SC Issues Notice to Rahul Gandhi Over Comment on Rafale Order

Rahul Gandhi’s hearing on this contempt case is listed for Tuesday, 23 April.

Updated
Elections
5 min read

The Supreme Court on Tuesday, 23 April, issued notice to Congress President Rahul Gandhi regarding the contempt petition filed by Meenakshi Lekhi, against him for his comments after the Rafale interim order, that the court had also said that “chowkidar chor hai.”

The apex court decided to hear contempt petition along with the main Rafale review petition, which has now been listed for hearing on Tuesday, April 30.

In an affidavit submitted to the court on Monday, 22 April, Gandhi had explained that he had juxtaposed his chowkidar chor hai” slogan with the interim order passed by the Supreme Court allowing sensitive documents to be used during the Rafale review, in the heat of the moment when speaking to the media on 10 April.

“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 juxaposition 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.” [sic]
From para 11 of the affidavit.

Contrary to what has been reported by some media outlets, Gandhi had not expressed regret over the “chowkidar chor hai” slogan, or apologised for using it. Instead, he has actually reaffirmed the Congress party stand that the deal is an example of corruption involving Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Supreme Court, on the basis of a contempt petition filed by BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi on 12 April, had issued notice to the Congress president and sought an explanation from him on or before 22 April.

Gandhi had made the remark on 10 April, shortly after the SC said that the media was well within its rights to publish Rafale-related documents, thereby rejecting a government claim that the media and the petitioners could not use the documents and would face action for doing so. The government’s plea that the review petitions be dismissed on these grounds was also rejected by the court.

During the hearing on Tuesday, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, representing Lekhi, first said he wanted to submit a rejoinder to the affidavit filed by Gandhi. The CJI asked him to explain what the affidavit said as they had not read it yet.

Rohatgi then informed the court that Gandhi had accepted that he had incorrectly attributed the comment to the Supreme Court, but that he couldn’t just get away with this since he is a leader of a political party, and his statement was an attempt to mislead people across the country.

He pointed out that it is no small matter that Gandhi attributed the matter to the Supreme Court, since people give weight to what the court has to say. He also opined that Gandhi hadn’t apologised in his affidavit, and only expressed “regret” in brackets in one line – while past court judgments have clearly said that any apology has to be unconditional and contrite.

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi represented Gandhi, and began by applauding the court for not issuing notice in the case and only asking for an explanation. However, this seemed to backfire as the CJI asked whether Singhvi was saying this was an oversight, and eventually the court did issue notice, thereby formally taking up the case.

Singhvi tried to explain why the expression of regret by Gandhi was sufficient, pointing out once again the statements by BJP leaders terming the court’s December verdict a ‘clean chit’ for the government on the Rafale deal even though the court did no such thing. However, this did not seem to have any impact on the CJI who tagged the contempt petition to the review petitions and listed them for next week.

‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’ Jibe: A Timeline of the Case

10 APRIL:

Speaking after the SC dismissed the Centre’s preliminary objections to the Rafale review petitions and allowed the admissibility of “classified” documents as evidence in the case, Congress President Rahul Gandhi said, “Supreme Court has accepted that there is some form of corruption in the Rafale deal and that ‘chowkidar ne chori karwayi hai’ (chowkidar PM Modi has facilitated theft).”

He had made the statement while interacting with reporters after filing his nomination papers in Amethi, where he is contesting against BJP leader and Union minister Smriti Irani.

12 APRIL:

BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi on Friday, 12 April, moved the Supreme Court to take criminal contempt action against Rahul Gandhi after his comment on the Rafale case in which he welcomed the apex court order.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Lekhi, told the bench that the Congress president reportedly made a remark that the "Supreme Court said chowkidar chor hai" in the verdict.

15 APRIL:

The Supreme Court Monday, 15 April, made it clear that remarks made by Rahul Gandhi in the media on the Rafale verdict were "incorrectly attributed" to the apex court and directed the Congress President to give his explanation by 22 April.

The bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said:

“We also make it clear that this court had no occasion to make such observation in as much as it was deciding legal admissibility of certain documents which were objected by the attorney general.”

22 APRIL: GANDHI FILES AFFIDAVIT WITH EXPLANATION

In the affidavit, a copy of which has been accessed by The Quint, Rahul Gandhi expressed ‘regret’ for attributing the ‘chowkidar chor hai’ remark to the Supreme Court in ‘the heat of the moment’.

He also listed a number of incidents where BJP leaders (including Prime Minister Narendra Modi) had wrongly characterised the court’s verdict in December 2018 as a ‘clean chit’ for the government. Gandhi asserts that his statement was made in a purely political context,

“to counter the aforesaid misinformation campaign led by senior functionaries of the BJP as well as the Government that the judgment of this Hon’ble Court dated 14.12.2018 was a clean chit to the Government regarding all the aspects of the Rafale deal.”

Gandhi clarified in the affidavit that it was never his intention to put words in the mouth of the apex court, and that the statement has been “used (and misused)“ by his political opponents to project that he had deliberately and intentionally attributed it to the court.

The affidavit denied all the imputations in the contempt petition, and then goes on the front foot, arguing that the petition filed by Lekhi is “an abuse of process of this Hon’ble Court”.

Gandhi said that there was no attempt to willfully misrepresent the order of the court, and also takes exception to a paragraph in the contempt petition in which Lekhi has claimed that Gandhi is willfully intending to prejudice the public against the prime minister. He points out that he is of the firm belief that PM Modi is “involved in misdemeanors in the Rafale deal”, which has been a consistent stand of him and other persons over the last year.

Gandhi in fact expressly reaffirmed that he and the Congress party stand by their belief that

“the Rafale deal is a tainted transaction and a gross and brazen abuse of executive power and a leading example of the corruption of the BJP Government led by Prime Minister Modi, which deserves to be investigated througouhly by a Joint Parliamentary Committee and proceeded against thereafter.”

At the end of his affidavit, Gandhi had also given the court an undertaking that he “will not attribute any views, observations or findings to the Court in political addresses to the media and in public speeches, unless such views, observations or findings are recorded by the Court.”

'Contempt of Court’

In a tweet following Gandhi’s response to the Supreme Court, Lekhi said that the ‘admission of guilt’ amounted to contempt of court.

She also hoped that “it is responded with strictest rebuke by the court.”

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