Sachin Pilot and his team of 18 Rajasthan lawmakers on Thursday approached the high court’s Jaipur bench to seek cancellation of assembly speaker CP Joshi’s disqualification notice issued to them, insisting that the anti-defection law could not be invoked against them for disagreeing with decisions and policies of some Congress leaders outside the assembly.
Pilot’s decision to move the Rajasthan High Court is politically seen by Congress leaders to be a signal that he intends to take his battle with Ashok Gehlot to its logical conclusion. If the Pilot camp is disqualified from the assembly, it would reduce the strength of the assembly and place Gehlot – who is believed to be on thin ice – on a stronger footing till elections are held on these seats.
The joint petition was taken up by the high court’s Justice Satish Sharma on Thursday afternoon. But senior lawyer Harish Salve, who is representing the petitioners, sought time to amend the petition to broaden its scope.
“They said they will challenge the Rajasthan Assembly Member (Disqualification on the grounds of changing party) Rules, 1989, instead of the notices,” Prateek Kasliwal, who is representing speaker CP Joshi, said.
Justice Sharma resumed the hearing a few hours later at 5 pm. But the petition in its new form challenged the Rajasthan assembly’s rules, the judge referred the case to a two-judge bench.“Only a division bench can hear petitions challenging rules, bylaws and amendments,” Prateek Kasliwal explained.
Sachin Pilot’s primary argument in the early version of the petition on Thursday was that missing two meetings of Congress Legislative Party did not amount to defection. According to the Constitution’s Tenth Schedule, the anti-defection provisions kick in if a member voluntarily gives up membership of the political party or votes contrary to the party’s direction in the assembly.
Pilot also stressed that speaker CP Joshi might act under the influence of chief minister Ashok Gehlot.
It is evident that the Tenth Schedule of Constitution is merely sought to be used as a guise to impose its majoritarian views upon the members and to stifle their freedom of speech and fair play in democratic setup, the petition said.
Elected representatives who voice disagreement with certain policies or decisions by some members of the party cannot be counted as acting against the interests of the party. A healthy discourse of the pros and cons of policies of a political party cannot be inferred to imply voluntarily giving up membership under anti-defection law, the petition said, pointing that they had never spoken about quitting the Congress or trying to pull down the Gehlot government.
The complaint against them was “based on assumptions and surmises” and were without a factual basis to support such apprehensions.
A “grave mischief” is sought to be achieved in which the assembly is seeking to impose sanctions upon the petitioners on “sheer presumptuous basis”, the petition said. It contrasted the speaker’s inaction on a disqualification complaint against Bahujan Samaj Party legislators who crossed over to the Congress with Joshi’s 14 July notice that was issued within hours of the complaint from Congress Chief Whip Mahesh Joshi.
The petition by 19 lawmakers also pointed to the law that allows an MLA expelled by a political party to continue as the member of the assembly, underlining that there would be “dangerous consequences” if an elected member is deprived of membership “merely on the whims and fancies” of party leaders.