Office-of-profit row: EC recommends disqualification of 20 AAP MLAs, Kejriwal says truth will prevail
The AAP, which has 66 legislators in the 70-member assembly, will be brought down to 46 MLAs if the decision holds.india Updated: Jan 19, 2018 23:46 IST
The Election Commission (EC) on Friday recommended the disqualification of 20 Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) legislators for holding offices of profit as parliamentary secretaries -- a move that could lead to fresh elections for these seats and test the popularity of the Arvind Kejriwal government less then three years into its five-year term.
The poll panel sent its recommendation to President Ram Nath Kovind, said an official, adding that the EC’s view was binding. A Rashtrapati Bhawan official confirmed the President had received the recommendation and was yet to send his reply.
Chief minister Kejriwal responded on Twitter by declaring that truth would prevail. “When you are walking on the path of honesty and truth you face a lot of hurdles. It is natural. But all the visible and invisible powers in the world help you on your path. God is with you. Because you are not working for yourself, but for the society. History is witness to the fact that ultimately honesty triumphs,” he said.
Six AAP legislators approached the Delhi high court to get a stay on their disqualification, but Justice Rekha Palli declined immediate relief as the EC was unable to make a statement on whether it has forwarded a “final opinion” to the President. The matter will next be heard on Monday.
The AAP, which has 66 legislators in the 70-member assembly will be brought down to 46 MLAs if the decision holds -- enough to run the government but with its brute majority in the House under threat.
The BJP and the Congress welcomed the EC’s decision and demanded Kejriwal’s resignation on “moral grounds”. “Many of the Kejriwal cabinet members had to resign. Fifteen of their MLAs have cases against them and 12 were arrested under different charges. In this scenario, the biggest question before the people is whether the Arvind Kejriwal government has any moral right to remain in power,” BJP spokesman Sambit Patra said.
Delhi Congress chief Ajay Maken echoed his sentiments. “Kejriwal has no right to continue on his post. He should resign,” he said. The Congress is planning to hold a protest demonstration at the Delhi secretariat on January 22 to demand that Kejriwal quit.
But the AAP leaders attacked the poll panel, suggesting that its decision was influenced by the NDA government at the Centre. “The AAP MLAs were not even given a chance to present their case during the hearing. Whatever we have come to know is through sources. It is a clear case where chief election commissioner is acting at the behest of BJP government,” said party spokesperson Saurabh Bharadwaj.
The case against the MLAs dates back to March 2015, when lawyer Prashant Patel complained to the then president, Pranab Mukherjee, that 21 of the AAP legislators were occupying offices of profit. One of them — Jarnail Singh — resigned last year to contest the Punjab assembly elections.
Mukherjee referred the complaint to the EC, which said last June that the MLAs “did hold de-facto the office of parliamentary secretaries”. A parliamentary secretary assists a minister, and the office comes with perks similar to those that ministers get.
As protests grew, the Kejriwal government sought to pass a bill excluding the post of parliamentary secretary from the ambit of the office of profit law. But Mukherjee refused to approve it. Meanwhile, reacting to another private petition, the Delhi high court struck down the post of parliament secretary entirely in September 2015.
(With inputs from Sweta Goswami and Ashish Mishra)