New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued a notice of criminal contempt to Congress President Rahul Gandhi while rejecting a plea for closing the matter related to his “chowkidar chor hai” remarks incorrectly attributed to the top court.
The court asked Gandhi to explain by next Tuesday why contempt proceedings should not be initiated against him for suggesting that the court had endorsed his political attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi amid the ongoing polls.
The apex court, however, exempted the Congress chief from personal appearance.
It will hear the matter on April 30 along with the 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 BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi had moved a contempt petition.
The Congress President had made the controversial comment after the top court on April 10, while agreeing to hear review petitions in the Rafale case, rejected the government contention that classified documents accessed by the 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 Rafale deal.
The BJP took objection to this and Lekhi moved a contempt of court petition in the apex 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 explanation from Gandhi for the same, which was done on Monday.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Lekhi, said Gandhi’s affidavit was just lip service and that he has expressed no apology.
He said the Congress President had exhibited a reckless attitude in making such statements.
“He (Gandhi) has said that he did not read the order and that he said it in a euphoric manner,” Rohatgi said.
“His (Gandhi’s) statement from Amethi to Wayanad is Supreme Court said ‘chowkidar chor hai’ and Narendra Modi is the ‘chowkidar’ (guard). Is this how a leader of national party treats the Supreme Court?” he asked.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Gandhi, requested the court to close the case against the Congress President.
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,” Chief Justice Gogoi asked in response.
“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.
The court turned down the plea for closing the matter and issued a notice of criminal contempt to Gandhi.
Lekhi sought time to file a reply to Gandhi’s affidavit against her contempt plea.