Pilot camp gets breather till July 21; FIRs against union minister, rebel MLA

The Congress lodged a complaint on the alleged conspiracy by Sachin Pilot (left) to topple the Ashok Gehlot (right) government through horse trading of MLAs. File photo: PTI

Sachin Pilot and 18 other Congress dissident MLAs on Friday (July 17) got a four-day reprieve from any action by the assembly Speaker on the disqualification notices served on them, after the Rajasthan High Court extended its hearing on the issue to next week.

The division bench of the court, hearing the dissident MLAs’ petition against the Speaker’s notices, adjourned it on Friday evening. It fixed the next hearing for 10 am on Monday (July 20).

The counsel for the Speaker assured the court that no order shall be passed on the notice till 5.30 pm on Tuesday (July 21).

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Earlier, Speaker C.P. Joshi had written to the court that the notices would not be acted upon till 5 pm on Friday. The counsel agreed to extend this to 5.30 pm on Tuesday as the court is yet to give an order on the petition.

Harish Salve and Mukul Rohatgi argued for the petitioners via video conference. Abhishek Manu Singhvi was among those who argued on behalf of the Speaker. “It was argued that Speakers powers are autonomous and he has issued show-cause notices. The judiciary should not interfere till the order on the notices is passed. The argument by Singhvi will resume on Monday at 10 am,” another counsel for the Speaker told reporters after the hearing.

The petition had challenged the notices based on a Congress complaint that the MLAs should be disqualified from the Rajasthan Assembly for defying a party whip. The bench of Chief Justice Indrajit Mahanty and Justice Prakash Gupta also asked Congress chief whip Mahesh Joshi, who had filed the complaint before the Speaker, to respond to the dissidents’ petition by Saturday. Joshi was impleaded in the petition today.

The Pilot camp has argued that a party whip applies only when the assembly is in session.

In its complaint to the Speaker, the Congress had 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 claims that this is the inference that can be drawn from the MLAs conduct. But the dissident camp says Pilot never indicated any intention to leave the party.

In the writ petition, the petitioners said that they have been elected on Congress ticket and have allegiance to the party and not seeking to defect to any other party. “By way of the instant notice, the voice of the petitioners seeking a leadership change within the party, expressed in the most democratic manner, is sought to be stifled and the petitioners are threatened with abdication of their right to express their reservations about the functioning of such leadership,” the petition states.

“The undue haste and swiftness exhibited by the authority concerned in taking cognisance of the said complaint leaves no doubt in the minds of the petitioners that the move is aimed at arriving at a foregone conclusion leading to the disqualification of the petitioners,” it added.

The petitioners said any grievances regarding the functioning of the government were not tolerated by the chief minister. The dissidents said that sensing a brewing discontent, the chief minister had called a legislature party meeting on July 13 without providing any specific agenda and levelled certain baseless allegations against them.

Subsequently, they were issued notices by chief whip Mahesh Joshi for not attending the meeting, said the petition. The petitioners also said that chief minister ordered an inquiry by the Special Operations Group of the Rajasthan Police to investigate the petitioners which, they said, was no more than a ploy to threaten them and other MLAs against raising their voice against the inefficiency of the leadership within the party.

Rajasthan crisis: FIRs filed against union minister, rebel MLA; 1 arrested

The Rajasthan Police registered two FIRs on Friday over a complaint lodged by the Congress regarding the alleged conspiracy to topple the Ashok Gehlot government through horse trading of MLAs.

Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala had earlier in the day demanded the arrest of union minister and BJP leader Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and rebel Congress MLA Bhanwarlal Sharma after two audio clips surfaced pertaining to the alleged conspiracy.

“Congress has suspended Bhanwar Lal Sharma and Vishvendra Singh from the primary membership of the party. The party has also issued show-cause notices to them,” Surjewala said, according to NDTV.

Though the Congress leader mentioned Shekhawat during the media briefing, there was no mention of the leader’s name in the FIR lodged by party chief whip Mahesh Joshi. The complaint mentions “Gajendra Singh” but does not say if it pertains to the union minister.

ADG (ATS and SOG), Ashok Rathore, said, “Two FIRs have been registered under IPC Sections 124-A (sedition) and 120-B (conspiracy) to probe into horse trading of MLAs and alleged audio recordings that went viral on social media.”

He said Sanjay Jain, whose name surfaced in one of the audio recordings, was called for interrogation on Thursday and is being further questioned.

However, NDTV reported that Jain had been arrested by the police.

Not my voice, ready to face probe: Gajendra Singh Shekhawat on audio clips

Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat on Friday rejected the Congress’ allegation based on some audio clips that he was part of a conspiracy to topple the Ashok Gehlot government in Rajasthan, saying his voice is not in those recordings and that he was ready to face any probe.

The Congress’ attack on Shekhawat and some rebel Congress leaders, including MLA Bhanwarlal Sharma, came after two audio clips surfaced pertaining to an alleged conspiracy to topple the Gehlot government.

“This is not my voice… Let there be an investigation. I am ready to face any probe,” the senior BJP leader from the state told reporters here after the Congress demanded his arrest.

Later, he also tweeted a Sanskrit saying that means “where there is dharma (righteousness), there is victory”.

Simialrly, Sharma too denied the allegations and called the audio recordings ‘fake’. He also claimed it was not his voice in the audio.

Congress dragging BJP in its internal fight, says Poonia

The Rajasthan BJP on Friday accused the Congress of dragging it its internal fight between groups of two leaders in the state.

BJP state president Satish Poonia also hit out at Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, saying he levelled false allegations against Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat to defame him.

“Surjewala is giving statements as if he is the DG of the SOG (Special Operation Group). Congress party and its government are conspiring to defame the BJP and dragging it in its internal fight between two leaders,” Poonia told reporters at a press conference.

He also asserted that Sanjay Jain, whose name surfaced in audio recordings related to the alleged horse-trading of legislators, has no connection with the BJP. “Surjewala had dubbed Jain as a BJP leader but he is actually a Congress block president of Lunkaransar of Bikaner district,” said Poonia.

He said the Congress advocates the abrogation of Indian Penal Code section 124-A relating to the offence of sedition but Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is using the same section against his own party leaders due to the fear of losing his chair.

Leader of Opposition Gulab Chand Kataria also echoed Poonia’s views saying it is a certified fact that it is an internal fight within the Congress and the BJP is being “dragged into it”. He pointed out that audio recordings are not authentic evidence and even the courts do not accept them.

“Phone taping cannot be done without prior approval from the Home Department. It would have been better if the Congress had verified the facts before naming Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat,” he added.

Deputy Leader of Opposition Rajendra Rathore said, “The Congress government in the state is on a death bed. It is divided into two groups and cannot run the government any longer.”

Questioning the authenticity of audio recordings, he said anybody can mimic someone so well today that it cannot be verified. He said the BJP has been saying that Congress is misusing law and taping phone calls.

Pilot was sacked as deputy chief minister and the president of the state unit of the party after he rebelled against Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.

(With inputs from agencies)

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