As the Rajasthan High Court bench of Chief Justice Indrajit Mahanty and Justice Prakash Gupta started hearing the pleas, the bench allowed Congress chief whip Mahesh Joshi’s plea to be added as a respondent in the case.
The bench was hearing a petition filed by Sachin Pilot and 18 rebel Congress MLAs on disqualification notice served to them by the Rajasthan Assembly Speaker. The matter has been adjourned till Monday.
The dissident MLAs’ advocate, Senior Counsel Harish Salve started by submitting that the petitioner has raised his voice against the “dictatorship” of CM Gehlot. He said this was his exercise of the freedom of speech of legislators and will not amount to ‘defection’.
He said: “If there is an act outside the assembly, it will not come in the 10th schedule. If there is a difference of opinion with the CM or you speak against him, then he will not fall in the category of disqualification.” He also argued: “Acts outside the House are not violation of anti-defection law. He said a party whip applies only when the assembly is in session. He said that the whip is not applicable to meetings in homes and hotels.” He gave the example of the case of UP’s Rana and said that this is not the first case. “It cannot be called rebellion.”
Salve said: “Registering an FIR accusing the Deputy CM and MLAs of treason is an armed tactic.” He was referring to two FIRs lodged earlier in the day by Rajasthan Police on a complaint lodged by the Congress. Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala had earlier in the day demanded the arrest of union minister and BJP leader Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and rebel Congress MLA Bhanwarlal Sharma (see story Rajasthan police head for resort).
Salve added during the argument that the whip does not apply to a meeting at home or hotel. Keeping their points cannot be a ground for disqualification. It cannot be called a rebellion if he just raising his voice in the party. He said: “Sachin Pilot has put forth his point by telling the truth. It does not fall under the category of disqualification.”
He added: “Pilot and others have put forward their views in the party, and have not resigned. Nothing has been done against the party’s reputation with any of their activities. Our stay in the hotel is not a violation of party rules.”
Senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi, who was Attorney General from June 19, 2014 to June 18, 2017 and refused an extension offered by the BJP government thereafter, also said that this matter does not come under the ambit of the 10th schedule. “Sachin Pilot’s group did not revolt. Freedom of speech is the legislators’ authority,” he said. “The legislators, within the party, raised their voice. This cannot be brought under the ambit of disqualification.”
Congressman and Senior Counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi said that the petition of Pilot and 18 other MLAs is premature and hence not hearable. Therefore, the petition should be dismissed.” He said they can raise the contentions before the Speaker.
At this the bench suggested that the matter be adjourned to Monday. The bench also announced that the Speaker should not to act till Tuesday.
Read the order here;
-India Legal Bureau