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SC issues contempt notice to Rahul Gandhi

Expressing regret has not earned Rahul Gandhi any reprieve after he admitted yesterday to misquoting the Supreme Court on its order on the Rafale fighter jet deal. The Congress chief has been asked to explain by next Tuesday why he should not be held in contempt for suggesting that the court had endorsed his sharpest political attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi this election season. However, he won’t have to appear in person to file his response.

On Monday, Mr Gandhi had said in an affidavit that he had falsely quoted the top court as “rhetorical flourish in the heat of political campaigning”, without having seen, read or analysed the order. Senior Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi, acting as Mr Gandhi’s lawyer, today requested that the case be closed. As former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, arguing on behalf of the BJP, objected, Mr Singhvi pointed out that the court had “not issued notice” to his client but only asked for an explanation.

Mr Singhvi would regret that comment.

“You are pointing out we have forgotten to issue notice. We will cure it by issuing notice,” responded the bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi.

The court had asked for an explanation in the last hearing before it took up the BJP’s contempt petition against Mr Gandhi.

Mr Singhvi maintained that Rahul Gandhi’s statements accusing PM Modi of corruption in the Rafale deal were a political diatribe after the BJP claimed the court had cleared the government of any wrongdoing.

“‘Chowkidar chor hai‘ is being used, has been and will continue to be used as a political campaign,” the Congress leader said later, briefing the media outside.

The Supreme Court will take up the case next Tuesday, along with review petitions against its Rafale order.

On April 10, the court had ruled that classified documents accessed by the media can be used as evidence to consider requests to review its clean chit to the Rafale deal. Hours later, Rahul Gandhi cheered the order with the “chowkidar” slogan that has become central in the Congress attack on PM Modi.

The BJP’s Meenakshi Lekhi accused him of putting words in the mouth of the top court and sued him for contempt.

Her lawyer Mukul Rohatgi today questioned the tone of the affidavit filed by Mr Gandhi yesterday, asking how he could make a petty comment on the judgment when he has “so many lawyers at his command”.

There has to be some limit to cavalier statements,” he said, pointing out that Mr Gandhi’s “least service of apology” for claiming that the Supreme Court had said “chowkidar chor hai“, was expressed “in a bracket”.

To this, drawing laughter from those present, the court asked: “Who is the ‘chowkidar‘? Is it your submission that Supreme Court did not use [the word] ‘Chowkidar‘?”

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