Sachin Pilot and 18 other dissident leaders on Thursday moved the high court, challenging notices from the Rajasthan Speaker over a Congress move to disqualify them from the state assembly.
The matter is scheduled to be heard before a division bench of the Rajasthan High Court at 5pm on Friday, which is also the "deadline" that the Speaker's office gave the MLAs to file their replies to the notices.
Their petition first came up before the court of Justice Satish Chandra Sharma at about 3pm. But the dissidents' advocate Harish Salve sought time to file a fresh plea.
At 5pm, the dissident camp submitted an amended petition and the court referred it Chief Justice Indrajit Mahanty, for the appointment of a two-judge bench.
Congress chief whip Mahesh Joshi's counsel said the matter will be heard at about 7.30pm, but the bench did not assemble then. The hearing has been put off to Friday, the counsel said.
Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who is also a Congress leader, is representing the Speaker's office. Harish Salve and Mukul Rohatgi, who have represented the BJP-led government at the Centre in the past, are the lawyers for the Pilot camp.
Congress chief whip Mahesh Joshi, who had written to the Speaker seeking the MLAs' disqualification, also approached the court, asking to be heard before it passes any order.
The 19 MLAs were sent notices by the assemby secretariat on Tuesday and allowed up to Friday to give their replies. The notices said Speaker CP Joshi will take up the matter at 1pm on Friday.
The notices were served after the ruling party complained to the Speaker that the MLAs had defied a party whip to attend two Congress Legislature Party meetings, on Monday and Tuesday.
The Pilot camp, however, argues that a party whip applies only when the assembly is in session. In its complaint to the Speaker, the Congress sought action against Pilot and the other dissidents under paragraph 2 (1) (a) of the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution.
The provision disqualifies MLAs if they "voluntarily" give up the membership of the party which they represent in the House.
The Congress said in the letter to the Speaker that the Supreme Court has "unequivocally held" in the past that the provision comes into effect when the conduct of an MLA leads to this inference. In his initial appearance, Salve argued that the MLAs wanted to challenge the constitutional validity of the notices and needed some time to file it afresh.
Among those sent notices are Vishvendra Singh and Ramesh Meena, who were sacked along with Pilot from the state cabinet after their rebellion against Ashok Gehlot. Others include Deepender Singh Shekhawat, Bhanwar Lal Sharma and Harish Chandra Meena, who had also given statements to the media challenging the Gehlot government.
Pilot has been upset since the Congress picked Ashok Gehlot for the chief minister's post after the 2018 assembly polls. His supporters said he deserved credit for the party's victory election after a campaign helmed by him as its state unit chief.
If the Congress dissidents are disqualified, the current strength of the state assembly will reduce to 181, slashing the half-way mark to 91 and seemingly making it easier for Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot to retain majority support. In the 200-member assembly, the Congress has 107 MLAs and the BJP 72.
In the past, the ruling party has claimed the support of 13 independents, two MLAs each from the CPM and the Bhartiya Tribal Party (BTP), and one from the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD).