Upset over the Rajasthan High Court’s order to not take action against rebel Congress leader Sachin Pilot and his supporting MLAs till Friday, Assembly Speaker CP Joshi on Wednesday said filed a Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court to avert what he called a “constitutional crisis” in the state.
Announcing his decision to move the Supreme Court against the high court order at a press conference earlier today, he also warned that the rebels were “heading for a constitutional crisis”.
Joshi said a Speaker has the complete authority to send a show-cause notice.
“Speaker’s responsibilities are well defined by the Supreme Court and the Constitution. As the Speaker, I got an application and to seek information on it, I issued show-cause notice. If show-cause notice will not be issued by the authority, then what is the work of authority?” he questioned.
“It can be judicially reviewed only later, after the Speaker’s decision,” he said, calling the rebels’ petition a “dangerous precedent” and a possible “breakdown of constitutional rules.”
In another respite for the Sachin Pilot camp, the Rajasthan High Court on Tuesday asked the Assembly Speaker not to take any action against them till Friday when it will deliver its order on their petition.
Completing the hearing on the writ petition filed by Pilot and 18 other Congress MLAs against notice issued to them by the Speaker asking why they should not be disqualified from the Assembly, the division bench of Chief Justice Indrajit Mahanty and Justice Prakash Gupta, of the court’s Jaipur bench, reserved its order till July 24.
It also asked the Speaker, who had extended the period for Pilot and the other MLAS to file their response till 5.30 p.m. on Tuesday, to further extend this period till the delivery of its order on Friday.
During the hearing, senior lawyer Mukul Rohatgi, representing the rebel legislators, said that “In the middle of the pandemic, only three days’ time was given to the MLAs to respond to the notice. The reading of these facts leaves no manner of doubt that the decision (to suspend MLAs) is a foregone conclusion”.
He argued that the disqualification notices by the Assembly Speaker were issued to Sachin Pilot and the MLAs on the same day of complaint and that no reasons were recorded for the same.
Rohatgi added that there is nothing to show that the Rajasthan Speaker “applied his mind” while serving the disqualification notices to the rebels. He said Speaker CP Joshi had shown a “tearing hurry” and had given no reasons while serving notices to disqualify Sachin Pilot and others after they skipped two meetings.
On Monday, top lawyers on both sides argued over whether dissent is “anti-party” and whether the Speaker’s action on dissenters violates freedom of speech. Top lawyer Harish Salve, representing team Pilot, said, “Disqualification notice for inner party dissent is violation of freedom of speech”.
Salve said a party member was “free to defy the party whip direction” outside the assembly and it did not constitute defection. “Intra-party dissent, however shrill it may be, until the moment it goes to the extent of supporting another party, cannot be a ground to even start disqualification proceedings,” he said.
Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing the Speaker, argued that team Pilot cannot approach the court before the Speaker takes action. “The rebels don’t have grounds to question the Speaker until the Speaker gives a decision. The Speaker and the assembly are not in the judicial purview of the court for now,” said Singhvi.
He further argued that the Speaker had simply sent a notice to the MLAs, and did not disqualify them.
“The petition of the Pilot camp is premature and it should be rejected,” he contended.
The hearing was then adjourned till Monday and the Speaker was asked not to take any action against the petitioners till Tuesday.
If Sachin Pilot’s team is disqualified, it will bring down the majority mark in the assembly and Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot can win even more easily. Team Pilot has 19 members, and along with the BJP’s 72, can give the state’s Congress government a close fight if it wins the case.
After Sachin Pilot and the rebel MLAs gave the second CLP meeting a miss on July 14, the Rajasthan Congress announced the removal of Pilot as the Deputy Chief Minister as well as the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief.
Earlier on July 12, the sulking leader declared open rebellion against his party by claiming that he has the support of 30 MLAs.