Rajasthan impasse continues as Ashok Gehlot pushes for session
In a sign of the deepening rift between constitutional institutions in Rajasthan, the state government, in its third proposal to state governor Kalraj Mishra, has reiterated its demand to convene an assembly session from July 31 — but did not mention whether it will seek a trust vote in the house.
The Ashok Gehlot-led cabinet, which met on Tuesday, also claimed that the governor did not have any locus stand in stipulating conditions to hold the session, asked him to abide by the proposal of the cabinet, claimed that the failure to do so would be unconstitutional, asserted that the agenda of the session will be determined by the business advisory committee of the house, and said that it was the Speaker’s domain to decide on social distancing norms in the assembly.
Separately, the Congress accused the governor of acting under pressure of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), while leaders privately said they would wait for the governor’s response before determining their next step.
The cabinet meeting followed Mishra’s response to an earlier request by Gehlot to convene the assembly session. The governor had suggested a 21-day notice period to convene the house; sought clarity on the agenda of the session and advised live-streaming of the floor test, if such a test was to be held; and asked about Covid-19 related precautions in the assembly.
A senior official at the governor’s office, on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the government’s proposal has been received.
The BJP has rejected the allegation and claimed that the entire crisis was purely a result of an internal clash within the Congress.
The Rajasthan crisis has seen an open tussle between Gehlot, who claims to have a majority in the house, and his now-dismissed deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot and a set of rebel Congress legislators, who allege that Gehlot’s government is in a minority. Gehlot, in recent days, has sought a quick assembly session based on the assessment that he has the numbers in the house, according to Congress strategists.
In response to the governor’s queries, laying out the government’s position, state transport minister Pratap Singh Khachariyawas said, “He has no right to be raising queries. Yet we are giving a reply.”
On the 21-day requirement — the first point mentioned by the governor — Khachariyawas said that 10 days had already passed since the government had asked for a session, and asked why the governor had not given a date himself. “The governor is the head of our family. Under Article 163 of the Constitution, it is clearly written that no governor of the country can reject the proposal by the cabinet.” Khachariyawas alleged that if the governor did not approve it, it would be a sign that there was “no Constitution”. The minister also asked what would happen if the central government sought to hold a session of Parliament and wrote to the President, who rejected the proposal. “The BJP is doing politics to weaken the Lok Sabha and state assembly.”
A Congress functionary involved in political management in the state said that the Rajasthan government, in its reply, has also conveyed to the governor that the Supreme Court judgements Mishra had quoted in his letters restrict his role in convening the assembly sessions.
“These judgements clearly state that he has to go by the aid and advice of the council of ministers and that he has no authority to set the agenda or decide the timing and the venue of the assembly sessions,” the functionary added.
When asked about the agenda of the session — a point raised by the governor — Khachariyawas said that it was for the Business Advisory Committee of the assembly to decide the agenda. Regarding the social distancing norms in the assembly — the third point raised by the governor — the minister said that the speaker would decide the seating arrangements.
Mahesh Menon who teaches law at Daksha Fellowship Programme said, “I do not subscribe to the view that the Governor can exercise his discretion when it comes to calling an assembly session. Even if the Governor can use his discretion, it should not be exercised whimsically.”
The Congress, separately, also alleged that Mishra was acting “under pressure” from the BJP government at the Centre. Party general secretary in charge of Rajasthan, Avinash Pande, in a series of tweets, questioned the Governor for not calling the assembly session and said, “..In the context of the crisis in Rajasthan, the Governor of Rajasthan is adopting a biased approach to fulfil the interests of a particular party, which is violation of the rules mentioned in our Constitution.”
BJP spokesperson Mukesh Pareek said the post of governor is constitutional, and BJP does not interfere in the work of the constitutional bodies. Claiming that the entire political struggle was an internal fight of the Congress, he said that BJP‘s politics was based on serving people and asked if any party lost its government because of its infighting, how could the BJP be held responsible for it.
The Congress functionary quoted above said that the party will decide on its next course of action only after receiving the governor’s response. “We will go step by step and wait for the governor’s reply to decide our future strategy. We don’t want to pre-empt things,” the functionary quoted above said. Asked if the party will take the matter to the courts, he said, “All options are open. We want to make it political fight first and the legal option is always there.”
A second Congress leader said there were two opinions in the party on accepting the governor’s conditions for convening the assembly session.
One section was of the view that the state government should insist on a short session and stick to the July 31 date, he said. “Some of our leaders say that the state cabinet should clearly mention that it wants a floor test immediately since it had not done so in its earlier communications. The state government will decide its future strategy after the governor responds to its fresh proposals,” the leader added.
He said the second view was that the Congress should accept all the governor’s conditions, including giving the 21-day notice for calling the session, and not rush to the court to get the floor test done. The leader further said the Congress will fight the Rajasthan battle politically by taking to streets and keeping its flock (legislators) together.