JAIPUR: Sacked Rajasthan deputy CM Sachin Pilot and his band of 18 Congress MLAs on Thursday filed a petition in the high court, challenging the constitutional validity of “some provisions” in the legislature rules invoked by the Speaker to issue them disqualification notices on grounds of defying the party whip and staying away from CLP meetings on consecutive days.
Challenging Congress’s reliance on the (anti-defection) law to stem dissent, the petition argues that it could potentially have dangerous consequences such as an elected representative being deprived of assembly membership at the “whims and fancies of the leader of the party”.
Two versions of the petition were heard during the day, first at 3pm and again at 5pm, before the single-judge bench of Justice Satish Kumar Sharma acceded to a plea to list the matter before a division bench.
Pilot’s lawyers — Harish Salve, Mukul Rohatgi and Devadutt Kamat — had sought time to amend the petition during the first hearing, saying the petitioners wanted to incorporate elements challenging the constitutional validity of portions of the Rajasthan Assembly Member (Disqualification on the grounds of changing party) Rules, 1989. The plea was accepted despite opposition from Congress counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi and advocate general MS Singhvi, representing the Speaker.
The original petition had only challenged the notices issued by Speaker CP Joshi on the basis of a complaint filed by Congress against Pilot and his loyalists, accusing them of conspiring with BJP to topple the Ashok Gehlot government. The division bench of Chief Justice Indrajit Mahanty and Justice Prakash Gupta will take up the amended joint petition on Friday.
According to the petition, which lists Pilot as petitioner No. 7, all 19 MLAs who have been served notices by the Speaker are still with Congress and none of them has given up assembly membership. The petition mentions that Pilot had already issued multiple statements saying he had no intention of leaving Congress.
The MLAs’ petition argues that the Speaker should have given them at least a week’s time to respond to the allegations against them instead of just two days (till 3pm on July 17). “Grave mischief is sought to be achieved by the prejudicial manner in which the CLP is seeking to impose sanctions upon the MLAs on sheer presumptuous basis, as the complaint (by Congress chief whip) is dated July 14 and the showcause notice is issued (by the speaker) on the same day,” the petition states.
The MLAs accused Gehlot of trying to threaten them through an inquiry by the Special Operations Group (SOG) so that they wouldn’t raise their voices against “the inefficiency of leadership within the party”.
On being taken to task for not attending CLP meetings, the Pilot camp has said that skipping party conclaves cannot be considered tantamount to inviting disqualification on grounds of defection.
Congress chief whip Mahesh Joshi reached the court with an impleadment application, saying he should be made party to the case as the Speaker had issued notices based on his petition filed under para 2(1)A of Schedule X of the Constitution.