A day after Ashok Gehlot and the MLAs in his camp sat on a protest on the lawns of the Raj Bhawan, the Rajasthan Chief Minister on Saturday warned that if Governor Kalraj Mishra still does not agree to their demand for a session of the state Assembly, the party will take its protest to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s residence in New Delhi.
Gehlot was addressing a meeting of the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) at Fairmont Hotel, where the party is keeping its MLAs.
This push for a session of the state Assembly is in line with the Congress leadership’s decision to focus its energies on waging a political battle in Rajasthan since its legal manoeuvres so far have hit a wall.
Gehlot has conveyed to the leadership that he is confident of the numbers and the party will now insist on a floor test in the Assembly rather than fight it out in courts.
Sources in the party said some of the leaders were initially not in favour of taking the battle to the Supreme Court but agreed when Assembly Speaker C P Joshi strongly felt that the Rajasthan High Court’s order last Tuesday — requesting him not to act on the disqualification notices against Sachin Pilot and 18 rebel Congress MLAs before Friday, June 24 — was an infringement of the rights and powers of the Speaker under the Constitution.
But the move yielded no result as the Supreme Court did not stay the High Court’s direction. The High Court then directed Friday that status quo as of July 14 be maintained on notices sent by the Speaker. The dominant view in the party now, sources said, was that the High Court’s order need not be challenged immediately in the Supreme Court.
“The High Court’s Friday order need not be challenged immediately… Anyway, we have 90 days to appeal,” a senior leader said. Some of the leaders felt the special leave petition (SLP) filed by Joshi in the Supreme Court should also be withdrawn since the High Court has already given its order.
While the party is unlikely to challenge the High Court’s Friday order in the Supreme Court Monday, it is divided on withdrawing the SLP. Sources said senior leader Kapil Sibal, who appeared for the Speaker in the Supreme Court, is keen to pursue the case. The matter will come up on Monday.
Asked whether the Congress will file an appeal challenging the High Court order, Abhishek Singhvi said, “The fight has to be on the floor of the House. Legal fights can only be subsidiary.”
So, the party will now wait to hear from the Governor on the Gehlot Cabinet’s recommendation for an Assembly session.
On Friday, the CM had taken MLAs from his camp to Raj Bhawan, demanding an Assembly session be called. The MLAs had called off their protest after the Governor gave them an assurance and later sought a clarification on six points on the Cabinet note. The Gehlot government then held a Cabinet meet late on Friday and drafted a response to the six points raised by the Governor.
Among the six points raised by Mishra was that “no reason has been provided for calling the session on a short notice and neither an agenda has been proposed.”
A party leader present in the CLP meeting on Saturday said, “The CM said the queries raised by the Governor have been addressed, but that he can’t raise those queries or ask for agenda, or the reason for urgency… this has never happened before… If an Assembly session is not called, we’ll meet the President if needed, or sit on a dharna outside the residence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”
At the CLP, Congress communications in-charge, Randeep Singh Surjewala, is learnt to have said that under Article 174 of the Indian Constitution, the Governor has no right to stop the Cabinet from wanting to proceed with a session of the Assembly. Saying the party has the support of 102 MLAs in an Assembly of 200, he said, “It will be remembered in future how 102 people defeated attempts to crush the Constitution.”
On Pilot, Congress Rajasthan in-charge Avinash Pande said the “high command gave full opportunity that if a family member has complaints, these can be kept before it. Unfortunately, they have become a puppet in the hands of the BJP and I don’t think a return is possible anymore.”
The CM is also learnt to have asked the MLAs to be ready for the long haul, saying they may have to spend another 21 days in the resort.
In a statement on Saturday, AICC general secretary K C Venugopal accused the BJP of working to “destabilise elected governments…”. He said the party has decided to launch nationwide protests in front of Raj Bhavans on Monday. The party will also hold an online campaign, “Speak Up for Democracy”, on Sunday.
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