The Rajasthan High Court on Friday directed Assembly Speaker CP Joshi to defer his action on the disqualification notices issued to former Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot and 18 dissident Congress MLAs till the final hearing, Bar and Bench reported. The court issued status quo order to Joshi, which means he will not be able to take action on the notices to disqualify the MLAs, even if they fail to submit replies to the notice.

This came after the High Court accepted the application filed by Pilot and other rebel MLAs to make the Centre a party in the case to decide the validity of the anti-defection notices issued to them by the Speaker. The legislators asked the court to include the Union government as a party to the case as validity of the 10th Schedule of the Constitution has been challenged.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court refused to intervene in the matter and asked the High Court to announce its verdict on the petition of rebel MLAs against their disqualification. The top court rejected Speaker’s petition contending that the disqualification process was part of the Assembly proceedings and the Rajasthan High Court could not have interfered in it by asking him to postpone action against the rebel MLAs.

A three-judge bench led by Justice Arun Mishra said the “larger question” is whether a legislator’s “voice of dissent” can be “shut down” with the threat of disqualification. “These are people elected by the public,” he added. “The larger question is about democracy and how it will survive like this...This for us is not about the disqualification of some people.”

However, the Supreme Court said it will hear the case again on July 27 and the High Court’s judgement will be subject to its final verdict.

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The crisis

The Congress government in Rajasthan has been on the brink of collapse after Pilot rebelled against Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and proceeded with a few MLAs to Delhi last week. Pilot was sacked as the Rajasthan deputy chief minister and as the Congress’ state unit chief on July 14. The next day, Assembly Speaker CP Joshi sent disqualification notices to Pilot and 18 other legislators.

The notices were served after the MLAs defied a whip to attend two Congress Legislature Party meetings to resolve the political crisis in the state. However, the MLAs said that a party whip applies only when the Assembly is in session. In their petition, the legislators sought to quash the notices, arguing that they had neither given up their membership of the House nor did their failure to attend two Congress meetings makes them liable for disqualification on the ground of defection. It added that an elected representative of the people cannot be removed from his post on the whims and fancies of his party’s leadership.

After the rebel MLAs approached the High Court, the Speaker was asked to defer action by three days. On Tuesday, the Rajasthan High Court asked the Speaker to not take a decision on the disqualification notices till the final verdict.

The Congress has accused the BJP of political manoeuvring to topple its government in the state.

Before the political crisis erupted, the Congress had the backing of 125 MLAs in the 200-member Rajasthan Assembly, including 107 of its own legislators. As many as 13 Independents and five MLAs from other parties support it. The majority mark in the Rajasthan Assembly is 101. The BJP has 72 legislators and has the support of three Rashtriya Loktantrik Party MLAs.