On Tuesday, the Ashok Gehlot Cabinet sent yet another recommendation — the third such communication in a week — to Governor Kalraj Mishra asking for a session of the Rajasthan Assembly on July 31. None of the three proposals, however, mentions whether the government wants to hold a vote of confidence in the Assembly, although that is being seen as the unstated reason behind convening a session amid a political crisis.
Ever since the crisis began in the second week of July, Gehlot had been claiming that his government has the majority in the 200-member House. What then is stopping the government from mentioning a confidence vote or a floor test as the agenda for the Assembly session? What is the Congress’s game-plan? Over a fortnight into the crisis, what is the state of play in Rajasthan?
Ashok Gehlot and Congress
The Congress and its Gehlot camp argue that the government and the Assembly will decide the agenda for the session, and the Governor cannot raise queries or interfere on such matters as it is not in his jurisdiction. In other words, he has no discretionary powers regarding summoning of the session. They say the Governor’s queries are a tactic to delay convening of a session. If the Governor turns down the recommendation once again, the Congress’s political response would be to seek his removal.
Unofficially, the Congress’s position is that stating the reason for convening a session could lead to the Governor raising more queries or laying down conditions that the party and the government would rather avoid. “If we state the reason, the Governor could say move a motion for a floor test, give 10 days or 15 days’ notice and all. Why should we give it? There is no obligation to give it,” a senior leader said.
Congress leaders say the Chief Minister need not show his majority in the conventional way of moving a motion for expressing confidence in the Council of Ministers. “He can do it in any manner for a show of support to the government. A whip can also be issued,” a senior leader said.
The Congress cites the 2016 Supreme Court judgment in Nabam Rebia and Bamang Felix vs Deputy Speaker (Arunachal Pradesh Assembly case) to argue that when the Chief Minister and his Council of Ministers enjoy the confidence of the majority of the House, the power vested with the Governor under Article 174 to summon, prorogue and dissolve the House must be exercised in consonance with the aid and advice of the Cabinet.
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Sachin Pilot camp
Sachin Pilot and the 18 rebel Congress MLAs, who are fighting a disqualification battle in the Rajasthan High Court, have been silent on the question of convening a session. Since they have not been expelled by the Congress, abstaining from the session or voting against the Gehlot government would violate the party’s whip and attract disqualification.
But the Pilot camp claims Ashok Gehlot does not have a majority and describes the demand for a session as political posturing, saying that is why the government has not mentioned a vote of confidence as the agenda. The Sachin camp claims the government has not given the Governor the list of MLAs supporting it. While the Congress has claimed that it had given the list when Gehlot met the Governor last week, the Pilot camp asks why the list has not been made public.
The Pilot camp believes that the two CPM MLAs have not committed their support to the government and there is uncertainty over which way the three BTP MLAs will move. This camp is also banking on a disqualification petition it has filed in the High Court against 6 BSP MLAs who had joined the Congress, arguing that a national party cannot be merged with another national party.
Interestingly, the Opposition BJP is not demanding a floor test. Normally, such a demand would have come from the Opposition. A BJP delegation met Governor Mishra earlier this week but did not demand a floor test. In fact, its leaders have argued that while it is within the right of the Cabinet to send a proposal to the Governor for calling an Assembly session, it cannot pressure him into getting it done immediately.
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The BJP seems in the mood to prolong the impasse, hoping that some MLAs in the Gehlot camp could switch sides. It is not jumping into the game openly and is waiting for the right time to make a move. For the time being, all indications are that it is acting from behind the scenes. The Congress alleges that the Governor’s recalcitrance, the appearance of lawyers like Harish Salve and Mukul Rohatgi for the Pilot camp and the stay of rebel MLAs in a BJP-ruled state all leave fingerprints of a BJP role.
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