Mainstream newspapers Friday carry different leads on their front pages. The Indian Express and The Times of India lead with Army Chief General Bipin Rawat’s comments criticising those protesting against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. The Hindu leads with the National Population Register. Hindustan Times shifts its focus to Delhi and the Election Commission’s preparations for the 2002 Delhi assembly elections.
All mainstream papers also carry a photograph on Page 1 of this decade’s last solar eclipse, where the moon slowly masked the Sun to leave just a ‘ring of fire’.
General Bipin Rawat: Express notes that General Rawat has waded “into the bitter political row” over the CAA by saying that those leading the protests were prompting people to “carry out arson and violence, and this did not amount to leadership”.
TOI adds that “a senior officer at the Army headquarters later clarified that Gen Rawat had basically talked about ‘leadership qualities’ and there were no political statements made”.
HT writes: “The comments by the general… drew sharp criticism from Opposition leaders and also senior retired officers though most of the latter did not want to come on record”.
Anti-CAA protests in Uttar Pradesh: Hindu reports that two more protesters “Mohammed Haroon, 30, and Mohammed Shafeeq, 40, from Firozabad… who were shot during the protests… on 20 December, died of their injuries at hospitals in Delhi Thursday”.
TOI notes how despite Inspector General (Agra range) Satish Ganesh’s claim that police personnel did not fire a single bullet at the protesters, the death toll in UP was 23.
Express, meanwhile, quotes a different death toll and writes that 19 people have died in the anti-CAA protests while the state police has “arrested 1,113 people in 327 cases registered so far and and placed another 5,558 people under preventive detention”. In an accompanying report, Express highlights that “minors, mostly school students, are among thousands arrested, detained, put on notice, or injured in different cities of Uttar Pradesh”.
National Population Register: Hindu writes that the proposed NPR “already has a database of more than 119 crore residents , by verifying the details of all respondents through house-to-house enumeration”. It adds that the NPR exercise “has become controversial because the Citizenship Rules, 2003, link the Population Register to the creation of a National Register of Indian Citizens or National Register of Citizens”.
Others: GST collections rose 3.7 per cent year-on-year to Rs. 8.05 lakh crore in the first eight months of the current financial year, reports HT. It, however, adds that while the growth is positive, it is below expectations.
Home Minister Amit Shah accused the opposition parties of creating confusion over the CAA and also said that it was time to “punish” the tukde tukde gang, reports TOI and HT while Hindu gives it a box mention.
Express reports that “the Income Tax Department has approached the Haryana government seeking a transfer of an apartment in Gurgaon from Novel Lavasa, wife of Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa, to his sister Shakuntala Lavasa for alleged evasion of stamp duty”.
Hindustan Times: The statements made by the country’s top leadership on the anti-CAA protests show that the government believes this unrest is being caused “political adversaries and dissenters”, writes HT.
It notes how the non-violent protests have clearly not impacted the leadership at all and only shows that the government has a flawed understanding of the protests. HT suggests that the government’s job is to engage with all constituencies including students, working professionals, actors, civil societies and people who genuinely believe that the Act undermines the Constitution.
The concerned governments, especially in UP, need to be reminded of their duty to respect the Constitution and citizens’ rights, it states. If the government wants a solution to the crisis it should first diagnose it rightly, concludes HT.
The Indian Express: By taking a position on the student protests across the country against the CAA, Army Chief Rawat has “overstepped an important line,” says Express. Calling General Rawat’s remarks “conspicuously improper”, it says that the armed forces are neither an extension or instrument of the ruling party.
The comments made by General Rawat also reinforce Modi government’s attempts to criminalise the protests despite them being spontaneous and mostly peaceful, it writes. Express also says that the government, unable to listen or talk to the protestors, is trying to cover up for its failure by lathicharge and arbitrary detention. It also states that the way UP government has dealt with the situation is fast turning into a “textbook case of how not to deal with protestors in a democracy”.
It also says that “appearing to fall in political line, the Army chief does damage to both his own reputation and to his high office”.
Amidst the ongoing debates on NPR and detention centres, Army Chief Rawat’s statement was the new hot topic in prime time debates Thursday.
On NDTV India, Ravish Kumar asked who were the people directly involved in attacks onpeaceful protestors, how do we find those who set ablaze four cars of former MLA of Muzaffarnagar.
India Today: On #NewsToday, Rajdeep Sardesai asked whether detention centres are being set up in Assam? And if the “Prime Minister was telling a half-truth?”
Senior editor of India Today, Kaushik Deka, said, “If you take it at face value, it is a lie. There are detention centres.”
Showing photos of the Goalpara detention centre in Assam, which is under construction, Sardesai declared “3,000 people will be kept here.”
Deka remarked, “You would be shocked, if this comes into being it’s better for those currently in detention centres.”
Times Now: Times Now debated on how appropriate Army Chief Rawat’s comment was on #ArmyChiefRemarkRow
Author Anand Ranganathan said, “Anyone should be free to say anything irrespective of the office she/he holds.”
While political analyst Nishant Varma countered: “I don’t expect such statements from a reputed General.”
ABP News: Anchor Shobhna Yadav asked what is the reality of the detention centres in the country in “Detention centre par political ‘dirty picture’”.
BJP’s G.V.L. Narsimha Rao clarified: “In Assam, a detention centre was prepared during the Congress regime in which 1,043 people are now living. There are six detention centres in Assam, no other centres are present anywhere in the country”.
In response, Congress’ Deepak Jha asked, “Then why did PM Modi lie during the Ramlila Maidan rally and denied the presence of detention centres?”
Trinamool Congress’ Tauseef Khan also accused the PM of lying: “People have died in detention centres of Assam…either the PM is unaware of it or trying to hide it.”
Zee News: On Army Chief Rawat’s statement Thursday, anchor Aman Chopra defended his rights to freedom of expression and asked “Congress matlab sena par vaar, Pakistan se pyar”(Congress loves Pakistan but attacks the Army chief).
Political analyst Nishant Verma recalled an earlier statement made by General Rawat. “In December 2017, he had said that the Army has nothing to say in the matters of politics and women…he should be a man of his words.”
All All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) leader Waris Pathan said amid violence, there are many people who have been peacefully protesting to save the Constitution. “It would have been better if his statement included a few words of solidarity for those who have been an unprecedented target of police excesses.”