Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Monday told the Supreme Court that his political opponents misused a remark he had made about the top court’s verdict in the Rafale deal case “in the heat of political campaigning”, Bar and Bench reported.

He told the court that the “meaning, interpretation, implication and effect” of his words were “deliberately sought to be distorted and made tendentious” for political purposes.

Bharatiya Janata Party MP Meenakshi Lekhi had moved the court last week, claiming that Gandhi had attributed his remarks “chowkidar chor hai” in context of the verdict to the top court. Gandhi and his party often use the slogan to target Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In his response to the top court, Gandhi made a reference to “false and untrue” remarks by several BJP leaders, including Narendra Modi, about the court’s earlier verdict in the Rafale deal case. He said these leaders had often said that the Supreme Court had given a “clean chit” to the Rafale deal, which was not true.

Gandhi said that he also made his remark in that context, “purely politically, to counter the aforesaid misinformation campaign being led by senior functionaries of the BJP as well as the government” about the previous judgement.

Gandhi said: “It is also clear that no court would ever [use a slogan like ‘chowkidar chor hai’ in its verdict] and hence the unfortunate references (for which I express regret) to the court order and to the political slogan in juxtaposition the same breath in the heat of political campaigning ought not to be construed as suggesting that the court had given any finding or conclusion on that issue.”

Gandhi said he had “not the slightest intention to insinuate anything” and that he holds the court “in the highest esteem”.

Rahul Gandhi should apologise to the country: BJP

The Bharatiya Janata Party, meanwhile, demanded an apology from Gandhi and said that according to public opinion he is a “liar of the first order”, PTI reported.

“Today, by filing an affidavit in the honourable SC, Rahul Gandhi accepted that he had lied on his allegations against PM Modi on the Rafale deal,” BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao said at a press conference in New Delhi. “This was an attempt by Rahul Gandhi to manufacture a lie and create a controversy in the Rafale deal... He should apologise to the people of this country.”

On Twitter, the BJP leader said the party was waiting for the Election Commission’s decision on the matter.

On April 10, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court had unanimously dismissed the Centre’s objections to review petitions seeking an inquiry into the Rafale fighter jet deal. The judges said the pleas would be heard on the basis of their merit. In March, the government had asked for the pleas to be dismissed, claiming they were based on “secret files” accessed from the defence ministry.

Welcoming the top court’s order, Rahul Gandhi had said, “The entire country is saying that chowkidar has committed theft. It is a day of celebration that the Supreme Court has talked about justice.” Soon after, Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman accused Gandhi of making comments that verge on contempt of court’s order.