow shelter. When he returned, he says, the police told him that Rakbar had died.

Rakbar’s death certificate shows that his leg and hand had been broken. He’d been badly beaten and had broken his ribs, which had punctured his lungs.

According to his death certificate he died of “shock… as a result of injuries sustained over body”.

I ask the duty doctor at the hospital whether he remembers what Rakbar’s body was like when the police brought it in.

“It was cold,” he says.

I ask him how long it would take for a body to become cold after death.

“A couple of hours,” he replies.

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“I don’t want to talk about Rakbar’s case,” says Rejendra Singh, chief of police of Alwar district, which includes Ramgarh.

Since Rakbar’s murder several police officers have been suspended. I want to know why.

He looks uneasily at me.

“There were lapses on the police side,” he says.

I ask him what those lapses were.

“They had not followed the regular police procedure, which they were supposed to do,” he says. “It was one big lapse.”

Three men from Nawal Kishore Sharma’s vigilante group have been charged with Rakbar’s murder. Sharma himself remains under investigation.

The vigilante group and the police blame each other for Rakbar’s death, but neither denies working together that night.

The way Sharma describes it, the police cannot be everywhere, so the vigilantes help them out. But it’s the police that “take all the action” he says.

Nawal Kishore Sharma investigates a lorry outside Bilaspur, near Ramgarh, in 2015
Nawal Kishore Sharma inspects a lorry transporting cows (October 2015)

Much police activity in Rajasthan is focused on stopping cow slaughter.

Across the state there are dozens of formal cow checkpoints, where police stop vehicles looking for smugglers who are taking cows to be killed.

I visited one of the checkpoints. Sure enough police were patiently stopping vehicles and looking for cows.

The night before officers had had a gun battle with a group of men after a truck failed to stop.

These checkpoints have become common in some parts of India. Sometimes they are run by the police, sometimes by the vigilantes, and sometimes by both.

This gets to the heart of Rakbar’s case.

Human rights groups argue that his murder – and others like his – show that in some areas the police have got too close to the gangs.

Cow vigilantes in Ramgarh check a suspicious load in November 2015
The vigilantes find what they are looking for (November 2015)

“Unfortunately what we’re finding too often is that the police are complicit,” says Meenakshi Ganguly of Human Rights Watch, which published a 104-page report on cow-related violence in India this week.

In some areas, police have been reluctant to arrest the perpetrators of violence – and much faster to prosecute people accused of either consuming or trading in beef, he says.

Human Rights Watch has looked into 12 cases where it claims police have been complicit in the death of a suspected cow smuggler or have covered it up. Rakbar’s is one of them.

But this case doesn’t just illustrate police failings. Some would argue that it also illustrates how parts of the governing BJP party have inflamed the problem.

Gyandev Ahuja is a larger-than-life character. As the local member of parliament in Ramgarh at the time when Rakbar was killed he’s an important local figure.

He has also made a series of controversial statements about “cow smugglers”.

After a man was badly beaten in December 2017 Ahuja told local media: “To be straightforward, I will say that if anyone is indulging in cow smuggling, then this is how you will die.”

After Rakbar’s death he said that cow smuggling was worse than terrorism.

Nails used by cow vigilantes to force lorries to stop
Nails used by the vigilantes to force lorries to stop

Gyandev Ahuja is just one of several BJP politicians who have made statements that are supportive of the accused in so-called “cow lynchings”.

One of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ministers was even photographed garlanding the accused murderers in a cow vigilante case. He has since apologised.

Meenakshi Ganguly of Human Rights Watch says it is “terrifying” that elected officials have defended attackers.

“It is really, at this point of time, something that is a great concern, because it is changing a belief into a political narrative, and a violent one,” he says.

The worry is that supportive messages from some of the governing party’s politicians have emboldened the vigilantes.

No official figures are kept on cow violence, but the data collected by IndiaSpend suggests that it started ramping up in 2015, the year after Narendra Modi was elected.

IndiaSpend says that since then there have been 250 injuries and 46 deaths related to cow violence. This is likely to be an underestimate because farmers who have been beaten may be afraid to go to the police – and when a body is found it may not be clear what spurred the attack. The vast majority of the victims are Muslims.

A cow shelter in Ramgarh
A cow shelter in Ramgarh

A BJP spokesman, Nalin Kohli, emphatically rejects any connection between his party and cow violence.

“To say the BJP is responsible is perverse, inaccurate and absolutely false,” he tells me.

“Many people have an interest in building a statement that the BJP is behind it. We won’t tolerate it.”

I ask him about Gyandev Ahuja’s inflammatory statements.

“Firstly that is not the party’s point of view and we have very clearly and unequivocally always said an individual’s point of view is theirs, the point of view of the party is articulated by the party.

“Has the BJP promoted him or protected him? No.”

But a month after this interview, Ahuja was made vice-president of the party in Rajasthan.

