Sachin Pilot and 18 MLAs supporting him took the Congress to court today over its move to disqualify them, seeking that the Speaker's notice to him and his 18 colleagues be struck down. He also asked that the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution, commonly known as the Anti-Defection law, under which the Speaker sought to disqualify him, also be scrapped. The MLAs have also argued that disagreements between elected representatives and the party cannot be construed as anti-party activity and skipping two meetings is not ground for disqualification.
The hearing at the Rajasthan High Court, however, got deferred today as the petitioners asked for a two-judge bench. The matter has now been referred to a two-judge bench.
The Congress, which earlier stripped Mr Pilot of his posts in the party and the government, has moved to disqualify the rebels, saying they have deliberately skipped two meetings of the legislature party called by Chief Minster Ashok Gehlot. Not attending the meetings amounts to disassociating from the Congress and its ideology and will invite action under the constitution, the Congress and the Speaker have contended.
Mr Pilot, who insists that he belongs to the Congress, has argued that not attending two meetings is not ground for disqualification. Elected representatives who voice disagreement cannot be said to be acting against party, hence the Speaker's notice is illegal and should be struck down, the MLAs have said in their petitions.
Nineteen MLAs have filed the petition, Sachin Pilot is petitioner number 7.
Senior advocate Abhhishek Manu Singhvi, who is representing the Speaker, told NDTV that the anti-defection is not just about what happens within the party. "Non-intra party activities" can also constitute a breach of the law, he said. The Anti-Defection law had been upheld by the Supreme Court several times earlier.
The disqualification of the rebels will lower the majority mark in the assembly and give Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot a shot at saving his government. A deferred date will also give Mr Pilot more time to cobble up his numbers to 30 -- the math that gives BJP a chance of planning an alternative government.
Mr Pilot has emphatically denied that he is joining the BJP. But that he made no effort to contact the Gandhis despite their repeated overtures and hunkered down at the resort in Haryana -- against the party command -- is seen as a hardening of stance by the rebel leader.
Yesterday, the Congress had asked Mr Pilot to move out of the BJP-ruled state and stop fraternizing with the BJP. But his choice of counsel today -- Harish Salve and Mukul Rohatgi, two of India's top lawyers.
The Congress has accused the BJP of rolling out heavy artillery to defend Mr Pilot and his band of rebels. In view of the tax raids against Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot's loyalists earlier this week, the party has also accused the BJP of using the power of the government and its agencies to target Mr Gehlot.