The camps led by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his sacked deputy Sachin Pilot are now pinning hopes on the Rajasthan High Court which has deferred hearing of the latter’s petition to 1 pm on Friday (July 17). The petition challenges the Speaker’s move to disqualify them (MLAs of the Pilot camp) from the state assembly.
The division bench was earlier expected to hear the petition, filed by Pilot and 18 dissident MLAs, at 7:30 pm, but the matter was put off till Friday. The petition first came up before Justice Satish Chandra Sharma at 3 pm, however, advocate Harish Salve sough time to file a fresh petition.
The matter was heard again at about 5 pm when the judge referred the fresh petition to a division bench. The counsel to Congress chief whip Mahesh Joshi earlier said the court had asked the advocates to appear again before it at 7.30 pm. But the court did not assemble for the hearing.
The postponement is a matter of concern for the dissident camp led by Pilot. The notices issued to them say that Speaker CP Joshi will take up the complaint filed against them by the Congress chief whip at 1 pm Friday, the time set by the Rajasthan high court for hearing their fresh petition.
If the dissident MLAs are disqualified, the strength of the state assembly will be reduced to 181, slashing the half-way mark to 91 and seemingly making it easier for Gehlot to retain majority support. In the 200-member assembly, the Congress has 107 MLAs and BJP 72.
The notices were in retaliation for a political crisis that Pilot triggered by rebelling against the Gehlot government. Pilot has been upset since Gehlot was picked for CM’s post after the 2018 assembly polls. His supporters said he deserved credit for the party winning the election after a campaign helmed by him as the state unit chief.
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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. However, the Pilot camp 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 other rebels under paragraph 2(1)(a) of the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution, which disqualifies MLAs if they “voluntarily” give up the membership of the party that 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.
(With inputs from agencies)