Millennium Post

Two-judge bench to hear amended plea filed by Pilot team today

New Delhi: Defiant Sachin Pilot and other Congress rebels on Thursday challenged a move to disqualify them as MLAs in the Rajasthan High Court involving a dramatic escalation of the party's crisis in the state.

Mukul Rohatgi and Harish Salve, both top government lawyers in BJP regimes, are representing them in the petition. Notices served to them by Rajasthan Speaker C P Joshi on Wednesday asked them to explain by Friday "anti-party activities", failing which they would be disqualified. While team Pilot will be helped by the top government lawyer in the BJP regime, the Congress has fielded one of its sharpest legal experts, Abhishek Manu Singhvi.

Earlier in the day, the Rajasthan High Court accepted the amended plea filed by the Pilot camp challenging the disqualification of MLAs by the Speaker. It will now be heard by a two-judge bench on Friday at 1 pm.

The decision in this regard has been taken after Pilot sought some time to amend the plea and the court deferred the hearing.

Appearing for the Pilot camp, senior counsel Harish Salve said notice for disqualification of MLAs by the Speaker is 'unconstitutional'.

However, amidst all this turbulence, the Congress still wants Pilot back to his parent cadre without any "condition".

According to sources, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, who is part of the central team sent by the Congress to Jaipur to handle the crisis, held a meeting with Ashok Gehlot after the Chief Minister had made stinging remarks about Pilot. During the meeting, it was conveyed to him that Rahul Gandhi wants to keep the doors open for Pilot.

Sources further added that the Congress doesn't want to lose Pilot but accommodate the young leader in the national team with some major responsibilities. Gehlot has told Surjewala that he was not against Pilot but he must "leave the BJP camp" before taking any decision on bringing him back, the sources said.

Experts feel if the rebel MLAs are disqualified, the majority mark will drop, making it easier for Pilot's prime adversary Gehlot to win a floor test. If the rebels can avoid being disqualified and are allowed to vote as Congress members, 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.

On the other hand, sources in the Congress have claimed that the rebellion led by Pilot had been brewing for long and that the notice issued to him by the Special Operations Group of the Rajasthan Police — in a probe into an alleged bid to topple the state government — may have been the last nail in the coffin, forcing him to act without waiting for the required numbers to topple the government.

Allegations of the BJP being involved in an alleged conspiracy to topple the government had come up during the Rajya Sabha elections last month when Gehlot had moved swiftly to take party MLAs to a resort ahead of voting.

Meanwhile, in a fresh development, a BJP ally in Rajasthan has alleged that former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, the BJP's most prominent leader in the state, is trying to help Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, whose Congress government is facing a threat from Pilot.

A tweet by Hanuman Beniwal, an MP of the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party, has added a twist to the entire fight by suggesting that Vasundhara Raje is trying to sabotage the rebel camp.

"Former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje has called up Congress MLAs close to her and asked them to support Ashok Gehlot. She has called each and every Jat MLA in Sikar and Nagaur and asked them to keep distance from Sachin Pilot, I have proof of this," tweeted Hanuman Beniwal, who represents Nagaur in Parliament.

Beniwal is a known Raje critic and quit the BJP just before the 2018 Rajasthan elections, which delivered a Congress victory.

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