Amit Shah finally broke his conspicuous silence on the issue of a sudden surge in the turnover of his son Jay Shah’s firm Temple Enterprise, which increased 16,000 times from ₹50,000 to ₹80 crore in just one year, coincidentally soon after Narendra Modi became the prime minister. Amit Shah spoke briefly at a forum of a BJP-friendly media organisation on the issue of Jay Shah’s defamation case and made some strange claims that sent cryptic signals about the Modi government’s efforts to wage a large-scale war against the remnants of free and critical press in Modi-fied India, where the majority of media outlets are functioning as the PR agency of the Modi government, which is considered sacrosanct and placed at the highest altar by the toady journalists, who are often rewarded by the government in return for their loyalty and bootlicking.
On 8 October, an independent news website, The Wire, published the story written by Rohini Singh on this sudden increase in the turnover of Jay Shah’s firm. The firm earned this turnover soon after Modi assumed office and surprisingly, Temple Enterprise was wound up a year later, just before the onset of the demonetisation season. After the report on the company’s details filed with the ROC was published, Union Minister and Modi’s Goebbels, Piyush Goyal, came out to defend a private citizen like Jay Shah, breaking all existing protocols and even not waiting for any sort of independent enquiry report on the allegations. The RSS and the BJP initiated a vitriolic campaign against The Wire and Rohini Singh, while Jay Shah filed a ₹100 crore defamation case against the journalist and The Wire’s founding editors; the Modi government allowed the Additional Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta, who played a crucial role during his tenure as the Additional Advocate General of Gujarat to get the cases against the 2002-genocide accused liquidated, to appear as a personal lawyer of Jay Shah in the court. Later due to immense criticism, Tushar Mehta backtracked and said he will only provide help to the lawyers of Jay Shah and not fight the case himself. Amit Shah and his commander Narendra Modi remained silent on the issue and ordered the corporate mainstream media to keep up silence on the issue. Despite this voluntary radio-silence-strategy adopted by the toady Hindutva media, the section of the press that dared to defy the Modi government’s diktat, exposed that the ASG got permission to appear for Jay Shah in the defamation case on 6 October itself, the very evening when Jr. Shah received a set of questions on his business from the journalist writing the report. Amit Shah returned to New Delhi cutting short his campaigning in Kerala the same evening after he smelled trouble and met the prime minister to discuss something in length, which wasn’t disclosed to the media.
Like any political leader defending their kin from corruption charges, Amit Shah reiterated the clichés about Jay Shah being an honest businessman and his business endeavours not benefitting from any government favours. However, the most surprising part of his maiden statement on the issue was not his attacks against the Congress Party for its role in the big scams like Bofors, 2G, etc., but his assertion that the Congress is corrupt because none of its scam-tainted leaders dared to file any defamation case against the journalists who exposed their misdeeds and no one in the Congress raised the level of defamation claim up to ₹100 crore, which Jay Shah did in his case against The Wire. According to Amit Shah, Jay Shah actually called for a fair investigation into the case by moving to the court with the defamation case and it’s his credit that he raised the level of defamation to that high. His claims may sound ridiculous to many, several people may call them an infantile blabbering by a clueless defender of a scam-tainted person, however, the issue is more complex, as Amit Shah, or the entire RSS-led Hindutva fascist camp that he represents, is attempting to normalise the practice of using SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation), the globally used tactic of the big corporations, unscrupulous politicians and criminals to stop critical media investigation into their misdeed, to stifle the remnants of free press in India.
By saying that the Congress is corrupt as it did not adopt the policy of slapping defamation charges against the journalists who exposed the corruption cases the party’s leadership and their kin were involved in, Amit Shah is trying to drive the point that big business entities, corporations, politicians and bureaucrats in India must use the “defamation case” weapon to silence the critical media and its endless investigations from now on, following the footsteps of Gautam Adani and Jay Shah. Amit Shah hailed Jay Shah and said that Jr. Shah’s spontaneous filing of a defamation case against The Wire is a hallmark of his honesty and innocence. Amit Shah defended his son’s spiralling profit by saying: “They are saying the company’s turnover rose to ₹80 crore from a mere ₹50,000, but they are not showing that it incurred a loss of ₹1.5 crore. This is a high-volume, low-profit business. Where is money laundering in it,” while remaining mute on how the commodity trading on rice and millets by a firm that earned a turnover of ₹50,000 a year ago with a profit of ₹18,758 could suddenly earn a turnover of ₹80 crore? He said that profit is less in the business, but the profit of the previous year was 37.51 percent of the turnover and it’s not what one would call “low” in terms of turnover to profit ratio. The loss of ₹1.5 crore by the company even when its turnover suddenly increased 16,000 times is also extremely surprising, because, since its inception in 2004, Temple Enterprise never earned anything near to that amount. The Wire or Rohini Singh didn’t write the story using fabricated information but used the details from the ROC and now, even Amit Shah, through his nod, accepted that the figures shown in the story of The Wire are correct. He didn’t explain why the company called Kusum Finserve, owned by Jay Shah got a project of building 2.1 MW renewable electric power plant in Ratlam of Madhya Pradesh, a BJP-ruled state? He didn’t say anything about how the firm got a loan of ₹10.35 crore from Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA), which, according to the National Herald, can only fund 70 percent of the project cost for a maximum of 1 MW project? How an inexperienced firm like Kusum Finserve managed to secure a loan for a project even when it was going to produce higher output than the threshold of IREDA financing? Amit Shah didn’t say these things, but he expressed his surprise over why the Congress is lagging behind in joining the league of Adani and Jay Shah.
