Amid the worsening political crisis in Rajasthan, rebel Congress leader Sachin Pilot and 18 other dissident MLAs moved the High Court on Thursday challenging the disqualification notices issued to them by the Assembly Speaker. The Pilot camp contended that they could not be disqualified merely for disagreeing with the decisions and policies of some leaders outside the Assembly.
Speaker C.P. Joshi issued the notices on Wednesday on a plea filed by Congress Chief Whip Mahesh Joshi citing the MLAs’ absence from successive Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meetings and a “conspiracy to bring down the government”.
Rajasthan political crisis | Congress keeps channels open with Sachin Pilot
The 19 MLAs, including Mr. Pilot and former Ministers Vishvendra Singh and Ramesh Meena, were given time till Friday afternoon to respond. In their writ petition, the legislators sought quashing of the notices, arguing that they had neither given up their membership of the House nor did their failure to attend the two CLP meetings render them liable for disqualification on the ground of defection.
The matter was listed for hearing before a Division Bench of the High Court, headed by Chief Justice Indrajit Mahanty, on Friday after the petition first came up before a Single Bench on Thursday. The court referred the case to the Division Bench when petitioners’ counsel Harish Salve, appearing through video conferencing, said they wanted to challenge the constitutional validity of some provisions as well.
Accordingly, the writ petition was amended and filed again to challenge the Speaker’s notices as well as the validity of the Rajasthan Assembly Members (Disqualification on the Grounds of Changing Party) Rules, 1989, and Clause 2(1)(a) of the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution, dealing with disqualification on the ground of defection.
Mr. Joshi, who filed the application before the Speaker, also approached the court to be impleaded as a party and be heard before any order is passed.
If the rebel MLAs are disqualified, the majority mark in the 200-member Assembly will decline, making it easier for Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot to win a floor test.
Mr. Pilot, sacked as Deputy Chief Minister following his rebellion, and other MLAs accused the Speaker of acting under the influence of Mr. Gehlot. They said he had issued the impugned notices with “mala fide intentions”. Mr. Gehlot, they said, had ordered an inquiry by the Special Operations Group (SOG) to threaten Mr. Pilot and his supporters.
On the other hand, Mr. Pilot had clearly said he had no intention of leaving the Congress and he continued to extend his allegiance to the ruling party, said the petition. “In a democratic set-up, the actions of an elected representative who merely seeks to voice his disagreement with certain policies or decisions cannot be said to amount to acting against the interest of the party,” it said.
The notices were an abuse of powers under the Tenth Schedule to “stifle the freedom of speech” of the petitioners and to impose the “majoritarian views of the party” on them, the petition contended. The MLAs also alleged that Mr. Joshi’s complaint was based on assumptions and surmises, having no factual ground to support the alleged apprehension voiced in it.
The writ petition sought setting aside of the notices and declaration of the petitioners’ status as members of the Assembly.
BJP ally accuses Raje of trying to save Gehlot
Nagaur MP Hanuman Beniwal, president of the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party, which is an ally of the Opposition BJP, accused former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje of trying to save Mr. Gehlot’s “minority government”. He alleged in a tweet that Ms. Raje had called several Congress MLAs and asked them to support Mr. Gehlot.