Rajasthan High Court adjourned the hearing on the plea by Sachin Pilot and 18 other Congress MLAs challenging disqualification notices issued to them by the speaker, to July 21.
The petition was taken up by a bench of Chief Justice Indrajit Mahanty and Justice Prakash Gupta on Friday.
The arguments in the High Court saw a riveting clash between the view that intra-party disputes or protests cannot be a ground for invoking action under the anti-defection law, and the contention that the court’s intervention would be premature since the speaker has not yet taken a decision.
The notices to the MLAs were served after the party complained to Speaker C.P. Joshi that the lawmakers had defied a whip to attend two Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meetings last week on Monday and Tuesday. Congress had sought action against Pilot and the other dissidents under paragraph 2(1)(a) of the 10th Schedule of the Constitution. The provision disqualifies MLAs if they “voluntarily” give up the membership of the party that they represent in the House.
Pilot was sacked as the Rajasthan deputy chief minister and the president of the state Congress unit after he rebelled against Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.
Appearing for the petitioners—the 19 rebel MLAs, including Sachin Pilot—senior lawyer Harish Salve said intra-party disputes cannot be a ground for starting disqualification proceedings. If a complaint of this nature is entertained, it is per se illegal, Salve said, referring to the Congress’s complaint to the speaker based on which the disqualification notices were served.
He said the speaker should have applied his mind before sending the notices as it amounts to violation of the right to freedom of speech.
Salve also spoke about what constitutes a whip. He argued that it does not apply to party meetings. A whip, he said, is meant to ensure maximum number of legislators belonging to a party, vote in accordance with the party’s stand.
Earlier in the day, senior lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who appeared for the speaker, said that as long as the complaint is not outlandish, there is no reason for the speaker to accord reasons to issue show-cause, while insisting that the speaker was not a robot or a post office.
Arguing that seeking the court’s intervention in the matter was premature, Singhvi said that even if a violation of rule is assumed, it does not call for judicial review before a decision has been taken.
With regard to the argument on whether an effective notice period was given to the petitioners, Singhvi said natural justice is not a straitjacket principle.
He argued that the petition is based on the show-cause notice of the speaker, saying unless the speaker has disqualified you, you cannot approach the court in the interim. He cited judgments to argue that the High Court did not have jurisdiction in the matter.
The court will resuming hearing in the matter tomorrow at 10:30am, with senior lawyer Mukul Rohatgi arguing for the petitioners.