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Media Matters

Sunstroke is an acute, life-threatening condition in which the body's heat-regulating system fails, due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures. I really wondered whether Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah was a victim of the phenomenon, when he abandoned the party’s Janaraksha Yatra in Kerala and returned to the national Capital.

After all, he was supposed to lead the Yatra through Pinarayi which is Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s ancestral town. The propagandists of the party had given the impression that walking through the town was like crossing the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir and walking towards Muzaffarabad or the border at Dhokla and walking towards Lhasa.

When Shah skipped that stretch of the Yatra route, I even wondered whether he had taken his cue from Intelligence reports which allegedly portray Kerala as a land of “Marxist Jihadis”. The apologists of the party explained that Shah had not chickened out but was summoned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss straightening of the economy after the merciless onslaught it suffered from demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax.

This explanation made sense to the common man, though the BJP cadres in Kerala were shocked that their leader was the one who could leave Kurukshetra, saying “my limbs wilt, and my mouth is dried up. A tremor comes on my body and my hair stand on end. The Gandiva quiver slips from my hand, and my skin is intensely burning. I am unable to stand and my mind is spinning round, as it were”.

When Arjuna said these words, there was Krishna to persuade him to stay on at Kurukshetra and do his duty. Alas, there was no Krishna in the party to stop Shah from leaving Pinarayi. Truth has a peculiarity. It cannot be bottled up for ever. When the time comes, the truth is revealed. Take the case of a recent verdict of the Gujarat High Court.

The court said that the Godhra train burning that occurred on the morning of February 27, 2002, in which 59 people died in a fire inside the Sabarmati Express train near the Godhra railway station in Gujarat, could not be described as an act of “terrorism”. It squarely blamed the state government for its failure to control the violence that followed. I found this one inch-long, single-column report with a 14-point headline in the inside page of the Hindustan Times published from Delhi.

Sooner than later, the truth was out that what Shah suffered from was not Sunstroke but Sonstroke. While he was in Kerala, he was tipped off about an impending report in the news portal  thewire.in about his son Jay Shah. For anyone suffering from Sonstroke, son matters more than anything else, including the party that made him what he is.

Nobody got an idea about Shah’s air-dash to Delhi because Rohini Singh’s report was still in the compiling or writing stage. Incidentally, she was the toast of the party when a few years ago, she reported about another citizen of the country, Robert Rajendra Vadra, husband of Priyanka Vadra, getting an unsecured loan from real estate giant DLF with which he made a kill, of course, thanks to the blessing of then Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda.

Shah did not return to Kerala to continue the Yatra. Instead, he sewed up everything in Delhi to save his skin. When Rohini Singh’s story eventually appeared on October 8, it should have made father Shah proud of his son. Amit Shah’s own father was a businessman selling PVC pipes.

Many thought that business had stopped flowing in the veins of the Shahs, when Amit Shah joined the three-letter organisation and took up lathi to break the skulls of those whose ilk suffered in the 2002 Gujarat riots. Of course, he proved a greater success in politics. Once he was elected to the Gujarat Assembly with a lead of 1.25 lakh votes, larger than Narendra Modi’s. Then he was accused of many heinous acts like murder and was banned from entering the state.

When he obtained bail and returned to Gujarat, he was able to double his margin of victory. Alas, Jay Shah did not have the acumen of his father. He started business but only to know the meaning of the word “flop”. He used to close his business as quickly as he opened it.

As mentioned already,  thewire.in report should have made Amit Shah proud. Why does a person do business? It is to make money. That is what Jay Shah also did. His company Temple Enterprise had an annual turnover, not profit, of Rs 50,000, peanuts by business standards. It works out to a turnover of Rs 137 per day! 

I am sure the person who brings vegetables to my house has a daily turnover which is hundred times the turnover of Temple Enterprise. No one should make fun of him. India’s richest man and Modi’s friend Mukesh Ambani was, of course, born with a golden spoon in his mouth. 

But his father Dhirubhai Ambani was a hawker carrying cloth bundles on his head until he went abroad and found that there was more money in melting coins and selling the metal than hoarding them. But, then, that is how legends are made of. 

Take the case of George Soros, who escaped the Nazis, to become one of the world’s most successful investors or Larry Ellison, who came from the slums to co-found Oracle or John Paul DeJoria. who ran his business from his car or Do Won Chang who did three jobs simultaneously to survive. They are all cases of rags to riches.

All that  thewire.in report said was that Jay Shah’s company which had a turnover of Rs 50,000 had a quick turnaround and recorded a turnover of Rs 80 crore in just a year. He managed to get an unsecured loan of Rs 15.78 crore from Rajesh Khandwala, owner of KIFS Financial Services. Why should anybody object to a businessman taking a loan?

