The Supreme Court yesterday issued a notice of criminal contempt to Congress president Rahul Gandhi and rejected his appeal for closing the matter related to his “chowkidar chor hai” (the watchman is a thief) remarks incorrectly attributed to the court.
The court asked Gandhi to explain by next Tuesday why contempt proceedings should not be launched against him for suggesting that the court had endorsed his political attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi amid the ongoing general elections.
The top court, however, exempted the Congress chief from personal appearance.
It will hear the matter on April 30 along with review petitions related to the Rafale fighter deal.
The notice was issued a day after Gandhi expressed regret to the Supreme Court for his comments over which Bharatiya Janata Party MP Meenakshi Lekhi had filed a contempt petition.
The Congress president had made the controversial comment after the top court on April 10 agreed to hear review petitions in the Rafale case, and rejected the government’s contention that classified documents accessed by media cannot be considered as evidence.
Gandhi had claimed that the Supreme Court had acknowledged that “chowkidar chor hai”, a slogan he uses to target Modi in the context of the Rafale deal.
The BJP took objection to this and Lekhi filed a contempt of court petition in the Supreme Court.
While hearing the petition, a three-member bench, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, had taken strong exception to Gandhi’s comment, saying he had “incorrectly attributed” the remarks to the top court.
It had sought an explanation from Gandhi, which he did on Monday.
Senior lawyer Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Lekhi, said Gandhi’s affidavit was just lip service and that he did not offer an apology.
He said the Congress chief had exhibited a reckless attitude in making such statements.
“He has said that he did not read the order and that he said it in a euphoric manner,” Rohatgi said.
“His statement from Amethi to Wayanad is Supreme Court said ‘chowkidar chor hai’ and (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi is the ‘chowkidar’ (watchman). Is this how a leader of national party treats the Supreme Court?” he asked.
Senior lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Gandhi, requested the court to close the case.
He said the contempt plea by Lekhi was an act of political flogging in the middle of the ongoing elections.
He said the “chowkidar chor hai” slogan was against the prime minister and his party and that Gandhi had been humble and honest to admit his mistake and express regret.
Singhvi, while countering the contempt petition, said no formal notice was issued by the court.
“Should we issue (the notice) then,” Gogoi asked.
“When you said no formal notice was issued to Rahul Gandhi, we can cure that by issuing notice... You are pointing out that we have forgotten to issue notice... We will issue notice,” he said.
Singhvi said that Rahul statements accusing Modi of corruption in the Rafale deal were a political diatribe after the BJP claimed the court had cleared the government of any wrongdoing.
“’Chowkidar chor hai’ is being used, has been and will continue to be used as a political campaign,” Singhvi, a senior Congress leader told reporters outside the court.
On April 10, the court had ruled that classified documents accessed by the media can be used as evidence to consider requests to review its clean chit to the Rafale deal. Hours later, Gandhi cheered the order with the “chowkidar” slogan that has become central in the Congress attack on Modi.
Meanwhile, the District and Sessions court yesterday sent a private complaint filed against Gandhi for making an objectionable speech against Modi to another judge designated for dealing with cases against MPs and MLAs.
Advocate Joginder Tuli, in his complaint, said that Gandhi, while addressing a public meeting at Jantar Mantar on October 6, 2016, made a statement against Modi, accusing the prime minister of hiding behind the blood of soldiers and doing “dalali” (cashing in on) on their sacrifices.
“The words used in the speech by Rahul Gandhi amount to shame to a democratic country like India and if democracy has to survive, there should be some restrictions on people talking against the country,” he said.
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