Prakash Bhandari: In the ongoing political crisis in Rajasthan that entered the third week, the spotlight has shifted from rebel Sachin Pilot to the governor and the country is witnessing a rare happening when a governor of the state has ignored the advice of the state Cabinet to convene the Assembly.
Instead, the governor has raised queries after queries on the demand of the government to convene the Vidhan Sabha. While the governor in his reply to the chief minister has cited coronavirus pandemic as the reason and had categorically stated that he would require a 21-day notice to convene the Assembly, Gehlot is adamant on calling the Assembly session from July 31.
Governor Kalraj Mishra feels that an emergency session of the Vidhan Sabha could be called if there is a political crisis such as the ruling party losing its majority. In such a situation, the Opposition demands the convening of the Vidhan Sabha to prove that the ruling party has lost the majority and a floor test was necessary to decide the fate of the government.
In the majority of such cases, when demands are made questioning the numbers of the ruling party, the later has been found not in a position to prove its majority in the Assembly conceding defeat.
But in the case of Rajasthan, the Opposition has not made any demand and the ruling party in its letter to the governor has not expressed any desire to prove its majority. The Gehlot government has merely said the government wants to brief the Vidhan Sabha on the situation related to corona and also table a few important Bills.
The governor in his written reply to the Gehlot government has stated again that while 21-day notice was necessary, the government should also specify whether it is keen to use the opportunity for a floor test.
The governor’s inquisitiveness to know from the government, if it would go for a floor test is beyond comprehension as the issue relating to the legislative work within the House is the purview of the Speaker, who under the rule of the business decides as to what issues should be discussed. The issue of a floor test will also have to be decided by the Speaker as the presiding officer. The issue of floor test can be demanded by the Opposition during the House in progress and the ruling party may move a motion in the House to express its desire for a floor test. The governor has no say on how the House should be run and what issue should be discussed.
But the governor’s insistence on knowing from the ruling party whether it would go for a floor test is beyond his power and there are no such examples in the legislative history of the country.
The governor is basically irked that the ruling party trooped into the Raj Bhawan and staged a dharna, and the chief minister warned the governor that his government would not be responsible if the people siege the Raj Bhawan in a state of anger. Such a strong statement from the chief minister gave enough reasons to the governor to rake up a number of issues.
The governor is also unhappy with the letter that Gehlot wrote to the prime minister in which he complained against the governor and he was also unhappy as the chief minister released the letter addressed to the prime minister to the media, even before the prime minister could read or answer it.
The letter was sent by Gehlot to the prime minister after the governor through his action gave a hint that he was not keen to convene the Assembly. And later the Congress Legislature Party also sent a memorandum on this issue to the President.
Immediately after the chief minister and 97 MLAs staged a dharna in the Raj Bhawan, the governor sent an interim report to the President on the alleged failure of the government to control COVID-19 and the alleged threat to the law and order situation in the state.
Gehlot earlier wanted the assembly session to begin from July 27. Now, he wants it to begin on July 31. His insistence on convening the assembly showed his confidence to prove his majority on the floor of the House
Interestingly, no one has asked Gehlot to prove the majority of his government. Even Sachin Pilot’s rebel camp and the opposition BJP have resisted from moving a no-confidence motion against Gehlot. But, Gehlot’s insistence to convene the Vidhan Sabha has sent a panic wave on Sachin Pilot and his group of dissidents, who fear their disqualification if the house is convened.
This gives the impression that all three parties—the Gehlot camp of the Congress, the rebel Pilot camp and the BJP—realise that the government enjoys numerical superiority.
Political pundits feel that Gehlot has been assured by the members siding with him that they as a loyal flock would stay together. After this assurance, Gehlot’s real intention could be to deal a final blow to Sachin Pilot and his loyalist MLAs. The rebel MLAs have dismissed all allegations of anti-party activities saying their action is an expression of dissent within the party. Thus it would serve as the last and final call for the rebels to come back to the party’s fold. This would make Sachin Pilot weak and he would have no alternative left to either come back to the party’s fold or face disqualification.
According to lawyer Abhinav Sharma, a governor convenes an Assembly session under Article 174 of the Constitution. Ordinarily, he or she has to abide by the aid and advice of the state cabinet, as mandated by Article 163.
But the same Article 163 also gives the governor the power of discretion. Though the courts have repeatedly said the governor is bound by the aid and advice of the chief minister-headed cabinet. The only exception is when the government does not have a majority.
In 2016, the Supreme Court examined the power of governor under Article 174 that deals with summoning, proroguing and dissolving the House. The Supreme Court had then ruled that the governor is bound to summon the Assembly session “only on the aid and advice of the council of ministers with CM as the head. And, not on his own”.
According to political analyst Rajendra Chhabra, it is being argued that Governor Mishra would have been bound by the advice of the Gehlot government “ordinarily” but coronavirus pandemic has created an “extraordinary” situation. Under the extraordinary situation, some experts have argued, Governor Mishra needs to satisfy himself about the urgency of calling an Assembly session.
If the Assembly session is held now and the Pilot camp defies the Congress whip, all 19 MLAs would be disqualified. The BJP camp has 76 MLAs on its side which is not enough to defeat the Gehlot government in the trust vote, even if all rebel MLAs vote with it.
Secondly, the disqualification of the 19 MLAs would give the Gehlot government a bigger majority until bypolls are held to fill the vacancy. This process is going to be a time-consuming affair given that they would challenge any such decision in the court.
Thirdly, CM Gehlot would not need to prove his majority for at least another six months. And, if the BJP is not sure about a no-confidence motion during this political crisis, it would not be in a position to do so for a much longer period afterward.
Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram said placing obstacles in calling assembly session will undermine the fundamental basis of parliamentary democracy and called for an intervention by President Ram Nath Kovind.