New Delhi, Jan 19 (IANS) In a major blow to the AAP in Delhi, the Election Commission on Friday recommended disqualification of 20 of its MLAs for holding office of profit as Parliamentary Secretaries, triggering calls for the resignation of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and an angry reaction from the ruling party.
The Election Commission gave its opinion to President Ram Nath Kovind on a complaint by advocate Prashant Patel, a member of the Hindu Legal Cell, in June 2015, who petitioned then President Pranab Mukherjee alleging illegality in the appointment of Parliamentary Secretaries.
The decision led to calls by the Congress and BJP -- who have been demanding the disqualification -- for Kejriwal's resignation.
The application by Patel said 21 AAP MLAs, including Jarnail Singh (Rajouri Garden) who resigned to contest the Punjab Assembly polls last year, were appointed Parliamentary Secretaries to Ministers in the Delhi government in violation of the Constitution.
The AAP meanwhile approached the Delhi High Court in a bid to stave off the impending action against its MLAs but the court refused any relief saying there was no Commission order and it cannot act on media reports. The matter will come up again on Monday.
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 Kovind.
The move will pave the way for by-polls in Delhi for 20 constituencies of the 70-member assembly. The AAP at present has officially 66 members in the House although some have turned dissidents. The other four seats are held by the BJP.
Even if 20 MLAs are disqualified, the ruling party will still have a comfortable majority in the Delhi Assembly. But by-elections, if called, will put to test Kejriwal's grip on Delhi.
The MLAs who face the axe are Alka Lamba, Adarsh Shastri, Sanjeev Jha, Rajesh Gupta, Kailash Gehlot, Vijendra Garg, Praveen Kumar, Sharad Kumar, Madan Lal Khufiya, Shiv Charan Goyal, Sarita Singh, Naresh Yadav, Rajesh Rishi, Anil Kumar, Som Dutt, Avtar Singh, Sukhvir Singh Dala, Manoj Kumar, Nitin Tyagi and Jarnail Singh (Tilak Nagar).
The AAP said the EC recommendation was based on false allegations, alleging that the "BJP through its agents seriously compromises the prestige of the EC just to divert the attention of the nation from its all round failures.
"What (the) Modi government appointed Election Commission 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," Kejriwal's media advisor Nagendra Sharma said.
AAP chief spokesperson Saurabh Bhardwaj said there was a political conspiracy against the party, alleging that Chief Election Commissioner Achal Kumar Jyoti, a 1975 batch IAS officer who was Gujarat Chief Secretary when Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister, was "paying back" to Prime Minister just a few days before demitting office. Joti's term expires on Monday.
The Congress and the BJP welcomed the move and asked Kejriwal to step down.
"Kejriwal has no right to continue. Half of his cabinet ministers were removed on corruption charges. Twenty MLAs who were enjoying ministerial perks would be disqualified," Delhi Congress chief Ajay Maken said.
BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said Kejriwal has lost the moral right to continue. He accused the Chief Minister of acting like a dictator, saying "the party and the government function on the basis of (whatever he says).
"But for the first time, the Constitution has shown him the mirror in a big way," Patra said.
BJP MLA and Leader of Opposition in the Delhi Assembly Vijender Gupta said it was "a huge moral defeat" for the Chief Minister and hence he should resign on ethical grounds.
The panel last year in October issued a notice to the 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 posts of Parliamentary Secretary from the definition of office of profit with retrospective effect.
But then President Mukherjee refused to give assent, following which the appointments were set aside by the Delhi High Court in September 2016, declaring them illegal since the order had been passed "without concurrence/approval of the Lt Governor".