New Delhi, July 20: A court hearing on a petition by Sachin Pilot and 18 other rebel Congress MLAs challenging disqualification notices in Rajasthan Monday saw top lawyers arguing over whether dissent is “anti-party” and whether the Speaker’s action on dissenters violates freedom of speech. 

Top lawyer Harish Salve, representing team Pilot, said in the Rajasthan High Court, “Disqualification notice for inner party dissent is violation of freedom of speech”, NDTV reported. 

Earlier in the day, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing Speaker CP Joshi, argued that team Pilot cannot challenge disqualification notices in court before the Speaker takes action. The hearing will resume Tuesday.

Highlights of the case: 

  • “The rebels don’t have grounds to question the Speaker until the Speaker gives a decision. The Speaker and the assembly are not in the judicial purview of the court for now,” said Abhishek Manu Singhvi, a senior lawyer and Congress leader.
  • Sachin Pilot and other rebels were served notice for “anti-party activity” after they skipped two meetings of Congress MLAs called by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot last week. Rajasthan Chief Justice Indrajit Mahanty observed during the arguments that the Congress cannot force MLAs to attend a party meeting.
  • Team Pilot, which has been staying in two resorts near Delhi for over a week, has contested a constitutional rule that disqualifies MLAs if they “voluntarily” give up the membership of the party that they represent.
  • “Unprincipled defection is a political sin and against constitutional morality,” Mr Singhvi said, adding that the petitioners, in an “over-clever” way, had raised the same grounds of challenge that were rejected by the Supreme Court in a different case.
  • Harish Salve, arguing on behalf of team Pilot, said a party member was “free to defy the party whip direction” outside the assembly and it did not constitute defection. “Intra-party dissent, however shrill it may be, until the moment it goes to the extent of supporting another party, cannot be a ground to even start disqualification proceedings,” Mr Salve said.

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