Poll panel says they held office-of-profit; no threat to Kejriwal government.
New Delhi: In a huge blow to the ruling Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi, the Election Commission has recommended to the President that 20 legislators of the party be disqualified for holding offices of profit as parliamentary secretaries, source said on Friday.
The development does not threaten the AAP government as it has 66 MLAs in the 70-member Assembly, with the halfway mark being 36.
While AAP lashed out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi for using CEC A.K. Joti to bring down the Arvind Kejriwal government, both the BJP and the Congress demanded the chief minister’s resignation calling the development a “moral defeat”.
Mr Kejriwal, however, put on a brave face. “Hurdles crop up when you tread the path of honesty. It is natural. But all powers in the universe help you and God guides you because you are selflessly working for the country and society. In the end, truth shall prevail,” he said in a tweet in Hindi.
Seven of the MLAs facing disqualification moved the Delhi high court challenging the EC’s decision, but it refused to pass any interim order and sought a copy of the poll panel’s recommendation sent to the President.
The court asked the EC to inform itby January 22 whether any final communication has been sent to President Ram Nath Kovind on disqualification of the MLAs.
In its opinion sent to the President on Friday morning, the EC said that the MLAs, by occupying the post of parliamentary secretaries between March 13, 2015 and September 8, 2016 held offices of profit and were liable to be disqualified as legislators, sources said.
Under the Constitution, the President is bound to act in accordance with the poll panel’s recommendation. There was no official word from the poll panel but sources said the commission’s recommendation had been sent to President.
The lawmakers who may lose their Assembly membership include law minister Kailash Gahlot (Najafgarh). Other prominent MLAs who may be disqualified are Alka Lamba (Chandni Chowk), Nitin Tyagi (Laxmi Nagar) and Som Dutt (Sadar Bazar)
Launching an attack CEC Joti the AAP said the poll panel head was “repaying the debt” to Prime Minister Narendra Modi before his retirement on January 22. Mr Joti had served in the Gujarat government when Mr Modi was the chief minister.
Noting that the EC’s order defied the “principles of natural justice”, AAP’s chief spokesperson Saurabh Bharadwaj said that the poll panel did not hear the MLAs’ case.
“This is Modi’s Election Commission,” Mr Bharadwaj said.
The AAP said the EC’s recommendation was based on false allegations.
“What (the) Modi government-appointed EC is leaking to the media is a recommendation made without hearing the arguments of MLAs on the false allegation of office of profit. Such a blatantly biased recommendation will not stand scrutiny in court of law,” said AAP spokesperson Nagendra Sharma.
“This must be the first ever recommendation in EC history where a recommendation has been sent without even hearing the main matter on merits. No hearing took place in the EC on the point of office-of-profit,” he said.
He, however, said that the party is yet to get any official communication on the matter.
The Election Commission gave its opinion to the President on a complaint filed by the Congress in June 2016 seeking disqualification of the MLAs. The Congress application said 21 AAP MLAs, including Jarnail Singh (Rajouri Garden), who later resigned to contest Punjab Assembly polls, had been illegally appointed parliamentary secretaries to ministers in the Delhi government.
Once the President approves the EC’s recommendation, bypolls will have to be held for the 20 Assembly seats. Other AAP MLAs whose Assembly membership has come under a cloud are Adarsh Shastri (Dwarka), Anil Vajpayee (Gandhi Nagar), Avtar Singh (Kalkaji), Madan Lal (Kasurba Nagar), Manoj Kumar (Kondli), Naresh Yadav (Mehrauli), Praveen Kumar (Jangpura), Rajesh Gupta (Wazirpur), Rajesh Rishi (Janakpuri), Sanjeev Jha (Burari), Sarita Singh (Rohtas Nagar), Sharad Kumar (Narela), Shiv Charan Goel (Moti Nagar), Sukhbir Singh (Mundka), Vijendar Garg (Rajinder Nagar) and Jarnail Singh (Tilak Nagar). Mr Kejriwal and his party have insisted that the appointments violate no rules as none of the AAP legislators drew salaries as parliamentary secretaries. But the Congress and the BJP have argued that the posts allowed them perks and so were offices of profit.
“Office-of-profit is when someone benefits. I want to ask, do they use official bungalow or car? None of them can be accused of earning any salary or official facility. This entire matter was to be presented before the Election Commission. Till now, there has been no hearing in this case before the Election Commission. The basic principle of justice is that the accused in the matter is given a chance to explain their point of view. No MLAs were summoned, they were not given chance to explain their version,” alleged Mr Bharadwaj.
“We did not take a single penny, did not enjoy any privileges. File an RTI and see what we ever got from the government. The irony is that Haryana is allowed to have parliamentary secretaries but Delhi isn’t,” Ms Lamba said.
The EC last year in October issued a notice to AAP MLAs seeking an explanation after rejecting their pleas to drop the office-of-profit case against them.
In March 2015, the AAP government passed an amendment to the Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification) Act, 1997, to exempt the post of parliamentary secretary from the definition of office-of-profit with retrospective effect.
But then President Pranab Mukherjee refused to give assent to the legislation, following which the appointments were set aside by Delhi high court in September 2016. Both the Congress and the BJP have now demanded that Mr Kejriwal should quit on “moral grounds.”
“We welcome the EC decision disqualifying 20 AAP MLAs. Arvind Kejriwalshould take responsibility for moral defeat and resign,” said Manoj Tiwari, Delhi BJP chief. Ajay Maken, Delhi Congress president, said, “Kejriwal has no right to continue. Half of his cabinet ministers removed on corruption charges! 20 MLAs who were enjoying ministerial perks would be disqualified”