Rajasthan Congress Chief Whip Mahesh Joshi on Friday moved the Supreme Court against the High Court’s decision to maintain status quo on the disqualification notices served to former Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot and 18 dissident Congress legislators, PTI reported.

Mahesh Joshi’s action came two days after Assembly Speaker CP Joshi challenged the High Court’s July 24 order in the Supreme Court. The High Court order of July 24 had put the disqualification procedure on hold till the Supreme Court passed its verdict on the Speaker’s plea. However, CP Joshi on Monday withdrew his plea in the top court, minutes before the hearing was supposed to begin.

The chief whip’s petition said the High Court order was “ex-facie unconstitutional, illegal and in the teeth of the law laid down by this court in 1992 verdict in the case of Kihoto Hollohon”. According to the 1992 “Kihoto Hollohan vs Zachillhu” ruling, only the final decision of the Speaker is amenable, with the only exception being if there is an interim order passed by the Speaker disqualifying or suspending a member of the house.

The Speaker’s plea in the Supreme Court was on similar lines and had stated that the High Court’s order was a “direct intrusion” into the domain exclusively reserved for the Speaker under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution, otherwise known as the anti-defection law. It said the order was, therefore, “ex-facie unconstitutional”. It argued that since the notice issued by the Speaker was “merely a procedural step” and not a final decision on disqualification, the court is restrained from interfering in the same.

The plea had further submitted that the impugned order was “completely non reasoned” and does not reveal any reasons for passing the status quo order. Therefore, the High Court has acted in “gross judicial indiscipline and judicial impropriety” in seeking to reopen settled issues decided by a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in the Kihoto judgment, the plea said.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court rejected another plea filed by the Speaker 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. The top court said that the Rajasthan High Court can announce its verdict on the petition of rebel MLAs challenging the disqualification notices on July 24.

The crisis

The Congress government in Rajasthan has been on the brink of collapse ever since former Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot rebelled against 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 filings before the Rajasthan High Court, 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 make them liable for disqualification on the ground of defection. They added that elected representatives of the people cannot be removed from his post on the whims and fancies of their party’s leadership.

The Congress has 107 MLAs in the Rajasthan Assembly – including the six Bahujan Samaj Party turncoats – following Pilot’s revolt. The majority mark in the 200-member House is 101. Around 100 Congress MLAs from Rajasthan have been moved to a resort in Jaisalmer, as the party attempts to keep its remaining flock in the state together for the upcoming Assembly session from August 14.