Bharatiya Janata Party chief Amit Shah's son Jay Shah on Monday filed a defamation case against news portal The Wire over a report claiming his firm's turnover grew manifold after the party came to power, as the row set off by the article escalated with the Congress demanding the BJP chief's ouster.
Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate S K Gadhvi ordered a court inquiry into the matter under Code of Criminal Procedure Section 202 (to inquire into the case to decide whether or not there is sufficient ground for proceeding) on Jay Shah's plea.
In his application, Jay prayed for, 'criminal action against the respondents for defaming and tarnishing the reputation of the complainant through an article, which is scandalous, frivolous, misleading, derogatory, libelous and consisting of several defamatory statements'.
The seven respondents in the case are the author of the article Rohini Singh, founding editors of the news portal Siddarth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia and M K Venu, managing editor Monobina Gupta, public editor Pamela Philipose and the Foundation for Independent Journalism, the non-profit company that publishes The Wire.
A day after the report was published, senior Congress leaders held press conferences in several places where they targeted Modi and Shah, while BJP leaders rejected the charge, insisting Jay has been 'wronged'.
Union minister Piyush Goyal said in New Delhi that Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta will represent Jay Shah in the case. He said Mehta had sought Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad's permission to appear for Jay and the approval was granted.
"We believe that he (Jay) has been wronged and he must get justice. There is no harm if the best of lawyers appear for him. An ASG can appear in a matter between two private parties after taking permission," he told reporters.
Spearheading the Congress' assault, its vice president Rahul Gandhi took a swipe at Modi and pressed him to 'say something' on claims made in the report. He used the word 'shahzada' to describe Shah's son.
At election meetings in 2014 Modi had often targeted Gandhi calling him shahzada (prince).
'Did you act as a watchman (chowkidar) or were you complicit? Please say something,' Gandhi tweeted in Hindi.
The BJP made a stout defence of Jay Shah, with Union minister Piyush Goyal saying his party's conscience is 'clear' and maintaining that he has been 'wronged'.
Goyal also rejected any comparison between business transactions of Amit Shah's son and those of Congress president Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law Robert Vadra.
He claimed Vadra's was a case of 'round-tripping of money' with help from the government while Jay had no dealing with government.
"Jay has had no dealing with government. His every transaction is official and he did his work honestly," Goyal said.
"Our conscience is clear. That is why we announced on the very day (of story's publication) that we are going to court," he said.
When asked why a Union minister like him was using the BJP forum to defend a private citizen, Goyal said the story wanted to 'defame' the party and its top leaders by making imputations and also put out their photographs.
The Congress fielded its senior spokesman Anand Sharma in the national capital where he demanded constitution of a Commission of Inquiry with two Supreme Court judges to probe the matter.
"We demand the prime minister...he speaks a lot everyday and on each issue. He should break his silence on this issue and declare a Commission of Inquiry comprising two Supreme Court judges. There should be a neutral probe," he told reporters.
The Congress leader also said that like L K Advani and Nitin Gadkari, who stepped down from their posts pending inquiries, Amit Shah should also resign.
"It is a tough call for Modi. The country is looking at him whether he will choose friendship and party politics or truth and morality," Congress communications in-charge Randeep Surjewala said in Jaipur.
Calling for transparency and accountability, he said, "Why shy away from probe if there is nothing wrong? There is no smoke without fire. The country was waiting for development ... but 'Jay ka Vikas ho gaya'."
In Kolkata, party spokesperson Gaurav Gogoi said Modi should prove that he is above party politics and demanded a probe into the claims made in the report.
Several BJP leaders came to the defence of the party chief and his son, with general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya insisting,"If there is no honesty in Amit Shah's home, there cannot be honesty anywhere."
In Coimbatore, Union minister Ananth Kumar said the allegations against Jay Shah were 'foisted falsely'.
"Congress does not have any issue and so is out to tarnish the image of Amit Shah. Instead, they should give a clarification on son-in-law model of doing business," Uttar Pradesh Minister Siddharth Nath Singh said.
Photograph: PTI Photo