The ongoing Rajasthan political crisis has raised several larger issues besides whether the chief minister Ashok Ghelot has lost his majority after the revolt by Sachin Pilot and 18 of his MLA supporters. A floor test will show whether Gehlot has the numbers. The final verdict of the Apex court will bring some clarity about the role of the Speaker, the conflict between the judiciary and legislature and also the effectiveness of the anti-defection law.
There is a question of the executive versus the Governor and whether the governor is duty bound to call the Assembly. But the whole thing involves a long drawn legal process. Politically, what is visible from the ongoing drama is the weakness of the Congress party to quell internal indiscipline. The Congress high command could have dealt with the problem in a decisive manner and resolved it much earlier when it was clear that Gehlot and Pilot were not getting along for the past two years and more.
Pilot had been frustrated that his claim for chief ministership was ignored and Gehlot installed. Though Pilot was made the deputy chief minister, he continues to dream of the top post. He is not ready to wait his turn and hence this toppling game. Rahul Gandhi who is a close friend of Pilot could have mollified him and averted the crisis. Instead now Pilot is indulging in the toppling game. The second aspect is the BJP’s role in toppling the Gehlot government.
The Congress is alleging that it was the BJP which supported the Pilot camp and kept them in a resort in Haryana, protected by the Haryana Police. The BJP has been accused of toppling the Madhya Pradesh Congress government in March by luring Jyotiraditya Scindia to the BJP. So according to the Congress, all these developments follow a pattern. Though the BJP claims it has nothing to do with the instability of the Gehlot government there is no doubt it helped Scindia earlier and is doing so with Pilot now.
The third aspect is that the crisis exposes the power struggle between the old guard and the young Turks, which has been going on for quite some time. The old guard does not want to give up its hold. Rahul had openly accused the old guard of not supporting him during the 2019 campaign in a Congress Working Committee meeting. The Congress lost the Madhya Pradesh government three months ago because of the feud between Scindia and chief minister Kamalnath.
Team Rahul is disappointed that their leader has not fought for them and that is why even his close aides like Scindia and Pilot have sought greener pastures. The fourth aspect is whether the antidefection law is working as intended or should it be reviewed after three decades. Despite the stringent law, a democratically elected government is often toppled with the lure of money and positions.
Political parties continue to maintain their legislators in resorts before a trust vote amidst allegations of horsetrading. We have seen it happen in recent times in Karnataka, Goa, Manipur and Madhya Pradesh. The anti-defection law was conceived to prevent legislators from defecting to other parties after getting elected from one party. Now the question is what role money power plays in this process.
The court has asked whether a legislator cannot hold an alternate view in democracy but do political parties have enough mechanisms to deal with internal democracy? The fifth is the role of the judiciary in the whole process. Has the judiciary become proactive? Is the legislative losing its powers? The best of the legal brains in the country are arguing for both the parties in the High court and Supreme Court.
The Rajasthan Speaker argues that his notice to the 19 rebel MLAs, on a disqualification petition is part of the Assembly proceedings and hence cannot be interfered with by the High Court. The High Court, in its order had effectively restrained the Speaker from proceeding against Pilot and his supporters. The Speaker referred to the fact that the Supreme Court in the case of ‘Kihoto Hollohan vs. Zachillu and Others’ had held that Constitutional courts have not been permitted to judicially review disqualification proceedings under the anti-defection law until the Speaker makes a final decision on merits.
The way the Rajasthan crisis is being played out, it is clear that the politicians have more interest in settling their political scores than in dealing with the Covid pandemic. Time has come now to review the anti-defection law and its effectiveness. While people elect their representatives to rule for five years it is political greed which destroys their faith. It is for the people not to elect such representatives next time and to punish them.