JAIPUR/NEW DELHI: Chances of a rapprochement between warring Congress factions in the state flew out of the window on Thursday after the rebels led by Sachin Pilot challenged in the Rajasthan High Court the disqualification notices issued to 19 of them by Assembly Speaker C P Joshi.
The matter came up first before the court of Justice Satish Chandra Sharma at about 3 pm, but the dissidents' advocate Harish Salve sought time to file a fresh petition.
At about 5 pm, an amended petition was submitted.
The court referred it to a two-judge division bench.
Harish Salve and Mukul Rohatgi represented the rebels while the party fielded Abhishek Manu Singhvi. Salve called the notice unconstitutional and sought time to amend his petition.
Heeding his request for a two-member bench, hearing was put off till Friday. It gave the rebels some breathing space as the notice had sought their replies by Friday noon.
Salve basically argued that the Speaker does not have the authority to take any action on activities outside the Assembly.
Prateek Srivastava, one of the lawyers from the Speaker’s side, said, “the rebel MLAs are challenging the notice on a lot of grounds. One that the Speaker does not have the power to issue such notice. Also, they claim the Speaker has not given sufficient time. As per Vidhan Sabha rules of 1989, it has to be seven days. They say this shows malice. They have pleaded that that the anti-defection clause 10(2)(1)A is per say illegal.”
The whole game appears to be to disqualify rebel MLAs to bring down the majority mark (now 101) for CM Ashok Gehlot to win the floor test.
If the rebels avoid disqualification and Pilot is able to wean away a few more MLAs, the government could be in real danger. Gehlot has a razor-thin majority — just 106.
In the past, the ruling party has claimed the support of 13 independents, two MLAs each from the CPM and the Bhartiya Tribal Party (BTP), and one from the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD).
As for the party high command, it is learnt to be angry with Pilot for dragging the matter to court.
The 19 MLAs were sent notices from the Speaker's office on Tuesday and allowed up to Friday to give their replies.
The notices said Speaker CP Joshi will take up the matter at 1 pm on Friday.
The notices followed after the ruling party complained to the Speaker that the MLAs had defied a party whip to attend two Congress Legislature Party meetings.
The Pilot camp, however, argues that a party whip applies only when the assembly is in session.
In its complaint to the Speaker, the Congress sought action against Pilot and the other dissidents under paragraph 2 (1) (a) of the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution.
The provision disqualifies MLAs if they 'voluntarily' give up the membership of the party which they represent in the House.
The Congress said in the letter to the Speaker that the Supreme Court has 'unequivocally held' in the past that the provision comes into effect when the conduct of an MLA leads to this inference.
In court initially, advocate Harish Salve argued that the MLAs wanted to challenge the constitutional validity of the notices and needed some time to file it afresh.
Among those sent notices are Vishvendra Singh and Ramesh Meena, who were sacked along with Pilot from the state cabinet after their rebellion against Ashok Gehlot.
Others include Deepender Singh Shekhawat, Bhanwar Lal Sharma and Harish Chandra Meena, who had also given statements to the media challenging the Gehlot government.
Sachin Pilot has been upset since the Congress picked Ashok Gehlot for the chief minister's post after the 2018 assembly polls.
His supporters said he deserved credit for the party for winning the election after a campaign helmed by him as the state unit chief.
(With PTI Inputs)