Will even go to Rashtrapati Bhavan if needed, Ashok Gehlot tells MLAs
Jaipur: Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot told Congress MLAs on Saturday that he was ready to go to the President of India to make sure that what he calls a “BJP conspiracy” to stall a test of strength does not succeed. Mr Gehlot, who protested for hours at Governor Kalraj Mishra’s home on Friday to press for an assembly session, held meetings with Congress MLAs and his cabinet. Later this evening, he will again meet the Governor, who had last night asked him to submit a fresh request for an assembly session. Mr Gehlot has accused the Governor of delaying the session because he was “under pressure” to stall a test of strength. A reworked proposal was sent this morning; the focus of the session, it said, would be the coronavirus outbreak and the economic crisis. As Mr Gehlot met with his cabinet, a BJP delegation led by Rajasthan BJP leader Satish Punia and Leader of Opposition Gulab Chandra Kataria met the Governor to discuss the COVID-19 situation in the state.
Chief Minister Gehlot has been pressing for an assembly session, which would enable him to go for a trust vote, since Thursday, amid hearings in the Rajasthan High Court and the Supreme Court over petitions by his sacked deputy Sachin Pilot and other Congress rebels against disqualification notices.
“The BJP conspiracy will not be allowed to succeed. I will go to Rashtrapati Bhavan if needed. If we have to picket at Rashtrapati Bhavan or even Prime Minister’s residence, we will give this,” Ashok Gehlot today told Congress MLAs, who raised their hands in support.
Mr Gehlot also asked his legislators to maintain solidarity and stay strong, warning them they may have to stay in the hotel for 21 days; MLAs loyal to the Chief Minister have been sequestered at the luxurious Fairmont Hotel in Jaipur. “The majority is with us,” the Chief Minister said, to which the MLAs again raised their hands in support.
The Chief Minister and his MLAs held a five-hour sit-in at Governor Mishra’s residence on Friday to press for an Assembly session on Monday. The show of strength came hours after the Sachin Pilot camp secured temporary protection from disqualification. Mr Gehlot submitted a list of 102 MLAs but the Governor raised several objections and asked Mr Gehlot to send a fresh request.
Normally a 21-day notice is required for Assembly sessions to be called, the Governor said in a statement. “The date on which the assembly session is to be convened is not mentioned in the cabinet note and no approval has been given by the cabinet for the same,” he said. The statement also said the state government should take note of the COVID-19 crisis and no agenda was given for a session called on such short notice.
The Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government, which is facing a political crisis after rebellion by 19 dissident Congress MLAs, including rebel party leader Sachin Pilot, wants to hold the assembly session to prove its majority.
Gehlot, 69, is going all out for a test of strength after Team Pilot scored a reprieve from the Rajasthan High Court on Friday. There can be no action for now on disqualification notices sent to the rebels last week, the court said. This means the Speaker cannot take any action against the rebels until the larger constitutional question of his powers is decided. That question will be taken up by the Supreme Court on Monday.
Mr Gehlot believes he has the numbers to retain power if he faces a trust vote now. If he does win, there cannot be any vote for the next six months. The rules say the rebels must follow the party whip in the assembly or risk being disqualified. Despite the court-ordered status quo, the rebels can be disqualified if they vote against their own party. But their vote will still count.
The Congress has a narrow lead over the opposition and is only one past the majority mark of 101 in the 200-member Rajasthan assembly. Team Pilot claims the support of 30 MLAs, but so far, the evidence points to only 19. The BJP has 72. Including smaller parties and independent members, the opposition has 97 at the moment.
If Team Pilot is disqualified, it will help the Chief Minister by bringing the majority mark down. But if they win the case to vote as Congress MLAs, they can endanger the government.