Shortly afterwards, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Rajasthan – publicly slapping Ahuja on the back and waving together at crowds of BJP supporters.

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In Mewat I speak to Rakbar’s wife, Asmina.

“Show me how you raise seven children without a husband. How will I be able to raise them?” she says, wiping away tears.

“My youngest daughter says that my father went to God. If you ask her, ‘How did he go to God?’ she says, ‘My father was bringing a cow and people killed him.’

“The life of an animal is so important but that of a human is not.”

The trial of the three men accused of his murder has yet to take place, but perhaps we will never know what really happened to Rakbar.

In November 2015, photographer Allison Joyce spent a night following Nawal Kishore Sharma’s vigilantes in the countryside near Ramgarh. One of her photographs shows a police officer embracing Sharma after a shootout between the vigilantes and a suspected cow smuggler.

Though the police now accuse the cow vigilantes of killing Rakbar Khan, and the vigilantes accuse the police, the photograph illustrates just how closely they worked together.

A policeman embraces Nawal Kishore Sharma after his group chases down a lorry in November 2015

In the Indian media there have been claims that the police took the two cows that Rakbar had been transporting to a cow shelter, as Rakbar lay dead or dying in a police vehicle.

There are also claims that the police stopped and drank tea instead of taking Rakbar to hospital.

Whatever they did, they did not take Rakbar to hospital immediately.

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Rakbar Khan: Did cow vigilantes lynch a Muslim farmer?

Contact Email, ( bbcnews.co.uk@bbcnewslight.co.uk ) or ( Johnsonmichael@post.com )

Pulwama attack: India government must protect Kashmiris – top court”:

Protests have been held in Indian-administered Kashmir over attacks on Kashmiris in other parts of India

India’s top court has ordered the government to protect Kashmiri people from attacks in apparent retaliation for last week’s deadly bombing in Indian-administered Kashmir.

There have been several reports of Kashmiri students and businessmen being harassed or beaten up in recent days.

The Supreme Court has also sought a response from the states where these alleged incidents happened.

The attack has sparked anger and anti-Pakistan protests across India.

The suicide bombing of an Indian security convoy in Pulwama on 14 February was claimed by a Pakistan-based militant group and has led to a war of words between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.

But in some cases the anger has been directed against Kashmiri people living in other parts of India. The attack, which killed more than 40 Indian paramilitary police, was the deadliest against Indian forces in Kashmir in decades.

Kashmiri students from Dehradun, Ambala, Banur and Mohali leaving for Kashmir in Mohali, India.

Kashmiri students living in Dehradun and other cities have returned home since the attack

The court’s decision singled out the federal government as well as governments in 10 states which are home to a sizeable Kashmiri population.

It asked authorities to widely publicise the details of officials who Kashmiris can contact if they face threats or violence.

The order was in response to a petition seeking protection for Kashmiris living across India. Tehseen Poonawala, one of the petitioners, told the BBC that he was moved to act because he was “disturbed” after reading reports of Kashmiris being attacked.

“It’s not about Kashmiris. It’s about human beings. We cannot be a country that responds with mob violence,” he told the BBC.

In the days following the attack, isolated incidents of students from Kashmir being beaten up or evicted from their accommodation in northern Indian states were reported in local media. Kashmiri Muslims were warned to stay vigilant and India’s Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) offered help to those in need, but also warned of false reports.

The governor of the north-eastern state of Meghalaya sparked controversy after calling on people to “boycott” Kashmir and Kashmiri products and businesses.

Twenty Kashmiri girls in the northern city of Dehradun were forced to lock themselves in their hostel after protesters gathered outside to demand their eviction, according to the Times of India. A dean of a college in the city was also allegedly suspended after an angry mob demanded that he be dismissed from his job.

Two other colleges in the city issued public statements saying they would not admit Kashmiri students in the next academic year.

“We did so to provide protection to the [Kashmiri] students,” the college principal, Aslam Siddidqu, told the BBC, adding that he had faced pressure from right-wing groups.

Federal education minister Prakash Javadekar has denied that “incidents” have taken place involving Kashmiri students.

But a police official in Dehradun told the BBC that 22 students had been arrested for protesting and demanding that Kashmiri students be expelled from colleges in the city.

Kashmiri traders are seen shouting slogans during the protest. Traders in Lal Chowk and adjoining markets closed their shops as a mark of protest against attacks on Kashmiris elsewhere in India.

Markets and businesses were closed to protest violence against Kashmiri students and businessmen.

Many Indians have expressed sympathy towards the Kashmiri students on social media with some offering shelter in their own homes.

India has long had a volatile relationship with Muslim-majority Kashmir, where there has been an armed insurgency against Indian rule since the late 1980s.

The region has been a flashpoint between India and Pakistan since independence. Both countries claim all of Kashmir but control only parts of it. They have fought two wars and a limited conflict over the territory.