The power struggle in Rajasthan between two factions of the ruling party shows no signs of an immediate resolution. Both Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, desperate to keep his job, and his now sacked deputy, Sachin Pilot, determined to pull him down, are engaged in a no-holds-barred fight to the finish. Who eventually comes up trumps remains unclear. Sensing rebellion, Gehlot pressured the police to immobilise Pilot, filing a sedition charge against him. Pilot responded by openly raising the banner of revolt. Along with 18 loyal MLAs he took refuse in a hotel in Haryana while Gehlot herded his flock to a hotel in Jaipur. The State Assembly Speaker C P Joshi entered the fray, sending show-cause notices to the rebels on a Congress leader’s complaint for their absence from a meeting of the Congress Legislative Party. Failure to attend a meeting of the legislative party in no way falls in the ambit of the anti-defection law. The Speaker further played into the hands of Pilot and Co. when the latter approached the Rajasthan High Court questioning the validity of the show-cause notices. After hearing both sides, the HC framed 13 pertinent questions, including whether the anti-defection law circumscribes internal dissent, virtually rendering legislators captives of the dominant leadership. This was a point agitated by the late Socialist leader Madhu Limaye and a few others when the anti-defection law was first proposed to curb the ‘aya ram, gaya ram’ syndrome. The law does curb legislators’ freedom of thought and expression, denies conscience vote even within party forums since the forfeiture of membership hangs like the Damocles’ sword over their head for stepping out of line with the leadership. After the Supreme Court declined to give relief to the Speaker in the matter of stay granted by the High Court, Gehlot could not get the nineteen rebels thrown out under the anti-defection law, especially when the latter insist they have not resigned from the Congress Party. Belatedly, the Speaker has withdrawn as a party in the matter before the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Gehlot is engaged in public acrimony with Governor Kalraj Mishra, pressing him to summon a session of the Assembly here and now, which the former was not inclined to do without seeking a few clarifications of his own. Given the coronavirus pandemic, with even Parliament hard put to figure out how and when to convene the customary monsoon session, calling a session of the Rajasthan Assembly at short notice without any plan in place for social distancing and other precautions would be problematic. The Governor did not ask the Chief Minister for a floor-test. A miffed Gehlot accused the Governor of playing partisan politics, and threatened to gherao the Raj Bhavan. Better sense prevailed and the threat was abandoned, though Governor Mishra has been showered with choicest abuse by the Congress leadership for not calling the session. The Congress insists the apex court had settled the matter, leaving the Governor no option but to act on the advice of the CM and the Council of Ministers.
It is curious that in March the Congress Party was vehemently opposed to the Madhya Pradesh Governor Lalji Tandon, since deceased, summoning the Assembly for a floor test when a large group of party MLAs had resigned under the leadership of Jyotiraditya Scindia. At that time, the BJP was insisting on an early floor-test. Here in Rajasthan, the Congress is seeking an early Assembly session while the BJP is not too keen. Meanwhile, Mayawati may have injected another twist in the Rajasthan drama, issuing whip to her six MLAs to vote against Gehlot. How the six will behave is uncertain, since Gehlot had won them over soon after the Assembly poll to bolster his wafer-thin majority. The matter of their defection/absorption in the Congress Party was never clearly pronounced upon by the Speaker, but the Pilot rebellion may be a golden opportunity yet again for the six MLAs to prosper—and in the process if it helps to obey the BSP Supremo’s whip all the better. In short, the Rajasthan lottery is wide open. Pundits might lament the opportunistic politics, the abuse of gubernatorial authority, courts being dragged into the thicket of partisan politics. But all this will remain par for the political course so long as the aam aadmi does not penalise errant politicians. There is no need for despair, though. All democratic systems are vulnerable to opportunistic politics.