National

Arun Jaitley and Ram Jethmalani slug it out in court

Union finance minister Arun Jaitley on Monday appeared in Delhi high court to face a pugnacious Ram Jethmalani who cross-examined him in connection with his defamation suit against chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and other AAP functionaries.

Appearing for Kejriwal, Jethmalani fired a salvo of 52 questions at Jaitley in the nearly daylong proceedings in a jam-packed court, but 11 of these were "disallowed" by joint registrar Amit Kumar for either being a "matter of record and irrelevant to the case", or for being "questions of law and not fact" that could be argued later.

At one stage, Jethmalani brought out a dictionary and asked Jaitley the difference between "goodwill" and "reputation", but the query was shot down by the court.

During the cross-examination, Jethmalani tried to corner Jaitley on why he felt his reputation had been damaged in a manner that was "irreparable and unquantifiable", but the senior BJP functionary remained unruffled, calmly answering the queries. Jethmalani, a former BJP functionary who was expelled, wondered if Jaitley's "personal feelings of greatness" were behind the defamation suit where he says his reputation has been damaged. But the finance minister explained that "my view about my own reputation was based on what my friends, well-wishers and other people both privately and in media, had expressed an opinion on this subject."

The two men covered several issues in the question-answer-style cross-examination from the CBI raid on Delhi government's senior bureaucrat Rajendra Kumar in December 2015 to another official Chetan Sanghi's report on DDCA affairs. Jethmalani also demanded from the senior minister if he made any serious effort to reverse the alleged damage before coming to the court, since as per Jaitley's statement, the damage continued for five consecutive days. To this, Jaitley replied: "I contradicted the allegations in the media and also in Parliament where echoes of these allegations were raised."

On the amount of Rs10 crore demanded as damages by Jaitley, Kejriwal's counsel Ram Jethmalani pointed out that the minister didn't seem to have suffered any monetary damage. "What is the meaning of the term 'unquantifiable damage' used by you in the plaint?" the veteran lawyer asked, adding, "in other words, you are telling that you cannot assign any objective rational reason, but it depends on where you place yourself? What do you have to say?"

The minister responded: "The value I placed, towards loss of my reputation was only a small part of the enormous damage done", also pointing out that "the loss of my reputation has been partly quantified in terms of money. Loss of reputation causes mental distress to the person defamed, which it did in my case". He added that "considering my stature, background and reputation, the loss caused to me and my reputation was so enormous that it was considered unquantifiable".

Jaitley, facing a barrage of questions from his former BJP colleague, also referred to the CBI raid to highlight that immediately after it, AAP functionaries began issuing defamatory statements "to deflect attention from this raid and to link me somehow to a controversy with which I had no connection".

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