- Ashok Gehlot expressed confidence that he has a majority
- All Congress MLAs are united, the Rajasthan Chief Minister said
- The Rajasthan High Court will pronounce its verdict tomorrow
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said today the assembly session would be called "soon" and expressed confidence that he has a majority, a day before a crucial verdict on a petition by Sachin Pilot and other Congress rebels who are threatening his government.
"We will call the assembly session soon. We have a majority. All Congress MLAs are united," the Chief Minister told reporters shortly before he met Governor Kalraj Mishra. The 20-minute meeting was their third since the Congress rebel crisis erupted nearly two weeks ago.
"Those who have gone to court, those who have strayed, their only point is whether the disqualification notices served to them were justified. It has nothing to do with the anti-defection law," Mr Gehlot said.
The Rajasthan High Court will pronounce its verdict at 10.30 am tomorrow on team Pilot's petition challenging disqualification notices served to them by the Speaker after they skipped two meetings called by Mr Gehlot last week.
The rebels argued in court that such notices cannot be served by a Speaker when the assembly is not in session. They have challenged a rule that allows the Speaker to disqualify members if they have "voluntarily given up the party's membership". They say they do not intend to quit the Congress; they only want a change in the leadership.
The Speaker countered that the court has no jurisdiction until he takes action against the MLAs and that the rebels cannot legally challenge a notice.
The Speaker's attempt to block the High Court verdict on the rebels' petition failed today as the Supreme Court refused to intervene, saying it would take up the case again on Monday. But the High Court ruling will be subject to the final order of the Supreme Court.
The Speaker's move to go to the Supreme Court betrays the Congress's nervousness about the High Court verdict. If the rebels win their case, they can vote in the assembly and cause huge trouble for Mr Gehlot's government. If they don't, their disqualification will help the Chief Minister by bringing down the majority mark.
The Congress has a narrow lead over the opposition and has only two more than the majority mark of 101 in the 200-member Rajasthan assembly. Sources say the Congress rates its chances better if a test of strength is held now rather than later, without giving Sachin Pilot any room to win over more defectors.
Team Pilot has 19 MLAs and the BJP has 72. Including smaller parties and independent members, the opposition has 97 at the moment.
Mr Gehlot said he expected some rebels to return.
"Some have been held hostage. Bouncers have been hired to guard them. They are calling us. We are hoping they will vote with us. We have full majority and with that majority, we will go to the house," he said.