Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi | BJP | YouTube
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The Prime Minister’s declaration that rural India was no open-defecation free makes headlines on the front pages Thursday. Times of India, oddly, chooses not to mention this on Page 1.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also makes news.

India declared open-defecation free: “Announcing that rural India and its villages have declared themselves open-defecation free,” PM Narendra Modi said that the “effort to provide toilet facilities to more than 60 crore people in 60 months had amazed the whole world,” reports The Indian Express.

The Hindu is not convinced of this claim and says Modi “declared the country open defecation-free, claiming success for the government’s initiative under which every household now apparently has access to a toilet.”

The announcement was made on Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary. Express notes that Modi said Gandhi “was not an icon of just Indian Independence movement but also cleanliness.”

Hindustan Times writes that, “the PM made the declaration by pressing the button of a remote, unveiling the map of India as ODF.”

Jaishankar-Pompeo: HT’s lead story on its flap outlines, “India urges US to refresh ties in world of frenemies.” It quotes S. Jaishankar – “India and the US will need to ‘refresh’ ties as the old globalised world order built after 1945 gives way to an emerging arrangement marked by a ‘proliferation of frenemies’, friends who differ and competitors who cooperate.”

Hindu’s second lead reports that after Jaishankar said that “he was reasonably convinced of persuading the US to accept India’s decision” to purchase Russia’s missiles, “US officials warned that any such purchase might risk sanctions.”

J&K: Jammu and Kashmir makes news in the Express and HT but for different reasons. Express highlights, “almost two months after they were ordered indoors,” some ‘dozen’ top Opposition leaders of the Jammu region “were allowed to move out of their homes Wednesday to resume their political activities. HT reports that J&K police are “set to buy 50 more unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones to increase surveillance and thwart possible protests and movement of terrorists.”

Others: Express reports on the economy – “Even as the country’s foreign exchange reserves are close to their highest ever levels”, it says that the “sharp rise in India’s external debt over the last couple of years… has opened a big gap over the forex cover.” This has “potentially rendered the economy vulnerable to any external shocks such as global oil price spike.”

It adds that, “While this may not be the reason to set the alarm bells ringing… the concern this time stems from uncertainties over crude prices.”

In a strange choice of lead, TOI  has some positive news: “The 10-fold hike in traffic fine for not carrying the valid Pollution Under Control (PUC) certificate has worked wonders.” It reports, “owners are now making a beeline for getting their vehicles checked for pollution.”

Opinion 

TOI: In TOI’s point of view the earlier judgement on the SC/ST Act had “taken note of false cases and high acquittal rate in PoA cases to allow the option of anticipatory bail to accused.” It notes that the two-judge bench’s intention “was quickly overtaken by a political firestorm that dubbed the verdict anti-Dalit and anti-Adiviasi.” Despite the restoration of the special law, ‘structural problems’ like caste oppression, false cases and low conviction rate in PoA cases were ‘glossed over’. According to TOI, “Denying safeguards like anticipatory bail and quick disposal of bail pleas amounts to presumption of guilt amid mindless application of laws by police.” Moreover, these provisions “contribute to vitiating noble intentions” of the PoA Act.

Express: In ‘Making Amends’, Express writes that the Supreme Court “has done well to recall its 2018 order” that diluted provisions of the SC/ST Act, 1989. It notes that the three-judge bench observed that the previous judgement was “against the spirit of the Constitution”. The newspaper highlights that the apex court’s willingness to “course-correct in accordance with the spirit of the Constitution points to institutional resilience.” This comes at a time when questions are being asked on the “independence of institutions when a domineering political executive is armed with a large mandate.”

Prime Time

Most TV channels were occupied with Gandhi Jayanti coverage. NDTV 24×7even ran a 12-hour long telethon campaigning for a “healthy India” with Amitabh Bachchan and Prannoy Roy. India Today discussed PM Modi’s Swachh Bharat initiative and its impact, five years after its inception.

On the upcoming Assembly polls, Republic asked, “Congress kahan gayi?” after the party’s Haryana leader, Ashok Tanwar, alleged corruption in ticket distribution.

CNN News 18: Anchor Anand Narasimhan, on ‘The Right Stand’, chose to ponder whether the Congress could “claim the Gandhi legacy.”

BJP spokesperson R.P. Singh attacked the Opposition: “Gandhi ji never allowed his children to take part in politics. This set of Gandhis is the most corrupt, while the father of our nation always talked about walking the path of truth.”

“PM Narendra Modi has ensured that Mahatma Gandhi’s ideology is taken forward on each and every front,” he added.

Rasheed Kidwai, senior journalist and visiting fellow at ORF was more diplomatic: Gandhi was a very difficult man to follow” and that today’s political class has “collectively failed.”

Political analyst Nishant Varma said, “The ideology that killed Gandhi and those who follow that ideology cannot come an inch closer to his thoughts and principles. Mahatma Gandhi is a world legacy.”

Zee News: PM Modi’s opinion piece in the New York Times drew criticism from the Opposition, which was the central topic of discussion on ‘Taal Thok Ke’.

BJP’s Sudhanshu Trivedi said, “Gandhi’s political philosophy was about Ram as evident from his ‘Hey Ram’ and ‘Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram’, which was destroyed by Congress in 2007 when they filed an affidavit saying that Ram does not exist.”

Political Analyst Ashutosh differed, “In the second line of ‘Raghupati Raghav’ – it also mentions Allah- which the BJP does not like. Gandhi’s philosophy is based on Secularism, communal harmony and Sarva- Dharma-Samabhav, which is non-existent in BJP’s philosophy.”

Haji Arat Sheikh, President, Maharashtra State Minority Commission used the occasion to praise Modi, “Sabarmati’s saint did wonders, similarly, Gujarat’s son is also creating a name for India.”

ABP News: Sonia Gandhi’s statement about RSS trying to “replace” Mahatma Gandhi led anchor Rubika Liyaquat  to ask, “Does Congress have a copyright on Mahatma Gandhi?”

Nationalist Congress Party’s Madhukar Kukde said, “Gandhi belongs to the whole nation. But in the past five years, the BJP government has forgotten the core principle of Gandhian ideology. Mob lynching, divisive Hindu-Muslim politics are some of the examples for the same.”

Maharashtra Congress’ Raj Kapoor, said Sonia Gandhi was right, and blamed the RSS for Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, “Gandhi brought the country together…they (BJP) are dividing it again.”

“Godse was not associated with RSS, even Supreme Court agreed. This is Congress’ attempt to mislead people,” said Mukesh, Maharashtra’s BJP spokesperson.

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