The sacking of Sachin Pilot and two ministers loyal to him from the Ashok Gehlot cabinet Tuesday has set the stage for another battle in Rajasthan — one that has all the signs of a protracted legal and technical fight.
The Congress has indicated as much: it has or is in the process of moving a petition to Speaker C P Joshi, seeking disqualification of rebel MLAs.
And the first hints were dropped by Chief Minister Gehlot himself. Sources said “intense legal consultations” have been held over two days to finalise the contours of a disqualification battle. Sources said Gehlot and AICC observers Ajay Maken and Randeep Surjewala held many rounds of discussions with Abhishek Singhvi, party leader and lawyer, to draw up a plan for the legal battle.
Non-attendance at the Congress Legislature Party meeting and “hobnobbing” with the BJP, sources said, will be the grounds for the disqualification battle.
At the same time, the threat of disqualification, sources said, can be used to try and bring back some of the MLAs from the Pilot camp. And perhaps this is why the Congress is not willing to reveal whether it has moved the petition.
Speaking to reporters after meeting Governor Kalraj Mishra, Gehlot said party MLAs can express lack of confidence in the Chief Minister and seek his removal at the legislature party meeting in the presence of central observers, but if they demand a floor test in the Assembly, then they can attract disqualification since it shows their intention to topple the government with the help of the BJP.
Sources said the draft of the disqualification petition, readied Tuesday morning, has been handed over to chief whip Mahesh Joshi.
While one central leader said it has already been moved, Joshi said he cannot disclose whether it has been moved or, if moved, against how many MLAs. “I am not in a position to say anything now. I can tell you only tomorrow,” Joshi told The Indian Express.
While one senior Congress leader said the party will seek disqualification of all MLAs with Pilot for wilfully leaving the party, another leader said the party could spare some of them.
“We know that some of the MLAs will not leave Congress. Some do not want elections, and some do not want to go to the BJP…. Only a handful of them will stand by him in whatever decision he takes… we are trying to reach out to them,” the leader said.
“The Assembly elections are still three-and-half years away. The disqualification petition can be used as a threat to make some of them come back,” he said.
Sources said the dissident MLAs can challenge the petition in the court. “It is very difficult. It is not going to be easy. The Speaker will issue notices first, he will hear you. And after hearing from you, he will take a call… If they are disqualified, they will go to court,” a leader said.
The BJP, meanwhile, will go into a huddle Wednesday. Senior leaders including former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, BJP national vice president Om Mathur, state president Satish Poonia, Leader of Opposition Gulab Chand Katariya, national joint general secretary (organisation) V Satish and state organisation secretary Chandrashekhar are expected to attend the meeting to decide the party strategy and future course of action.
While the BJP signalled that the “game is still on” despite Gehlot’s show of strength, senior Congress leaders too conceded that the government is not out of the woods yet.
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