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Jaitley-Jethmalani battle in Delhi High Court draws an eager crowd

~By Chandan Goswami and Mary Mitzy

CASE: Arun Jaitley vs Arvind Kejriwal (DDCA defamation matter) 

Reacting to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s allegation that current Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had mismanaged the finances of the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) during his 13-year tenure as president of the association, Jaitley had filed a Rs 10 crore defamation case against Kejriwal, AAP leaders and also against deposed BJP MP and cricketer Kirti Azad.

Jaitley has denied all charges. The case came up for hearing at the Delhi High Court on March 6 and 7 and Kejriwal’s counsel, the indomitable, nonagenarian Ram Jethmalani, grilled Jaitley in an open court.

Exchanges generated interest and mirth in equal measure and probably Jaitley’s deepest fear of being grilled in court by an advocate supremely proficient in the laws of the land came true.

Jethmalani has, reportedly, charged Re 1 from Kejriwal for taking up this case.

On Monday, Jethmalani established that Jaitley had not incurred any monetary loss and that it was Jaitley’s loss of reputation only that was in question. On Tuesday, Jethmalani pointed out: “Amritsar election in 2014 was the first time you put your reputation to test in a public election and you lost by more than 1 lakh votes. Modi placed you as a candidate for the first time.”

To which Jaitley replied: “In an election several factors are at play. Yes I lost to Bishan Singh Bedi.”

[The following must be pointed out: In 2014 Jaitley’s attempt to enter Lok Sabha as an elected MP was dealt a huge shock when he lost by over one lakh votes to former Punjab Chief Minister and Congress leader Amarinder Singh in Amritsar. Jaitley, probably mistook this for the BCCI elections. Actually, in that election, a year before the Amritsar shock, Jaitley had stepped aside and did not contest when Bishan Singh Bedi has announced his candidature. He did not “lose” to Bedi.]

The questioning has continued till March 7 (Tuesday), but India Legal gives you full details of the questioning from Monday.

Here goes (editorial comments italicized), starting Monday (March 6):

Question asked to Jaitley are based on whether he is versed with the CPC. Jaitley made a statement on when he started practice and when he surrendered his licence. His lawyer raised an objection when Jethmalani asked him a question on fact. Jethmalani replied that the question of law is based on question of fact.

Arvind Kejriwal
Arvind Kejriwal

Jethmalani: (Reading the affidavit): “Please tell me the meaning of last two paras of the affidavit… Contains some facts?”

Jaitley: “Para 17 to 19 contain the legal requirements.”

Jethmalani: “With regard to the day when the CoA (cause of action) arose for filing the plaint, the territorial jurisdiction clause and the pecuniary jurisdiction clause. No averments on which your CoA are based are derived from your lawyers.”

Heated environment cools down with Jethmalani cracking a joke. Surprisingly, members of the bar seem to have forgotten how to smile.

Jethmalani: “His plaint should be rejected. You can record and reject it Sir you can do that.”

Registrar: “I can only record it.”

Jethmalani: “Are you aware that this suit is for recovery of damages for a tort which in civil law is known as slander or libel depending upon the nature of publication? Defamation… is a criminal offence in India and not a civil tort.”

Jethmalani: “I am happy that this crowd is here for me, but he (Jaitley) is the main attraction.”

Jethmalani asks the court to try to get a better seating accommodation,  seeing that “many young lawyers are standing and I am sitting.”

Jethmalani: Mr Jaitley, is there any particular reason that you have not mentioned about the slender or libel?” 

Jaitley: “The substance of my plaint is clear and so is the injury caused.”

Jethmalani: “You’ve called it irreparable loss you remember that?”

Jaitley (to his lawyers): “Please identify the para.”

Court: “Let him complete the question.”

Jethmalani: “The statements of the defendants on which you have filed the suit are of five days correct? 1,2,3,4,5 correct?”

Jaitley: “Made over several days and constitute of record on print digital and electronic media.”

Jethmalani: (gets furious) What is there to shout?  If you can’t understand a question then I am not there as your law teacher.”

Jethmalani: “Do you know the meaning of irreparable or not is what I am asking.”

