Four months after the trust vote was won by Ashok Gehlot government in Rajasthan Assembly, the case filed by party rebels led by former Deputy CM Sachin Pilot, where they had challenged the constitutional validity of Tenth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, continues to be heard by the High Court.
In July, after the Pilot camp MLAs rebelled and skipped Congress Legislative Party (CLP) meetings, Congress Chief Whip Mahesh Joshi approached Assembly Speaker C P Joshi seeking disqualification of rebel MLAs. Joshi then issued notices to the rebel MLAs on July 14, giving them till July 17. However, the rebel MLAs approached the court on July 16 stating that they did not violate the clause under which their disqualification had been sought, and that the clause itself violated their right to freedom of speech and expression.
The petition was filed by Todabhim MLA Prithviraj Meena and 18 other rebel MLAs, including Pilot. Over the course of a high profile hearing involving Harish Salve, Mukul Rohatgi, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, etc. eight parties were made respondents, including Speaker C P Joshi, the office of the Speaker, Assembly Secretary, Union of India, among others.
However, some lawyers associated with the case claim that there is still mistrust between the two sides and for the past few weeks, the matter is being adjourned on the “pretext” of an application not being received by some of the parties involved in the case.
In September, advocates Vimal Choudhary and Yogesh Tailor, who are representing Jaipur resident Mohan Lal Nama who became a party in the case, had submitted that “a political settlement has been reached between both parties” and that the petitioners – the MLAs – participated in the Assembly proceedings and also voted in favour of the confidence motion. Hence, the advocates say, this means that the relief sought by the MLAs seeking quashing of the Speaker’s notice is “automatically deemed to have been accepted by the Speaker” and hence there is no point in keeping the petition pending.
During a hearing in October, the High Court directed them to supply a copy of their application to Divyesh Maheshwari – counsel for the petitioner – as well as to the office of Advocate General and counsel for other respondents. However, during the last hearing on December 14, Rajesh Goswami appeared instead of Maheshwari and the court again directed Choudhary and Tailor to supply a copy to the counsel of the petitioner “who may file reply to the same, if any, within four weeks.” The matter has now been listed for January 14.
Prateek Kasliwal, who is representing Assembly Speaker C P Joshi, said that there are two reasons why the matter is still being heard. “First is that once a petition is admitted on questions of law [such as Tenth Schedule in the present case], the matter goes in due course, and once a matter gets into due course, then it normally takes 5-10 years to come up for hearing again.”
“Second, whether the matter is infructuous, this call (to withdraw the petition) has to be taken by the MLAs; however, these 19 MLAs have never come up and sought that their petition be dismissed since they’re back in party fold,” he said.
Echoing Kasliwal, advocate Divyesh Maheshwari, who is representing the former Congress rebels, said that “the matter is not infructuous for the simple reason being that it has been admitted by the High Court on the part of law. If a law has to be interpreted again or has to be changed — or whatever the High Court decides in its own wisdom, then the matter doesn’t become infructuous.”
However, a counsel associated with the case said that “there is mistrust between the two factions, petitioners don’t want to withdraw nor the other side wants it to be withdrawn and so it keeps getting listed again and again. The MLAs can withdraw their petition or Mahesh Joshi can withdraw his request seeking disqualification of MLAs. But neither party wants to end the case yet.”
Another lawyer who is also associated with the case, said that the “parties seem to be keen to keep this matter alive till February since that is when the vote of confidence will complete six months.”
Although there is no rule that a second vote of confidence cannot be held within six months of a vote of confidence, it has generally been the trend. “We don’t know what the political situation will be in February. But if there is political instability again, then probably either party can move accordingly in this case in the High Court,” the lawyer said.
MLA Prithvi Raj evaded commenting on the issue, saying, “I am sitting in a temple, will talk to you later.” Rajasthan Advocate General M S Singhvi, who represented Assembly Speaker and Assembly Secretary, also declined to comment on the issue.
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