The Gujarat High Court Monday rejected the petition of the website The Wire seeking quashing of a criminal defamation case lodged against it by Jay Shah, son of BJP president Amit Shah.
The court held that there is a prima facie case against Wire’s reporter and editors. The court held that “the most disturbing part of the article”, which can be “prima facie termed as defamatory”, is linking the rise in Jay’s firm’s turnover with the election of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister.
Justice J B Pardiwala said: “The most disturbing part of the article, or to put it in other words, the imputation which could be termed as prima facie defamatory is the averment that the turnover of the company owned by the complainant, who happens to be the son of the leader of the Bhartiya Janta Party increased 16,000 times over in the year following the election of Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister and the elevation of his father to the post of the party president.”
The Wire had moved the High Court against the criminal defamation case filed by Jay before a metropolitan court, days after the website put up the article “The Golden Touch of Jay Amit Shah”, alleging that his company’s turnover grew exponentially after the BJP came to power in 2014. The Wire had said its report is based on documentary evidence and hence they cannot be tried for criminal defamation.
Saying that there is a prima facie case against the petitioner, Justice Pardiwala observed, “What is important is the strong innuendo that the complainant has prospered because of the fact that he happens to be the son of a very powerful political leader, and that too, at a point of time when Narendra Modi took over as the Prime Minister of the country.”
The judgment states, “…prima facie, the article tries to portray a picture that an ordinary company, which had a meagre revenue of Rs 50,000/- proceeded to accumulate the revenue of Rs 80,00,00,000/- [Rs 80 crore] in a single year…only because of the political position of the father of the complainant and at a time when Narendra Modi took over as the Prime Minister.”
Justice Pardiwala has also raised the question about what the effect of such an article would be in the mind of a common man.
The judge observed that “in a country like India, it does not take a second for the people in general to start thinking that the complainant has prospered only because of his political contacts. People may even infer corrupt practice at the end of the complainant. In such circumstances, the article published by the writ applicants, prima facie, could be termed as defamatory in nature.”
Justice Pardiwala has also refused to grant relief to founding editors of the website since there are “specific and clear allegations in the complaint that they are responsible for the defamatory matter and had the personal knowledge about the contents of the defamatory matter”.