Rajasthan is facing unprecedented political crisis. From an intra-party feud between the Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot, the battle has now travelled from the Rajasthan High Court to the Supreme Court. The two-year-old Congress Government, one of India’s largest States, is on the verge of collapse.
Since the formation of the Government, the two leaders, one an old loyalist and other a very ambitious young man, have never been on the same page. Gehlot, an old Gandhi-family loyalist and Pilot, a very close associate of Rahul Gandhi, had always their own game plan to consolidate power and go up the ladder.
Pilot, who helped wrest power from the BJP in the State, expected a bigger role in the governance when the party came to power, being the son of late senior and popular Congress leader Rajesh Pilot.
Old guard Vs young blood
Rajasthan saw a clash between youth leader Pilot and old guard Gehlot. When the Congress came to power in 2018, it was Gehlot, a former CM, who claimed right to the throne as he also worked hard to bring party back to power.
Gehlot succeeded in sidelining Pilot, usurping the throne. But dissent was brewing in the party since beginning, with Pilot being made Deputy Chief Minister. The recent crisis which came in the open showed the party in bad light after rebel MLAs raised the banner of revolt.
And as things have gone out of hand, political observers feel that what matters in the Congress is not just work, efficiency and vision, but the link with the High Command: Sonia and her old coterie.
All decisions for State leadership precisely come from Sonia’s durbar only. In case of Rajasthan, both Gehlot and Pilot had their own proximity to the Raj, but finally the older one prevailed over the younger.
At a time, when the whole world is fighting with a dreaded pandemic called Covid-19, the two-party stalwarts are battling for their supremacy. It’s nothing but their ego clash. It is a struggle for the top post in the State. While wrangling for their chairs, both the CM and the ex-Deputy CM have just missed the point that they belong to the same Congress party. And ironically, the person who has just served Gehlot as his Deputy till the other day has been made out to be worthless and a back stabber.
Besides, Pilot has invited the ire of all his top party office bearers as he is colluding with the Opposition BJP to topple the Gehlot Government. Interestingly, Pilot is accused of staying in an Opposition-ruled Haryana wherein he may be conspiring to stage a political comeback with a new “avatar”.
Who knows what is in his mind? It is certain that after such public humiliation, he will return to the party unless he is assured of the post of the Chief Minister and probably, the safe future for all the rebels who have sided with him for now. The way Sonia has taken the final decision to remove him from the post of the Deputy Chief Minister despite Pilot having close ties with both Rahul and Priyanka, it seems the underlying game plan is much bigger than it seems.
Being a young and promising political leader, after the exit of Jyotiraditya Scindia and fall of the Congress Government in Madhya Pradesh, Sonia must have thought it is the right time to axe another competitor to her son in the long race to the Lok Kalyan Marg, formerly known as 7 Race Course Road.
First, the Speaker of the Assembly had given show cause notice to Pilot and 18 other MLAs. Then the team Pilot approached the Rajasthan High Court to quash the disqualification notice given to them by the Speaker. The Speaker argued that the court had no jurisdiction to intervene in the proceedings of the House as the former has yet to take a decision.
When the High Court asked the Speaker to defer the decision on disqualification on Pilot and the other 18 members, he challenged it in the Supreme Court. But the Supreme Court rejected his plea to stay HC proceedings. And Justice Arun Mishra stated that there is nothing wrong in raising the voice of dissent in a democracy. But then he underlined the fact that the decision of the High Court will be subject to the top court’s decision. Now, the High Court has finally said the status quo should be maintained till Monday.
Now the Gehlot is bracing for an Assembly session to prove his majority. As of today he claims to have the support of 101 MLAs, a water thin majority in a House of 200 members. The Opposition BJP has 72 members, but with the Pilot’s 19 members, the party will need another 10 MLAs to form the next Government.
Now it’s a question of numbers game: Who wins or loses will all be determined by the respective number of MLAs only. Most of the leaders in this country in particular and around the globe in general, have hardly bothered about their electorate. Many of them have completely lost their sense of being in power and have also forgotten the fundamental purpose of an elected representative. The Pilot controversy has once again brought the Anti-Defection Law of 1985 to the fore. It is also known as the 52nd Amendment Act passed by adding a new Tenth Schedule to our Constitution during the tenure of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
This Act came into operation on March 1, 1985. Its main objective was to prevent the scourge of emerging defection across the country that almost paralysed the political parties and existing governments. As per this Act, the seat of an MP or an MLA can fall vacant in case; a) he voluntarily gives up his membership of such political party; b) if he votes or abstains from voting in such House contrary to any direction issued by the political party he belongs; c) if an independent member joins any political party after his election; d) if a nominated member joins a political party after the expiry of six months from the date he took oath as a member of the House.
But the Act does not apply to: a) party splits: When there is a split in the party and the concerned member belongs to a faction that consists of not less than 1/3rd members of the party; b) when two or more political parties decide to merge by a two-thirds majority of the total strength of the party in the legislature and lastly, c) when a member resigns from a party to take over as the Speaker/Deputy Speaker and Chairman/Deputy Chairman of a House. Most importantly, any decision regarding the defection is to be taken only by the Speaker or Chairperson of the concerned House as the case may be.
His/her decision on disqualification in connection to defection is final and no court has any jurisdiction on such matters.
Hide and seek by Pilot
Now fully knowing well the consequences of the Anti-Defection Law, why the hide and seek is played by Pilot. Either there must be an ulterior motive behind his decision to stay away from now three crucial meetings called by the Speaker of the Rajasthan Assembly or Gehlot must have a concrete plan to dislodge Pilot to remove all his obstacles to continue in power. And a third possibility may be Pilot must be thinking of offering outside support to a BJP-led Government in the State on the event of falling the Gehlot regime.
Whatsoever it may be, the saddening part of such episodes is simple: the voters’ trust on the elected representatives fade away. Also in the absence of a clear cut definition on defection, the malaise continues as of today and will remain at the heart of Indian democracy.
Unfortunately, a few years after passing the Act, we had witnessed the first case of defection in the Nagaland Assembly. But when the Supreme Court delivered its judgment in the Kihota Hollohon vs Zachilhn & Others Case 1992, it has underlined that the Speaker’s decision on disqualification in such matters is subject to judicial review. The reason behind is that the Speaker while acting under the 10th Schedule is a tribunal and hence his/her decision can come under the court’s power of judicial review.
Now the ball is between the SC and the Governor’s court. Both can play a critical role. However it all depends how the MLAs switch sides without inviting penalties i.e. disqualification under the 10th Schedule.
At the end, it must be said that it is a dirty game. MLAs are hiding in hotels and resorts. And the populace is just waiting them to deliver services at this pandemic hit situation. Very sad situation!
(The writer is an expert on international affairs)