New Delhi: The Supreme Court Tuesday issued criminal contempt notice to Congress President Rahul Gandhi for his "chowkidar chor hai" remark on Prime Minister Narendra Modi while referring to the Rafale judgment, which the apex court said was "incorrectly attributed" to it.
The top court said it will hear on April 30 the criminal contempt petition filed by BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi against Gandhi along with the pending review petition against the December 14, 2018 verdict in the Rafale fighter jet deal.
It rejected Gandhi's plea to close the criminal contempt petition filed by Lekhi.
On hearing senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, on behalf of Gandhi, a bench headed by Chief Justcie Ranjan Gogoi said: "We deem it fit to issue notice to the respondent (Rahul) Gandhi."
"We also direct the registry to list the review petition along with the contempt petition next Tuesday," said the bench, also comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna.
At the outset the bench asked senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Lekhi to apprise it of the content of the affidavit filed by Gandhi in which he had expressed regret over his remarks.
Gandhi claimed the remarks were made in the "heat of political campaigning".
The bench sought to know from Rohatgi about content of the affidavit.
The CJI said, "We have not read the affidavit. Tell us what Rahul Gandhi has said."
Rohatgi said the Congress President has "admitted" that he made a "wrong statement" relating to the April 10 verdict of the apex court which merely had rejected the preliminary objections of the Centre on admissibility of certain documents to adjudicate the review petition in the Rafale case.
"Rahul Gandhi said he made the statement in a euphoric manner," Rohatgi said, adding that Gandhi had made the wrong statement without reading or seeing the order.
Referring to the affidavit filed by Gandhi on Monday, the senior advocate said: "The apology is in a bracket."
"According to me it is not an apology. Actually a least service of apology," Rohatgi said.
He said the top leader of a main political party is making a statement that "chowkidar Narendra Modi chor hain" without reading even the order of the apex court.
Questioning the tone and tenor of the affidavit filed by Gandhi, Rohtagi asked how can he make a petty comment on the judgement when he has "so many lawyers at his command".
"There has to be some limit to cavalier statements," Rohatgi said.
While he was making the submission, the bench said, "We have seen what is there within the bracket. In the affidavit, Gandhi had used the word regret by putting bracket within it while giving explanation to the apex court."
Rohatgi said, "Though Gandhi is not saying now that Supreme Court had said 'chowkidar chor hain', he is still continuing with the expression in his election campaigning. Contrition has to be expressed at first instance and unequivocally."
After Rohtagi completed his submission, senior advocate and Congress leader A M Singhvi sought to defend Gandhi by telling the court that the BJP leader's counsel should not be allowed to use the apex court's forum as a political pulpit.
Singhvi said the apex court wanted an explanation from Gandhi and he has complied with the April 15 direction.
While Singhvi was making submission, the bench said, "Perhaps notice was not issued on the criminal contempt petition filed by Lekhi."
Though the senior advocate said the court was kind enough not to issue the notice, the bench said it can still issue notice.
"We have forgotten to issue notice. We will issue notice," the bench said.
Singhvi continued with the argument and said the Prime Minister and the ruling part have been interpreting the apex court December 14, 2018 verdict on Rafale deal as a clean chit given to the government.
Further Singhvi said how can political flogging be allowed to go on.
While Singhvi was making the argument, the bench interrupted and dictated the order.
Gandhi had expressed "regret" on Monday over his remarks in connection with the Rafale judgment and said in his affidavit that his statement was "purely political" and was made to counter the "misinformation campaign" being led by senior BJP functionaries as well as the government that the December 14 last year judgment gave a "clean chit" to the Modi government on the Rafale deal.
However, on the issue of slogan 'Chowkidar chor hai', Gandhi in his affidavit had re-affirmed his stand and belief and that of his party that Rafale deal is a "tainted transaction" and a "gross and brazen abuse of executive power and a leading example of the corruption of the BJP Government led by Prime Minister Modi, which deserves to be investigated thoroughly by a Joint Parliamentary Committee and proceeded against thereafter".
The apex court on April 15 had given a categorical clarification that in its Rafale verdict there was no occasion for it to make a mention of the contemptuous "chowkidar Narendra Modi chor hain" observation and had directed Gandhi to give his explanation on it.
In her plea, Lekhi, the Lok Sabha MP from New Delhi constituency, has alleged that Gandhi has attributed his personal remarks to the top court and tried to create prejudice.
The Rafale fighter is a twin-engine Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft manufactured by French aerospace company Dassault Aviation.
A deal to procure the jets was signed between India and France in 2015. The delivery is expected to begin in September this year.