Setback for Arvind Kejriwal as EC seeks disqualification of 20 AAP MLAs

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New Delhi: In a setback for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-led Delhi government, the Election Commission has recommended to the president the disqualification of 20 of the party’s MLAs for allegedly holding office of profit, according to a news report by the Press Trust of India (PTI).

If President Ram Nath Kovind gives his assent, this could necessitate by-elections in 20 out of the 70 seats in the Delhi assembly, although it will not pose a threat to chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s government. The AAP currently has 66 members in the state assembly.

The Delhi high court on Friday declined to grant an interim stay on the recommendation for the disqualification as the Election Commission was unable to make a statement on whether it has forwarded a “final opinion” to the president.

The court was hearing a plea filed by six of the 20 MLAs recommended to be disqualified.

Manish Vashishth, a counsel appearing for one of the six MLAs, argued before the court that not only did the Election Commission fail to give the MLAs notice of hearing, it also did not consider their written submissions and replies. He argued that the Election Commission’s final opinion was passed by a forum comprising two election commissioners, whereas the law mandates a forum of three.

The matter will be heard next on Monday.

In March 2015, the Delhi government had appointed 21 MLAs as parliamentary secretaries. Since then, one has resigned from the assembly. The appointments were made to assist cabinet ministers and also include more MLAs in governance work. However, the appointments were questioned on grounds of legality and the members holding office of profit.

The AAP said that the Election Commission’s recommendations have been made without hearing the arguments of the members.

“So far, all reports are based on sources. I want to ask people from these constituencies if they have seen MLAs utilising government facilities like car, house or salary. There has been no hearing held before EC until now,” said Saurabh Bharadwaj, an AAP spokesperson and MLA.

During the course of the day, the party held a series of meetings to chart its future course of action.

According to the PTI report, the president “is bound to go by the recommendation of the Commission” and in cases of petitions seeking disqualification, the president sends a reference to the Election Commission, which in turn gives its opinion.

Officially, the Election Commission has not put out any communication in the matter. “The matter is sub judice. We have no comments to offer,” a senior Election Commission official said, requesting anonymity.

A person aware of the developments said on condition of anonymity that the communication from the commission was on its way to the president but added that a formal announcement on any disqualification was likely to come from the ministry of home affairs.

Opposition parties attacked the Delhi government over the issue.

“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?” Ajay Maken, chief of the Congress’s Delhi unit, tweeted.

“Do they still have the morality of continuing in governance in Delhi?” Sambit Patra, national spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), told reporters.livemint