The Supreme Court made it clear that Congress president Rahul Gandhi has to either offer a clear-cut apology or brave criminal contempt for attributing Hindi phrase 'chowkidar chor hai' targetting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the court. “Any person can make a mistake, but having made it, you should go ahead and admit it,”Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul on the Bench told senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who represented Gandhi.
“And what is this 'regret' written inside brackets?” Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi asked Singhvi. Singhvi said his client would apologise for the attribution. The Bench said it could make no sense of what Gandhi wanted to convey in his present 28-page affidavit, which expressed "regret" without apologising.
The affidavit, filed on April 29, was in response to a notice issued by the court on April 23 in a criminal contempt petition filed by BJP lawmaker Meenakshi Lekhi against Gandhi. “We have great difficulty in understanding what you [Rahul Gandhi] are trying to say in this affidavit... What does it [affidavit] mean? We do not understand... ” Chief Justice Gogoi remarked after reading Gandhi's affidavit.
In the affidavit, Gandhi attempts to explain that he had unfortunately juxtaposed political slogan “chowkidar chor hai” with the Supreme Court proceedings in a moment of euphoria, immediately after the court allowed the review petitions in the Rafale case on April 10. He had no intention to hurt the court.
But the Bench would have none of it. “You [Mr. Gandhi] are contradicting yourself in your affidavit. In one place, you said you did not intend to say it and in the next page you say you regret saying it,”Justice Kaul observed. Singhvi said he had checked the dictionary to understand that “regret” is also a “civil apology”.
Initially, when Singhvi was on the threshold of beginning his arguments, Chief Justice Gogoi warned him that once he began defending the present affidavit, there would be no point of return.
When Singhvi said the comment was made in a political context, the CJI interjected, saying: “we do not want to know what your political stand is, you can keep your politics to yourself.”
The Bench gave Gandhi time till Monday to file an additional affidavit. It made it clear that this opportunity should not be construed by Gandhi as an “acceptance or acknowledgement” of what he said in the present one. On Monday, the court would consider the question of admissibility of the proposed new affidavit.
Arguing for Lekhi, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi declared Gandhi's submissions as “cock and bull” story and a “deliberate attempt to put words in the mouth of the Supreme Court.”
Rohatgi said the “regret expressed inside brackets in the affidavit is mere lip service.” He said Gandhi's comment was the “grossest form of contempt. He wanted to mislead the nation into thinking that the Supreme Court said the Prime Minister is a thief," the senior advocate submitted.
Singhvi countered that the petitioner was trying to distort the affidavit by quoting selectively from it. In fact, the Congress president's affidavit was identical to an “explanation” filed in the court with regard to the contempt plea.