Rahul Gandhi gets Supreme Court notice in Rafale contempt case
The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued notice to Congress president Rahul Gandhi, asking him to respond why contempt proceedings should not be initiated against him for attributing remarks to the top court in the Rafale case.
The notice was issued after Rahul Gandhi’s lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi urged the judges to close the contempt case against him and argued that the court had “not issued notice” to his client but only sought an explanation. On Monday, Gandhi apologised for ascribing comments to the court and said this happened in the “heat of campaigning.”
After the court ruled on April 10 that the Rafale review petition could use leaked defence ministry documents that the government had urged it to not consider, Gandhi remarked that the court had said “Chowkidar chor hai “(the watchman is a thief). Gandhi and the Congress have used the slogan to target Prime Minister Narendra Modi who, in the run-up to the 2014 election, described himself as a chowkidar who would not allow any wrongdoing under his watch.
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Generally in a contempt case, when the alleged contemnor is asked to respond to the allegations, he/she is required to be present in the court when the case is heard, but in this case, a bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, justice Deepak Gupta and justice Sanjiv Khanna dispensed with the need for the personal appearance of Gandhi.
The court, in its order, said “personal presence of the alleged contemnor is dispensed with, for the present.” The court has also tagged the matter along with the main review petition and the contempt petition will now be heard on April 30.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) demanded an apology, calling Gandhi a “liar of the first order” in public opinion.
“This was an attempt by Rahul Gandhi to manufacture a lie and create a controversy in the Rafale deal... He should apologise to the people of this country,” said BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao.
In his affidavit filed on Monday, Gandhi said his remarks were not meant to obstruct administration of justice or scandalise the court in any manner.
He added that if he has misinterpreted the court’s order on the review petition, then so have many ministers of the government who passed off the order in the original case, given on December 14, 2018, as a “clean chit” to the deal. That ruling had turned down a court-monitored probe of the ~59,000 crore Rafale jet fighter deal. “This court must not allow this political flogging to go on,” Singhvi said, recalling that at the last hearing, the court had only sought Rahul Gandhi’s explanation, and not issued a formal notice. At this, CJI Gogoi said: “We can cure that defect right away by issuing notice of contempt.”
Mukul Rohatgi, who appeared for Meenakshi Lekhi, asked the court not to let go of the case. He said Gandhi admitted having made a wrong statement but there was only one line in which he regretted making the statement. “According to me, this is not an apology, there is no contrition. This is a lip service,” he said.
The National Democratic Alliance (NDA)’s decision to enter a $8.7 billion government-to-government deal with France to buy 36 Rafale warplanes made by Dassault was announced in April 2015, with an agreement signed a little over a year later. This replaced the previous United Progressive Alliance regime’s decision to buy 126 Rafale aircraft, 108 of which were to be made in India by the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. The Congress has maintained that the new deal struck by the NDA government entails buying the fighter jets at a higher price. The government has denied this.