The Rajasthan High Court will today resume hearing on the petitions by Sachin Pilot and 18 other rebel Congress against the disqualification notice served to them by Assembly Speaker CP Joshi last Tuesday.
In a breather for the sacked Deputy Chief Minister and his 18 loyal MLAs, the Rajasthan High Court had on Friday stopped the Assembly Speaker from taking any action for their disqualification till today.
The Pilot camp had challenged the validity and legality of the notice sent to them on Tuesday by Speaker CP Joshi, asking them to explain why they should not be disqualified as Assembly members for defying the party whip.
The writ petition, filed by Prithviraj Meena and other rebel MLAs, argued that “free speech” cannot be labelled as “anti-party activity”, and termed as “motivated” the complaint filed on behalf of Congress Chief Whip Mahesh Joshi.
They had argued that not attending two meetings called by the Congress Legislature Party cannot fall within the purview of para (2) (a) or (2) (b) of the Constitution’s Tenth Schedule, so as to render him/them fit for disqualification on ground of defection.
Not attending party meetings as also voicing a difference of opinion outside the house are matters between the member and his party and do not fall within the Tenth Schedule, they argued.
They have also argued that they can’t be served such notices when the Rajasthan Assembly is not in session.
Harish Salve, appearing for the petitioner, sought the court’s permission to file an application for amendment. Senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi also appeared for Pilot, while Abhishek Manu Singhvi represented the Ashok Gehlot government.
After Sachin Pilot and the rebel MLAs gave the second CLP meeting a miss on Tuesday, the MLAs, who were reportedly present showing their support to Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, had unanimously demanded that Pilot be removed from the party.
Following this, the Congress announced the removal of Sachin Pilot as the Deputy Chief Minister as well as the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief.
Two other ministers, Vishvender Singh and Ramesh Meena, who joined him in his revolt, were also dropped from the Ashok Gehlot cabinet.
On Tuesday evening, Pilot and 18 rebel MLAs were served notices by assembly Speaker CP Joshi for allegedly flouting the party whip and not attending Congress Legislative Party meetings called on Monday and Tuesday. They were asked to respond by Friday.
Soon after, Sachin Pilot and his loyalists moved the high court.
Meanwhile, for the second time in three days, on Sunday, Rajasthan Police’s Special Operation Group (SOG) team — which has been probing the audio clips released by the Congress alleging horse-trading to bring down the Ashok Gehlot government — once again returned empty-handed from a resort in Haryana where the Sachin Pilot team has been camping.
They returned empty-handed within 10 minutes as the hotel-management did not allow them to enter and asked them to come in the morning.
On Friday, the SOG team was stopped by the Haryana Police outside ITC Bharat Grand in Manesar.
The Rajasthan police headed by SP Vikas Sharma had reached the hotel at Manesar to record the statement of a dissident Congress leader of the Sachin Pilot camp, staying here since last Friday.
According to a report in NDTV, the Rajasthan Special Operations Group had gone to record a voice sample of Bhanwar Lal Sharma, who according to the Congress, had been involved in an alleged conspiracy with the BJP to topple the Ashok Gehlot government.
As soon as the Rajasthan Police arrived at the hotel, they were stopped by their Haryana counterpart for almost an hour and then allowed to go inside. However, the Rajasthan police reportedly could not get hold of any of the rebels.
Additional Director General (SOG) Ashok Rathore said the team was told at the reception that the MLA was not there.
It is alleged that the rebel MLAs are being protected by the Haryana police.
Newly-appointed Rajasthan Congress President, Govind Singh Dotasra, had on Saturday claimed that Rajasthan SOG team was made to wait by the Haryana Police until the MLAs inside the resort were moved out.
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.
Since then, Gehlot camp MLAs are camping in a five-star hotel while Pilot camp MLAs are reportedly camping in different hotels in Delhi after vacating a Manesar hotel.
The Congress had last Friday announced that it has suspended MLAs Bhanwar Lal Sharma and Vishvendra Singh from primary membership of the party.
The political upheaval in Rajasthan worsened on Thursday as the Congress released three audio clips purported to be of “horse-trading” discussions, which it said, were being held between Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and an MLA of Sachin Pilot’s camp, who were coordinating via a Jaipur resident.
Speaking to media, Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala alleged that the tapes contained conversations between Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, BJP leader Sanjay Jain and Congress MLA Bhanwar Lal Sharma, where they spoke about bribing MLAs and bringing down the Rajasthan government.
However, in separate statements, Shekhawat and Bhanwarlal Sharma have rejected the charge that they figured in the audio clips.
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.
Two other ministers, Vishvender Singh and Ramesh Meena, who joined him in his revolt, were also immediately dropped from the Ashok Gehlot cabinet.
Meanwhile, with the political storm in Rajasthan worsening further, it is reported that Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot may call an assembly session this week to take the floor test.
CM Gehlot met Governor Kalraj Mishra on Saturday at Raj Bhawan, after Bhartiya Tribal Party’s (BTP) two MLAs who had earlier announced withdrawal of support to the Gehlot-led- government, once again extended their support to him.
According to NDTV sources, the Chief Minister had told the Governor during the meeting which lasted for around 45 minutes that he would like to call an assembly session this week.