Alok Verma at CBI Headquarter, New Delhi | Ravi Choudhary/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
File photo of Alok Verma at CBI Headquarters, New Delhi | Ravi Choudhary/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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In the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s scheme of perfect things, this morning’s headlines ought to have hailed its 10 per cent masterstroke on reservations passed in the Lok Sabha with “329 votes in favour and just three against’ as The Indian Express writes. Alas, that did not come to pass. The Supreme Court topped it.

It is always in the news and today is no different. It made headlines for two reasons: its reinstatement of erstwhile Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director Alok Verma to his rightful place and the appointment of a 5-judge bench to hear the Ayodhya cases.

The newspapers declared the top court verdict a victory for Verma but were not celebrating because it “clips his wings”, writes The Hindu’s front page. Hindustan Times declares, “Verma wins CBI vs CBI”, despite the “curbs on powers”, as The Indian Express writes.

With only a few weeks of his tenure left, “Verma’s fate hinges on the decision of (the) committee comprising Mr. Modi, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Congress MP Mallikarjun Kharge, as Leader of the Opposition”, explains The Hindu.

The Times of India’s report tells us the committee will have to “consider the entire matter and reach a decision on restoring the director’s powers in a week…The government, in consultation with the Opposition, must find a way to insulate CBI from extraneous influence.”

The decision saw editorial comment too: “The Supreme Court has strengthened the principle that the head of the agency should be insulated against any form of interference”, writes The Hindu but adds that, “What it has done… is to soften the blow it had dealt the government by giving it an opportunity to achieve through the committee route what it could not do successfully through its midnight ‘coup’.”

HT sticks with the positivity of the ruling: The order “is definitely a setback for the government…This judgment is a good starting point to remake the CBI.” The Economic Times sees this as “a setback for the government…the best course for the government is to seek an early meeting of the committee to consider (Verma’s) transfer: failure to do that would raise doubts about the bona fides of the original transfer decision’.”

The 10% solution

The government hastily passed both the Citizenship Amendment Bill and the 10 per cent quota Bill in the Lok Sabha. The latter, called the Constitutional (124th Amendment) Bill, was passed with “329 votes in favour and just three against,” writes Express with even the headline saying it all: all political parties were obliged to support the bill, despite their own reservations. TOI flags how the Bill was passed with “unprecedented speed”.

Citizenship Bill

Protests and violence didn’t stop the Lok Sabha from passing the deeply controversial amendments to the Citizenship Act, which the Assamese, in particular see as a betrayal of the 1985 Assam Accord. If passed into law, the Act will now grant citizenship to “illegal immigrants” from non-Muslim communities living in India.

Ayodhya bench strength

CJI Ranjan Gogoi has decided to resume the Ayodhya land dispute hearing. The first hearing will be Thursday. Gogoi has constituted a 5-judge bench for the case.

“The decision left many wondering how the CJI could have assigned the case to a five-judge bench ignoring the order by a three-judge bench,” writes TOI in its lead report.

Absent: Tens of thousands of trade union workers had taken to the streets in a nationwide strike, but this finds no place on the front pages despite running for a second day. Protestors are rallying against anti-worker policies put in place by the Central government.

Prime Time

Prime-time television had enough news to keep it arguing for evenings to come: the Supreme Court order on CBI director Alok Verma, the passage of the Citizenship Bill in the Lok Sabha amid Opposition protests and the new 10 per cent reservation bill passed by the Lok Sabha.

Many channels, especially, Hindi news chose to stay with the LS debate on the latter till it was passed late at night. Others like Times Now, India Today, ABP, India TV talked around the Opposition’s “jumla”: compelled to support the reservation bill, they didn’t raise enough relevant arguments against it. Perhaps India Today summed it up best: “Sabka quota”.

On India Today, anchor Padmaja Joshi asked whether asked a curious question: does BJP actually support reservation. BJP spokesperson Narendra Taneja evaded this by saying, “BJP is pro-poor, it believes in sab ka saath, sab ka vikas.”

Congress spokesperson Aishwarya Mahadev said, “It is a election jumla as it has to go through judicial scrutiny. However, Congress does believe that we have to move ahead from caste-based reservation.”

On Aaj Tak anchor Anjana Om Kashyap asked the question everyone wanted to ask and knew the answer to: why did the BJP suddenly want to try to uplift the economically weaker section of the upper castes.

RSS supporter Sangit Ragi didn’t answer directly, but went for the Congress instead: “Congress does not want to see the upliftment of the forward castes. Why didn’t they do something for the forward castes when they were in power for 10 years? Rahul Gandhiji is not even blinking his eye in Parliament today.”

Kashyap then asked Rajiv Tyagi why the Congress president was not present in Parliament when such an important issue was being debated.

Tyagi had no answer: he spoke about reservation in the context of employment, which is at an all time low with few new investments. All the money is going to the Ambanis, he alleged.

With much jumla about reservation, Republic TV anchor Arnab Goswami chose to look elsewhere for a headline: he interviewed Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman about the Rafale deal.

When asked about the Congress demand for a joint parliamentary committee on the deal, Sitharaman said, “The problem with the JPC is- the SC has gone through the deal, and they have clearly come out and said that there are no problems.

“In Rafale, there is just nothing. I have answered all the questions, Jaitleyji has answered the questions, the SC has given its word. What more is there to it?”

Goswami asked Sitharaman about allegations that her family made money as a result of the deal, Sitharaman replied, “My family has politicians who served the country, they did not transfer funds to their personal accounts. There are several Indian families who are in politics who have not earned a buck for themselves.”

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