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In a massive jolt to Rahul Gandhi, the Supreme Court has issued a notice to the Congress President asking him to respond to the criminal contempt petition filed by BJP leader Meenakshi Lekhi alleging that Mr Gandhi had committed contempt by attributing his ‘chowkidar chor hai’ remarks on the Rafale controversy to the top court.
Hearing the petition in the Top Court on Monday, the Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi observed the following:
"The views attributed to this court in the address made by Rahul Gandhi to the media and public has been incorrectly attributed to the court. Supreme Court at no occasion recorded any such views or made any such observations. What was decided by the court was legal admissibility of certain documents. We feel it proper to seek an explanation from Rahul Gandhi."
Furthermore, the Supreme Court has also given a one-week ultimatum to Mr Gandhi for filing his response.
Earlier on Friday, BJP lawmaker Meenakshi Lekhi requested the Supreme Court for criminal contempt action against Congress president Rahul Gandhi over his comments welcoming the top court order in the Rafale case. The BJP spokesperson accused Mr Gandhi of contempt of court and said he attributed the statement, "Chowkidar Chor Hai (watchman is a thief)", to the Supreme Court as saying in its order and tried to create prejudice.
Appearing before a Bench led by Chief Justice if India Ranjan Gogoi, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, for Ms. Lekhi, said Mr. Gandhi deliberately misinterpreted the recent dismissal by the Supreme Court of certain preliminary objections raised by the government against petitions seeking a review of the December 14, 2018 judgment, which upheld the 36 Rafale jets' deal.
Mr. Rohatgi said Mr. Gandhi purposefully gave a coloured interpretation to the judgment in order to personally attack Mr. Modi. He was widely quoted on national television and in newspapers.
Chief Justice Gogoi agreed to hear the contempt petition on April 15.
On April 10, a Bench led by Chief Justice Gogoi declared the court's unanimous support for freedom of Press in a democracy. The court refused the government’s plea to keep the Rafale jets’ purchase documents a secret and commended The Hindu for first bringing the documents into public domain by continually publishing them in a series of articles since February 2019.
The government had claimed that the review pleas were based on secret Rafale documents unauthorisedly removed from the Ministry of Defence and leaked to the media.
Attorney General K.K. Venugopal had argued that “stolen” documents came under the protection of the Official Secrets Act (OSA). They were not admissible in evidence in a court of law. Claiming privilege, the government had wanted the court to ignore the documents, even if they were found to be germane to the Rafale case, and dismiss the review petitions at the preliminary stage.
The court, however, had rubbished the government’s claim of privilege. It said that neither the OSA nor any other law empowered the government to stop the media from publishing the documents nor the court from examining them. Chief Justice Gogoi had said claiming privilege over the Rafale documents was an “exercise in utter futility”.
(With inputs from PTI)