On 19th January, Friday the Election Commission recommended to the president of India that 20 MLAs of the Aam Aadmi Party should be disqualified for holding ‘office of profit’. The controversy over the ‘office of profit’ has started soon after the party’s massive win in 2015 Delhi Assembly elections. A petition was filed by a 29-year old lawyer Prashant Patel in 2015 to the president’s office, questioning the appointment of AAP MLAs as parliamentary secretaries. The Constitution bars the members of parliament to hold an ‘office of profit’ and any violations of this provision will result in the disqualification of the legislator.
The commission sent its approval to president Ram Nath Kovind for approval. President Ram Nath Kovind on Sunday accepted the recommendation of the Election Commission (EC) to disqualify the 20 MLAs of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the ruling party in the national capital. A notification issued by the Law ministry quoted the President as saying “In the light of the opinion expressed by the Election Commission, the 20 members of the Delhi Legislative assembly have been disqualified.”
The disqualified MLAs are Adarsh Shastri, Alka Lamba, Sanjeev Jha, Kailash Gehlot, Vijendra Garg, Praveen Kumar, Sharad Kumar Chauhan, Madan Lal Khufiya, Shiv Charan Goyal, Sarita Singh, Naresh Yadav, Rajesh Gupta, Rajesh Rishi, Anil Kumar Bajpai, Som Dutt, Avtar Singh, Sukhvir Singh Dala, Manoj Kumar, Nitin Tyagi, Jarnali Singh.
The plea from Delhi High Court seeking a stay on the EC’s recommendation by the affected legislators was withdrawn after the president approved the recommendation of the EC. AAP MLAs’ counsel informed the Delhi HC that their pleas have become infructuous after president’s approval of the recommendation and notification disqualifying them has been issued.
Manish Sisodia, the deputy chief minister in an open letter to the public of Delhi on Monday accused the BJP-led central government of putting a spoke in the wheel of the development work being carried out by the AAP government. He termed the disqualification “BJP’s dirty politics.” Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal slammed the EC for an “extremely unconstitutional, unethical and biased decision” and accused BJP of orchestrating the whole matter to harass AAP and its members.
The development does not threaten the AAP government in Delhi as it has 66 MLAs in the 70-member assembly. Even after the disqualification of its members from the assembly, the party retains 46 MLAs in a house of 70. This however has given the opposition a weapon to attack the Delhi government with the Congress and BJP questioning the party’s moral right to continue in government and demanded Arvind Kejriwal to resign on moral grounds. AAP will still remain the party with the maximum seats in the Delhi Assembly even after this disqualification, but the challenge for the party is that some of the disqualified MLAs such as Alka Lamba and Adarsh Shastri along with transport minister Kailash Gehlot, are some of their best performers and among the prominent political faces. Re-election will be held for those 20 vacant seats within six months. Re-contesting the 20 vacant seats in the upcoming by-elections may pose a challenge to the party, which is recovering from a string of electoral losses in other states.
By – Souvik Pati
University Law College