NEW DELHI: Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was today subjected to intense grilling for his Rs 10 crore civil defamation suit against Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in the Delhi High Court in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi's name was sought to be dragged by noted lawyer Ram Jethmalani.
Jaitley, who termed the question referring to the Prime Minister as "scandalous", faced a barrage of questions including selective targetting of Kejriwal when other politicians had also raised the issue of corruption against him in the DDCA.
Jethmalani, who continued his cross-examination of the Minister for second consecutive day on behalf of Kejriwal, also incurred the displeasure of Joint Registrar Amit Kumar for asking some questions, like he had advised Modi "not to set you (Jaitley) up" as a candidate from Amritsar Lok Sabha seat which he eventually lost in the last elections.
Another question that why Jaitley did not sue former spin wizard Bishan Singh Bedi for raising the issue of graft in Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) which he headed for 13 years, was also disallowed by the Joint Registrar who said under the Civil Procedure Code (CPC), he had every right to allow or reject the question of the counsel.
An upset Jethmalani was left complaining that he was a senior advocate but his questions were being disallowed. The proceedings which lasted for around two hours saw Jethmalani, who was expelled from BJP for six years in 2013, claiming that Jaitley was allowed to hold his ministry on the promise to the Prime Minister that he will come clean in connection with the irregularities in DDCA.
"The suggestion is denied in its entirety" was the reply of Jaitley who also said the "Prime Minister had not said anything to him at any point of time. It is incorrect." Senior advocates Rajiv Nayar, Sandeep Sethi and Pratibha M Singh, appearing for the Finance Minister, interrupted with one voice when Jethmalani was trying to link the case with the Prime Minister and termed it as "scandalous".
There was also an exchange of words between Jaitley's and Kejriwal's advocates when Jethmalani said the Minister had told the Prime Minister that he will establish his reputation in the court against allegations made against him.
A bunch of lawyers in support of Kejriwal also shouted that the question referring to Prime Minister was "not scandalous" and was linked to the civil defamation suit filed by Jaitley seeking Rs 10 crore damages from Kejriwal and five other AAP leaders -- Raghav Chadha, Kumar Vishwas, Ashutosh, Sanjay Singh and Deepak Bajpai -- for accusing him of financial irregularities in the DDCA of which he was the President from 2000 to 2013.
The court drama also saw Jethmalani raking up the name of a woman, who on social media has been supporting Modi but had tweeted about the corruption in DDCA and who was spared by Jaitley with no legal action against her. He has also not dragged other politicians like Sitaram Yechury, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mallikarjun Kharge and Ajay Maken for going public on the affairs of the cricket body, Jethmalani said.
While referring to a letter by former captain Bishan Singh Bedi allegedly regarding the Finance Minister's involvement in the DDCA, Jethmalani asked Jaitely was he aware of any such letter written to the Prime Minister. The union minister, who was seen calm and composed during his cross-examination, said he does not recollect if the Prime Minister had shown him any letter addressed to him by Bedi against him.
Jaitley was also asked if he had any personal enmity towards Bedi, who had made several allegations of corruption against him. To this, the minister replied "I have no personal enmity with him. I do remember that he once contested the DDCA President's post and lost it... I continued to maintain the due courtesies that he deserved as an eminent cricketer. He also campaigned against me actively in the Lok Sabha elections."
"In any case by the time the present Prime Minister was sworn in office, I had already severed my links both with the DDCA and BCCI. I do not recollect if I have read that letter as of now," Jaitely said. He said the letter was of January 2015 and his action against Kejriwal and five AAP leaders was following their statement against him in December 2015.
The senior BJP leader's cross-examination remained inconclusive and will now take place on May 15 and 17. During the proceedings which started at 11:30 am, a variety of questions ranging from his present portfolio and fighting Lok Sabha election for the first time out of Gujarat were put to the Union Minister.