Show me one successful businessman who never took a loan to promote his business and I can show you ten politicians who never promised the skies to win an election. Far from congratulating his son for his success, he took steps that showed the party with a difference in a bad light.

Two days before the report appeared, the Modi government permitted the Additional Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta to defend Jay Shah in the court. He is the second highest judicial officer of the government. He cannot plead the case of an individual, except with the prior permission of the government. The alleged report that caused the alleged defamation had not even appeared when Mehta secured the permission of the government.

Can anything be more scandalous? The BJP has among its members thousands of lawyers, one of whom could have defended Jay Shah. Why did the government have to permit Mehta to defend a private individual? Why does Modi who tweets even to wish “happy birthday” to friends like Amitabh Bachchan not say a word about this wrong precedent that has been set?

Not only that, Piyush Goyal, a Union Minister was roped in to defend Jay Shah. Why he was given this dirty job was because he was a chartered accountant by profession.  What he did not realise was that there was no need to know chartered accountancy to understand the secret of Jay Shah’s success. It was Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, himself a lawyer, who gave the permission to Mehta to defend Shah. Prasad is the one who is the most garrulous on ethics and principles when it comes to attacking the Congress.

As if all this defence of the indefensible was not sufficient, Home Minister Rajnath Singh came out to give a clean chit to Amit Shah’s son. Actually, thorough investigation is required to find out whether it was simple business that he did. Also to be found out was why the gentleman who advanced a huge unsecured loan did not mention it in his own company’s account books.

Instead, a Rs 100-crore defamation suit was filed against  thewire.in which, in fact, solicits public donation to keep the portal going in the absence of adequate advertisement support. The purpose is not just to intimidate the news portal but to muzzle the Press. 

What’s worse, Amit Shah boasts about the defamation case and asks why the Congress leaders who faced corruption charges did not file such suits. The man does not reveal that to file a defamation suit a huge sum of money has to be deposited with the court and not everybody can have the Additional Solicitor General defend him in the court. 

Recently, Priyanka Pathak Narain also suffered in the same way when the law was used to stop distribution of her book “Godman to Tycoon: The Untold Story of Baba Ramdev”.

By the way, how did the BJP react to the reports about Vadra’s business dealings. The Haryana Government set up an inquiry commission which has already submitted its report.

Did any Minister in the UPA government come out in defence of him because he was the son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi? How would the same BJP have reacted if the Manmohan Singh government had permitted its Additional Solicitor General to defend him? It is the same government whose CBI questions Laloo Prasad Yadav’s son about the fodder scam that occurred when he was just an idea in the minds of his parents Laloo and Rabri.

The party has no business to defend the activities of a private businessman. It should have let the law takes its own course. But, then, Jay Shah is not an ordinary businessman but the son of the president of the ruling party who is second only to Modi. What is clear in the defence of Jay Shah is the time-tested policy of the party which is to brazen out, rather than admit and atone.

True, Modi admitted that he was as sad over the killings in Gujarat as he would have been watching puppies come under the wheels of a passing car. That was the closest that he came to expressing his sorrow over the three days of killing and arson that followed the Godhra train burning which, as the Gujarat High Court says, was not an act of terrorism.

The Rs 100-crore defamation suit against  thewire.in is a measure of the party’s money muscle. It is a warning to all journalists and news organisations like NDTV which question the party or expose its shenanigans and corrupt ways. It is the same method that it used against Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

Before I conclude, I must narrate an experience I had while taking part in a television channel discussion. It was for Vinu V John’s programme aired on Asianet that I was invited. One of the fellow debaters was K Surendran of the BJP. My stand was that for journalists it did not matter who ruled so long as their job was to expose the truth. Journalists are nothing if they are not diggers of truth.

My comments provoked Surendran to say that the party cared two hoots for the media. It had its own networks to give the right news to its cadres. It did not matter to the party what the journalists wrote or reported. Yes, I knew that it had its Rumour Spreading Society to come to the aid of the party but to openly say that media did not matter to the BJP was shocking indeed.

What the Surendrans do not know is that a society which tasted freedom would never surrender to autocracy, even if it is in the name of religion. A society in which the media do not enjoy freedom can never be a democratic society. We have seen the result of letting a leader take decisions without adequate consultations.

If Modi had consulted people who knew economics and banking, he would not have shocked the nation out of its wits by banning 500 and 1000-rupee notes. He took the decision because he did not have to fear anyone. The result is that thousands and thousands of people lost their jobs and the economy suffered very badly.

A free and vibrant Press is in the ruling party’s own interest. Let Amit Shah’s son defend himself, as the government agencies need to check whether what he did was business or money laundering. It is amusing that the man with the golden tongue is silent when he should be loquacious against his Cabinet colleagues who are busy defending the questionable deeds of a private citizen for no other reason than his paternity.

The writer is a senior journalist and can be reached at  ajphilip@gmail.com

(Published on 16th October 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 42)