New Delhi: In a blow to Delhi’s ruling Aam Aadmi Party, the Election Commission on Friday asked the President to disqualify 20 of its MLAs for holding offices of profit, setting the stage for their ouster from the Assembly.
The development does not threaten the AAP government as it has 66 MLAs in the 70-member Assembly. Still, the BJP and Congress demanded that Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal resign on moral grounds.
Reacting furiously to the EC order, AAP claimed the Chief Election Commissioner was trying to destabilize its government at the behest of the prime minister.
Seven of these MLAs moved the Delhi High Court challenging the EC’s recommendation but the bench headed by Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal refused to pass any interim order.
In its opinion sent to President Ram Nath Kovind this morning, the Election Commission said the MLAs, by occupying the post of parliamentary secretaries between March 13, 2015 and September 8, 2016, held office of profit, and were liable to be disqualified as legislators, highly-placed sources said.
Parliamentary Secretaries assist ministers with their work. The AAP insisted that despite holding the office these MLAs did not take any salaries or perks.
The AAP launched an unrestrained attack on Chief Election Commissioner A K Joti, saying he was “repaying the debt” to Prime Minister Narendra Modi before his retirement on Monday, January 22.
“A K Joti was the principal secretary under (the then Gujarat Chief Minister) Narendra Modi and then the chief secretary of Gujarat. He is retiring on Monday. So you want to repay Modi ji’s debt. You are mortgaging a constitutional post like the Election Commission,” AAP’s Delhi unit spokesman Saurabh Bharadwaj alleged.
“The EC should not be the letter box of the PMO. But that is the reality today,” another senior AAP leader Ashutosh tweeted.
Joti, an IAS officer of 1975 batch of Gujarat cadre, took charge as an election commissioner in 2015 before his elevation as CEC.
Noting that the EC’s order defied the “principles of natural justice”, Bharadwaj said the poll panel did not hear the MLAs’ side.
The President is bound by the recommendation of the Commission. Under the rules, petitions to the President seeking disqualification of lawmakers are referred to the EC. The poll panel takes a decision and sends its recommendation to the Rashtrapati Bhavan which is accepted.
In the present case, the petition was made to disqualify 21 MLAs, but one resigned a few months back.
Once the president accepts the recommendation, by-elections will have to be held for 20 Assembly seats.
The disqualification will not put into jeopardy Kejriwal’s government because of its huge majority in the Delhi assembly. However, the disqualification will bring down its strength drastically to 45.