Former Rajasthan deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot and 18 rebel lawmakers from the Congress who are loyal to him won protection from possible disqualification proceedings till July 24, with the Rajasthan high court reserving its verdict on their challenge of these proceedings till then.
The decision is bound to heighten uncertainty in the state where the Congress government has a wafer-thin majority after the rebellion. Chief minister Ashok Gehlot has hardened his stance against his rival and former deputy Pilot, terming him good for nothing, much to the discomfiture of some members of the party’s central leadership who are still hoping that Pilot can be mollified.
The disqualification notices were issued on July 14 by Assembly speaker CP Joshi.
A division bench of chief justice Indrajit Mahanty and justice Prakash Gupta reserved its verdict on Tuesday after hearing the case over three days.It also directed the speaker to defer action on the notices till July 24.
Pilot and other MLAs had approached the high court on July 15 challenging the speaker’s notices that asked them to furnish an explanation by July 17 on why they should not be disqualified from the assembly for their conduct, which Congress party has alleged is detrimental to the interest of the party and shows their intention to quit the party.
The speaker’s notice was based on the disqualification petition filed by chief whip Mahesh Joshi, who in his plea, cited the absence of the MLAs from two Congress Legislature Party meetings — held on July 13 and 14 — despite instructions to attend, which showed their intention to leave the party. The chief whip also cited statements made by some of the MLAs and their allegedly hostile conduct against the party as grounds of their intention to quit the party.
Pilot and other dissident MLAs have maintained that they never intended to leave the Congress party and were merely exercising their right to criticize the functioning of the CM.
Arguing for the MLAs, Mukul Rohatgi challenged the speaker’s notice stating that his action reeked of bad faith since the notice was issued to the MLAs without any application of mind and on the very same day the chief whip filed his complaint.“Consummate reading of these facts leaves no manner of doubt that the decision (to suspend MLAs) is a foregone conclusion. What was the tearing hurry?” he demanded. Rohatgi also pointed out that the Speaker gave the MLAs only three days to respond to the notice which also stated that the disqualification plea would be decided ex-parte (without hearing the MLAs) if they failed to respond in writing within the prescribed deadline.
“No reasons were recorded for issuing the notice”, he said.
Senior counsel Devadatt Kamat appearing for speaker rebutted this, stating that reasons are not required to be furnished as per the assembly rules.
The Speaker has maintained throughout that the petition by Pilot is pre-mature since, as per the 1992 SC judgment in the Kihoto Hollohan case, the court can interfere only after the Speaker decides the disqualification petition. Rohatgi asked the court to distinguish the current case from the Kihoto Hollohan case.