Tough time for Pilot, Gehlot camps as HC defers order till Friday

File photo of Sachin Pilot with Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot during a protest rally against the Citizenship Amendment Act and NRC in Jaipur. Sachin Pilot removed as Deputy CM of Rajasthan and also from the state PCC chief today by the Congress party.
Tension in the two camps of the Congress in Rajasthan mounted as the High Court deferred till Friday an order on the disqualification of sacked deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot and 18 other MLAs. The HC has prevented the Speaker from taking any action against the MLAs till then.

However, to preempt Pilot and the BJP joining hands, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot will likely call an Assembly session as soon as possible and seek a vote of confidence. The Congress MLAs who vote against Gehlot in a trust motion will automatically stand disqualified. According to laws governing Indian legislatures, no other trust motion can be held for six months after the government has won one.

The numbers are almost equal on both sides. Pilot’s group of 19, along with the BJP’s 72, independents and smaller parties add up to 97, just five short of the halfway mark. Gehlot has the support of two MLAs from the Bharat People’s Tribal Party (BPTP). This takes his tally to 102. His government then hangs by a thread.

On the other hand, if the rebels vote against the Congress, disobeying a party whip, the Speaker needs no justification to disqualify them. So if Gehlot wins this trust vote and the trust vote establishes that some in the party have voted against his government, he will have rid himself of the rebels for the foreseeable future.

One option before him is to time the floor test along with the high court order. If the court accepts the Speaker’s action, the rebels will not be allowed to vote, the strength of the Assembly will come down and winning the trust motion will be a breeze for Gehlot. If the HC says the Speaker’s action was wrong, and the rebels are allowed to vote, Gehlot’s government barely scrapes through but the rebel MLAs stand disqualified for voting against the party whip. The card that the Centre can play is to ask the governor for a report. If the governor says the political situation is conducive to horse-trading, and a law and order problem could arise, the Centre can place the House under suspended animation. 

The top brass of the Congress, including National General Secretary and Rajasthan in-charge Avinash Pande, K C Venugopal, Ajay Maken, Randeep Surjewala, and Vivek Bansal, is in Jaipur. Gehlot got a slight setback when Delhi reproved him for using insulting language for Pilot — proving that the Gandhi family has still hopes that Pilot will be won over even as Gehlot equally determinedly wants to ensure that Pilot is out of the party forever.

On Monday, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing the Speaker, said the rebels cannot move the court before any action. “The Speaker and the Assembly are not in the judicial purview of the court for now,” said Singhvi. On Tuesday, Mukul Rohtagi, arguing on behalf of Pilot, said Speaker CP Joshi had shown a “tearing hurry” and had given no reasons while serving notices to disqualify Pilot and others after they skipped two meetings. He said there was nothing to show the Speaker “applied his mind” while serving the disqualification notices. Moreover, the Speaker  has no authority to decide on party matters.

Constitutional expert Subhash Kashyap says: “To disqualify a legislator, the Speaker should receive a petition stating that he or she has indulged in an anti-party activity or they have voted against the party directives. Then the Speaker can consider and give a proper hearing to all sides. The power to disqualify under Anti-Defection Law is with the Speaker. And it is subject to judicial review. So one can go to the court challenging the Speaker’s decision,” he said.

The decision of reserving its order will make both groups highly skittish. Tighter sequestering of MLAs to prevent poaching is on the cards.

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