Prime Minister Narendra Modi releases butterflies at the Butterfly Park on the occasion of his 69th birthday, in Kevadia, Gujarat on 17 September 2019 | PTI
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From releasing butterflies in the sky to eating a meal with his mother — front pages of mainstream newspapers Wednesday feature photographs of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s birthday celebrations.

HoweverThe Times of India and The Indian Express led with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s statement on India’s position on Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, while Hindustan Times went with the news of a steep spike in crude oil prices.

Express writes, “PoK a part of India, one day will have physical jurisdiction: EAM”, TOI says, “We’ll have physical jurisdiction over PoK one day: Jaishankar”, HT puts it differently: “PoK is India’s, expect to get control of it one day: Govt”. The Hindu goes its own way with, “We are facing challenges due to a neighbour: Jaishankar.”

“Upping the ante ahead of a likely high-decibel showdown with Pakistan at the United Nations next week”, S. Jaishankar said “India’s position on Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir was clear and it expects to have physical jurisdiction over the territory one day”, reports TOI. It writes that these comments are “the latest in a string of similar statements that suggest the “status” of J&K is now “off the table in any discussion with Pakistan”.

Express is suggests that this is “signalling a qualitative shift” in Delhi’s stated position on J&K, S. Jaishankar, “a career diplomat known for his careful choice of words and diplomatic nuance, said India expects it will have physical jurisdiction over PoK”. It is quick to note that this is the “first time in recent years that an External Affairs Minister has spoken of taking physical possession of PoK”.

Crude oil ‘worries’“Markets slip as crude oil worries spook investors” writes HT while TOI says, “Sensex drops 642 pts as oil fears spook mkt”, Hindu is straightforward: “Stocks slip on oil: Sensex declines 1.7%” and Express drops this news entirely.

“Fears of spike in crude prices in the wake of” a drone attack on “Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq oil facility triggered a sharp fall in India’s stock markets”, reports HT. It notes that “government officials said India was exploring alternative sources” and “Russia could be a reliable partner for long-term supply of crude oil”.

TOI highlights that “pump prices recorded their sharpest rise since Union Budget on 5 July”. Fuel retailers “raised petrol price by 14 paise” and “diesel prices by 15 paise”, says TOI.

HT’s lead on its front-page flap reports that car registrations are down in Delhi for the first time in six years —  “Vehicle registrations in the national capital have declined in the first eight months of 2019”. It quotes data from the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and says that “the 12.6% decline in the period is the first since 2014”.

Hindu’s lead, “Govt to peg MGNREGA wages to inflation in bid to hike incomes” reveals that after “staring at a slump in demand and a slowdown in the rural economy,” the Centre “plans to inject more money into the UPAs flagship Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act scheme by linking wages under the Act to an updated inflation index”.

Kashmir: In news from Kashmir, Express says that “since 5 August,” the J&K administration has “issued as many as 230 orders for detention of people across Kashmir” under the “draconian Public Safety Act (PSA)”. It says that “of these, only three have been rejected by the PSA Advisory Board which is supposed to review these orders and confirm or reject them within six weeks”.

In an incident of violence against Dalits, Express reports, “Dalit youth killed, ailing mother dead, accused says ‘did it for honour’”. It is the only mainstream newspaper to carry this report on its front page.

Opinion 

Hindu: In ‘Fire to fuel’, the newspaper explains how drone attacks on two major oil facilities in Saudi Arabia have led to “a sudden disruption of global crude oil supply”. Though Yemen’s Houthi militia claimed responsibility for the attacks, the US suggests it was due to Iran’s “bluster and erratic policy decisions”, writes Hindu. It suggests Iran de-escalate the situation via diplomacy and the Saudis “halt their Yemen intervention” and let the UN broker a peace deal.

Emerging economies will also be affected, explains Hindu, which predicts crude oil prices will rise further. India can expect to see increased fuel pump costs and further currency depreciation, which could really “hurt the consumer” given the current slowdown, it writes. The Centre should prepare for this by reviewing excise duties on petroleum products, it suggests.

