A team of Rajasthan Police officials who entered one of the two resorts in Manesar, Haryana, where 18 dissident Congress MLAs are lodged with Sachin Pilot, returned empty-handed on Friday after finding no rebel legislators there, said sources.
Led by IPS Vikas Sharma, the SOG team was initially stopped by Haryana police but later allowed. The team had gone to record the voice sample of MLA Bhanwar Lal Sharma, while also possessing a warrant against him.
The Special Operations Group (SOG) team went as part of its investigation into two audio clips which allegedly indicate a plot to bring down the Congress government in Rajasthan.
However, no rebel MLAs could be found there and the SOG has claimed that Haryana Police did not cooperate fully.
On Friday morning, Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala, citing a leaked audio clip, demanded an investigation into the alleged horse-trading and an FIR against Union minister and Jodhpur MP Gajendra Shekhawat for attempts to topple Ashok Gehlot government's in Rajasthan. Based on the transcript of the purported conversations read by Surjewala at a Press Conference in Jaipur, the Congress suspended two party MLAs Bhanwar Lal Sharma and Vishvendra Singh.
The Congress had alleged that senior BJP leader and Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat also figured in the clips, which surfaced on social media.
But the FIR registered by the Special Operations Group does not identify one Gajendra Singh as any minister. Television channels showed a Rajasthan police vehicle being stopped outside the Manesar hotel for nearly an hour by policemen from the BJP-ruled state.
The police vehicle was later seen entering the hotel compound and then being driven out after several minutes. Additional Director General (SOG) Ashok Rathore said the team was told at the reception that the MLA was not there. The police then left the second hotel in Manesar where some of the MLAs led by rebel Congress leader Sachin Pilot are said to camping.
"A team was sent to Manesar to ascertain the versions of those whose names have come up in audio clips as there have been statements that these audio clips are fake or morphed," Rathore had said earlier.
The refusal to allow the team, at least initially, to enter the hotel prompted senior Congress leaders to charge that the BJP was part of the plan to topple their government in Rajasthan.
"If BJP claims not being involved in Congress' internal fight, then why BJP-led Haryana Government is extending their support and protection to MLAs inside the hotel?" AICC general secretary Avinash Pande tweeted.
AICC spokesperson Randeep Surjewala also made the same allegation. "Haryana Police blocking Rajasthan Police from investigating the 'toppling game' is naked proof of this plot," he tweeted. He claimed that the BJP collusion in the plot has now been exposed.
Pilot and other Congress dissidents on Friday got a four-day reprieve from any action by Rajasthan Speaker on the disqualification notices served on them, as the high court extended the hearing into their petition to the next week. The Rajasthan High Court will resume the hearing at 10 am on Monday and Speaker C P Joshi will not take any action on the disqualification notices till 5.30 pm on Tuesday.
Pilot and his MLAs are challenging the Congress move to disqualify them from the state assembly, and were initially asked to send their replies by 1 pm on Friday. Speaker C P Joshi had written to the court that he will not act on the notices till 5 pm on Friday, by when the court proceedings were earlier expected to be over.
His counsel agreed to extend this breather to 5.30 pm on Tuesday as the division bench of Chief Justice Indrajit Mahanty and Justice Prakash Gupta had not delivered its order by that time.
An assembly statement said this was mutually agreed by both sides. The petition had challenged the constitutional validity of the notices, based on a Congress complaint that they should be disqualified from the assembly for defying a party whip.
The Pilot camp argued that a party whip applies only when the assembly is in session. In its complaint to the Speaker, the Congress had sought action against Pilot and the other dissidents under paragraph 2 (1) (a) of the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution.
The provision disqualifies MLAs if they 'voluntarily give up' the membership of the party which they represent in the House.
They Congress claims that this is the inference that can be drawn from the MLAs conduct. But the dissident camp says Pilot never indicated any intention to leave the party.
In the writ petition, the MLAs said that they continue to owe allegiance to the Congress and are not seeking to defect to any other party. But the petition made clear that they opposed the manner in which Gehlot functioned.
They claimed that the Speaker acted hastily in sending them the notices.
"The undue haste and swiftness exhibited by the authority concerned in taking cognisance of the said complaint leaves no doubt in the minds of the petitioners that the move is aimed at arriving at a foregone conclusion leading to the disqualification of the petitioners," it added.
The dissidents said that sensing a brewing discontent, the chief minister had called a legislature party meeting on July 13 without providing any specific agenda and levelled baseless allegations against them.
They claimed the SOG inquiry ordered recently by Gehlot was a ploy to threaten them against raising their voices on the 'inefficiency' of the leadership within the party.
BJP state president Satish Poonia accused Surjewala of trying to defame Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. "Surjewala is giving statements as if he is the DG of the SOG, he said.