JAIPUR: In a move to mount pressure on rebel MLAs and indicate its resolve, Congress moved Rajasthan assembly Speaker C P Joshi against Sachin Pilot and his supporters, resulting in the Speaker issuing on Wednesday notices to 19 MLAs who were absent in legislature party meetings held on Monday and Tuesday. Pilot and his band of MLAs were accused of violating the party whip, thereby inviting disqualification from the assembly.
The MLAs are accused of conspiring to topple the state government led by chief minister Ashok Gehlot in connivance with BJP. The notices issued on Wednesday have to be replied to by July 17 and are likely to set the stage for a politico-legal battle as the rebels are bound to approach courts in the event the Speaker finally disqualifies them and they lose their membership of the assembly.
The notices were issued after Congress chief whip in the assembly Mahesh Joshi wrote to the Speaker seeking action in accordance with the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution and the Rajasthan Legislative Assembly Members (Disqualification for Defection) Act, 1989. The notices, which have seen legal eagle and Rajya Sabha MP Abhishek Singhvi being consulted, were to go out on Tuesday but Congress held back its complaint.
The path ahead, however, may not be entirely predictable. Though the Speaker has wide powers to interpret anti-party activities to conclude certain actions amount to rebellion and a “voluntary” giving up of membership, there are other considerations too. Disqualified MLAs can seek legal redress that they be allowed to participate in a floor test. They can also argue that a whip applies to actions in the House and not to legislature party meetings. At any rate, their pleas might earn them a stay on any disqualification.
The strategy behind disqualification is simple enough: It will reduce the halfway mark in the assembly and make the current support of the Ashok Gehlot government, estimated by Congress sources at a shade over the 100 mark in the 200-seat House, much more secure. The notices, meanwhile, are also intended to pressure some of the rebels to retrace their steps.
The reaction of the Pilot camp was not clear as the leader did not address the media as had been expected and BJP also called off its meeting. This led to speculation whether the numbers of BJP and Pilot were not adding up and whether any understanding they were working out has hit a hurdle.
Mahesh Joshi, in his five-page letter to the Speaker, said, “Over the last several days, attempts have been made to topple the Congress government in the state through corrupt practices and other illegal means. The MLAs in question have been deliberately conspiring against Congress to destabilise its government and are acting openly against party interests.”
Joshi also alleged that the rebel lawmakers wilfully absented themselves from the CLP meeting convened on July 13 and from the second meeting on July 14. “The MLAs gave interviews to select TV channels challenging the government and levelling allegations against the party and the government,” the chief whip said.
He said these open challenges to the party leadership were an undeniable expression of a revolt against Congress and indicated that they had voluntarily given up party membership by conspiring against the organisation.
Gehlot claims he has the support of at least 104 MLAs in the 200-member assembly.
Meanwhile, opposition leader Gulab Chand Kataria questioned the notices issued by the Speaker to rebel MLAs and claimed that “party whip is binding on members only for their business in the House. BJP is consulting legal experts”.