Unprecedented scenes played out on Thursday evening outside the Raj Bhavan, or the Rajasthan governor's residence, where Congress MLAs and those supporting the party, led by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, sat on a protest demanding the permission to start proceedings in the state assembly.
The scenes started after Gehlot was denied permission by Governor Kalraj Mishra to convene the assembly. Mishra has reportedly asked for legal opinion on whether the house can be convened during the ongoing pandemic.
Accompanied by Gehlot, the lawmakers arrived in four buses from a hotel on the city outskirts where they have been camping for the past few days. The MLAs said they will sit on an indefinite dharna till the governor accepts their demand for calling the assembly session.
Rajasthan Transport Minister Pratap Singh Khachariyawas said the protest outside the governor's residence will continue indefinitely.
Mishra objected to the sloganeering by the protesting MLAs, asking them to stop.
Speaking to journalists outside the Governor's residence, Gehlot had in a message to Mishra said, "I want to say to the Governor. We are all coming to you. We request you to not come under any pressure. You have taken an oath to the Constitution. Do what is right...otherwise it is possible that people of the state may come to 'gherao' Raj Bhavan and it will not be our responsibility then."
Gehlot's statement sparked another political storm with Leader of Opposition Gulab Chand Kataria demanding the deployment of CRPF to maintain law and order in the state.
Gehlot responded to the criticism over his statement by claiming that former BJP Rajasthan CM Bhairon Singh Shekhawat had made a similar statement in 1993 when he had threatened to 'gherao' the Raj Bhavan if he, as the leader of the BJP as the single largest party, was not called to form the government.
Gehlot has said the protests by the MLAs will continue till the Governor does not respond to the request of the Cabinet to convene the House. The protest is also being seen as Gehlot's way of publicly showing off his majority, given that more than 101 MLAs, in the 200-strong house, are camping outside Raj Bhavan in his favour.
Before the visit, Gehlot called their meeting at the hotel and also addressed mediapersons, telling them that the Congress wants an Assembly session from Monday. Earlier in the day, he alleged the governor was under pressure to not call an Assembly session.
Soon after July 11, when the first reports came in of Sachin Pilot's rebellion, along with 18 other MLAs of the Congress, Gehlot had repeatedly asked for a session to prove his majority. In the complex legal battle amid the ongoing political tussle playing out in the Rajasthan High Court and the Supreme Court, a new legal battle-line may have been drawn on Friday -- whether, and for how long, a Governor can deny convening an assembly overruling the demands of the cabinet lead by the Chief Minister.
Commenting on the striking images unfolding outside the Governor's residence, noted constitutional expert and former secretary-general of Lok Sabha Subhash Kashyap, who has seen Gehlot from up close, said the Constitution gives the Governor the full authority on taking the final call as far as convening the assembly was concerned.
"As far as the Constitution is concerned, there is no doubt that the Governor has the final authority to decide on these matters. But if he decides that amid the current pandemic it is unwise to allow the state assembly to function, he cannot be challenged in any court," Kashyap said.
On a personal note, Kashyap added he was quite hurt by the conduct of Gehlot whom he has known for many years.
"The manner in which Ashok Gehlot talked about the Governor on Friday was quite unfortunate. I have known him for many years, while he was an MP. We have been on very cordial terms. We often invited each other for cultural programmes and I have always known Gehlot for being a perfect gentleman," said Kashyap. "But his conduct today has hurt me quite deeply."
"This is no way to talk about the Governor of a state. I have never witnessed such scenes in my life. The Governor's office is a respected constitutional office, it cannot be demeaned like this," Kashyap said, adding that on the question on the limit till when a Governor can delay convening a session, that "as a governor he is expected to be reasonable".
While Kashyap claimed that the Constitution gives the Governor full authority on such matters, Congress leader and senior advocate Kapil Sibal argued in a live press conference that the Governor cannot delay a session indefinitely.
"The Supreme Court has said as much in its judgments over the years. But unfortunately democracy's very definition has changed today. Today the Governor will not take advice from the ministers but from somewhere else...You may remember what happened in Maharashtra, when despite the President's rule being in place, the governor administered oath to two people," Sibal said.
Governor Mishra has reportedly sought legal advice on whether a session can be allowed during the ongoing pandemic. But some have begun arguing on why a floor test cannot be called through the medium of video conferencing.