The Big Story: Same old
Despite all the bluster over the weekend – trotting out a Cabinet minister and, on television, a dozen other Bharatiya Janata Party leaders to defend him – Jay Shah, businessman and son of BJP President Amit Shah, did not turn up in court for the hearing of the criminal defamation case he had filed against news website The Wire. His lawyer was not there either, prompting the magistrate to adjourn the case until later in the week. Shah would do well to dispense with the case altogether.
The criminal defamation complaint was filed on October 9, after The Wire published an article that reported on the fortunes of several of Shah’s companies. One in particular, Temple Enterprises, saw its revenues go from Rs 50,000 in 2014-’15 to Rs 80.5 crore the next year, which also happened to be just after Amit Shah took control of the BJP and Narendra Modi was elected Prime Minister. The article also mentioned that this spike in revenues came even as the company posted a loss of Rs 1.4 crore the same year, and also reported on loans received by Shah’s companies.
Immediately after the piece was published, Union Rail Minister and senior BJP leader Piyush Goyal held a press conference denouncing the article and calling it baseless, although he did not point to any error in the piece itself. Jay Shah then filed a criminal complaint against The Wire alleging that it had highlighted only certain facts “to make it a spicy and selling story at the cost of the reputation of the complainant”. According to news reports, he also filed a civil defamation case demanding damages of Rs 100 crore, though there is little information about this suit so far.
Criminal defamation is a deeply problematic tool that remains on the lawbooks in India and is frequently used to harass the media and suppress dissent. Its use in a matter like this seems even more egregious. The BJP came to power on the back of an anti-corruption campaign and has insisted that it has been transparent and yet maintained a spotless record of governance without any allegations against it. Much of this is rhetoric, since there have been credible allegations, but it is evident the party takes pride in this image, whether accurate or not.
With this in mind, the party should welcome scrutiny of its leaders and their families, since it is certain they have nothing to hide. Indeed, the appropriate response to an article like this – especially since it touches on the immediate family member of the party president – could simply have been responded to by throwing open the books of the business for all to see. Instead, Jay Shah’s lawyer did not just take issue with the article, he also told the Wire that any reporting on these businesses would constitute a violation of Shah’s privacy and attract a lawsuit.
The BJP also campaigned on the idea that the Congress represented dynastic politics, something that it would seek to end. Yet on Sunday we saw a Cabinet minister be trotted out to defend Jay Shah, a private person, followed by scores of other BJP leaders all over television. Additionally, it turned out that the Law Ministry made an exception and gave permission to the Additional Solicitor General to represent Jay Shah two days before the article was even published. This would potentially violate rules. But more importantly, it shows yet again how the family members of important leaders are treated as royalty, even by a party claiming to be opposed to dynasties.
If nothing else, this episode has proven how, despite its claims of probity, the BJP behaves just like the Congress or any other party when it is questioned. It does not even matter what the actual allegations are here. The immediacy with which the party resorted to criminal defamation, and used a Cabinet minister to do so, when the case involves a private person, is proof of how the BJP’s promises of being a party with a difference ring hollow.
The Big Scroll
- How IIPM and Arindam Chaudhury used the defamation law to hide the truth.
- A publisher who faced dozens of defamation cases explains why the law must go.
- How India’s archaic laws have a chilling effect on dissent.
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- “Till recently, atrocities were often motivated by caste consciousnesses, but the current wave seems to be driven by an ideology which expresses faith in a hierarchical social system, although there is an occasional symbolic display of concern about the persistence of caste and untouchability,” writes Sukhadeo Thorat in the Indian Express. “It is this ideological boost which has, perhaps, revived and lent moral support to the denial of rights and the use of violence against Dalits.”
- “The takeout is simple: the BJP has a fight on its hands. And if it hopes to keep its winning narrative alive until 2019, it has to win Gujarat with a clear majority,” writes R jagannathan in Swarajya. “Right now, it can’t be certain of that, given the groundswell of discontent over the treatment of Dalits, the goods and services tax uncertainties, and demands for job reservations.”
- “PM Modi must study the maze before recommencing his ‘huggy-feely’ journey through [Gulf politics]” , writes KC Singh in the Tribune.
- “This lesson, the religious right, indeed fundamentalists of every hue, need to learn. We do not tolerate others because we alone know the truth, we tolerate because we do not know enough. Confidence that we know the truth leads to violence, doubt that we know enough leads to non-violence. We come to terms with history by learning from it, not by erasing it,” writes Neera Chandhoke in the Hindu.
Vinita Govindarajan writes about the Maruthu Pandiyar brothers, who were the leaders of a rebellion against the British in 1801.
More than 50 years before the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, the Maruthu Pandiyar brothers had led a concerted struggle against the oppressive practices of the British. On June 16, 1801, months before their death, the brothers issued a proclamation of independence from the Tiruchi fort, calling for people of all castes and communities to unite their fight against European domination.
“An all-Indian concept inspired the proclamation, for it not only made a direct appeal to the entire country but expressed an anxiety that if the political malady persisted, India would fall under alien rule,” wrote K Rajayyan, author of the book South Indian Rebellion: The First War of Independence 1800-1801.