‘Are you writing freely these days?’ asked Rahul Gandhi at a press conference in New Delhi Thursday. The question is simple enough, but a powerful one, given how rarely the problems of self-censorship and paid news are frankly addressed by high-profile politicians.
The headlines say Gandhi “targeted”, “slammed”, and “attacked” the BJP on issues ranging from demonetisation to women’s safety. This is Gandhi’s third press conference this month; we are yet to see the Prime Minister take to a public forum in this way. Instead, the BJP and its party members took to calling Gandhi names, claiming that his speech was a “fictitious and frustrated rant” and that he was “in a state of delusion as well as denial.”
The Congress president claims demonetisation was a scam meant to help Modi’s “crony capitalist friends” and the Rafale deal a “robbery”. According to The Telegraph, the 2019 election will be fought on these grounds, in addition to economic mismanagement.
The Kolkata-based paper has led the charge against Modi and the BJP these past four years, and today it upped the ante. “Modiji, welcome to the Great Indian Chauraha that you had ordained,” the headline screamed on the top of the page. The headline was a reference to the PM’s declaration in the wake of demonetisation that he would accept any punishment in a public square if his intentions were found at fault.
In a no-holds-barred first paragraph, The Telegraph said: “If the Prime Minister keeps his promise to turn up at a public square and face the consequences of demonetisation, a sneak preview of what lies in store was provided by Rahul Gandhi on Thursday in his most direct attack yet on Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.
At play will be questions on Rafale, Anil Ambani, cease-and-desist notices, alleged crony capitalism, demonetisation season deposits in a Gujarat bank and a ‘hesitant’ media.”
But that wasn’t all. A photograph of the PM landing in Nepal to attend the BIMSTEC summit Thursday-Friday, with his hand raised in salute, generated a tongue-in-cheek comment: “Hello Nepal! (Aw, no escape from notes here too).”
Seems Nepal has been pressing India to take back $146 million worth of old Indian notes (the Indian rupee is valid in Nepal), but New Delhi hasn’t agreed yet. No decision has been taken, said economic affairs secretary Subhash Chandra Garg.
Business Standard reports that the PM is putting on a brave face. Garg has met representatives of the rating agency Standard & Poor’s and made a strong case for a ratings upgrade.
The Hindu writes in its editorial that the mask is off the government, saying it must focus on sorting out the damage it caused to the economy. The Times of India, in its editorial, terms demonetisation the “most ill-advised” economic policy of the Modi government.
Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi has demanded that a joint parliamentary committee investigate the Rafale deal, just like the opposition did in 1987, when it charged Rajiv Gandhi’s government with taking kickbacks on the Bofors gun deal.
But will Rafale be the BJP’s Bofors, journalist Rajdeep Sardesai asks in Hindustan Times. His answer is no. “There are marked differences. Remember the charge of kickbacks in Bofors was very specifically made by Swedish radio first; this was then followed up by a series of detailed investigative reports that very clearly established pay-offs and the presence of middlemen in the deal,” he writes. “So far, there has been no similar money trail established in the Rafale case.”
The Indian Express today has a story on Anil Ambani’s Reliance Entertainment signing a deal to produce a film with former French president Francois Hollande’s partner Julie Gayet, two days before he came to Delhi to sign the Rs 59,000-crore Rafale deal for 36 fighter jets in January 2016. Later that year, Ambani’s Reliance Defence became part of the offset programme through Dassault Reliance Aerospace Ltd (DRAL), holding a 51 per cent stake.
Point of View
The debates on Republic TV and Times Now focused on Rahul Gandhi’s attack on Modi.
On Republic TV, Arnab Goswami laughed off Gandhi’s claims on demonetisation as baseless and expressed “sympathies for the panelists trying to defend him”. Sambit Patra of the BJP said the cash ban drive was to ensure a digital formalised economy. Neither talked about Wednesday’s RBI report, which stated that 99.3 per cent of the notes hit by the ban were back in the system. Republic TV’s noise meter was so high Thursday night, it could have competed with a whistling locomotive.
Aaj Tak talked about the falling rupee and PM Modi’s silence on the issue, also throwing back to 2013, when the then Gujarat CM had derided the UPA government for its “incompetency” in handling the economy.
The “Nationalist Vs Naxal” binary continues to remain a point of contention.
Zee News practically charged the five activists arrested earlier this week with being insurgents, while Pratap Bhanu Mehta of Ashoka University, in his column in The Indian Express, weighed in on comparisons of the current scheme of affairs with the Emergency. “The Emergency was merely about power. What we are seeing is something more insidious: The production of a psychological complex where everyone is a traitor. It is time for the courts and civil society to push back against a power that seeks to not just imprison our bodies, but stultify our souls,” he wrote.
News it’s just kinda cool to know
Now, dams in Maharashtra will have floating solar panels, reports PTI. The Jayakwadi dam on the Godavari river and the Ujani dam on the Bhima river have been selected as the sites for solar power generation. Private players will be invited to participate in the project. The driving rationale behind the proposed project is to reduce dependence on land for installation of plants providing renewable sources of energy.
(With inputs from Rajgopal Singh)