Yet, for all the brave faces put up by the Congress, the party’s top brass spent a sleepless night debating two crucial questions up to 3 am before deciding “to brazen it out” in the National Herald case, sources told The Indian Express.
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Should the party move the Supreme Court after the Delhi High Court refused to exempt its president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi from appearing in a lower court? Will another appeal help?
On Tuesday morning, the answer was clear.
In a U-turn from Monday, Congress leader and lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi told a lower court, where the case is being heard, that they are “eager, willing, ready and anxious” to appear before the judge, who then directed all accused to appear in person on December 19.
“Sonia was clear that it was a political battle which has to be fought politically. She said she and Rahul were ready to appear before the court,” said sources.
In Parliament, the Congress paralysed both houses, with party MPs occupying the well and shouting slogans against the government, forcing repeated adjournments. The government, meanwhile, denied the charge of “political vendetta”, saying it had nothing to do with a matter related to the judiciary.
The Congress line was finalised, sources said, after a high-level overnight huddle involving “core leaders” and lawyers, including Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ahmed Patel, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Kapil Sibal, Singhvi, former additional solicitor general Haren Raval, senior advocates R S Cheema and Ramesh Gupta, and advocates Amit Bhandari and Shekhar Sareen.
On Monday, the High Court had rejected a plea by the Gandhis and five others — Suman Dubey, Moti Lal Vohra, Oscar Fernandes, Sam Pitroda and Young India Ltd (YI) — against the trial court’s summons on a complaint by BJP’s Subramanian Swamy alleging cheating and misappropriation of funds while taking control of the now-defunct National Herald newspaper.
Explaining the party’s defensive posture yesterday, sources said that as soon as its lawyers received a call on the impending judgment, the tension started building up in Sonia’s residence at 10, Janpath, Rahul’s home at 12, Tughlak Lane, and at Sibal’s residence in Jor Bagh.
At 2 pm, the judgment was out with Justice Sunil Gaur stating in a line that “the petition is dismissed”. “But no decision could be taken until the judgment was read and understood by the legal team. The suspense remained till 5 pm when the judgment was uploaded on the official court website,” said sources.
“Sibal then briefed the Congress president and explained the options available. There were also discussions involving Sibal, Singhvi and Raval while the final decision was left to Sonia and Rahul,” they added.
The lawyers were “upset about the timing”, said sources, because by the time they got a copy of the judgment it was too late to move Supreme Court.
While opinions flew back and forth on the question of approaching the Supreme Court the next day, sources said, the deadlock was broken by one of the lawyers.
“A close reading of the High Court judgment suggests that the learned judges are likely to go into the technicalities of the case and not its merits,” sources quoted the lawyer as saying.
Besides, Swamy had already filed a caveat in Supreme Court, pleading that his version be heard if the accused sought relief.
The clincher was the strong views of the Delhi High Court as stated in the last two paras of the judgment.
Apart from referring to “a criminal intent”, the court ruled: “In any case, by no stretch of imagination, it can be said that no case for summoning petitioners as accused in the complaint in question is made out. Questionable conduct of petitioners needs to be properly examined at the charge stage to find out the truth and so, these criminal proceedings cannot be thwarted at this initial stage.”
Elaborating on the arguments that swung the Congress line, a lawyer said: “The case is about the non-profit venture of an entity registered under Section 25. Not one transaction has been conducted by Young India. So the decision was taken to face the case at the lower court and come clean.”
On the political front, however, some Congress leaders fear that the case would “weaken and slow down” the party at a time when it is witnessing a revival, of sorts. “Rahul’s criticism of a suited-booted Modi has had some impact, of late. The leadership and cadres have also got a new lease of life after the Mahaghatbandhan’s win in Bihar. And the government is on its knees to ensure that Parliament delivers on the Goods and Services Tax (GST) bill,” said sources.
Now, they said, no Congressman would be willing to even talk about GST, at least for the next few days.