Cross examination of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley by senior lawyer Ram Jethmalani led to drama in the courtroom Monday as the latter raised a range of issues — from Jaitley’s command over English to his knowledge of the Civil Procedure Code to whether the minister had “personal feeling of greatness that cannot be quantified in fiscal measure”. The court was hearing a civil defamation suit filed by Jaitley against Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in the Delhi High Court. “I’m more interested in your knowledge of civil law,” said Jethmalani, starting his cross questioning after Jaitley introduced himself as a lawyer since 1977, with experience in both civil and criminal cases.
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Jethmalani asked Jaitley why he, despite having incurred no financial losses, was seeking damages from the AAP leaders. Jaitley replied that he had clearly stated the nature of his claim in his petition. “I believe that considering my stature, background and reputation, loss caused to me was so enormous that it could be considered unquantifiable,” the Union Finance Minister added. Jethmalani then asked that if that was the case, was Jaitley prompted to file the defamation suit not because of any monetary loss but because of “your personal feeling of greatness that cannot be quantified in fiscal measure”.
Jaitley added that he had never objected to political criticism, but this was an instance when “personal imputations questioning my integrity were made”. Jaitley has sought damages worth Rs 10 crore from Kejriwal and five other AAP leaders for statements they made alleging financial irregularities in the Delhi & District Cricket Association (DDCA) during the 13 years he was heading it.
During cross examination, Jethmalani referred to an application by Jaitley to the High Court last year, in which he sought urgent hearing, saying his “personal goodwill” had suffered due to the statements by Kejriwal and others. In the main petition, Jaitley had referred to damage to his “reputation”. “Hope you know the difference between goodwill and reputation” said Jethmalani. Jaitley responded: “There are overlapping areas in the meaning of two words; the counsel’s letter in that sense has used it interchangeably.” But Jethmalani confronted him with a dictionary, saying: “I am showing you an authoritative dictionary of English language, Webster’s Comprehensive Dictionary.”
Senior lawyers appearing for Jaitley — Rajiv Nayyar, Pratibha Singh and Sandeep Sethi — objected to this line of questioning, and got it disallowed by court. However, Jethmalani did ask if Jaitley agreed that even a crook could have goodwill if he had done some good work. He also asked the minister: “Is it correct that men in power who do things for their good friends enjoy a lot of goodwill?” Joint Registrar Arun Kumar disallowed both questions, stating that only specific questions should be answered by witnesses.
In the beginning, Jethmalani also asked Jaitley if he was aware of the principle of tort law — that any civil defamation suit claiming damages either falls in the category of slander or libel. The judge disallowed that, too, saying it is a question of law. Jaitley also asserted before the court that he only came to know from media reports about the CBI raid at the office of IAS officer and former principal secretary to Kejriwal, Rajendra Kumar. Kejriwal and other AAP leaders have alleged that the raid was conducted on Jaitley’s instructions to take away files that named the minister.
“The defendants made defamatory statements about me immediately after this raid, their effort was to deflect attention from the raid and to link me to a controversy with which I had no connection,” said Jaitley. “I was not privy to facts of the raid,” he stated, after Jethmalani said that documents relating to DDCA may have been seized during the raid. Jaitley also said he has never met Chetan Sanghi, who made a report on behalf of the Delhi government on the DDCA. This was after Jethmalani asked him whether Sanghi had “subsequently” become a friend of his. Jaitley said he had seen a copy of the report made by Sanghi, but denied Jethmalani’s allegation that he was shown a copy by Sanghi himself.