Bypolls imminent in Delhi

PTI
Monday, 22 January 2018

President paves way by approving disqualification of 20 MLAs; AAP up in arms

New Delhi: In a major setback to the AAP, President Ram Nath Kovind has disqualified 20 of its MLAs in Delhi for holding offices of profit, a move the party said showed constitutional authorities were behaving like ‘handmaidens of the central government’.

Kovind gave his assent to the recommendation by the Election Commission (EC).

Reacting to the development, Delhi Chief Minister and AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal Tweeted, “There was some logic when God gave us 67 seats. The Almighty stood behind us in our every step. Otherwise we would have been nothing... Just don’t stray away from the path of truth.”

At a gathering in Najafgarh, he said, “They are trying to harass us by all means... They got CBI raid done at my office, but after 24-hour search they only found my four mufflers. Our MLAs were arrested.”

“The L-G had called 400 files of our government (pertaining to decisions taken in two years), but they did not find anything against us. When they did not find anything against us, they today disqualified our 20 MLAs,” Kejriwal said.

Senior AAP leader Ashutosh said the president’s order to disqualify AAP MLAs is unconstitutional and dangerous for democracy. “The President, Sri Ram Nath Kovind should himself contemplate if he has enhanced his stature in history as the President of the Republic of India by signing to disqualify AAP MLAs?” he Tweeted.

Saurab Bharadwaj, chief spokesperson of the party’s Delhi unit said for the AAP, it is not a matter confined to its 20 MLAs, the fight is for safeguarding the democracy and protecting constitutional institutions from decimation. Hitting out at the Election Commission, he said the chief election commissioner and the election commissioners are expected to behave in an independent and impartial manner and not as ‘political stooges of their masters who appoint them’.

“The Election Commission is a constitutional institution of continuity and not a retired members club of a group of political appointees,” Bharadwaj said. 

“A first reading of the Narendra Modi government appointed Election Commission’s biased opinion and subsequent notification issued by the BJP’s central government to hastily disqualify 20 elected Delhi MLAs shows the constitutional authorities today are behaving like handmaidens of the central government,” he alleged.

The Election Commission (EC) had on Friday recommended to Kovind that the 20 MLAs were liable for disqualification for holding offices of profit between March 13, 2015, and September 8, 2016.

A government notification today said the president has disqualified 20 AAP MLAs for holding office of profit.
Citing a poll panel order, Bharadwaj said in June last year, the then Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi and Election Commissioner A K Joti had said the commission will intimate the next date of hearing to all the parties concerned in the present proceedings in due course.

However, the date of next hearing was not conveyed and the poll panel arrived at the decision before hearing them out, he claimed.

“It is beyond any reasonable understanding and justification as to how the immediate successors of Dr (Nasim) Zaidi decided to overturn this written order and chose not to provide any hearing to the 20 MLAs after March 2017,” Bharadwaj said.

“The AAP cannot be cowed down by such tactics of the Narendra Modi government, which has been proven time and again during the last three years.

“The party has complete faith in the judiciary and will challenge this biased, illegal and illogical order of the Modi government in courts of law,” Bharadwaj said.

AAP MLAs were appointed parliamentary secretaries and this was described by petitioner Prashant Patel as them holding offices of profit.

Giving its opinion to the president on the issue, the EC had said the MLAs, by occupying the post of parliamentary secretaries had held offices of profit, and were liable to be disqualified as legislators.

Parliamentary Secretaries assist ministers with their work. AAP insisted that despite holding the office these MLAs did not take any salaries or perks.

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 its opinion to the president, the EC had said, “Whether or not the individual Parliamentary Secretaries had actually derived the benefits or participated in executive functions of the government is of no relevance” as the Supreme Court in the Jaya Bachchan case had laid down that if the post falls under office of profit, the disqualification is imminent.

The poll panel had said that it is basing its opinion on judicial pronouncements of the past, the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act and the Constitution.

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