Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s loss in Amritsar during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls came up during his cross questioning by senior lawyer Ram Jethmalani in the Delhi High Court Tuesday. The court is hearing a civil defamation suit filed by Jaitley against Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. Jethmalani asked whether Jaitley had, for the first time, “put his reputation to test in a public election in a democratic manner while contesting from Amritsar”. Jaitley retorted: “An election result is the outcome of several factors prevailing in the constituency and not merely a test of a candidate’s reputation, considering that (Kejriwal) had lost the same Lok Sabha election in 2014 by 3.5 lakh votes.”
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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. The statements, Jaitley has alleged, damaged his reputation. On Tuesday, Jaitley also said that while the AAP leadership may not be the source of the allegations made against him, he will exercise his right to sue anyone who has repeated a defamatory statement. “Many people on social media make irresponsible statements about people in public life, but when a CM endorses them, it becomes a serious matter. Even false allegations gain credibility,” Jaitley said, asserting that “repetition of a libellous statement gives me a cause of action against the person”.
He was responding to a question by Jethmalani on why he did not sue academician Madhu Kishwar, who initially made the allegations on Twitter, but filed a suit against Kejriwal and others for merely reiterating them. Jaitley said he never thought of suing Kishwar, but added that Kejriwal, in endorsing her allegation, “has committed a serious act of libel through his malicious falsehood, falsely alleging that my wife and daughter are linked to fake companies. He took public discourse to a very low level”. When Jethmalani confronted Jaitley with various statements on alleged irregularities in DDCA while he was heading it — purportedly made by CPM leader Sitaram Yechury and Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ajay Maken — the minister said he is not concerned with Yechury’s statements and not aware of statements made by others.
Friday’s hearing also saw Jaitley address allegations against him by Indian spinner Bishen Singh Bedi, who wrote to the Prime Minister alleging irregularities in the DDCA. “After (Bedi) lost an election against me, the association of which I was the president had appointed him as the chief coach of the Delhi (Ranji) team for a period of three years. His appointment could not continue beyond that period. Nonetheless, I always continued to maintain the due courtesies that he deserved as an eminent cricketer,” said Jaitley, adding, “I do not recollect if the PM had shown me a letter addressed to him by Bedi.”
Jaitley said Bedi’s letter was written in 2015, even though he had quit the cricket body in 2013 itself. He also said the contents of the letter are not true. Jethmalani then asked him: “You are allowed to continue as the finance minister by the PM because of your promise to seek a judicial decision in your favour of allegations made by Bedi, what do you have to say?” Jaitley responded: “the suggestion is denied in entirety”. Jethmalani also asked: “Are you aware that I advised Mr Narendra Modi not to set you up as a candidate from the Amritsar seat?” Joint Registrar Arun Kumar, who is hearing the cross questioning, disallowed the question. The cross-questioning will resume on May 15.