New Delhi: The Rajasthan High Court may pronounce its verdict tomorrow on the petition of Sachin Pilot and 18 Indian National Congress(INC) rebels challenging disqualification notices served to them. The Supreme Court today refused to restrain the high court from pronouncing a verdict, as the Rajasthan speaker had requested. The speaker had argued that a court cannot interfere in this case.
The voice of dissent in a democracy cannot be shut down, the Supreme Court noted, without reference to Rajasthan. “It is a matter of just one day. Why can’t you wait,” the court asked during arguments on whether the high court had the right to interfere or give protective orders for the rebels. The judges questioned why the speaker, a neutral person, should approach the court at all.
The Justice Arun Mishra-headed bench, however, said that the matter in the Rajasthan high court would be subject to the proceedings before the apex court.
Rajasthan Speaker CP Joshi had challenged the state high court order of 21 July that had asked the speaker to postpone action on his notice to Pilot and other rebel MLAs till 24 July. The Supreme Court refused to stay the high court order despite a request by senior counsel Kapil Sibal, who appeared for the speaker.
“The case requires a prolonged hearing. It involves the very question of democracy itself,” Justice Arun Mishra, who headed the bench, said.
The apex court will consider the question of whether courts can interfere with the disqualification proceedings initiated by the speaker at an interim stage before the speaker takes a decision on the disqualification plea.
“We will hear only on the question of whether the court can interfere with the speaker’s proceedings or not. We will not go into whether the speaker acted mala fide or bona fide. We cannot go into that”, the Supreme Court said.
The matter will be heard again on 27 July.
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“Assume a leader has lost the faith of persons. While remaining in party, they cannot be disqualified. Then this will become a tool and no one can raise their voice. The voice of dissent in a democracy cannot be suppressed like this,” said Justice AK Mishra, without referring to the Rajasthan crisis.
The judge was reacting to the arguments of the speaker’s advocate Kapil Sibal defending his right to serve notices questioning rebels why they skipped party meetings. “The high court cannot give any protective order at this stage to the other camp. No court can intervene when the Speaker is deciding the case,” Sibal had said.
Justice Mishra asked: “After all, they have been elected by the people. Can they not express their dissent?” Sibal replied that they would need to explain. “It is the speaker which will decide, not any court,” he said.
Speaker CP Joshi had served notices to 19 rebel MLAs, including Sachin Pilot, after they skipped two meetings of INC MLAs that Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot had convened 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. Sibal said their act of not joining the meetings amounted to giving up their membership.
The speaker’s decision to go to the Supreme Court reflects the INC’s concern that a legal victory for the rebels may endanger its government in Rajasthan. Chief Minister 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, 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 INC government and make it tough for Gehlot to retain power in Rajasthan.
The chief minister wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, alleging BJP’s attempts to dislodge his government — he named Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat — and “ambitious” members of his own party. It surfaced 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,” Gehlot wrote to 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 accused Sachin Pilot, his deputy until he sacked him last week, of conspiring with the BJP to bring down the INC 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 INC to the BJP.
Sachin Pilot had yesterday sent a legal notice to the INC MLA who accused him of trying to bribe him into defecting. The notice to MLA Giriraj Singh Malinga said he had tried to tarnish Pilot’s image and asked him for Re 1 and a written apology.