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Rajasthan crisis: HC verdict on disqualification of Sachin Pilot, 18 rebel MLAs on Friday; no action till then

During the hearing, senior lawyer Mukul Rohatgi, representing the rebel legislators, said that only three days’ time was given to the MLAs to respond to the notice in the middle of the pandemic.

SNS | New Delhi |

The fate of Sachin Pilot camp is yet to be decided as the Rajasthan High Court once again on Tuesday, in another breather for the rebel Congress MLAs, stopped the Assembly Speaker from taking any action in connection with their disqualification till Friday.

The hearing on a petition filed by Congress rebel Sachin Pilot and 18 other party MLAs against disqualification notices issued to them by Speaker CP Joshi continued in the high court today.

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.

Earlier on Friday, Harish Salve had said that no activity outside the Legislative Assembly could be considered a violation of the Anti-defection Act. The session was not running, hence the whip issued by the Speaker held no meaning, he had contended.

He argued that the dissident MLAs wanted to challenge the anti-defection law enshrined in the 10th Schedule of the Constitution.

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.

Meanwhile, Rajasthan DGP Bhupendra Yadav today wrote to his Haryana counterpart and the Commissioner of Delhi Police, seeking cooperation in the Special Operation Group’s (SOG) probe into the alleged attempts to destabilize the Ashok Gehlot government after failing to get hold of the rebel MLAs camping in resorts in Delhi and Haryana.

After Sachin Pilot and the rebel MLAs gave the second CLP meeting a miss on July 14, the 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.

The Rajasthan SOG team had to return empty-handed twice last week from resorts in Haryana. It is alleged that the rebel MLAs are being protected by the Haryana police.

Also, reports have emerged that the Congress has alleged that the Delhi Police under Union Home Minister Amit Shah is protecting the rebel MLAs lodged in different hotels and are being shunted to different places to thwart SOG investigations.

The Congress government is witnessing a major crisis after Sachin Pilot announced that the Gehlot government was in minority and he has support of 30 MLAs.