Voice of dissent cannot be suppressed in a democracy, observed Justice Arun Mishra, while hearing the matter related to the disqualification proceedings against 19 dissident Congress MLAs of Rajasthan led by Sachin Pilot.
Justice Mishra's comments came in response to the submission made by Rajasthan Speaker's counsel, Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, that anti-party statements and refusal to attend party meetings can be ground to initiate disqualification proceedings on the ground of voluntary giving up of party membership under paragraph 2(1)(a) of the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution.
Seemingly unconvinced with this submission, Justice Mishra observed :
"In this case, it seems party members cannot raise their own voice against their own party. Voice of dissent cannot be suppressed in a democracy. They had all been elected by the people. Can they not express their dissent?"
The top court was hearing the petition filed by Speaker CP Joshi against the order passed by the Rajasthan High Court on July 21 directing the Speaker to extend the time to file replies by the MLAs to the disqualification notices till the pronouncement of judgment on July 24.
Justice Mishra - In this case, it seems party members can't raise their own voice against their own party.— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) July 23, 2020
"Voice of dissent cannot be suppressed."#RajasthanPoliticalCrisis #RajasthanPolitics @INCIndia @SachinPilot
During the hearing, the bench,also including Justices B R Gavai and Krishna Murari, elaborately quizzed Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal as to whether refusal to attend party meetings can be a ground to issue disqualification notices.
Though Sibal repeatedly tried to emphasize that the issue in the case was whether the High Court had power to issue a direction against the Speaker at an interim stage, the debates veered towards if refusal to attend party meetings could attract disqualification.
In response to the comment of Justice Mishra regarding suppression of dissent, Sibal submitted that they ought to voice their opinion within the party.
"If the MLAs have to voice their dissent, they will have to the party meeting", he said.
Sibal further highlighted that the rebel MLAs have not yet exercised their option of submitting replies before the Speaker.
"I, as a constitutional authority, sought a reply. Why did they not reply?They are giving interviews to TV channels. They say they want to voice their opinion. Let them come to the party meeting and voice their opinion. They need to state that", Sibal said.
The bench ultimately observed that the matter involved "serious questions related to democracy", and adjourned the hearing till Monday.
However, the bench refused to the stay the proceedings in Rajasthan HC, which is scheduled to pronounce judgment tomorrow on the petition filed by Sachin Pilot camp against the Speaker's notices.
The SC clarified that the judgment to be passed by the High Court will be subject to the orders of Supreme Court.
It was on July 14 that the Speaker, Dr C P Joshi, served the notices on the 19 dissident MLAs, including Pilot, amid their rebellion against Chief Minister, Ashok Gehlot. They were initially given time till 1 PM, July 17 to submit the replies. Meanwhile, the 19 MLAs approached the High Court on July 16, challenging the Speaker's action.
The High Court started hearing the matter on July 17, and in view of the pendency of the proceedings, the Speaker had extended the time for reply till 5.30 pm on July 21.
On July 21, the HC bench reserved the judgment for July 24, after hearing Senior Advocates Harish Salve and Mukul Rohatgi for the rebel MLAs, Senior Advocate Dr AM Singhvi for the Speaker, and Senior Advocate Devadatt Kamat for the Congress Whip.