New Delhi: The BJP does not seem to have a lot of time in hand to dislodge the Ashok Gehlot government in Rajasthan, with only two days left for the state assembly Speaker’s decision on the disqualification notices he issued to former deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot and 18 other dissident Congress MLAs.
The 19 MLAs have moved the Rajasthan High Court against the notices, issued under the anti-defection law. The court had Friday pushed the Speaker’s deadline for Tuesday evening. It will, however, resume proceedings in the case Monday.
Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, in the meantime, has begun looking at convening a short assembly session to ensure a floor test, an MLA in his camp told ThePrint. A successful trust vote will provide the government with a six-month immunity as law does not permit another floor test for six months.
Gehlot had met Governor Kalraj Mishra for about 45 minutes Saturday evening and submitted a list of MLAs he claims are backing him. The chief minister is claiming the support of 101 MLAs in the 200-member assembly.
“The chief minister doesn’t want to prolong this crisis because in a long battle, Pilot and the BJP will be able to muster the numbers,” the MLA said. “They are already using every effort possible such as getting the ED (Enforcement Directorate) and the IT (Income Tax) department to put pressure on the MLAs. If Pilot and the other MLAs survive in the high court, the only option left is to disqualify them.”
The legislator added that if an assembly session is called in the next few days, the dissenting Congress MLAs would have to return to Jaipur or face disqualification under the anti-defection law for defying the party whip.
“It will be easier to get four to five more MLAs to go with the CM as they would be inclined to save their memberships,” the Gehlot camp MLA said. “But they are incommunicado as they are being held hostage in a hotel. Once they land in Jaipur, it will be easier to get to them.”
‘BJP aware that time is running out’
Given the situation, the BJP appears to be aware that Pilot and his dissenting MLAs are running out of options.
“There is still a chance but the rider is that even if Gehlot calls for an assembly session, Pilot cannot be disqualified by the Speaker,” said a state BJP leader. “Once the MLAs are out of the hotel, surprises can happen on the floor of the House. We have seen many surprises in the assembly but for it to work, the Speaker’s decision needs to be delayed. But in politics, every hour matters so who knows what will happen tomorrow in such a fluid situation.”
If Pilot and his MLAs are disqualified, the House strength will come down to 181, leaving 91 as the halfway mark, possibly making it easier for the Congress government to prove its majority.
A section of the BJP, however, believes Gehlot is wary of calling a floor test as he is unsure of his numbers.
“If Gehlotji is so confident about his numbers then why is he not calling an assembly session,” said a senior BJP leader. “If he thinks Pilot does not have the numbers, then he should call an assembly session and prove his majority and disqualify the dissidents. Why is he not seeking a trust vote?”
The BJP strategy is now resting on Pilot’s ability to secure the support of more Congress MLAs in the next two to three days. The party is also hoping the court battle will give the former deputy CM more time to engineer defections.
“When the court hearing is going on, the Speaker can’t take a decision on the disqualification notices,” said Arun Chaturvedi, former BJP state president, adding that the BJP is looking at a number of situations in the state.
“One scenario is that the court may restrict the Speaker from taking any decision for a couple of more days,” Chaturvedi said. “The second scenario is if the Speaker decides in haste, the MLAs can move the Supreme Court to get a stay, while the third is to let Gehlot call an assembly session and prove his numbers. But this is Pilot’s battle and not the BJP’s.”
Another BJP leader said, “Both camps are engaged in wooing MLAs day and night but there is little idea on how things will unfold. Nobody is confident. The Gehlot camp has the edge for now but if the stalemate prolongs, the tide may change.”
The BSP merger
Another option for those opposed to the Gehlot government is to challenge the merger of the six BSP MLAs with the Congress. The six MLAs had merged with the ruling party in September 2019.
According to media reports, BSP chief Mayawati is looking at mounting a legal challenge to bar the six legislators from casting vote in case Gehlot faces a floor test. She has also called for President’s Rule in the state.
“Ashok Gehlot has openly violated the anti-defection law and cheated the BSP over its MLAs,” she had said on 16 July. “Now he is tapping the phones of political leaders. The governor must take cognisance of the political instability and recommend President’s Rule.”
So far, the chief minister has been playing all the right cards. He had called a legislature party leaders’ meeting to display his strength on camera last Tuesday. He has also instituted a special inquiry to investigate the “plot against his government”, which gives the Congress administration an opportunity to build pressure on BJP leaders and the Pilot camp.
On Saturday, Gehlot also secured the support of two Bhartiya Tribal Party (BTP) MLAs — Rajkumar Roat and Ram Prasad Dindor.
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