The Rajasthan High Court on Friday adjourned till July 20 the hearing on the petition filed by 19 dissident Congress MLAs led by Sachin Pilot against the disqualification notices issued by the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly.
Since the hearing is not complete, Senior Advocate Dr AM Singhvi, appearing for the Speaker, submitted before a bench comprising Chief Justice Indrajit Mahanty and Justice Prakash Gupta that the time for submitting responses to the notice will stand extended till 5 PM, July 21.
The legislators were initially asked by the Speaker to submit their responses to the show-cause notices by today.
Senior Advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Pilot and 18 other dissident legislators, submitted that violation of whip's directions with respect to acts outside the House do not fall under the ambit of anit-defection law embodied under Tenth Schedule of the Constitution.
Raising disagreements regarding "dictatorial functioning" of CM is an internal matter and doesn't amount to defection. The disqualification notices are an attempt to stifle 'freedom of speech' and internal discussions. Salve submitted that the petitioners raised voice to central governing body of party against "dictatorship" of Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. This is in exercise of freedom of speech of legislators and will not amount to 'defection', he added.
Whip is not applicable to meetings at homes and hotels; only applies to proceedings within House. Also, a party whip applies only when the assembly is in session, he asserted.
Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi also appeared for the petitioners, reiterating the submissions of Salve.
Senior Advocate Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the respondents, submitted that the the petition challenging the show cause notice issued by Speaker is "premature". They can raise the contentions before the Speaker, he added. He submitted that the the Court cannot interfere with the notice issued by the Speaker.
Yesterday, a single bench of Justice Satish Kumar Sharma had referred the matter to the division bench, after the petitioners moved an amendment application to incorporate challenge against the constitutionality of Paragraph 2(1(a) of the Tenth Schedule of the Constittion.
The rebel MLAs assert in the writ petition that they have not expressed any intention to leave or voluntarily give up the membership of Indian National Congress.
"None of the petitioners herein have either by express conduct or implied conduct, indicated to the members of their constituencies and/or the public at large of their intention to leave or voluntary give up the membership of Indian National Congress", the petition filed through Advocate Divyesh Maheshwari stated.
They argue that the failure to attend the party meetings is not a ground to disqualify under para 2(a) or 2(b) of the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution.
The petitioners state that mere expression of disagreement with certain policies or decisions taken by some members of the party cannot be said to be amounting to acting against the interests of the party or the continuation of the government.
Pilot, who was removed as the Deputy Chief Minister of the state following his rebellion, states that the Speaker's notice is based on "mala fide intention", issued under pressure from Ashok Gehlot, the Chief Minister.
"The allegations are so baseless and no member of prudent mind can come to the conclusion that the Petitioners have voluntarily given up the membership of the Indian Congress Party", the petition stated.
The petition also highlights that even if a person is expelled from a political party, such person will continue to be a member of the said political party for all practical purpose, by virtue of the deeming provision under Explanation (a) to Para (2) of the Tenth Schedule.
The plea seeks quashing of the notices on the ground that they were issued without jurisdiction and also with malafides. The notices are an abuse of the powers under Tenth Schedule to "stifle the freedom of speech" of the petitioners and to impose the "majoritarian views of the party" on them, the plea contends.
They seek the intervention of the High Court by saying that they cannot expect to get "justice" from the Speaker as he is acting under the influence of CM Ashok Gehlot.
(With inputs from Advocate Charu Mathur)