HT: The Saudi oil attacks are not only “a reminder of India’s over-dependence on the world’s most unstable region”, but that also fit into Iran’s pattern of “targeting Saudi oil exports”, writes HT. In ‘India must plan for an oil crisis’, it  points to Iran’s “game of shadows in which Iran tries to force Saudi Arabia to seek an accommodation that would include the easing of oil sanctions”.

At first, the newspaper is hopeful, saying there are assurances that there is a “global surplus of black gold” and barrel prices have remained between the $50 and $60 range. Later, it says the fallout of the Gulf’s “slow-motion war” on India “would be instant”, and suggests India diversify its energy sources and work towards increasing its “criminally low” oil reserves.

Prime Time

Prime time on Wednesday revolved around a range of issues. CNN-News 18 focussed on Dalit BJP MP A. Narayanaswamy being denied entry to a village in his constituency, asking  “Is India ready to rise above quota?”

Republic, discussed the delay in the Ram Mandir negotiations, and Aaj Tak debated Digvijay Singh’s controversial remarks about “saffron crimes”.

India Today: “Pakistan Exposed” was the flashy headline on the channel as anchor Gaurav Sawant discussed the human rights violations in Balochistan, which was brought up by Pakistani activists, who reached out to PM Modi for help at the UN General Assembly. The question Sawant posed was, “What do Baloch rights activists expect from PM Modi?”

Hammal Haider, representative of the Baloch National Movement, said, “We are trying to highlight atrocities committed by Pakistan in Balochistan. Young girls are being raped, people are dying. These are the human rights violations happening in Balochistan.”

He added, “It is India’s responsibility, internationally, to help the people of Baloch.”

Pakistani journalist Mona Alam said, “I will be totally wrong in saying that our government has turned a blind eye to this. I agree that there have been some serious human rights violations in Balochistan during some dictatorial regimes.”

Times Now decided to focus on Modi’s birthday and his resolution to fulfil Sardar Patel’s dream of ‘Ek Bharat’. Given the abrogation of Article 370, which was also done in Patel’s name, the burning question of the hour, posed by anchor Rahul Shivshakar, was “Is Modi’s mission on track?”

“We have always been one country since 1947, we have not lost any territory. Our people have hung together. There has been a general tendency to build a pan-Indian identity, which didn’t care about your religion or language,” said senior advocate Sanjay Hegde. “What is now coming is enforced uniformity,” he added.

BJP’s spokesperson Sambit Patra defended the resolution, “Ek desh main do vidhan, do pradhan, do nishaan nahi chalenge. (In one country, there can’t be two Constitutions, two heads and two symbols). Ek Bharat means India which has one law.”

“He is a megalomaniac,” said lawyer Mahmood Paracha, referring to Modi. “Our PM is suffering from amnesia. He thinks any leader before him did nothing. He is trying to show that what Sardar Patel couldn’t do, I am doing.”

Aaj Tak:  Anchor Rohit Sardana on ‘Dangal’ discussed Digvijay Singh’s controversial remarks, claiming that people wearing saffron were committing rapes inside temples.

Tehseen Poonawalla from Congress, while referring to the Chinmayanand case and Kathua rape case, said Singh’s statements were aimed at the BJP: “Why Yogi Adityanath has not taken any strict action in Chinmaynand’s case? Digvijay Singh’s statement referred to such people and was not a generalised statement.”

“From our national flag to Dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin, saffron is present everywhere. Why is Digvijay Singh after saffron and people who wear saffron?” BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain wanted to know.

Meanwhile “spiritual” leader Acharya Vikramaditya made a bigoted comment, saying  “Compare the statistics with rapes that are committed in madrasas, the truth will reveal itself.”

Republic Bharat: Anchor Arnab Goswami discussed the letter by Sunni Waqf Board, which said that the Ayodhya dispute was only a week away from being resolved but it could not be resolved. Arnab asked on ‘Puchta hai Bharat’, if there was a conspiracy behind not allowing a week’s time to settle the issue.

Sadhvi Jaya Bharti said, “Supreme Court had said in its report that the mediation panel had failed. Either the Supreme Court was lying then or the Sunni Waqf board is lying now.”

All India Imam president Maulana Mohd Sajid Rashidi said that there was nothing controversial in the letter. “The letter is an old one, it does not hold much significance,” he said.

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