Jaitley’s Adv: “Don’t shout.”

Jethmalani: “Learn to smile first.”

Jaitley’s Adv: “What is  your question actually?”

Jethmalani: “I am not your law teacher?”

Jethmalani: “Did you discover that your damages are irrecoverable after 7 days? You file a suit after 7 days?

Jaitley: “Notwithstanding my denial, these allegations continue to be raised both in the media and in the parliament and also in the state assembly of Delhi. Those who praised it did not factor it my denial. It was therefore obvious that irreparable damage has been done.”

Jethmalani: “How did you discover this before filing the case? Are you able to tell us any serious efforts that you made either by yourself or others before filing the suit?”

Jaitley: “My denials were serious.” 

Jethmalani: “You are again debating the question. My question is (as above)…”

Registrar: “He has answered this.”

Jethmalani: “What has he answered?”

Jaitley: “I’ve already answered this question.”

Jethmalani: “Now please tell me I’ve not heard the answer, I may be mistaken, please tell me where you’ve answered this question… I suggest that you are not telling us that you made some efforts but nobody believed it and that compelled you to make a statement that the same is irreversible. You’ve written that the same is unquantifiable. Please tell me the meaning of this word?”

Jaitley: “I believe that considering my statue and background and reputation the lost cause to my reputation was so enormous that it could be considered unquantifiable.”

Captain Amarinder Singh
Captain Amarinder Singh

 Jethmalani: “In other words, it was your personal feeling about your own greatness that cannot be quantified in physical measure?”

Jaitley: “My view about my own reputation was based on what my friends, well wishers and other people both privately and in the media who had expressed an opinion in this subject. The value I place towards my reputation is a small part towards the enormous damage.”

Jethmalani: “You’ve not suffered any monetary damages as a result of this. In other words you have neither lost money or income.”

Jaitley: “The loss of my reputation has been partly quantified in terms of money.”

Jethmalani: “In logic (of) your mind and nothing which you can share with the court?”

Jaitley: “A person’s reputation operates a public space which additionally causes pain and mental distress to the person which it did in my case.”

Jethmalani: “You do not claim in this case any loss of income or property?”

Jaitley: “The nature of my claim has been clearly set out in the plaint.” 

Jethmalani: “Now please describe the portion in the plaint you are realying.”

Jaitley’s advocate: “In specific it is set out in para 13-16.”

Back after lunch, Jethmalani takes off from where he left.

Jethmalani: “Your decision to use this is your or your advocate’s choice?”

Jaitley: “This letter is signed by me drafted by him.”

Court: “Did you read it?”

Jaitley: “I do not remember that.”

Jethmalani:-“That is a safe answer.”

Court: “Did you think of this letter before coming to the court?”

Jaitley: “I did not.”

Jethmalani: “Today do you know the difference between reputation and goodwill?”

Court: “He has already answered it.”

Jethmalani: “I am suggesting to you that the words mean completely different.”

Jaitley: “I deny.”

Jethmalani: “I am showing you an authoritative dictionary of Webster’s and (now) are you aware of the difference between the two? Now I suggest to you that goodwill is enjoyed by even a crook who has done some good things to somebody. Men in power do a good thing for their good friend (and) enjoy a lot of goodwill.”

Court: “This is a phrase. What is the question?”

Jethmalani: “I’ll put it to you. Now do you agree that reputation does not suffer with this kind of defects? (Referring to the plaint/verification, reading it) Please tell us which portion of the plaints statement is based on this?”

Jaitley: “The defamatory allegations made individually and selectively by the defendants are contained in para 5.”

Jethmalani: “Are you sure that the statements made para 5 are derived from media?” 

Jaitley: “Statements contained in para 5 have been extensively reported in print/electronic media as also on the social handles and this information is derived from the sources.”

Jethmalani: “Have you filled the relevant documents which you are talking about?” 

Jaitley: “It is all part of a record.”

Jethmalani: “Then how will I go on to my next question? They know nothing about cross examination and every time I ask they shout. Mr Jaitley, don’t insult my common sense. I am asking you about the documents that you have before filing the plaint.”

