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Saturday, Dec 14, 2019

Supreme Court dismisses contempt case, but cautions Rahul Gandhi

On April 10, Gandhi, during an election meeting in Uttar Pradesh’s Amethi, said : “Supreme Court has made it clear that “chowkidarji chor hai.”

india Updated: Nov 15, 2019 00:39 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Rahul Gandhi’s slogan was a riff off Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement in 2014 that he was a chowkidar who would not allow any corruption on his watch.
Rahul Gandhi’s slogan was a riff off Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement in 2014 that he was a chowkidar who would not allow any corruption on his watch.(PTI)
         

“Mr Gandhi needs to be more careful in the future,” the Supreme Court said on Thursday, dismissing a criminal contempt case against Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for attributing to the court a slogan he repeatedly used during this summer’s Lok Sabha election: “Chowkidar Chor Hai” (the watchman is a thief).

Deciding a criminal contempt plea fled against Gandhi by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Meenakshi Lekhi, a three-judge bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) R Gogoi, and justices SK Kaul and K M Joseph cautioned Gandhi : “No court should be dragged into this political discourse valid or invalid, while attributing aspects to the Court which had never been held by the Court.”

On April 10, Gandhi, during an election meeting in Uttar Pradesh’s Amethi, said : “Supreme Court has made it clear that “chowkidarji chor hai.”

Gandhi’s slogan was a riff off Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement in 2014 that he was a chowkidar who would not allow any corruption on his watch.

Ahead of the parliamentary elections, Gandhi raised the issue of the Rafale deal signed by the National Democratic Alliance government, replacing one signed by the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. He alleged that the deal was more expensive, and done to benefit Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence.

The Supreme Court, in December 2018 said it was satisfied that due process had been followed in the deal. However, on April 10, the apex court allowed former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie and advocate Prashant Bhushan to rely on leaked documents to argue their review petitions. Gandhi’s comments came soon after.

Lekhi, in her contempt petition, pleaded that Gandhi had “replaced his personal statement as Supreme Court’s order and tried to create prejudice.” She complained “the words used and attributed by him (Gandhi) to the SC in the Rafale case has been made to appear something else. He is replacing his personal statement as SC’s order and trying to create prejudice.”

Gandhi, in response, filed a 22-page affidavit and expressed regret. However, the court was not satisfied with the regret affidavit and asked him to apologise.

Subsequently, in May, Rahul Gandhi filed a two-page affidavit offering an unconditional apology and it was this affidavit which was considered by the court for dropping the criminal contempt case against him.

Denouncing Gandhi’s statement, the court said on Thursday: “It is unfortunate that without verification or even perusing as to what is the order passed, the contemnor deemed it appropriate to make statements as if this Court had given an imprimatur to his allegations against the Prime Minister, which was far from the truth. This was not one sentence or a one off observation but a repeated statement in different manners conveying the same. No doubt the contemnor should have been far more careful.”

BJP president Amit Shah said, without naming Gandhi, that an apology was due over the controversy. “Now, it has been proved that disruption of Parliament over Rafale was a sham...after today’s rebuke from the SC, Congress and its leader, for whom politics is above national interest, must apologise to the nation,” Shah said.

Representatives of the Congress did not speak on the defamation case outcome although they pointed to a concurrent judgment in the main plea and said the Supreme Court had left the door open for an investigation by an agency.