HC breather to Pilot

With Gehlot pushing for a floor test and the legal wrangle set to drag on a bit, stalemate continues in Rajasthan

After the Supreme Court’s observation that no party could suppress the “voice of dissent” in a democracy by disqualifying members holding a different viewpoint under the anti-defection law, thereby holding on to power, it was clear the way things would go in Rajasthan. So it came as no surprise that the Rajasthan High Court stopped the Speaker from taking action against now-sacked deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot and other rebel Congress leaders. The breather holds till Monday when the Supreme Court is to take up the High Court judgment as desired by the Rajasthan Speaker. And since the top court will need some time to deliberate and define the larger constitutional question of the Speaker’s powers and whether his moves were neutral or biased, there could be some more delay for the stalemate to be resolved. In fact, the High Court reprieve gave further credence to Pilot’s contention that he was not against the party but the Chief Minister, making it look like an egoistic contest of the liked and the unliked. The Ashok Gehlot Government, which is in an ugly battle to see Pilot and his group turfed out, had hoped that it could use the anti-defection law to disarm the rebels, arguing that their skipping the legislature party meeting amounted to defiance and that the Speaker could take action even if the House was not in session. Pilot claimed that considering that he and his party had not initiated any move to self-destruct or leave the party on their own except express a divergence of opinion with the Chief Minister concerned, this infringed upon the right to “freedom of speech.” In fact, Gehlot’s provocative legal action has misfired and Pilot’s reactive strategy has worked for the time being. Vilely derided and almost forced to break away, it is now easier for Pilot to take the help of the BJP, which has been courting him for quite some time. Not only for reclaiming Rajasthan but to deal a body blow to the Congress as Pilot, like Jyotiraditya Scindia, has been close to its undeclared leader Rahul Gandhi. An inkling of this came when Pilot, who had challenged the disqualification notices in the High Court, added the Centre as a party to the case so that it can weigh in on whether the anti-defection law applies to his group or not. According to earlier Supreme Court judgments on clause 2(1)(a) of the 10th Schedule of the Constitution, any anti-party activity could be interpreted as voluntarily giving up membership. Gehlot has, therefore, been building damning evidence of Pilot’s breakaway moves, like parading MLAs claiming bribery offers and publicising alleged tapes of senior BJP leaders coaxing rebels at Pilot’s behest. But Pilot sought to blunt that edge, threatening a legal suit and demanding authenticity of such claims. The clouding up of legalese has meant that both Gehlot and Pilot will have a tough time holding on to their men. Gehlot needs to prove that he has more than 101 MLAs in his support in the 200-member Assembly. If Pilot and his group are disqualified after the top court considers the merits of his plea, the halfway mark would come down and Gehlot could sail through. But with the Pilot group voting against his Government, he would have it tough. Pilot could actually get some advantage now as Gehlot has been dangling the Damocles’ sword of disqualification over his rival’s loyalists, saying they would lose by crossing over and gain privileges by staying with him. The breather means that some floaters could pitch in with Pilot. As of now, the Pilot camp has 19 MLAs and the BJP 72. Including smaller parties and Independent members, the Opposition has 97 at the moment.

This is one of the reasons why Gehlot sought an appointment with Governor Kalraj Mishra for a floor test as his supporters marched to the Raj Bhavan soon after the “status quo” ruling. Although he has herded his MLAs at Fairmont hotel, more delays will make that job difficult. If a floor test is held now and he wins, there cannot be fresh elections for the next six months. Meanwhile, the BJP will try to exasperate Gehlot as much as possible, considering he had named Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat as the architect of toppling games and even written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about it. The Governor, while maintaining that he wasn’t against a floor test, said he needed some time to go over the rule book. The Supreme Court, too, has said the issues raised in the Speaker’s petition on the right to issue disqualification notices required “prolonged hearing” as it involved a “larger question” related to the democracy. So clearly, the imbroglio cannot be resolved as fast as Gehlot would have liked. Meanwhile, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati, who has accused Gehlot of poaching six of her MLAs, could be another hurdle. If she somehow manages to woo them back and decides to take the help of the BJP in doing so, Gehlot could have trouble. As for Pilot, he may not have the Chief Minister’s chair still but given his solid Gujjar votebase, he could bargain hard for a leadership role. Jyotiraditya Scindia delivered 22 MLAs to the BJP in Madhya Pradesh and now, having got some positions for them in the Government, is attracting more MLAs to cross over. The BJP will spare no effort to bleed out the Congress.

Source: The Pioneer