The Joint Registrar disallowed the question on Jaitley's candidature for Amritsar Lok Sabha seat in 2014 as "irrelevant" to the case. Jethmalani asked Jaitley "was it correct that it was for the first time in 2014, he has put his reputation to test in a public election in a democratic manner."
Jaitley, who lost the Lok Sabha election, said the result was the outcome of several factors prevailing in the constituency and not merely a test of a candidate's reputation considering that Kejriwal lost the same Lok Sabha election in 2014 by 3.5 lakh votes.
While refuting the allegations of financial bungling in DDCA, Jaitley said "a letter of Bedi was written in 2015 and I had left the post of President in DDCA in 2013." "I strongly deny the contents of this letter in so far as it pertains to me.
Neither as a minister, nor as a Leader of Opposition, did I prevail upon any ministry or department of the government to do anything wrong or improper in relation to DDCA... "It is correct that the contents of the letter pertain to the period when I was the President of DDCA. To the best of my knowledge, the contents of the letter are untrue in so far as it relates to my tenure in DDCA. When I ceased to be the President, I wanted to sever all my links with the DDCA and the BCCI," Jaitley said after going through the letter which was shown to him.
The Finance Minister further said that "Kejriwal has committed a serious act of libel through his malicious falsehood. Alleging that my wife and daughter are linked to fake companies was not only false but taking the public discourse to a very low level."
When asked why he did not sue author and academician Madhu Kishwar for tweeting about corruption in DDCA, Jaitley said he never thought of suing her and that many people on social media make irresponsible statements about people in public life but "when a chief minister endorses them, it becomes a grave and serious matter."
"Even false allegations gain credibility, repetition of libelous statements gave me a cause of action against the person, particularly if he has stature, to take action against the said person," he said. In comparison to 52 questions yesterday, today only 19 were put to Jaitley by Jethmalani in his bid to prove that the lawsuit on defamation by the senior BJP leader was unfounded and should be dismissed. 11 questions were disallowed by the court yesterday.
Today only two out of 19 were turned down on the ground that these were irrelevant. Yesterday Jaitley in his cross had said that he had never objected to political criticism, but this was an instance when "personal imputations questioning my integrity were made".
Jaitley has already tendered evidence in support of his civil defamation suit against Kejriwal and five others.
However, the minister, who faced a barrage of questions from his former BJP colleague who was expelled from the party in 2013 for six years, refuted Kejriwal's claim that the December 2015 CBI raid at the Delhi CM's office was "purely" aimed at removing files related to alleged irregularities in the DDCA in which he was allegedly named.
He had also said that he had no prior knowledge of the raid, nor had he even been privy to the facts of the raid. Jaitley, who had headed DDCA for 13 years, had claimed he cannot recollect he had ever met the officer and, only through the media, he had got to know that the said commission of inquiry into DDCA was headed by a bureaucrat.
Jethmalani had also alleged that search at Kejriwal's Secretariat office was made because documents relating to DDCA was expected to be found. The Supreme Court on November 22 last year had dismissed Kejriwal's plea of seeking a stay on trial court proceedings in the case.
On March 1, the Delhi High Court had dismissed another application of Kejriwal seeking bank account details of Jaitley and his family. On December 6, 2016 the minister had appeared to record his evidence after the high court on July 12, 2016 had framed issues against Kejriwal and others, notwithstanding their claim that they had not made any defamatory statement against him in the DDCA case.
The issues were framed against them after Kejriwal's counsel had denied the allegations and submitted that whatever was said against the Minister was in public domain and he has not said anything on his own. The court had framed issues against all the six AAP leaders and fixed the matter before Joint Registrar to decide whether any defamatory statements were made by them.
In a civil suit, when one party affirms and other party denies a material proposition of fact or law, then only the issues arise. The Union minister has also filed a criminal defamation complaint in a Delhi court on the same issue. The DDCA too has filed a criminal defamation suit against Kejriwal and suspended BJP MP Kirti Azad.