Supreme Court smacks down Swamy: "Who are you?"

"The original plan was that Marines would not return, Ambassador would be expelled and Italy will not expose 'the family'," tweeted a triumphant Subramanian Swamy when the Italian government announced its decision to send back the awol Italian marines. "Had I not turned up in SC and asked for restraining the Amb and an exchange of hot words with CJI, the matter would have…" he claimed, leaving his loyal Twitter brigade to perform the assigned task of granting credit where it was most undue. Thus it was that the Hindu right added a new tale of Swamy sorcery to its lore: Swamy's PIL forced the Supreme Court to take action against the Italian ambassador, which in turn created the needed leverage to bring Rome to its knees. And everyone lived happily ever after etc.

 Supreme Court smacks down Swamy: Who are you?

Subramanian Swamy. PTI

That's until the Chief Justice of India decided to rain on Swamy's victory parade.

The smackdown was delivered in the courtroom soon after the bench rescinded the ban preventing the Italian Ambassador Daniele Mancini from leaving the country. The move spurred Swamy into action, and eagerly remind the Court of his now legendary contempt application against the Italian envoy. CJI Altamas Kabir's response was not quite as anticipated, as the Telegraph reports:

“Who are you?” the Chief Justice asked Swamy, who said he had moved the contempt application. "I am asking you, who are you?" the judge responded. "I am sorry you are not an advocate. You have no right to appear. You have no right to argue. What will happen if any person on the road comes and says I want to argue. You might have done it earlier, but we will not allow you."

In a nation where "Do you know who I am?" is the ultimate assertion of power, that's pretty much the mother of all insults. But Kabir wasn't finished downgrading Swamy. He went on to order him out of the front row, which is "meant for lawyers, not for litigants. You have no right to sit there".

Declared a nobody and ordered out of the VIP seats! Surely enough cause to scream conspiracy, and so Swamy predictably did: "There is a collusion here," he declared. The proclamation did little to endear him to an already irate judge, leaving Swamy with only one way out -- as in, right out of the courtroom.

The moral of this mini melodrama: Never rob a Supreme Court judge. Chief justices don't take kindly to anyone stealing their judicial glory.

The lesson, however, seems to have been lost on Swamy who soon took to Twitter to restore his eroded position. "I don't mind being insulted by CJI for defending the honour of Bharat Mata," he first declared, but soon dialled up the rhetoric, egged on by his supporters.

When @actindia claimed, "CJI Altamas Kabir actually want to scare-off Dr Subramanian @Swamy39, so that the corrupt dynasty's future can be secured," Swamy replied, "But had the opposite effect," implicitly endorsing the original slur. A couple of tweets later, he moved on to directly accusing the Court of bad faith: "The failure of the SC to list or reject formally my Contempt Petition despite bringing it to the notice of the court is serious miscarriage."

For a high-profile troublemaker like Swamy, heaping invective on heads of politicians is a low-risk strategy. None of his favourite targets is likely to sue him for libel -- which will only give him the flood of attention he craves. But tweaking your nose at Supreme Court justices is a dangerous sport, more so for a one-man party who relies on his legal talent to stay in the limelight. If it chooses to, the highest court has plenty of perfectly legal ways to shut Swamy out -- or, if sufficiently irate, shut him up. Chief justices can be notoriously thin-skinned about insinuations questioning their integrity, as Indian media outlets have discovered in recent years. Tweeting tall tales is a fine pastime, as long as it doesn't end in a suo motu contempt petition of the wrong kind.

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Updated Date: Apr 03, 2013 14:23:49 IST