Congress President Rahul Gandhi urged the Supreme Court on Friday to close the criminal contempt proceedings against him for wrongly attributing to it his 'chowkidar chor hai' remark against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying he has already tendered an unconditional apology for that.
However, the counsel appearing for petitioner and Bharatiya Janata Party MP Meenakshi Lekhi told a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi that apology tendered by Gandhi should be rejected and action be taken against him under the law.
The bench, also comprising Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph, reserved its verdict on the plea filed against Gandhi by Lekhi who alleged that he attributed his personal remarks to the top court and tried to create prejudice.
Gandhi had made the remarks on April 10, the day the apex court had dismissed the Centre's preliminary objections over the admissibility of certain documents for supporting the review petitions against the December 14 last year verdict in the Rafale fighter jets deal case.
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 observation that 'chowkidar Narendra Modi chor hain' as has been attributed to it by Gandhi.
During the arguments on Friday, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Gandhi, said that the Congress chief had expressed 'regret' for wrongfully attributing the remarks to the court in his very first affidavit filed in the court and later, he also tendered an unconditional apology for this.
"My (Gandhi) regret and acceptance of wrongful attribution is there in my first affidavit also," Singhvi told the bench, adding, 'according to me, it (contempt proceedings) should be closed'.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Lekhi, told the court that Gandhi has tendered an unconditional apology to the court after he was 'cornered' by the apex court for filing two affidavits earlier.
"The affidavit (tendering unconditional apology) has been filed after being cornered by the court. It is completely belated affidavit," he said.
He further said, "My second submission is that the court should reject this apology and take action as per law whether its imprisonment or censure."
Gandhi has led the public astray by wrongly attributing the 'chowkidar chor hai' remarks to the top court and he should apologise to the people for this as citizens of the country have the highest faith and regard for the top court, Rohatgi said.
"The court should ask him (Gandhi) to make apology to the public that he had led them astray by telling that the Supreme Court has said 'chowkidar chor hai'," he said.
However, Singhvi countered Rohatgi's submissions and said, "His submission is not meant for this court but for outside the court".
Singhvi referred to the earlier two affidavits filed by Gandhi and said the Congress chief has himself quoted the portions which were wrongly attributed to the apex court.
"In paragraph 10 (of the affidavit), I (Gandhi) say I meant no disrespect (to the court). In paragraph 12, I have expressed regret. Regret is same as remorse or apology," he said.
In his affidavit filed on May 8, Gandhi had tendered an unconditional apology in the apex court for the remarks.
He had said that he holds the apex court in the 'highest esteem and respect' and that he has never sought to do anything which interferes with the process of administration of justice.
Gandhi, who had earlier filed an affidavit following the formal notice issued to him by the court on Lekhi's petition, had written the word 'regret' in bracket.
The apex court had rebuked Gandhi for not admitting his mistake and had given him another opportunity to file a better affidavit relating to his remark.
Gandhi, in his explanation filed earlier in the court, had said that his statement was made in the 'heat of political campaigning' and there was not the 'slightest intention to insinuate' anything regarding the Supreme Court proceedings in any manner.
He had said that his April 10 statement was made in purely political context to counter the 'misinformation campaign' being led by senior BJP functionaries as well as the government that the apex court verdict on December 14 last year was a 'clean chit' to the Centre regarding all the aspects of the Rafale deal.
He had also said that his statement was made during a 'political campaign without a readable copy of the Supreme Court order' being available on its website and he had neither seen nor read the order.