Rajasthan Assembly Speaker CP Joshi on Monday withdrew his plea in the Supreme Court against the High Court’s July 21 order to defer action on disqualification notices to 19 rebel Congress legislators, reported Live Law. This came minutes before the top court was supposed to take up his plea.
Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing on behalf of the Speaker, informed the bench that the High Court had passed a fresh 32-page order on July 24. “We have to weigh our legal options on what to do next,” he said. Advocate Sunil Fernandes, who also represented Joshi, said a fresh special leave petition may be filed and they are keeping all grounds open.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court had refused to intervene in the matter and asked the High Court to announce its verdict on the petition by the rebel MLAs against their disqualification. The top court rejected the 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” was whether a legislator’s “voice of dissent” can be “shut down” with the threat of disqualification. “These are people elected by the public,” he had said. “The larger question is about democracy and how it will survive like this...This for us is not about the disqualification of some people.”
On Friday, the Rajasthan High Court directed Assembly Speaker 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 in the Supreme Court.
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 earlier this month. Pilot was sacked as the Rajasthan deputy chief minister and 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.
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.
Adding more trouble for the Congress, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party on Sunday issued a whip to six of its MLAs – who are now in the Congress – directing them to vote against Chief Minister Gehlot’s party in case of a no-confidence motion.