New Delhi: Whether the process to disqualify Sachin Pilot and other Congress rebels can continue may be revealed today as the Supreme Court takes up rival petitions filed in the Rajasthan government crisis. Speaker CP Joshi had yesterday asked the Supreme Court to stop the Rajasthan High Court from giving any verdict on the rebels’ challenge to disqualification notices he had sent last week. The Speaker also said in his petition that the High Court cannot ask him to defer action against the rebels until Friday, when it is to announce a verdict.
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After the Speaker’s sudden move, Sachin Pilot’s team also petitioned the Supreme Court to give it a hearing before taking any decision. A three-judge Supreme Court bench will decide whether the Rajasthan High Court can announce its verdict tomorrow on team Pilot’s challenge to the Speaker’s disqualification notices.
Speaker CP Joshi had served notices to 19 rebel MLAs, including Sachin Pilot, after they skipped two meetings of Congress MLAs called by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot last week. The rebels have argued in court that they do not intend to quit the party; they only want a change in the leadership.
The Speaker, who had earlier said he would honour the Rajasthan High Court’s request to delay action until its Friday verdict, told the Supreme Court that he is empowered by the constitution to take action under anti-defection laws. The rebels cannot legally challenge his notices until he takes action, Mr Joshi argued.
The Speaker said he wanted to avoid a clash between Constitutional institutions. But his decision to go to the Supreme Court reflects the Congress’s worry that a legal victory for the rebels may endanger its government in Rajasthan.
Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has a narrow lead in the 200-member assembly – just one MLA over the majority mark of 101. If the courts decide team Pilot’s 19 MLAs can be disqualified, Mr Gehlot can win more easily as the majority mark will come down.
If the rebel MLAs win their case against disqualification, then they can vote against the Congress government and make it tough for Mr Gehlot to retain power in Rajasthan.
The Chief Minister’s letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi alleging attempts to dislodge his government by the BJP – he named Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat — and “ambitious” members of his own party emerged last evening.
“At a time when our priority should be to save lives and livelihoods of the masses, the centre has become the main conspirator in toppling a state government,” Mr Gehlot wrote to PM Modi. “I don’t know how much you know about this or whether you are being misled. History will also not forgive those who are complicit in these plots,” he said.
The Chief Minister has accused Sachin Pilot, his deputy until he sacked him last week, of conspiring with the BJP to bring down the Congress government in Rajasthan in a plan similar to Madhya Pradesh, where the Kamal Nath government crashed in March following Jyotiraditya Scindia’s switch from the Congress to the BJP.
Sachin Pilot yesterday sent a legal notice to a Congress MLA who accused him of trying to bribe him into defecting. The notice to MLA Giriraj Singh Malinga said he had tried to tarnish Mr Pilot’s image and asked him for Re 1 and a written apology.