In relief for the 18 dissident Congress MLAs led by now-sacked deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot, the Rajasthan High Court on Friday ordered “status quo” to be maintained in the disqualification case against the rebel MLAs, putting off the decision till Monday when the Supreme Court hears the case.
The order came after the court allowed the application moved by Team Pilot seeking impleadment of the Union of India as a party to the proceedings in the disqualification matter. A bench of Chief Justice Indrajit Mahanty and Justice Prakash Gupta allowed the application that was moved by the petitioners on Thursday. The court then adjourned for 20 minutes. The application for impleadment was moved on the grounds that the constitutional amendment is under challenge and, therefore, the Union of India is a necessary party now. The dissident Congress MLAs led by Pilot have challenged their disqualification notices through the writ petition which was taken up by the bench on Friday last week and arguments were held.
The Supreme Court on Thursday refused to restrain the Rajasthan High Court from passing an order on a plea of rebel MLAs challenging the disqualification notice against them and said it would be subject to the outcome of petition before the apex court. Observing that the "voice of dissent" in a democracy cannot be shut down, the Supreme Court refused to accept the request of Rajasthan Assembly Speaker CP Joshi to either stay the matter pending before the high court or transfer it to the apex court.
A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra was hearing an appeal filed by Joshi against the high court's direction asking him to defer the disqualification proceedings till July 24. The high court is scheduled to pass its order on Friday on the plea filed by the 19 dissident Congress MLAs.
The bench, also comprising Justices BR Gavai and Krishna Murari, said Joshi's plea raises important questions and requires prolonged hearing. "We are not restraining the High Court from passing the order but it will be subject to the outcome of the petition (of Speaker) before the Supreme Court," the bench said, fixing the plea for hearing on July 27.
"Voice of dissent in democracy cannot be shut down," the bench observed. "We are trying to find out whether this process (disqualification) was permissible or not," it said, questioning Joshi on the reasons for initiating disqualification proceedings against the dissident MLAs.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Joshi, listed the reasons for starting the disqualification proceedings, saying that these MLAs did not attend party meetings and conspired to destabilise their own government.
The bench said: "This is not a simple matter and these MLAs are elected representatives." Responding to a query of the bench, Sibal said, These MLAs had gone to Haryana, stayed at a hotel and gave TV bites that they want floor test."
He said the issue as to whether the disqualification process is permissible or not cannot be taken note of by the court at this stage. "Our grievance is purely constitutional and there cannot be any order till decision is taken by the speaker."
Pilot has been upset after the Congress picked Gehlot over him for the chief minister's post, following the December 2018 elections. His supporters insisted that it was Pilot's leadership as the state Congress head which led to the victory.
Last week, Pilot and 18 other MLAs rebelled openly, defying a party whip to attend two Congress Legislature Party meetings. He was then sacked as deputy chief minister and PCC chief.
Gehlot on Monday called Sachin Pilot "useless", using the Hindi word "nikamma" in a no-holds-barred attack on his former deputy with whom he is locked in a power tussle.
Referring to the dissident leader's tenure as the Pradesh Congress Committee president, Gehlot claimed that nobody raised questions for the sake of the party even when they knew that he didn't work.