Declaring that “they continue to support” the party, nine rebel Congress legislators told the Uttarakhand High Court Monday that the party can “always form a government with another chief minister” and that they “have not unified” with the BJP.
Arguing that they are “only against” Harish Rawat, the rebel MLAs told Justice U C Dhyani that they are “good Congress men” who want a “bad chief minister” to be removed and that “intra party” dissent doesn’t invite disqualification under the anti-defection law.
The rebel MLAs argued that “deserting” a leader is not the same as “deserting the party”. “What constitutes defection is deserting the party,” their counsel, senior advocate C A Sundaram, told the judge. They said “it is shocking” that the Speaker “who should be a non-partisan” authority “is impassionately” defending the “stand of the Chief Minister”.
The submissions were made regarding two writ petitions challenging Uttarakhand Speakers Govind Singh Kunjwal’s decision to disqualify the rebel Congress MLAs under the anti-defection law on March 27.
“Voicing dissent against a chief minister or intra party dissent is essential for democracy. We are not against the party but against the CM. And if we are disqualified on this ground, then we have gone into dictatorship, and it is the death knell of democracy,” Sundaram said.
“The only allegation that is being held against us is the joint memorandum (26 BJP MLAs plus 9 Congress MLAs) submitted to the Governor, seeking a division for voting on the Appropriation Bill… Don’t take 35 of us together… 35 of us only wanted division. Even in the memorandum, we have differentiated ourselves as belonging to the Congress party. We have not unified with the BJP and we are distinguishing from them (BJP),” Sundaram said.
“We have a Speaker who is arguing the case for the government here. This is shocking… has not only been arguing the case of the government but actually defending the stand of the CM. The nature of defence shows bias. This is a completely partisan stand taken by the Speaker,” the counsel said.
The rebel legislators also told the High Court that it is “a strange situation” that the Congress party has not “issued a show-cause notice” over their dissent against the CM.
“If we have dissented and the party has found any ground, they can remove us… no notice has come to us. This is a strange situation… even if we are thrown out of the party, it is not a ground for disqualification. Only when we voluntarily give up the party membership, a case of disqualification is made out against us,” Sundaram said.
The rebel MLAs argued that “just because we took a commercial jet” to Delhi with 26 BJP legislators, it cannot be a ground for disqualification. “The allegation is that we took the same commercial jet to Delhi. Delhi is also where the Congress high command is. This cannot be a ground for defection,” Sundaram argued.
The rebel MLAs said the Appropriation Bill, “was never put vote” on March 18. “The Speaker is saying that the Appropriation Bill was passed through a voice vote… However, our case is that the Bill was never put to vote. And if we are right, then how did it pass,” Sundaram said.
“Yes, it is an overt act that we demanded dismissal of the government. We are permitted to do this. However, we are saying that we want to clean up the party. The party’s well-being is top priority. That means we are with the party… this is healthy democracy… We not protesting against policies of the Congress party… even absolute dissent (against the government) cannot be a ground for disqualification,” the counsel said.