Rajasthan crisis: Ashok Gehlot, MLAs squat at Raj Bhavan for early session

Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot along with senior Congress leaders Randeep Surjewala, Avinash Pandey and Ajay Maken outside a hotel in Jaipur | Photo: PTI
The political theatre in Rajasthan moved from Jaipur’s Fairmont Hotel, where Congress legislators who support Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot are currently put up, to the lawns of Raj Bhavan on Friday.

Gehlot and 100 legislators drove to the Raj Bhavan and squatted on its lawns in the afternoon, demanding that Governor Kalraj Mishra call an Assembly session on Monday to allow the government to prove its majority on the floor of the House. He late in the evening handed over a letter of support of 102 MLAs (one was in the hospital) to Mishra and ended his protest.

The chief minister alleged the governor was “under pressure from the top” to not call a session of the Assembly, against the Cabinet’s advice on Thursday. According to the Constitution, the governor is bound by the advice of the Cabinet.

Mishra said he would take a decision after consulting legal experts as the Supreme Court has been currently hearing the matter. He also indicated calling the session amid the Covid-19 pandemic was a concern.

Gehlot recounted how the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Bhairon Singh Shekhwat, with 95 MLAs and support of Independents, was not invited to form the government by then Governor Baliram Bhagat after the Assembly polls in 1993. Shekhawat and his MLAs sat on the lawns of Raj Bhavan in protest and did not move until they had extracted the invite to form the government from the governor.
“The people of Rajasthan are with us. If the masses surround Raj Bhawan in protest, we will not be responsible,” Gehlot said after meeting the governor.

Meanwhile, dissident Congress leader Sachin Pilot, and his 18 MLA supporters, won a reprieve from the Rajasthan High Court on Friday. The court ordered “status quo” on the Speaker’s disqualification notices sent to the rebel MLAs for now.

The court said the Speaker cannot act on the notices until the Supreme Court decides the larger constitutional question of his powers. The apex court will hear the matter on Monday.

As things stand, if the governor calls the session and Gehlot wins the trust vote, there cannot be a no-confidence vote for the next six months.

However, if Gehlot loses, there is speculation that Pilot will soon float his own party and form the government with outside support of the BJP.

Gehlot currently claims to command a majority of 102 in a House of 200. The majority mark is 101. However, a legislator in the Gehlot camp has fallen ill and shifted to a hospital. Pilot’s camp claims support of 30 MLAs, but only 19 MLAs have been confirmed as rebels. The BJP has 72. The Opposition, if independents and smaller parties are included, is at 97.

The key to the floor test is whether the rebel MLAs will be allowed to vote. If they do, they risk being disqualified for flouting the party whip, but their votes will be counted. If they are not allowed to vote, the effective strength of the assembly comes down and the Gehlot government wins the trust vote easily.

The chief minister also claimed some of the dissident MLAs wished to return, but were being guarded by bouncers and police. Subsequently, some of the 18 MLAs claimed they were in Delhi, and not under any duress.

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