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‘Bid to gain political mileage before Gujarat polls’ — Urdu press on Bilkis Bano convicts’ release

ThePrint’s round-up of how the Urdu media covered various news events through the week, and the editorial positions some of them took.

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New Delhi: Eleven men who were convicted of gang rape and murder in the 2002 Bilkis Bano case having their sentences remitted was the focal point of the Urdu newspapers this past week. Bano, 19 at the time, was gang-raped and 14 members of her family — including her three-and-a-half-year-old daughter — were killed in the 2002 post-Godhra riots.

Apart from the Bilkis Bano case, the reconstitution of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) parliamentary board and its possible implications on upcoming state elections, the 76th Independence Day celebrations, and Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan’s statement advocating the removal of the ban on Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses found prominent mention on the front pages of Urdu dailies.

ThePrint brings you the weekly round-up from the Urdu press.

Also Read: ‘BJP set example, Nitish followed suit’ — what Urdu press wrote about Bihar switcheroo

‘Attempt to gain political mileage’

For most of the week, the front pages of Urdu newspapers brimmed with outrage over the release and subsequent felicitation of 11 men convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Bilkis Bano case.

Inquilab reported on its front-page flyer on 17 August that the convicts had been released by the Gujarat government, despite protests by opposition parties.

An editorial in Siasat on 17 August said the Gujarat government’s decision to release the convicts was in contravention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to “respect women”. Terming it an attempt by the BJP government in the state to gain political mileage ahead of the impending assembly elections, the editorial urged the central government to step in and honour the call Modi made from the ramparts of the Red Fort on Independence Day.

On 18 August, Roznama Rashtriya Sahara carried former Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s criticism of the Gujarat government on its front page. The Urdu daily also quoted Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera as saying that the convicts’ release was illegal and that Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah would have to answer for it. 

That same day, the lead article in Siasat quoted Rahul Gandhi’s tweet addressed to Modi in which he said that the whole nation is watching how the prime minister’s words differ from his actions.

On 19 August, Siasat‘s lead article quoted Bilkis Bano as saying that the remission of the convicts’ sentences shook her faith in the country’s legal system. She was also quoted as saying that the government’s decision to free her tormentors had robbed her of her peace of mind, and that it’s imperative that every woman in this country feel safe.

‘Need to educate students about freedom struggle’

Siasat, in an editorial on 15 August, pledged and asked its readers to take a pledge to protect India’s freedom, strengthen its democracy, and ensure that the Constitution and laws of the country reign supreme. The pledge also said: “We will give priority to the interests of the country instead of fulfilling our personal and political interests.”

On Independence Day, an editorial in Inquilab lamented that the Khilafat Movement, the Silk Letter movement, the Salt Satyagraha, and the Non-cooperation Movement have largely disappeared from public memory, adding that this has made it difficult for the new generation to rediscover the country’s past glory. The editorial further said that it would be good if Muslim organisations conducted a holiday crash course to educate students about the freedom struggle.

Both Roznama Rashtriya Sahara and Inquilab carried President Droupadi Murmu’s address to the nation on the eve of Independence Day in their 15 August editions. In her address, the President talked about a number of issues ranging from gender equality to India’s growing economy. Roznama also printed I-Day greetings from Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankhar, while Inquilab reported on security arrangements in the national capital for Independence Day celebrations.

Siasat, in an editorial on 16 August, said there’s a need to present a report card of the promises Modi has made to the people of this country. “How much time will be required to fulfil them? The government cannot be discharged from its duties by merely talking to please the public. It has the responsibility to fulfil all promises,” the editorial said.

On 16 August, the front page of Roznama Rashtriya Sahara carried Modi’s Independence Day speech in great detail. The same front page also carried Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi’s Independence Day message to the nation in which she accused the BJP of misrepresenting historical facts and downplaying the freedom struggle.

To mark the I-Day celebrations, Inquilab published a series of editorials highlighting points of difference between “New India” and “Old India”. The first of these editorials, published on 18 August, said it’s unfortunate that we are determined to build a new India, but the problems of the old India are “uncontrollable”.

The editorial said: “We avoid many incidents by saying that the law will take its course. The law should certainly do its job, but why does such a situation arise that the law has to take the trouble. Nurturing a crime-free society is necessary to protect the law from trouble, so we should learn from countries where crime rates are very low and moderate. There are countries where society is organised in such a way that people are obliged to care about each other’s rights and perform their duties. A sense of responsibility arises when citizens are taught rights and duties from childhood, are made aware of them, and are disciplined.”

Also Read: ‘ED may raid, but can’t defend cases’ — Urdu press flags agency’s ‘poor conviction rates’

‘Uncertain future of Shivraj Singh Chouhan’

Notable changes in the constitution of the BJP’s Parliamentary Board made the front page in both Roznama Rashtriya Sahara and Inquilab on 18 August. 

A report in Inquilab announced that Union minister Nitin Gadkari and Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan had been dropped from the board. On the same day, a report in Roznama Rashtriya Sahara said their removal, and the inclusion of Satyanarayan Jatiya in the parliamentary board and Devendra Fadnavis in the BJP’s 15-member central election committee (CEC), signalled that social and regional representation had taken precedence over seniority within the party.

An editorial in Siasat on 19 August, titled ‘Uncertain future of Shivraj Singh Chouhan’, said the reconstitution of the BJP’s parliamentary board and CEC was accompanied by an undeniable message — “the only people who are important in the party are PM Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah”.

The editorial added that such changes seem to have been made only with an eye on Parliamentary elections while disregarding any effect they may have at the state level.

Citing MP CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan as a test case, the editorial argued that his removal from the BJP’s parliamentary board ahead of the 2023 assembly polls will give the Congress the opportunity to say that the BJP is no longer backing Chouhan and he is not in contention for any post either in the state or at the Centre.

‘U-turn on Rohingyas’

The renewed war of words between the Centre and Delhi government, triggered by a  tweet by Union minister Hardeep Singh Puri, made it to the front pages of the Urdu press in the latter half of this past week.

The MHA Thursday seemingly overruled a decision by the Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs — conveyed by Puri in a tweet — to provide flats, basic necessities and round-the-clock security to Rohingya refugees in Delhi’s Bakkarwala.

On 18 August, both Siasat and Roznama Rashtriya Sahara cited the Ministry of Home Affairs’ statement to declare that Rohingya refugees would not be given flats in Delhi. 

That same day, Inquilab reported how Puri’s announcement that the Myanmarese refugees would be given flats was followed by a denial by the home ministry. The report said that the government made a “U-turn” after there was an uproar over Puri’s statement.

‘Salman Rushdie’s blasphemous book’

Inquilab, in its edition on 17 August, carried a front-page report saying that Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan — “who is famous for giving controversial statements” — has advocated for the removal of the ban on author Salman Rushdie’s “blasphemous book The Satanic Verses in India. The report went further to add that the governor’s latest statement is causing great anxiety and indignation in many Muslim circles. 

In an exclusive interview with The Indian Express earlier this week, Arif Mohammed Khan had said that the ban on Rushdie’s “profane book” was vote-bank politics and harmed the national interest, the report in Inquilab said. It added that when asked if the ban on Rushdie’s book should be lifted in India, the governor replied in the affirmative.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

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