Rajasthan HC resumes hearing on Sachin Pilot, 18 other rebel Congress MLAs’ plea
A two-judge bench of Rajasthan High Court on Monday resumed hearing on petitions filed by former Rajasthan deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot and 18 other dissident Congress MLAs challenging their disqualification notices from the state assembly speaker.
Chief Justice Indrajit Mahanty and justice Prashant Gupta started hearing the case in Court No 1 as Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing Speaker CP Joshi, resumed his arguments.
Senior counsel Harish Salve and Mukul Rohtagi, representing Sachin Pilot and other MLAs, have completed their side of arguments.
On Friday, the high court had directed that no action be taken against Pilot and the other rebel Congress MLAs until Tuesday and had deferred the hearing of their plea challenging the speaker’s disqualification notices.
Speaker Joshi had on Friday assured the court that he would not act till 5.30pm on Tuesday on the notices issued to dissident legislators over their failure to attend two Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meetings on July 13 and 14.
The MLAs had moved the court challenging the notice issued to them by Joshi on July 14 seeking an explanation on why they should not be disqualified from the assembly.
They had told the court that ruling party legislators’ disagreement with the manner of functioning of the chief minister cannot be seen as indicating their intention to leave the party so as to trigger the anti-defection law.
They said that criticising the party leadership is an exercise of freedom of speech and cannot be a ground to disqualify a lawmaker on the grounds of defection.
The petitioners through their counsel contended that a party whip applies only when the assembly is in session and that airing of grievances against party leadership cannot be construed as voluntarily giving up party membership under 2 (1) (a) of the Tenth schedule of the Constitution.
The petition challenged the speaker’s notice, which was based on a complaint by Congress’ chief whip Mahesh Joshi, that the MLAs should be disqualified from the Rajasthan assembly for defying the whip.
Mahesh Joshi sought action against Pilot and the other dissidents under Clause 2 (1) (a) of the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution, which provides for disqualification of MLAs if they “voluntarily” give up the membership of the party which they represent in the House.
Mahesh Joshi cited the absence of the dissident MLAs in two Congress legislature party meetings despite specific direction to attend them along with hostile and prejudicial conduct against the party, as an indication of the dissidents’ intention to leave the party.
Sachin Pilot, the 42-year-old leader credited with leading the Congress’ successful 2018 assembly election campaign, has categorically ruled out joining the BJP, asserting that attempts to link him to the opposition party were a ploy to tar his image.
If the rebel MLAs are disqualified, the majority mark in the 200-member assembly will come down, making it easier for chief minister Ashok Gehlot to win a floor test.
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