Three weeks after the then Deputy Chief Minister of Rajasthan and State party chief Sachin Pilot led a revolt within the Congress party against Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and anchored himself with his band of supporters in a five-star hotel in Manesar, Haryana, the power tussle is still far from over. The session of the State assembly which could lead to a decisive showdown is now slated for August 14. The State’s administration is suffering but the ruling dispensation and the detractors couldn’t care less. In true political battle style, the legislators in Gehlot’s camp are also holed up in another luxury hotel lest the rival camp may try to poach a few of them. The country’s judicial system has, also nothing to say to both camps, to drive some sense in them that in these hard COVID-19 times when the pandemic is snuffing out lives, this is unacceptable from public representatives. All in all, it is a bad scene with little to emulate for today’s generation of youngsters still looking up to the lawmakers for sane counsel and direction. This is indeed an example of how lust for power can drive people up the gum tree.
As per a recent newspaper report, the anti-defection law, well-intentioned as it was, and intended to deter floor crossing by legislators, has been turned on its head as in the last six years, as many as 119 Congress MLAs in various states have switched sides to the BJP. Between 1967 and 1971, 142 defections in Parliament and 1,969 in state assemblies had taken place, leading to the collapse of as many as 32 governments. As many as 212 of the defectors were rewarded with ministerial berths. The office of Governor which was intended to be completely above board has been misused on several occasions. The Supreme Court in cases of defection/dissidence has been insisting on an early floor test so that horse trading is stopped but in the current case the delay in convening the session speaks for itself. The disqualification notice against the rebels has been stayed by the Rajasthan High Court without any detailed, reasoned order. After the conclusion of arguments and on the eve of delivery of the judgment, an application was moved to make the central government a party. The high court promptly accepted the request which itself is a debatable issue.
Chief Minister Gehlot claims he has the support of 102 MLAs in the 200-member Rajasthan assembly, one past the majority mark. But the rebels loyal to Pilot could tilt the balance particularly if the BJP votes against the government which is more or less certain. The rebels claim they have around 30 MLAs on their side, but so far, only 19 are confirmed. If they attend house and vote against the Congress government, Ashok Gehlot could be in huge trouble. The rebels will be disqualified for defying their party whip, but the government will fall first. Team Pilot’s strategy evidently is to wait for more MLAs to cross over. Many rebels are hoping to win more on their side in the run-up to the session. They also believe two MLAs of the regional outfit Bhartiya Tribal Party (BTP), ostensibly with Gehlot, could change their mind. The Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati has ordered its six legislators to vote against the ruling dispensation led by Gehlot in any future vote. But at least a couple of the individual legislators say they had earlier merged their party with the Congress and would go with it. Others are non-committal.
All said and done, Rajasthan is in a state of flux. There is no knowing what would happen on and after August 14. Until then, the two contending sides will, by all accounts, continue to be cooped up in luxury hotels in a brazen show of lack of confidence of their leaders that they would stick with either side. It is difficult to believe that lots money will not change hands and unholy deals would not be struck. It is a pity, indeed, that parliamentary democracy has been so subverted in the seven decades since independence. There is dire need to reform democracy as it exists today but who would take the initiative and who will support the overhaul of the system is a moot point.