Rahul not to appear personally in contempt case
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued notice to Congress president Rahul Gandhi seeking his response on a contempt petition for "incorrectly" attributing his 'chowkidar chor hai' remark against Prime Minister Narendra Modi to it in the Rafale case but exempted him from personal appearance.
"Personal presence of the alleged contemnor is dispensed with, for the present," a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said in the order.
The notice was issued after the top court rejected Gandhi's plea to close the criminal contempt case filed by BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi after his explanation in an affidavit on Monday claiming that the remarks were made in the "heat of political campaigning". Gandhi had also expressed regret over his remarks. The apex court said the contempt case will be heard on April 30 along with the pending review petitions against the December 14, 2018 verdict that gave a clean chit to the Modi government in the Rafale fighter jet deal on a petition alleging irregularities. After hearing the arguments by former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Lekhi and senior advocate and Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi representing Gandhi for around 10 minutes, a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi passed the order.
"On the basis of the statements made by Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, senior counsel appearing for the alleged contemnor (Rahul Gandhi), we deem it proper to issue notice in the matter," the bench, also comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna, said.
Further, it said "Personal presence of the alleged contemnor (Rahul Gandhi) is dispensed with, for the present.
"We also deem it proper to direct the Registry to list the present contempt petition along with Review Petition and connected Review Petitions and Miscellaneous Applications on April 30," the bench said.
The Congress said Gandhi in his "explanation" to the Supreme Court asserted that it was never his intention to attribute the 'chowkidar chor hai' slogan to the top court, but the party will continue to use the expression in the future.
Singhvi told reporters that Gandhi's affidavit clearly mentioned that a campaign is being run by the party president, Congress and other parties since the last 18 months or so alleging that Prime Minister Modi, some union ministers and others are complicit in the Rafale "scam".
"In this context, we had coined and repeatedly used, endorsed and relied upon the political slogan 'chowkidar chor hai' which we have done, we continue to do, and will continue to rely upon," Singhvi said, citing Gandhi's reply in the court.
"It was never our intention to attribute this slogan as a finding of the Supreme Court. Indeed it could not have been such an intention for the simple reason that no court much less the Supreme Court would adopt or endorse such a slogan in a court order," he said.
Singhvi said he requested the court to close the matter, asserting that the BJP was politicising it and even using the court as a forum for politicisation.
During the hearing, the court asked Rohatgi to apprise it of the contents of Gandhi's affidavit. "We have not read the affidavit. Tell us what Rahul Gandhi has said," the CJI said.
Rohatgi said the Congress President has "admitted" that he made a "wrong statement" relating to the April 10 verdict of the apex court which merely had rejected the preliminary objections of the Centre on admissibility of certain documents to adjudicate the review petition in the Rafale case.
"Rahul Gandhi said he made the statement in a euphoric manner," Rohatgi said, adding that Gandhi had made the wrong statement without reading or seeing the order.
Referring to the affidavit. the senior advocate said: "The apology is in a bracket." "According to me it is not an apology. Actually a lip service of apology," Rohatgi said.
He said the top leader of a main political party is making a statement that "chowkidar Narendra Modi chor hain" without reading even the order of the apex court.