Jay Amitbhai Shah, the son of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah, has sued the independent media outlet, The Wire, in a defamation case for publishing a detailed investigative report on how one of his companies called Temple Enterprises suddenly saw a 16,000 times increase in its turnover between 2015-16, after his political uncle Narendra Modi became the prime minister and his father became the head of the ruling party.
Rohini Singh, an investigative journalist who revealed the scams of Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of Congress party president Sonia Gandhi, wrote in a detailed investigative report:
“Company balance sheets and annual reports obtained from the RoC reveal that in the financial years ending March 2013 and 2014, Shah’s Temple Enterprise Private Ltd. engaged in negligible activity and recorded losses of Rs 6,230 and Rs 1,724 respectively. In 2014-15, it showed a profit of Rs 18,728 on revenues of only Rs 50,000 before jumping to a turnover of Rs 80.5 crore in 2015-16(sic).”
A company that was incorporated in 2004, earns just Rs 50,000 with a meagre profit of Rs 18,728 in 2014-15 suddenly earning a turnover that is 16,000 times more within a year and then closing down the shop (weeks before Modi’s infamous demonetisation) is not something that won’t attract suspicion. Even when Jay Shah and his lawyer claimed that there was nothing fishy in the deal, the sudden outburst of the BJP top brass and the plunging of Piyush Goyal, who happened to hold the power portfolio at the time of this massive turnover revolution of Temple Enterprises, signals that there is more to what appears on the plate, there seems to be larger stakes involved and by attacking the news portal that published the news, the BJP cannot hide the tip of the iceberg of its scam-tainted three-years rule under Modi, during which almost all of the BJP ministers, including Modi himself, saw a rapid increase in their wealth.
National Herald accused Shah junior of managing to secure a loan of Rs 103.5m from the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA) against absolutely nothing for his limited liability partnership firm Kusum Finserv. The loan was taken for building up a 2.1 MW windmill in Ratlam, Madhya Pradesh, the project cost of which was around Rs 150m. However, according to the rules and regulations mentioned in the IREDA website, it is allowed to finance up to 70% of the cost of a project which will generate a maximum of 1 MW of power. There was a gross violation done by the IREDA in allocating such a huge fund going against the rules of the organisation and no wonder, it was Goyal’s ministry then, which makes it normal to see the minister aggressively defending a private citizen of the country from corruption allegation levelled against them; as they say, if you pull the ears, the head will follow.
Though Junior Shah, his lawyer—who happens to be the additional solicitor general (ASG) Tushar Mehta, permitted by the law ministry in an unprecedented move to represent Shah against The Wire and then the BJP has nothing to do with dynastic politics— and the entire top brass of the BJP, which, in August 2017, managed to force The Times of India and DNA to take down articles that reported on how Amit Shah’s personal wealth grew by 300% between 2012 to 2017, started issuing threats to The Wire, which is headed by the former editor of The Hindu, Siddharth Varadarajan, the independent media personalities, who are daring even during this height of fascist onslaught on democratic rights to stand for the cause of truth, have spoken against this heinous tactics of the BJP leadership.
The collective loathing and trolling by the BJP and its IT Cell workers proved beyond doubt that the sudden surge in the turnover of the firm Temple Enterprises, as mentioned above, just a year before it was wound up, was not coincidental with the formation of Modi’s government. Their fear and their determination to silent a small media outlet that dares to publish articles critical of the BJP and the Modi government, when the trend in the mainstream media is to prostrate before the emperor, shows that somewhere there is a fire from which the smoke is emitting.
It wasn’t surprising to see that the railway minister defending a private individual hours after a report was published on the business dealings of that person, citing data from the Registrar of Companies (ROC). Goyal didn’t wait to see any independent investigation clearing Jay Shah’s name from any wrongdoing, as once a trial court acquitted his father from the fake encounter cases, a verdict that the CBI never challenged in upper-courts. What made the Railway Minister Goyal to defend Junior Shah and threaten the press? What made him believe that Jay Shah is innocent of any wrongdoings and why the BJP and the Modi government, which vehemently opposed the right to privacy in the apex court suddenly started crying foul over investigative reports on financial wrongdoings by a private individual violating the privacy of the person allegedly involved in wrongdoing?
Is it a signal that Senior Shah himself is involved in such type of scams and it’s just the tip of an iceberg and therefore the BJP is keen to nip the bud? As usual, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the BJP didn’t care to issue any explanation over the hysteria and thereby endorsed the generally prevailing view that the ruling party, like its predecessor Congress party, is involved in several financial irregularities, which it will not allow to see the light of the day by enforcing a crackdown on free and investigative journalism. Jay Shah happens to be a pawn used by the larger forces of the Hindutva fascist network to bully and attack those media outlets and journalists who dare to have their spine straight in these days.
The strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP), is a tactic adopted by big corporations, fascist politicians, unscrupulous elements, mafia lords and the rich to gag their critics using the courts by burdening anyone who raises questions over their evil deeds with hefty penalty-laden defamation lawsuits. The US state of California protects the critics against such lawsuits by providing them with an option to quash them and the Los Angeles Times wrote a lengthy editorial describing how this evil is getting deeply entrenched in the US and threatening the existence of the muckrakers. Resorting to SLAPP by the powerful politicians, business tycoons, corporate houses and others show how these people negate the basic tenet of democracy, the very ideology of democracy which gives the free press the statute of being the fourth pillar and asks it to expose the misdeeds done by those who are rich and powerful and to empower the people with knowledge.
But in a country like India, which has basically an undemocratic, semi-colonial and semi-feudal core with a top dressing of sham democracy, the high ranking and powerful people and organisations never allowed a free press to exist in the mainstream media. For them, a free press means a press that will oblige them, provide them coverage as a loyal lackey and lick their boots for advertising and endorsements. This is the reason why SLAPP threat is used against any type of media activity that challenges the domination of these forces on the Indian society. It was seen in the case of the notorious Adani group, which threatened to file a suit against the once renowned Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) and ruin its finances for publishing an investigative journalist work on how the Group, supported by the Modi regime in lieu of financial assistance, dodged taxes by using numerous shell companies. Paranjoy Guhathakurta, the then editor of the EPW and one of the foremost journalists researching the misdeeds of the Adani group, was fired over this report.
The threat issued by Jay Shah to file a lawsuit against The Wire after his first lawyer informed the same to the writer when she raised the question on the sudden increase in turnover, comes from the insecurity that the business tycoon son of India’s second tallest political figure is suffering from. The anxiety couldn’t have been caused if the business deals were transparent and the company had earned the turnover, which was way too higher than its lifetime income, in a very legal and honest way. Why a businessman, who has nothing to hide and can come clean even if an official probe is initiated against his dealings, gets so scared as to avoid directly answering the questions over his skyrocketing turnovers of a year before winding up the business and takes the help of a lawyer? If Jay Shah and Amit Shah aren’t as nervous as they are appearing then why did they dare to demand a ransom of Rs 1bn from a website like The Wire under the pretext of SLAPP, when the company’s turnover in question never reached that level? Where does the BJP leader, accused in fake encounter cases and in helping the rioters during 2002 Gujarat pogrom, gets the audacity of demanding such a huge amount of money from a website when his own people are slandering opposition leaders with the most filthy adjectives daily?
If Shah’s son has no taint in his business deals, then what forced the BJP’s IT Cell, notorious for fake news broadcasting and misleading propaganda, to plunge into the well to save this man who isn’t even a significant leader of the party? What makes Amit Malviya, the BJP IT Cell head and a propaganda manager, to take up arms against The Wire in favour of a man who just happens to be the son of the president of the very party that vehemently oppose dynastic politics? The answers are somewhere hidden within the accusations and it’s imperative, therefore, to accept that the findings of Rohini Singh’s investigation has some truth in it and thereby raises a demand for a free and fair legal investigation into Jay Shah’s business and the affairs of Temple Enterprises and Kusum Finserve.
The attempt to bully free press from reporting corruption and scandals clearly shows how much hypocrisy is imbibed within the rank and file of the BJP and the Modi government, which calls itself holier than the rest and incorruptible due to its divine Hindu character. As Shah’s son is the sole accused in a petty case of Rs 800m abnormal turnover, which is way too smaller than what Vadra is accused of siphoning off from India, the BJP is not taking any chance to nip the bud to cull the possibility of further journalistic digging into the finances of its members and their relatives. The Rs 1bn defamation suit filed by Jay Shah can’t be ridiculed as his infantile decision, rather it’s a defamation suit slapped against the free media by the entire Sangh Parivar under the RSS’s watch.
The RSS is visibly scared, because when the Modi government’s scams will expose themselves then it will be hard to hide its grotesque, scam-tainted naked body and then only large-scale riots, communal carnage and genocide will remain the only path to protect itself from public wrath. No wonder why the RSS top brass is reluctant to hold back the cow vigilante and why the saffron camp is determined to flare up communal riots in Kerala, West Bengal and other states of the country to consolidate its Hindu vote bank. Only time will show whether these dirty tricks of the Hindutva brigade led by the RSS and the BJP can be successful in providing the fascist Modi government with any temporary respite from the growing mass discontent.