The Calcutta High Court has admitted a plea of contempt against West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. On Thursday, it asked four media houses, whose reports were submitted, to file affidavits within three weeks confirming the authenticity of their reportage of Ms Banerjee's recent speech in which she spoke on corruption in the judiciary.
A defiant West Bengal Chief Minister said she has done nothing wrong and is "ready to face the court". Ms Banerjee said, "I will say this (her comments on Tuesday) a thousand times. When (the) Court gives the order, I will face the Court. I am also a lawyer. I can plead for the people and myself."
However, in what seemed like a bit of watering down, Ms Banerjee said she never called any judge or lawyer corrupt, "Judges are not corrupt. Lawyers are not corrupt. I had not said this. I had spoken about value-based judiciary, the need for judicial reforms, political reforms, administrative reforms, which were lacking since Independence, and the need for state funding of elections."
She also accused a section of media of distorting her statement.
At a seminar on Tuesday, Ms Banerjee had said, "At times, favourable verdicts are given in return for money. There are instances when judgments have been purchased. There is corruption among a section of the judiciary. I know there can be a case against me for saying this. But this must be said and I am ready to go to jail for saying so."
An advocate, Bikash Bhattacharya, brought Ms Banerjee's speech to the notice of the court; he submitted material published by two newspapers and two TV channels on the speech in the court on Thursday. Taking cognisance of that complaint, Justices KJ Sengupta and AK Mondal asked the four media houses to file affidavits within three weeks.
Apart from the legal fraternity, Opposition parties too have slammed Ms Banerjee for her remarks. But Law Minister Salman Khurshid supported her party, a Congress ally, saying he gave Mamata Banerjee the benefit of doubt. "I believe she was doing it with the intent of strengthening the judicial system."
Trinamool Congress MP Kalyan Banerjee, who is also a lawyer, says there is no case for contempt. Ms Banerjee, he said, had made general comments with respect to the judiciary. "There is no disrespect and there is no contempt," Mr Banerjee said in defense of his boss.
Ms Banerjee also seemed to target retired Supreme Court judge Ashok Ganguly this week. As head of state Human Rights Commission, he ordered her government to pay Rs. 50,000 each to a professor and his associate. Both were arrested in April for emailing a cartoon featuring Ms Banerjee.
The commission said actions like this could lead to democracy being gagged. In retaliation, Ms Banerjee said about Justice Ganguly, without naming him, "We got a very good person... He is not associated with my party or any party... but what happened ? Oh my god! He has no idea! He is writing (orders) as if he is the Supreme Court Chief Justice! Or the President of India. He doesn't know what is his jurisdiction, his authority."