Rajasthan Congress MLAs on Friday ended the protest at Raj Bhawan in Jaipur, after Governor Kalraj Mishra assured them he will soon convene an Assembly session for a trust vote, party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said, the Hindustan Times reported. A Cabinet meeting will be held at Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s residence to discuss the queries raised by the governor.
“The chief minister wants to prove majority, call an Assembly session on the Covid-19 crisis and also wants to silence those who say Congress does not have majority,” Surjewala told reporters. “The governor told us he will abide by the Constitution.”
In a tweet, Surjewala also accused the Bharatiya Janata Party of “conspiring to hijack public opinion” to topple the Congress government. The Congress leader is one of the special observers appointed by the party to look into the Rajasthan political crisis.
Earlier in the day, the Rajasthan unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party demanded that the Centre deploy the Central Reserve Police Force in the state, as Congress MLAs sat on a dharna at the governor’s residence in Jaipur.
BJP leader and Leader of the Opposition in the Rajasthan Assembly Gulab Chand Kataria attacked Gehlot for allegedly threatening the governor. “If the governor does not call the Assembly session and the people from the entire state lay siege to the Raj Bhawan, we will not be responsible,” Gehlot had said in the morning before meeting Mishra. The chief minister had alleged that Mishra is “under pressure from above” not to call the Assembly session.
Kataria demanded that all legal provisions be used to evict the Congress MLAs from the Raj Bhawan. “The chief minister is saying that the public will come and gherao the Raj Bhawan,” Kataria said. “I would request the Centre that it deploy the CRPF in Rajasthan to maintain law and order. It should not trust the Rajasthan Police.”
State BJP President Satish Poonia called the chief minister’s language unfortunate, and claimed that he had violated the law by his remarks. “He is lowering the dignity of his post,” Poonia said. “He holds the home portfolio and by stating this, he brought himself in the category of criminals. He has violated provisions of the Disaster Management Act and the Indian Penal Code.”
Meanwhile, unidentified Congress leaders told PTI that Gehlot has asked the legislators to protest in the “Gandhian way”. He said this is because Gehlot wants to avoid any confrontation at the Raj Bhawan.
Congress plans statewide protests
Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee President Govind Singh Dotasra said that the party will hold protests in all district headquarters in the state on Saturday against the BJP’s “conspiracy to murder democracy”, PTI reported. The demonstrations will begin at 11 am, he said.
Earlier this week, Gehlot wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi accusing Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat of being part of a conspiracy to bring down his government.
On July 17, the Congress suspended dissident MLAs Bhanwar Lal Sharma and Vishvendra Singh after a purported audio clip of them conspiring to bring down the state government with Shekhawat emerged on social media. The Congress also demanded a warrant against Shekhawat. Shekhawat has rejected the allegations. On July 20, the Special Operations Group of the Rajasthan Police asked him to appear for an interrogation.
What’s happened so far
The Congress government in Rajasthan has been on the brink of collapse after former Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot rebelled against Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and proceeded with a few MLAs to Delhi earlier this month. 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. Earlier on Friday, the Rajasthan High Court again asked Joshi to defer his action against the legislators till the final hearing. The court also accepted an application by Pilot and other rebel MLAs to make the Centre a party in their writ petition challenging the Assembly Speaker’s disqualification notices.
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.