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Rajasthan crisis: Sachin Pilot takes Congress to court over disqualification

Jaipur: Sachin Pilot and other Congress rebels on Thursday challenged in the Rajasthan High Court a move to disqualify them as MLAs, in a dramatic escalation of the party’s crisis in Rajasthan. Mukul Rohatgi and Harish Salve, both top government lawyers in BJP regimes, are representing them in court. Sachin Pilot – now Petitioner No. 7 against the Congress – has reached a point of no return, said party sources, by going to court just a day after Priyanka Gandhi Vadra spoke to him on the phone. The Congress has fielded one of its sharpest legal experts, Abhishek Manu Singhvi.
Team Pilot has challenged a rule in the constitution that allows a Speaker to disqualify any member who has “voluntarily given up his membership”. The provision, they argue, was used by Rajasthan Speaker CP Joshi to serve notice to the rebels asking them to explain by Friday “anti-party activities”, failing which they would be disqualified. The Congress sent the notices via SMS, WhatsApp, email and post and even pasted documents on walls outside their homes across Rajasthan to make sure they get the message.
If the rebel MLAs are disqualified, the majority mark will drop, making it easier for Mr Pilot’s chief adversary, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, to win a floor test. If the rebels can avoid being disqualified and are allowed to vote as Congress members, Mr Gehlot’s government could fall. He needs 101 MLAs to vote for him in the 200-member assembly and claims he has the support of 106, which has been contested by team Pilot.
The BJP has 73 MLAs and needs at least 30 to take power in Rajasthan. Congress sources fear Mr Pilot is working overtime to reach that target while publicly denying any move to join the BJP in order to avoid disqualification.
Two MLAs of regional party Bhartiya Tribal Party (BTP), who had alleged in viral videos that they were in a “hostage-like situation” when the police snatched their car keys to stop them leaving Jaipur, have become crucial in the race for numbers. They denied reports that they had joined Mr Pilot’s camp and said they would “take a decision” after meeting Mr Gehlot tomorrow.
Mr Pilot yesterday proclaimed that rumours about him joining the BJP were to malign him in the eyes of the Gandhis, which fueled speculation that he wanted to make nice with the Congress leadership. But party sources today cast doubts on his intentions, saying extra rooms were booked at the hotel in Gurgaon where the rebels have been based since Sunday.
Sources say Mr Pilot has not sought any appointment either with Congress president Sonia Gandhi or the other Gandhis, showing a singular lack of interest in any truce. Both Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra reportedly reached out to him in the past few days.
Mr Pilot, say sources, has been cold to any compromise that does not involve him being named Chief Minister, a post he lost to Mr Gehlot after the Congress won the 2018 Rajasthan election. In a truce brokered by Rahul Gandhi, Mr Pilot, 42, settled for the post of Mr Gehlot’s deputy. Mr Pilot alleges that the Chief Minister undermined and humiliated him constantly over the next two years.
The fight boiled over when on Friday, Mr Pilot was asked to answer questions on alleged attempts to buy Congress MLAs for a coup by the BJP. Mr Gehlot had ordered the investigation last month when he put up Congress MLAs at a hotel for 10 days allegedly to keep them away from inducements by the BJP.
Mr Gehlot, who has been on the offensive against his former deputy, was yesterday reportedly asked to dial down his attacks, which included a jibe that “good English and handsome looks is not everything.” The Chief Minister also doubled down on his allegations of horse-trading and accused Mr Pilot of deal-making.
The Congress has accused the BJP of using its government at the centre and agencies to target Mr Gehlot. The party referred to tax raids on two aides of the Chief Minister on Monday, a day after Mr Pilot went public with his rebellion.

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