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New Delhi : In a massive blow to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, the Election Commission has recommended to the President that 20 legislators of his Aam Aadmi Party be disqualified for holding offices of profit as parliamentary secretaries, sources said today.
A quick appeal by AAP to the Delhi High Court has also come to naught, with judges this evening not granting interim relief to the legislators, citing their non-participation in the Election Commission’s hearings. The High Court has also asked for a copy of the recommendation sent to the President. The matter will now be heard on Monday.
Once the President approves the EC’s recommendation, by-elections will have to be held for the 20 assembly seats. The ruling AAP has a giant majority in the 70-member Delhi assembly with 66 seats and the disqualification will not endanger the Arvind Kejriwal government. It will come down to 46 seats, still comfortably across the half-way mark at 35.
Both the Congress and the BJP has said Mr Kejriwal should quit on "moral grounds."
AAP has alleged a conspiracy lashing out at the poll panel for its decision. "This is Modi’s Election Commission," said AAP’s Saurabh Bharadwaj.
Mr Kejriwal and his party have insisted that the appointments violate no rules as none of the AAP legislators draw salaries as parliament secretaries. But rival parties 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 bunglow 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 have we ever got from the government. The irony is that Haryana is allowed to have parliamentary secretaries but Delhi isn’t allowed," said Alka Lamba, one of the 20 MLAs who face disqualification.
In 2015, soon after AAP swept the Delhi elections, Mr Kejriwal had appointed 21 legislators as parliament secretaries. A lawyer Prashant Patel had appealed to the President against the move alleging that it violated constitutional provisions and the President had sent it to the Election Commission for examination.
In 2016, the Congress petitioned the Election Commission to disqualify the 21 MLAs. Later that year, the High Court had set aside the appointments noting that Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor had not cleared them. Last year, the Election Commission rejected a petition by the MLAs to drop the office of profit case. One of the 21 MLAs had resigned last year.
"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! Where is Lokpal? The MLAs and Ministers enjoying perks of power and foreign travel – Where is political probity," tweeted Congress’ Delhi chief Ajay Maken, who had petitioned the Election Commission against AAP.
The BJP’s Vijay Jolly said he welcomed the Election Commission’s decision and called it the "final nail in the coffin of the Delhi government." It should, Mr Jolly said, be an "eye-opener for the misgovernance of the Aam Aadmi Party in the capital. They have subverted the constitutional norms of the government in the capital and misused the official machinery appointing the Parliamentary Secretaries and total disregardance of the laid down norms, rules and regulation concerning the government."