New Delhi: Arun Jaitley on Thursday said the allegations against him were "part of propaganda technique to deflect attention when you yourself are in the dock" - and proceeded to ensure that he remained the focal point through the day.
As the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) resurrected a series of known charges that have so far not been backed up by fresh documentary evidence, Jaitley launched a defence drive that ironically attracted more attention to the Union finance minister.
Jaitley first wrote a blog and then addressed the media. The BJP fielded Smriti Irani at its headquarters. DDCA working president and former BJP MP Chetan Chauhan, known to be close to Jaitley, took strike in the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium. Anurag Thakur, BCCI secretary and BJP parliamentarian, padded up in the House complex.
All gave a sparkling clean chit to Jaitley - and all batted with such gusto that they ensured the pot kept boiling most of the day.
In the process, Jaitley, a reputable lawyer, appeared to have made an uncharacteristic slip by referring to Rajendra Kumar, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal's principal secretary and an IAS officer, as "corrupt". Irani also did so. Rajendra is still under a probe and no court has yet found him guilty. Under the circumstances, the label "corrupt" can be termed defamatory. (See Page 4)
The AAP has been needling Jaitley for the past few days by repeating charges that had been levelled earlier by Kirti Azad, a BJP parliamentarian whose utterances have largely been ignored by the party.
However, the AAP's high-voltage offensive, triggered and aided by the CBI's raid on the floor that houses the Delhi chief minister's office, appears to have touched a raw nerve in Jaitley.
The BJP today lined up a battery of prominent spokespersons, who are not among those empanelled to address routine briefings, to defend the finance minister minutes after Kejriwal's party fired charge after charge at Jaitley. But there was no word on action against Azad.
Jaitley himself argued his case in a series of interactions with journalists as well as in a blog titled "Falsehood as free speech" in which he assailed the Delhi chief minister for calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi names and for making "fake" allegations against him when he had headed the Delhi and District Cricket Association.
In the process, he was forced to mention his own party MP from Darbhanga, Azad, who has run a campaign against Jaitley's tenure as the DDCA president for the past few years.
Azad, the son of former Bihar chief minister Bhagwat Jha Azad, claimed that the BJP could not act against him because he was the "spearhead" of the "anti-corruption movement". Old-timers traced his zeal to the "deep resentment" he harboured against Jaitley for allegedly nudging him and his wife Poonam out of Delhi politics.
Azad began his political career as a BJP legislator from Delhi in 1993 but moved to his home state, Bihar. Poonam was fielded to take on the Congress's Sheila Dikshit in 2003 from Delhi's Gole Market. But she lost and was denied a ticket in 2009 after which she quit the BJP in pique. She returned soon.
Around the time the AAP's news conference began, the BJP's initial sense was the DDCA and Chauhan should be left to answer the charges against Jaitley. "The charges are related to his tenure in the DDCA and not in the BJP or the government," a source said.
However, when the AAP iterated its demand that Jaitley be sacked from the government, the BJP decided to hit back.
Although Jaitley has a fair share of intra-party rivals, the feeling today was, "we must stand behind him collectively because an attack against him is an attack against the BJP and our government".
The BJP was also pushed to stand up for Jaitley because he is among the leaders who have never faced an allegation of misconduct, misuse of public office or fomenting communal tension.
In a way, the BJP was paying the price for its own practice of relentlessly hounding the Manmohan Singh government with allegations of scam after scam. The BJP is calling the AAP's tactics "spit-and-run" but the national party had also behaved similarly when it was in the Opposition.
This afternoon, stung by the AAP attack, the BJP summoned a few listed spokespersons such as Thakur and Irani to Jaitley's chamber in Parliament.
By then, a backgrounder on the AAP's accusations as well as the defences were decoded in layperson's language that the spokespersons could comprehend and articulate before a larger audience.
As mediapersons waited outside Jaitley's office, he had some unusual callers. Among them was Sholay director Ramesh Sippy and his wife Kiran Juneja. In between, Jaitley managed to get his blog out.
Jaitley later said: "The technical and procedural violations were compoundable and were compounded (fine paid) by members against whom they were alleged. The SFIO (the Serious Fraud Investigation Office that conducted a probe when the UPA was in power)... could not find a shred of evidence against me."
Such a distinction was rarely made when the BJP was in the Opposition.