Congress leader Manish Tewari was pummeled on Twitter today over his post in support of Tehelka founder Tarun Tejpal, with his former colleague turned Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi taking the lead.
In an acrid back-and-forth with Priyanka Chaturvedi, Manish Tewari even hinted at "taking a former colleague to court" for libel and defamation.
It started with Mr Tewari effusively praising Tarun Tejpal while calling him "much-maligned, political persecuted and honourably exonerated" in his tweet, urging people to read his piece on "Animal Farm".
"My college Senior the much maligned, hugely politically persecuted and now honourably exonerated the brilliant and mercurial Tarun Tejpal has written this teaser of his new book Animal Farm Tarun at his evocative and provocative best (sic)," the Congress MP wrote.
It prompted sharp reactions. Priyanka Chaturvedi wrote: "Today I got to know that Tarun Tejpal was 'honorably exonerated' and 'politically persecuted'. To rubbish a woman's sexual assault by this cosy club, smacks of their sick mindset. They believe they can behave as they wish around women and laugh off the serious crime. Shameful."
She also pointed out that the verdict had been challenged before the Mumbai High Court. "So the celebration on exoneration can hold. More power to the young lady who had the courage to take such powerful clique head on," the Shiv Sena MP said.
Mr Tewari shot back: "Unlike you @priyankac19 as a lawyer I know how to read a judgment and respect it. Tarun Tejpal was tried and found innocent. That is the cold hard fact. Goa Government has gone to High Court. If you have a problem say what you have too in the High Court of Mumbai and Goa."
Unlike you @priyankac19 as a lawyer I know how to read a judgment and respect it. Tarun Tejpal was tried and found innocent. That is the cold hard fact.Goa Government has gone to High Court.If you have a problem say what you have too in the High Court of Mumbai & Goa. https://t.co/c0TMKWBUod— Manish Tewari (@ManishTewari) September 3, 2021
To which, Ms Chaturvedi retorted: "Unlike you @ManishTewari just being a lawyer and ability to read a judgement does not put you on a higher plain. Also this is a free platform I have a right to opinion as much as you have a right to pat the back of an alleged rapist."
The Congress MP pressed on: "It actually does @priyankac19. It makes me acutely conscious about respecting rule of law and judgments delivered by Courts established under our Constitution. Please do not cross the line of libel & defamation. I would be anguished to take a fellow MP & former Colleague to Court."
It actually does @priyankac19 . It makes me acutely conscious about respecting rule of law & judgments delivered by Courts established under our Constitution.— Manish Tewari (@ManishTewari) September 3, 2021
Please do not cross the line of libel & defamation.I would be anguished to take a fellow MP & former Colleague to Court. https://t.co/vGNDt1XNpB
Ms Chaturvedi replied: "Ooh! Threat to silence. Typical. As a lawyer should realise my first tweet wasn't even tagged or marked to you, you chose to jump in and I responded in kind."
Mr Tewari said, "Ignorance of the law is bliss ain't it @priyankac19. The law of libel recognises a slur by implication also Mam."
In the midst of this public dustup, the Congress leader also fielded condemnation from other Twitter users, including journalists.
Tarun Tejpal, the founder-editor of Tehelka magazine, was acquitted by a Goa court in May of charges of raping a former colleague eight years ago. The Goa government has challenged the acquittal.
Tarun Tejpal was accused of sexually assaulting the young woman in an elevator of a five-star resort in Goa during an event in 2013. The allegations exploded with the leak of several emails in which the woman complained to her seniors. He was arrested the same year. He had been out on bail since 2014.
In 2017, the trial court charged him with rape, sexual harassment, and wrongful confinement. Tarun Tejpal challenged the charges first in the Bombay High Court and later in the Supreme Court, which ordered that the trial in Goa must continue.