Kejriwal’s Defamation Circular Opens New Front With Media

New Delhi: Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s run-in with the media, a section of which, he believes, has taken a ‘supari’ – underword argot for a contract killing – to finish off the Aam Aadmi Party, has taken a curious turn with his government issuing a circular that calls for filing complaints if “any person makes or publishes any defamatory imputation” against the Delhi Chief Minister, Ministers or any public servant of Delhi Government.

The development took many by surprise as Kejriwal has himself recently challenged the constitutional validity of criminal defamation law in the Supreme Court. He had argued that it was a colonial relic that needed to be scrapped since it curbed criticism and debate. Further, he had claimed that Sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code that made defamation an offence punishable by a jail term of up to two-years were unconstitutional.

However, the circular, issued on May 6, deals with instances of defamatory imputations under these very sections – 499 and 500 — of the IPC.

An AAP leader who spoke to The Wire on condition he not be identified said the circular was merely a reiteration of existing rules and laws to protect public servants and that the rule of law applied equally to everyone. Asked about the circular’s timing in the wake of Kejriwal’s ‘supari’ allegation, he said this was a matter of perception. “No new rule or law has been made. The government was formed in February 2015. It has received many complaints and this circular has been issued to form the nodal points for investigating these issues.”

After Kejriwal’s remarks last week about a section of the media gunning for his party, the Delhi government has started close monitoring of all content on news channels. Officials of the Directorate of Information and Publicity, who till now only kept clippings of newspapers and magazines, were issued directions to monitor news channels all through the day.

Kejriwal had also called for a “trial by the janata” of mediapersons targeting his party intentionally. At the launch of a web portal, Jantakareporter.com, he said “trials” of such media should be held at 8-10 locations across Delhi, where people could be shown the objectionable clips and then asked to comment on them.

The AAP government’s controversial circular has also come close on the heels of the Supreme Court staying defamation proceedings against Kejriwal on complaints filed by former Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit’s political aide Pawan Khera and former Union Minister Kapil Sibal’s son Amit Sibal.

Khera had accused Kejriwal of using “false and filthy” language against Dikshit in a television programme. Amit Sibal had filed a case against him for alleging that he had taken advantage of his father’s position during the previous UPA government for representing a telecom firm.

The apex court has already appointed two senior advocates as amicus curiae and asked the Centre to spell out its stand on decriminalizing defamation law.