Jay Amit Shah, son of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah, on Monday filed a criminal defamation case at a court in Ahmedabad against news website The Wire.
The case was filed over a report the website had published on Sunday. The report had claimed that the turnover of a firm owned by Jay had increased by 16,000 times after the BJP came to power at the Centre and his father was made the party chief.
Additional chief metropolitan magistrate S K Gadhvi ordered a court inquiry on Jay’s complaint under the Criminal Procedure Code section 202 (to inquire into the case to decide whether or not there is sufficient ground for proceeding).
In his application, Jay prayed for “criminal action against the respondents for defaming and tarnishing the reputation of the complainant through an article, which is scandalous, frivolous, misleading, derogatory, libellous and consisting of several defamatory statements”. The case has been filed under Indian Penal Code sections 500 (defamation), 109 (abetment), 39 (to voluntarily cause grievous hurt) and 120 B (criminal conspiracy).
The next hearing for a court inquiry will be on Wednesday when two witnesses from Jay's side, who had first informed him about the publication of the article, are likely to depose. The seven respondents in the case are the author of the report, founding editors of the news website and the Foundation for Independent Journalism, the non-profit company that publishes The Wire.
Jay is yet to file a civil defamation suit against the respondents. He had on Sunday said he would also file a Rs 100-crore civil defamation suit. In New Delhi, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal said the civil defamation suit would be filed in due course.
Goyal said Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Tushar Mehta will represent Jay in the case. He said Mehta had sought Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad's permission to appear for Jay and the approval had been granted. "We believe that he (Jay) has been wronged and he must get justice. There is no harm if the best of lawyers appear for him. An ASG can appear in a matter between two private parties after taking permission," he told reporters. BJP leaders said it was unfortunate that Jay had been targeted for pursuing his business honestly. “Should children of politicians sit at home? These allegations are petty minded. Children of politicians want to earn an honest day’s living. Such controversies would disincentivise children of politicians from earning honest livelihoods,” a BJP leader, who didn’t want to be named, said.
Another BJP leader said filing of the defamation cases was crucial for the BJP to put the record straight in the perception battle on the issue. He reminded how party leaders such as Arun Jaitley and Nitin Gadkari had countered allegations from Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal by filing defamation cases against him, or the party’s Karnataka leader Prahlad Joshi who had filed a defamation case against slain journalist Gauri Lankesh.
The Congress led other Opposition parties to demand a probe into Jay’s financial dealings. Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, who is on a three-day visit to poll-bound Gujarat, in his speeches and tweets asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to “say something” on the report about the BJP chief’s son.
He used the word "Shah-zada" to describe Shah's son, reminiscent of “shahzade”, or prince, an epithet that Modi had used to describe Gandhi during the 2014 Lok Sabha campaign. “Did you act as a watchman (chowkidar) or were you complicit? Please say something," Gandhi tweeted in Hindi.
The Congress held press conferences on the issue in nearly a dozen cities and state capitals across the country. The BJP, however, asked its spokespersons not to appear on news television since it was a “non-issue”. Aware that the party was fighting a perception battle, BJP leaders, including Goyal, rejected a comparison between business transactions of Jay and those of Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra. The Railway Minister said Vadra's was a case of “round-tripping of money” with help from the government while Jay had no dealing with the government.
“Jay has had no dealing with government. His every transaction is official and he did his work honestly,” Goyal said. “Our conscience is clear. That is why we announced on the very day (of the story’s publication) that we are going to court,” he said.
When asked why a Union minister like him was using the BJP forum to defend a private citizen, Goyal said the story wanted to "defame" the party and its top leaders by making imputations and also put out their photographs. He said Jay was one of the 2,000 people who were disbursed loans by a public sector enterprise for his wind power start-up. Goyal said questions that Jay had no experience in the sector go against the very grain of entrepreneurship. That the party is concerned at the storm the report has generated, was apparent with BJP chief Amit Shah spending several hours at the BJP headquarters at 11, Ashoka Road consulting lawyers and senior party leaders.