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Election Commission signals disqualification for 20 AAP lawmakers for holding office of profit

In its order, the poll panel said the AAP MLAs “did hold de facto the office of parliamentary secretaries”, a ruling the AAP said it respected but hinted it might challenge in court.

delhi Updated: Jun 25, 2017 16:32 IST
Vishal Kant and Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Vishal Kant and Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Election Commission,AAP,Arvind Kejriwal
Aam Aadmi Party supporters hold up a placard of party national convener and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal. (Vinay Santosh Kumar/HT File Photo)

The Election Commission has said it will move forward on a petition seeking the disqualification of a group of Aam Aadmi Party legislators for allegedly holding an office of profit.

The panel rejected late on Friday the lawmakers’ plea that the private petition against them be dropped, clearing the decks for their possible removal from the Delhi assembly. A final decision is expected in August on whether the legislators violated rules by holding the posts of parliamentary secretaries.

Although an adverse ruling will pose no threat to the Arvind Kejriwal government, such a setback will only further demoralise the party after its string of election losses, including the city civic polls in April.

Should the MLAs be disqualified and by-elections called, it will again test the party’s grip on the national capital. A poor showing will also weaken Kejriwal’s hold over the Delhi assembly where he now has 65 members in a house of 70.

The poll panel said in its order the AAP MLAs “did hold de facto the office of parliamentary secretaries”. The AAP said it respects the ruling and hinted that the party might challenge it in court.

A parliamentary secretary assists a minister, and the office comes with perks as well as a measure of political influence. Often MLAs who can’t be accommodated in the government are appointed to the post.

The controversy dates back to the weeks after the party won a majority in the Delhi assembly elections and appointed 21 lawmakers as parliament secretaries in March, 2015.

As protests over the appointments grew, the Kejriwal government sought to shield the MLAs by excluding the post of parliamentary secretary from the ambit of office of profit laws.

But President Pranab Mukherjee refused to approve it, and referred a private petition in the matter to the Election Commission. Separately, reacting to another private petition, the Delhi high court struck down the posts of parliament secretary in September, 2015.

After this, the 21 MLAs petitioned the Election Commission that it shouldn’t entertain the office of profit case against them because the Delhi high court had already set aside their appointment as parliamentary secretaries.

On Saturday, the EC said its inquiry “survives and is maintainable in respect of all MLAs”, except former Rajouri Garden MLA Jarnail Singh who had resigned to contest elections in Punjab.

The AAP said in a statement that the EC’s order “should not be misinterpreted”.

“High Court of Delhi had declared very order of appointment of 21 parliamentary secretaries as null and void. Therefore, there is no question of hearing a petition for office which never existed as per Delhi High Court,” it said.

The EC order came about a fortnight before chief election commissioner Nasim Zaidi demits office. Election commissioner OP Rawat, who recused himself after Kejriwal questioned his impartiality, did not sign the order.

First Published: Jun 24, 2017 23:49 IST