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Gehlot readies for escalation to save 'constitutional democracy'

Legal and constitutional recourse have so far failed to protect a legally elected govt against potential horse-trading
Gehlot leaves from a hotel in Jaipur on Saturday.

Sanjay K. Jha   |   New Delhi   |   Published 26.07.20, 02:49 AM

Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot has asked his MLAs to be prepared to take their protest to Rashtrapati Bhavan and the Prime Minister’s Office, if needed.

Gehlot’s statement of intent seeks to take what he described as the battle to save “constitutional democracy” to the next level, marking a step-by-step escalation of the process as legal and constitutional recourse have so far failed to protect a legally elected government against potential horse-trading.

The Congress, which had aired frustration and hopelessness at the reluctance of the constitutional pillars to prevent the toppling operation, has announced plans for nationwide protests on Monday.

“Be prepared for a struggle to save constitutional democracy. We will go and stage a dharna even at Rashtrapati Bhavan or the PMO, if needed,” Gehlot told his MLAs, unfazed by criticism for holding demonstrations at the Jaipur Raj Bhavan on Friday.

A BJP delegation called on governor Kalraj Mishra on Saturday afternoon to register its protest against the slogan-shouting and dharna by Congress MLAs inside Raj Bhavan and advised the deployment of central forces like the CRPF.

The Congress, which has often been flogged by political observers for its timid response to an aggressive BJP, promptly announced demonstrations outside every Raj Bhavan in the country against the central government’s alleged tendency to misuse the constitutional office for political machinations.

A Congress leader involved in planning the protests told The Telegraph: “It can’t be business as usual for a party that has lost several governments in the recent past to the undemocratic machinations of the Narendra Modi government. We relied on the judiciary for remedies all this while as government after government, from Arunachal Pradesh to Madhya Pradesh, was stolen. We are indeed dismayed by the courts’ responses as the same techniques are repeatedly used to subvert the mandate and no remedy is offered. The political articulation of our concerns is the only legitimate option left to us.”

Rajasthan High Court had on Friday ordered the continuation of the status quo for now, preventing the Speaker from immediately disqualifying MLAs who are allegedly being induced to desert the Congress. A day earlier, the Supreme Court had declined to stay the high court proceedings on the disqualification notices against 19 rebel Congress MLAs.

On Saturday, Congress veteran and senior lawyer P. Chidambaram tweeted: “To the average citizen who is mystified by the orders of the HC and SC, the following passage in simple English should be easy to understand.

“In 1992, the SC ruled: ‘Having regard to the constitutional scheme in the Tenth Schedule, judicial review should not cover any stage prior to the making of a decision by the Speakers/Chairmen; and no quia timet (reason advanced for seeking an injunction) actions are permissible’. Those words are simple and clear enough.

“That statement of the law by 5 judges was binding on all courts, HC or SC. Now, dear average citizen, you be the judge.”

The Congress held demonstrations at every district headquarters in Rajasthan on Saturday, demanding immediate convening of an Assembly session for a floor test. Gehlot also chaired a cabinet meeting that drafted replies to the governor’s queries and decided to send a fresh request for convening a House session.

In Delhi, the general secretary in charge of the organisation, K.C. Venugopal, issued a statement saying: “The very basic constitutional and democratic frame of the nation is facing an unprecedented attack from the BJP. Democratic institutions and constitutional values are being subverted and subjugated in a dangerously premeditated manner, with democratically elected Opposition governments in one state after another being toppled using money, intimidation and blatant misuse of constitutional bodies and functionaries.”

Venugopal added: “The party has decided to organise a nationwide online campaign, ‘Speak Up For Democracy’, tomorrow (Sunday) through all social media platforms. Following this, all state units will hold protests in front of the Raj Bhavans in their respective states on Monday to expose the anti-democratic and anti-constitutional actions of the BJP.”

The protesters will observe the social-distancing norms necessitated by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Pandemic cited

The BJP delegation told the governor in Jaipur on Saturday that calling the Assembly wasn’t desirable as the coronavirus situation was getting worse.

Congress leaders underlined that the Madhya Pradesh Assembly had functioned at a time Covid-19 cases were beginning to rise in March, the idea being to ensure that the Kamal Nath government fell. The nationwide lockdown was declared a day after the Congress government was dislodged.

On Saturday, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan tested positive for Covid-19. Kamal Nath recalled how Chouhan had made fun of the pandemic when the Congress veteran had stressed its gravity.

Kamal Nath tweeted: “Shivraj ji, I am deeply saddened by the news that you have tested positive. I pray for your quick recovery. But I do have regrets that you made fun of Corona when we were seriously working to fight it. You said it is drama, you called it darona (ploy to scare), weapon of saving the government and levelled all kinds of baseless allegations against me. We always said it is a serious disease and precaution must be taken by everybody. You too might have escaped it by following protocol and the medical guidelines instead of making a mockery of the pandemic. No issue, we hope you will return to work soon.”

Venugopal stressed the gravity of the conspiracy to overthrow governments amid a pandemic when all time and energy should be devoted to saving people’s lives.

“It was during the Covid-19 onslaught that the BJP toppled the democratically elected Congress government in Madhya Pradesh, and a similar desperate attempt is now being undertaken in Rajasthan. The BJP and its leaders are playing their dirty game to topple one of the most efficient state governments, which has received praise from across the globe for successfully handling the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.

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