Jaitley: “I’ve quoted them in para 5 and the supporting documents are on record.”

Jethmalani: “Now please identify them with dates.”

(Those documents start with exhibit pw1 and continue thereafter in relation. Statements made by each over of the defendants are exhibited, with those with defamatory statement specifically marked.

Jethmalani: “Now if you may, you (have) been in politics of this country. (Have you) known these defendants whom you have sued?”

Jaitley: “I’ve known about defendant No. 1 during the last one decade. At no time this defendant prior to this, mentioned in public. It could have been political statements made in the past some of which I remember, but not statements making personal imputations.”

Jethmalani: “At no time before this issue (had) the defendant No. 1 made any statement?”

Jaitley: “This was the first time these were made, questioning my integrity. (The basic fact is on para 4, but if anything is repeated that is pure repetition and nothing addition to para 4). It is incorrect since the defamatory imputations used by the defendants and mentioned by me in para 5 are in addition to what I’ve said in para 4.”

Jethmalani: “Are there any other paragraphs? Any repetition?”

(The court said the question was not clear, so please rephrase it.)

Jethmalani: “Will you kindly tell me which are those paragraphs?”

Jaitley: “I’ve already said that.”

Jethmalani: “Can you mark those statements which relate to the same subject matter?”

(All start objecting, shouting). 

Jethmalani: “I’m too peaceful a person to control things. Sir, please take things to your hands and control.”

(Matter relisted for Tuesday)

(Tuesday, March 7):

Jethmalani concentrates on Jailtley’s claim on personal reputation and goodwill that the Finance Minister, former DDCA president claims has been harmed.  

Court: “You can ask him any question and he can give you any answer. You cannot force him to answer.”
Jethmalani: “I (to court) ask him about his reputation but he talks about someone else’s. (To Jaitley) You lost by a margin of more than 1 lakh votes. You fought this election being a member of Rajya Sabha and had 2 more years to go.”

Jaitley: “I did. Four more years.”

Jethmalani: “Amritsar election in 2014 was the first time you put your reputation to test in a public election and you lost by more than 1 lakh votes. (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi placed you as a candidate for the first time.”

Jaitley: “In an election several factors are at play. Yes I lost to Bishan Singh Bedi.” (The two elections seem to have been considered interchangeably by Jaitley as well as Jethmalani, as explained in the beginning). 

Jethmalani: “Why did Bedi make a written complaint against you to the PM? Can you assign a reason? Did PM show the letter to you?”

(Ruckus in the room, objections on why he is bringing up PM).

Jethmalani: “Did PM show you the letter?”

Jaitley: “I do not recollect it.”

Jethmalani: “Now please answer me Mr Jaitley, did you read the letter ever since then?”

Jaitley: “I do not recollect.”

Jethmalani: “Mr Jaitley please read the letter and tell me if contents are true or false. Please read it carefully.”

Jaitley: “I deny the contents. Does not pertain to me.”

Jethmalani: “The contents of this letter relates to the time period when you were the president of DDCA.”
Jaitley: “I was the patron-in-chief of DDCA in early 2014.”
Jethmalani: “Is this position even mentioned in the AoA of the DDCA? Now I ask you that being the patron in chief are you aware that you have all the rights available as the executive member?”
Jaitley: “I am not sure.”
Jethmalani: “Mr Jaitley, have you ever attended any meeting of DDCA as patron-in-chief?”

Jaitley: “Yes I attended one meeting of DDCA as patron in chief. I also asked them to remove me from the post in early 2014.”
Jethmalani: “Now that you have read Mr Bedi’s letter, do you find anything that makes you angry enough to file a defamation plea? I would suggest that the Hon’ble PM drew your attention to the letter written by Bedi. Did you tell the PM that you will establish your reputation in court against these allegations?”
Jaitley: “I deny.”                        
Jethmalani: “Mr Jaitley, you had four departments under your control?”
Jaitley: “I’ve had multiple departments and four major ministries.”
Jethmalani: “You also were the minister for I&B.”
Jaitley: “Got charge of it after relinquishing from Defence Ministry.”

(Hearings adjourned to May 15 and 17)

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