Gehlot wants floor test after HC defers verdict
Hours earlier, the Rajasthan high court, which was hearing a plea by Pilot and his loyalists against disqualification notices sent to them, ordered maintaining status quo on the matter.Updated: Jul 25, 2020, 01:21 IST
Congress legislators supporting Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot staged a dramatic five-hour-long demonstration at Raj Bhavan on Friday, demanding that governor Kalraj Mishra call a special session of the assembly and allow a floor test, which they said they were confident of winning in the midst of their power tussle with former deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot and those backing him.
Hours earlier, the Rajasthan high court, which was hearing a plea by Pilot and his loyalists against disqualification notices sent to them, ordered maintaining status quo on the matter. The ruling meant the assembly speaker CP Joshi cannot decide on disqualifying Pilot and 18 other rebel Congress MLAs for the time being. The court also formally admitted the plea by the Congress rebels and deferred its verdict in the case.
The decision triggered a flurry of activity in the Gehlot camp, which feels that going for an immediate floor test may be the best way to end the political impasse and save the government that has been staring at uncertainty in the wake of a split in its ranks.
At around 2:30pm, legislators led by Gehlot arrived at Raj Bhavan in four buses from the Fairmont hotel on the outskirts of Jaipur where they have been staying. As Gehlot met the governor inside, the MLAs sat on the lawns, shouting slogans and asserting that they will stay put till the governor issues an order for the session.
“The governor is our constitutional head. We have requested him [for the session],” Gehlot said outside Raj Bhavan. Earlier, he said he requested Mishra to call a session of the assembly on Monday, but there was no word from him. Gehlot said if the demand for convening a session was not met, MLAs will “not be responsible” if people gherao the governor’s house.
The Congress party also accused Mishra of acting on the behest of the Union government. “Governors are supposed to uphold the Constitution and the laws, but governors in this country are acting at the behest of the Union government,” Congress leader Kapil Sibal told a virtual press conference.
Mishra later assured that he will call an assembly session though he wanted certain clarifications from the government, Congress functionaries said as the dharna came to an end. They said Mishra wanted the government’s response on these issues before the announcement, and that these will be discussed at a cabinet meeting at 9.30pm.
Governor Mishra, meanwhile, sent a six-point questionnaire asking the government to respond as to why the assembly session was being called. “There is no one above constitutional decorum. There should not be any kind of pressure politics...,” he said.
He said he will follow constitutional norms to convene a session, denied there was any pressure on him from the BJP, and wondered why Gehlot was in a hurry to prove his majority on the floor of the House when no one had made such a demand.
According to the law laid down by the Supreme Court, the governor notifies the holding of a session on the recommendation of the council of ministers.
“...the law is clear that a governor is bound by aid and advice of his cabinet, as long as it has not lost its majority on the floor of the house. In a parliamentary system, there cannot be a constitutional authority that prevents a house from being called,” senior counsel Sanjay Hegde told HT.
Senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan said: “If the Council of Ministers has the confidence of the House, there is no question that the Governor is bound by their advice in convening the legislature.”
Gulab Chand Kataria, the leader of the Opposition in the state assembly, said: “The chief minister is saying that the public will come and gherao Raj Bhavan. I would request the Centre that it deploy the CRPF [Central Reserve Police Force] in Rajasthan to maintain law and order. It should not trust the Rajasthan police.”
Gehlot has the support of 101 members (though this does not include speaker CP Joshi). Pilot has 18 other Congress MLAs and three independents in his camp, taking his tally to 22. The BJP and its ally Rashtriya Loktrantrik Party have 75 seats. Bhanwarlal Meghwal, one Congress MLA said to be close to Pilot, is indisposed.If Pilot’s tally is added to that of the opposition alliance, it takes their number up to 97. A three-member swing from the Gehlot camp to the Pilot camp or to the BJP could lead to the government falling in the event of a floor test.
The Congress accuses the BJP of instigating the political crisis in Rajasthan and attempting to topple the state government. The opposition party denies the claim and says the crisis was triggered by an internal feud in the Congress.
Earlier in the day, the Rajasthan high court’s order to maintain status quo on disqualification notices issued by the state assembly speaker to 19 rebel Congress MLAs came as a breather for Pilot.
“We are of the considered view that the present writ petition is maintainable. The writ petition is admitted. After completion of filing of pleadings of the parties and the intervenors, counsel for the parties shall be at liberty to file an application for early hearing of the writ petition. Till then, the ‘status quo’ as exists today viz-a-viz impugned notices dated July 14 shall be maintained,” the order by the division bench of chief justice Indrajit Mahanty and justice Prakash Gupta said.
The Congress chief whip, Mahesh Joshi, filed a complaint before the speaker on July 14, seeking action against Pilot and the other dissidents under paragraph 2 (1) (a) of the 10th Schedule of the Constitution. The provision disqualifies MLAs if they “voluntarily” give up the membership of the party which they represent in the House.
The rebels said Pilot never indicated any intention to leave the Congress party. In their petition filed on July 15, Pilot and other 18 MLAs submitted that were merely exercising their right to criticise party leadership and the functioning of the chief minister.
The Pilot camp also challenged the validity of paragraph 2(1) (a) of the 10th Schedule, contending that the provision was very wide since even expression of opinion or views against party leadership are construed as defection.
Meanwhile, the assembly speaker moved the Supreme Court and filed a special leave petition on Wednesday, challenging the July 21 order of high court directing speaker to defer disqualification proceedings. The top court said it will look into the crucial question of whether the high court can interfere in proceedings initiated by the speaker even before a decision on disqualification has been taken.
Normally, when a matter is admitted, it takes a very long time before it comes up for hearing in due course, Supreme Court advocate Sriram Parakkat said. “But the high court in its order has given liberty to the parties to file an application for early hearing after filing all pleadings. So the court can take up the matter without much delay if such an application is filed and the court finds it fit to hold an early hearing,” he said.