Rajasthan political turmoil: How Congress legal experts joined Gehlot to ground...

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As the war between Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and his former deputy Sachin Pilot intensified over the last three days, the Congress dialled prominent legal brains to join the battle and guide team Gehlot at every step even as legal eagles held the young Pilot in high regards.

A six-pronged legal strategy was evolved to counter Pilot and his loyalists, which culminated in state assembly speaker PC Joshi sending a show-cause notice to them.

The decision to hold two Congress Legislative Party (CLP) meetings - one at CM’s residence and another a hotel - keeping the doors open for Pilot even as he was incommunicado, stripping him of his portfolios but retaining him in the party, preparing drafts of letters, were all done in close consultations with Abhishek Singhvi, senior party leader and its key legal brain.

Five Congress leaders, including CM Gehlot, Randeep Surjewala, Ajay Maken and Avinash Pandey, held frequent consultation with Singhvi who was assisted by Mohammad Khan, a young legal expert who had helped Jairam Ramesh to ink the land acquisition bill in 2013. They clubbed the Rajasthan’s state anti-defection law with the Tenth Schedule of the Indian Constitution to make a case of disqualification of Sachin Pilot and his loyal MLAs.

“As the shadow of the BJP loomed large, we realized that we have to try our best to protect the Congress government. We decided to ask for disqualification of Pilot and his loyalists from the assembly as it would reduce the numbers in the House and brighten the prospect of the Congress’ majority,” said a leader involved in the strategy.

They also decided not to sack Pilot from the Congress as it would benefit him. Under the legislative laws, if a lawmaker is sacked from the party, he or she will remain an independent member of the House. Such a move could have benefited Pilot and spoiled the Congress’ objectives.

For Gehlot, the advisors suggested, it was a chance to kill 3 birds with one stone. He can minimize the prospects of the BJP toppling his government, oust his arch-rival Pilot and raise his stocks with the party in this crisis as he can show how he is confronting attacks from different fronts, said a senior Congress leader.

To be sure, Singhvi, Khan and many other central leaders of the Congress enjoyed great rapport with Pilot. While some senior leaders even considered him a possible face of the Congress in the future, many Pilot admirers felt that he miscalculated his strength and Gehlot’s weight in the organization.

“We also felt that Pilot carried his rebellion too far. He refused to meet emissaries and didn’t allow the party to find a middle ground. When Gehlot realized that Pilot has stretched his limits, he moved swiftly to throw him out of the cabinet,” said another leader who was involved in the discussions.

The decision to remove him from the party’s state president’s post was taken in New Delhi. The legal team invoked several Supreme Court judgments including the Rajiv Nair and the BS Yeddyurappa cases. They maintained that defection should not be seen only if an MLA or an MP defies party whip in the House but his utterances, conduct can also lead to a case for disqualification.

Even as they planned to nail Pilot, the personal equations didn’t end. On Tuesday, Pilot called Singhvi and requested him to fight his legal battle, oblivious of the fact that he is actually helping the other side. “Singhvi revealed his role and told Pilot that the honourable thing for him would be not to take his case,” said a Singhvi aide.

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