New Delhi- National Conference leader Mohd Akbar Lone Tuesday filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court reiterating his oath as Lok Sabha MP, saying he will preserve and uphold the Constitution and protect the country’s territorial integrity, an undertaking that irked the Centre which claimed it added “insult to injury to the nation”.
The development came on a day the five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud reserved its verdict on a clutch of petitions challenging the abrogation of Article 370, which accorded special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, after a 16-day marathon hearing.
A massive controversy had erupted during the hearing on Monday when the court was told lone had raised ‘Pakistan zindabad’ (long live Pakistan) slogan in the Jammu and Kashmir assembly in 2018. The apex court had then directed the National Conference MP to file an affidavit swearing allegiance to the Constitution of India and accepting the country’s sovereignty unconditionally.
On Tuesday, the bench, also comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Sanjiv Khanna, BR Gavai and Surya Kant, was told by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that Lone’s affidavit should have read…”that I do not support terrorism and separatist activity”.
“This (the affidavit) is like adding insult to injury to the nation,” Mehta said.
The top court said it will examine the content of Lone’s affidavit.
Mehta said Lone’s affidavit does not express any remorse and it reads: “That I am a responsible and dutiful citizen of the Union of India. I have exercised my right to approach this court through Article 32 of the Constitution.
“That I reiterate the oath taken while being sworn in as Member of Parliament to preserve and uphold the provisions of the Constitution of India and to protect the territorial integrity of India.”
Vehemently objecting to the affidavit, the law officer urged the bench to read what was not written in it.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Lone, submitted the one-page affidavit before the court at the fag end of Tuesday’s hearing.
Lone is the lead petitioner challenging the abrogation of Article 370.
At the start of the day’s proceedings, senior advocate Bimal Roy Jad, appearing for NGO ‘Roots in Kashmir’, a Kashmiri Pandit group which brought to the court’s notice the alleged sloganeering by Lone in favour of Pakistan, said they have some additional documents with regard to the conduct of the National Conference leader.
Mehta said he has gone through the additional documents filed by the NGO and insisted that Lone had expressed sympathy for terrorists when an attack took place in J-K.
He read out several purported statements made by Lone and claimed the NC leader had referred to India as some foreign country. He, therefore, requested the court to ask Lone to apologise and withdraw his statements made at public rallies.
Senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, appearing for one of the petitioners challenging the abrogation of the provision, said, “They are saying we are pushing a separatist agenda. Is filing a petition against abrogation of Article 370 a separatist agenda? I have strong objections to the Government of India taking this stand. Does this mean, we all are pushing a separatist agenda by being here?”
CJI Chandrachud intervened and tried to calm him down, saying, “This is unfortunate. Nobody can say that because a petition under Article 32 has been filed against abrogation of Article 370 it is pushing a separatist agenda. Up to this point nobody has said that the filing of the petition constitutes separatist agenda.”
The CJI said the access to courts for ventilating the grievances of citizens within the framework of the Constitution is a constitutional right in itself and anyone exercising that right cannot be turned away on the ground that he is following this agenda or that agenda.
“On merits, it is on the court to separate the grain from the chaff but we have not heard the government saying this. Both the Attorney General and the Solicitor General appeared for the Union of India and they have not argued that these petitions be dismissed on the grounds that they pursue separatist agenda. We will now put a lid on this episode,” the CJI added.
The bench said the challenge to abrogation of Article 370 has been argued on merits and constitutional terms and this court has said that the issue will be resolved purely on those terms.
The top court heard rejoinder arguments from a battery of senior lawyers including Kapil Sibal, Gopal Subramanium, Rajeev Dhavan, Zaffar Shah and Dushyant Dave before reserving its verdict.
In the course of the hearing over the past 16 days, the top court heard top law officers on behalf of the Centre including Attorney General R Venkataramani and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, while senior advocates Harish Salve, Rakesh Dwivedi, V Giri appeared on behalf of intervenors defending the abrogation of Article 370.
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