'Chowkidar chor hai' comment: Rahul gets contempt notice for attributing remarks to SC
The top court said it will hear on April 30 the criminal contempt petition filed by BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi against Gandhi along with the pending review petition against the December 14, 2018 verdict.
NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued a notice to Congress president Rahul Gandhi in contempt plea by BJP leader Meenakshi Lekhi for allegedly attributing the apex court that it had said that 'Chowkidar chor hai' while it passed the order to hear the Rafale review petitions.
A bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi issued a notice to Gandhi and slated the hearing for April 30 when the court will also hear the Rafale review petitions too.
During the hearing, senior advocate Mukul Rohtagi appearing for Lekhi termed the affidavit filed by Gandhi as mere lip service and said. “He has expressed no apology.”
This led CJI to inquire who is chowkidar?
Rohtagi responded: Ask Mr Gandhi, he used it.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi appearing for Rahul Gandhi and said, “Chowkidar chor hai" is a political slogan only.”
“It is inconceivable that Supreme Court will say something like "Chowkidar Chor hai". I am expressing regret only for attributing that to Supreme Court,” Singhvi added.
He also drew the attention of the bench that no formal notice was issued in this case so far and requested the court to close the case against him.
On this CJI said, “We can cure that defect right away by using the notice of contempt against you.”
At the outset, the bench asked senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi appearing for Lekhi to apprise it about the content of the affidavit filed by Gandhi in which he had expressed regret over his remarks, which he claimed, were made in the "heat of political campaigning".
The bench sought to know from Rohatgi about the content of the affidavit.
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 and added that Gandhi had made the wrong statement without reading or seeing the April 10 order.
Referring to the affidavit filed by Gandhi on Monday, the senior advocate said "The apology is in a bracket."
"According to me it is not an apology. Actually a least 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.
Questioning the tone and tenor of the affidavit filed by Gandhi, Rohtagi asked how can he make a petty comment on the judgement when he has "so many lawyers at his command".
"There has to be some limit to cavalier statements," Rohatgi said.
While Rohatgi was making the submission, the bench said, "We have seen what is there within the bracket. In the affidavit, Gandhi had used the word regret by putting bracket within it while giving explanation to the apex court."
The senior advocate said, "Though Gandhi is not saying now that Supreme Court had said chowkidar chor hai he is still continuing with the expression in his election campaigning."
"Contrition has to be expressed at first instance and unequivocally," he said.
After Rohtagi completed his submission, senior advocate and Congress leader A M Singhvi sought to defend Gandhi by telling the court that the BJP leader's counsel should not be allowed to use the apex court's forum as a political pulpit.
Singhvi said the apex court wanted an explanation from Gandhi and he has complied with the April 15 direction.
While Singhvi was making submission, the bench said, "Perhaps notice was not issued on the criminal contempt petition filed by Lekhi."
Though the senior advocate said the court was kind enough not to issue the notice, the bench said it can still issue notice.
"We have forgotten to issue notice. We will issue notice," the bench said.
Singhvi continued with the argument and said the Prime Minister and the ruling part has been interpreting the apex court December 14, 2018 verdict on Rafale deal as a clean chit given to the government.
Further, Singhvi said how can political flogging be allowed to go on.
While Singhvi was making the argument, the bench interrupted and dictated the order.
In a criminal contempt case, when the court issues notice, the person to whom notice is issued must appear in person unless exempted by the court itself, which means Rahul Gandhi will have to appear in court in person on April 30.
In the affidavit of Rahul, he had expressed regret for his statements and said, “it is also clear that no court would ever do that and hence the unfortunate references (for which I express regret) to the court order and to the political slogan in juxtaposition the same breath in the heat of political campaigning ought not to be construed as suggesting that the court had given any finding or conclusion on that issue.”
(With PTI Inputs)