New Delhi: The 19 rebel Congress MLAs, including Sachin Pilot, Thursday claimed the disqualification notices issued to them by Rajasthan assembly Speaker C.P. Joshi are an attempt to stifle their voices, which sought a leadership change within the party in the “most democratic manner”.
Moving a petition in the Rajasthan High Court, the 19 MLAs have challenged the validity and correctness of the notices.
All have asserted their allegiance to the Congress and maintained they “would never indulge in anything that would topple the (Ashok) Gehlot government”.
“Right to dissent or freedom of speech and expression of a legislator is the basic attribute of parliamentary democracy and is considered to be indispensable for the healthy functioning of the democracy,” read the petition.
Disqualification notices were served on Pilot and 18 other MLAs on 14 July after the chief whip complained they had not participated in the legislative party meeting held a day earlier. They were asked to respond to the notices by Friday. The chief whip alleged the MLAs deliberately conspired against the Congress, acting openly against its interest.
In the petition, the MLAs alleged the complaint is based on assumptions and surmises, having no factual ground to support the alleged apprehension voiced in it.
A single-judge bench heard the petition at 3 pm through video-conferencing. However, during the hearing, senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for the petitioners, sought time to amend the petition. He told the court that Pilot and the others want to challenge section 2A of the tenth schedule.
Section 2A of the tenth schedule allows disqualification of a legislator on the ground that he has “voluntarily given up his membership of such political party”.
Salve said they would mention the matter before the chief justice once the petition is amended so that it can be listed before a division bench.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi argued the petition was not maintainable as the validity of a disqualification notice cannot be challenged at the threshold. He submitted the speaker was within his powers to issue notice and Pilot along with others cannot rush to the court at this stage.
‘Undue haste and swiftness’
According to the petition, none of the “petitioners have either by express conduct or implied conduct indicated their intention to leave or voluntarily give up their membership of the Indian National Congress”. It also expresses apprehensions that the speaker will disqualify them “under pressure and influence of Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot”.
The MLAs have pleaded with the high court to quash and set aside the 14 July disqualification notice. They have also asked the court to uphold their status as the members of the assembly and declare that their actions do not come within the purview of disqualification as envisaged under the tenth schedule.
The petition further argues that the time given to the MLAs for responding to the notices is in breach of the Rajasthan Legislative Assembly (Disqualification) Rules, which mandates the speaker provide a seven-day notice to each member for a reply.
Questions have also been raised over the “undue haste and swiftness” exhibited by the authority in taking cognisance of the complaint against the MLAs. This, the petition said, leaves “no doubt in the minds of the petitioners that the move is aimed at arriving at a foregone conclusion leaving to the disqualification of the petitioners”.
A similar haste was not displayed when a complaint was filed by Madan Dilawar of the Bahujan Samaj Party, seeking disqualification of party defectors (who had joined the Congress en masse) in September 2019, the petition said. The complaint is still pending consideration before the speaker, it added.
The MLAs gave reasons for not attending the legislative party meeting, saying it was called on 13 July without providing the agenda. Baseless allegations were levelled against the petitioners, the plea stated.
Even the police inquiry was no more than a ploy to threaten the petitioners and other MLAs from raising their voice against the inefficiency of the leadership within the party, according to the petition.