The Congress Party had ruled the country in an utmost tyrannical manner, it looted the nation for more than six decades and the issue of slapping defamation cases against journalists, also jailing, killing and torturing them for being critical of the regime, happened several times during its reign, especially during the emergency, when Indira Gandhi established her fascist rule in the country. Despite its dirty record and history of tyranny, the Congress didn’t show the audacity of openly denouncing the democratic space that the Constitution guaranteed to the people during non-emergency period and it didn’t dare to attack the free press directly like the Modi government, which orders the media to work as its PR wing, did in the last three years. While most of the big corporation-owned media houses and their seven-digit salary drawing celebrity news presenter cum gadflies obliged the government, a small section of the free media is still showing valour by critically analysing the deeds and words of the Modi government. The defiance of these media outlets and free journalists is bothering Amit Shah and the entire Hindutva camp so much that they are now inviting their arch-rival Congress to even adopt the policy of silencing the free press by using the technique of SLAPP. Despite the Congress’ top leaders and ministers like P. Chidambaram, a lackey of big corporations and a mastermind of the Operation Green Hunt, an anti-tribal war waged by the Indian government on behalf of big global mining corporations in the tribal heartland, accused the critical writers and intellectuals of sedition, they never used SLAPP as an official weapon to threaten and gag critical media. Amit Shah is simply trying to make sure that SLAPP is used as a common weapon by all politicians, corporations, bureaucrats and other elites, whenever the free press tries to investigate their misdeeds. No wonder, Amit Shah is helping Jay Shah to use this tool with the help of the entire state machinery of New Delhi and Gujarat, after being impressed with the tactic of SLAPP adopted by the chief funder of the BJP, Gautam Adani, whose lawyer’s letter to the Economic and Political Weekly threatening with a defamation case, got its former editor Paranjoy Guhathakurta fired from his job.
As the matter is sub-judice, we will let the court decide whether Jay Shah’s defamation case and claim of ₹100 crore holds any weight to standout in the long run, but the subtle call of Amit Shah to the Congress and the big corporations, to use the weapon of defamation against their critics is a serious threat to the democratic fervour and the rights of the press enshrined in the Constitution of the country. It’s no wonder that following the Jay Shah embroil, especially before the onset of the Gujarat Assembly Election, the Modi government will try to regulate the free press by bringing draconian regulations and by attempting to gag media houses critical to the BJP and the Hindutva camp by enabling Sangh-inspired people and corporation to economically drain them with hefty lawsuits. But as the media fraternity, which came together in a great show of strength after the gruesome murder of the firebrand journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru last month, remains indifferent towards the plight of the small and struggling outlets like The Wire, which runs on donations received from their visitors, it becomes very troublesome to erect a strong barrier of resistance against the fascist onslaught of the Hindutva fascist Modi government.
All those who are angry at the government-sponsored media bullying drive of Jay Shah, supported by the Modi government (exemplified by Piyush Goyal and the BJP’s IT Cell), must take a stand to protest against the practice of SLAPP and unite with other anti-establishment and pro-people media outlets and journalist bodies to wage a strong struggle against the fascist onslaught on the idea of free and critical press. It’s a time to realise that the free press is neither omnipotent nor an immortal thing, but it comes constantly under attack from the big corporations and their lackey politicians who rule India and the world at present. The free press is an idea that exists in its own form due to the presence of its antithesis, i.e. the toady media, the government’s PR body that is keen to portray the opposition in the poorest shades even when no one else is supporting the regime. But unlike the toady journalism, the free press has fewer supporters and more enemies in power and they will be targeted, time again, for their coverages and exposes. It’s important that the fervour of sane journalism and the professional journalistic ethics, now at its dismal low in years, is protected along with the zeal to protect the independence of each journalist and the media outlets that challenge the hegemony of big capital in the movement for truth. This can only be achieved when a massive democratic struggle starts for a complete political overhaul of India and to purge the filth of Hindutva fascism living in its veins and arteries. Such a struggle can only become successful if the journalists, those who still believe in the concept of a free press and dares to challenge the powerful, can shed their inhibitions to unite with the common people in their fight for democracy, secularism, justice and equality. For such a unity will hasten the doom of the fascist kingdom under construction and will help free press live forever. Amit Shah and the Modi government may bully few with the defamation lawsuits and other weapons of persecution, but if a huge tide of a democratic struggle of the people against Hindutva fascism starts, they will find no land to save themselves from being washed away by the tsunami.