J. Venkatesan

Supreme Court rejects Gujarat government’s plea of election rhetoric

“Modi speech, interference with justice”

Leniency will embolden politicians to say whatever they want: counsel

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a contempt notice to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi for his speech allegedly justifying the encounter killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh in November 2005.

A Bench consisting of Justices Tarun Chatterjee and Dalveer Bhandari rejected the Gujarat government’s submission that it was a political speech.

While seeking Mr. Modi’s reply by the last week of January 2008, it, however, exempted him from personal appearance.

After nearly a day-long hearing and heated exchanges between counsel for the parties, the court said it was issuing notice only on the contempt application.

The petition filed by lyricist Javed Akthar for registration of a case against Mr. Modi would be taken up in January.

Additional Solicitor-General Gopal Subramaniam, who is assisting the court as amicus curiae, said: “Mr. Modi’s speech is prima facie a complete interference with the process of justice. To say the least, the speech is shocking, particularly so when it comes from the head of the executive in the State. To make such a statement in a matter pending in this court is nothing but contempt.”

Senior counsel Dushyant Dave, appearing for Sohrabuddin’s brother Rubabuddin Sheikh, said the Chief Minister’s statement justifying the fake encounter was a “gross contempt of court” and “affront to humanity and the Supreme Court.”

The statement would completely change the complexion of the trial in the State, counsel said and apprehended that a free and fair trial might not be possible in the surcharged atmosphere.

Mr. Dave said Mr. Modi’s speech amounted to posing a direct challenge to the judiciary. “What he is saying is we will not care for the court, we have the power to kill people. If this court were to show leniency in this case, it will embolden politicians to say whatever they want and go scot-free.”

Senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi and Ranjit Kumar, appearing for Gujarat, opposed the petitioner’s submissions.

Mr. Rohatgi requested that the matter be taken up in January after the completion of the Assembly polls in the State. For, no one should be allowed to draw political mileage, counsel said.

As the Election Commission was seized of the matter, the court should await its decision.

Citing a Constitution Bench judgment, Mr. Rohatgi said election speeches should not be judged by the court, except in a poll petition. What Mr. Modi said was an emotional and political rhetoric in response to the speech of a political leader. “Further, since there was no reference to court proceedings, this court should not decide on the validity of the speech. Election speeches are often exaggerated and contain hyperboles.”

Urging the judges not to give credence to the speech, Mr. Rohatgi said: “Even unwittingly this court should not fall into the vortex of political struggle between political parties.”

Counsel Prashant Bhushan, appearing for Mr. Akthar, argued that a case should be registered against Mr. Modi for “exhorting the people to resort to violence”.

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