With President Ram Nath Kovind accepting the Election Commission’s recommendation to disqualify 20 MLAs of the ruling Aam Aadmi Party for holding offices of profit, the stage is set for a mini-election in the nation’s capital as the poll panel now has to hold byelections in these Assembly seats within six months. Reacting to this development, senior AAP leader Ashutosh said: “The President’s order to disqualify the AAP MLAs is unconstitutional and dangerous for democracy.”
A notification issued by the law ministry on Sunday quoted the President as saying that in light of the opinion given by the Election Commission, the 20 members of the Delhi Legislative Assembly had been disqualified. In a blow to the AAP, the EC had on Friday asked the President to disqualify these 20 MLAs.
“Having considered the matter in the light of the opinion expressed by the Election Commission, I, Ram Nath Kovind, President of India, in exercise of the powers… do here hold that the aforesaid 20 members of the Delhi Legislative Assembly stand disqualified from being members of the said Assembly,” the notification said.
Once the Delhi Assembly Speaker declares 20 vacancies in the House, the AAP’s strength will come down from 66 to 46. But it will still have a comfortable majority as the Opposition has only four MLAs.
Delhi chief minister and AAP national convenor Arvind Kejriwal tweeted on Sunday: “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.” Addressing a fathering in Najafgarh on Sunday, the CM said: “They are trying to harass us by all means… They got a CBI raid done at my office, but after a 24-hour search they only found my four mufflers. Our MLAs were arrested.”
He added: “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.”
It was in March 2015 that the AAP government had named 21 legislators as parliamentary secretaries. Parliamentary secretaries assist ministers with their work. The AAP had insisted that despite holding this office, these MLAs did not take any salaries or perks.
As the protests over these appointments grew, the government sought to shield the MLAs by excluding the post of parliamentary secretary from the ambit of office of profit laws. But former President Pranab Mukherjee had refused to approve the measure, and had referred a private petition in the matter to the EC. Reacting to another petition, the Delhi high court had struck down the post of parliamentary secretary in September 2015.
Of these 21 MLAs, Rajouri Garden legislator Jarnail Singh had resigned from his seat before contesting the Assembly elections in Punjab. The AAP lost the seat in the byelection to BJP-Akali Dal candidate M.S. Sirsa. Since the President has accepted the recommendation of the EC, the poll panel is bound to announce byelections for these 20 Assembly seats within six months.
The disqualified members are Adarsh Shastri (Dwarka), Alka Lamba (Chandni Chowk), Anil Bajpai (Gandhi Nagar), Avtar Singh (Kalkaji), Kailash Gahlot (Najafgarh) — who is also a minister, Madan Lal (Kasturba Nagar), Manoj Kumar (Kondli), Naresh Yadav (Mehrauli), Nitin Tyagi (Laxmi Nagar), Praveen Kumar (Jangpura), Rajesh Gupta (Wazirpur), Rajesh Rishi (Janakpuri), Sanjeev Jha (Burari), Sarita Singh (Rohtas Nagar), Som Dutt (Sadar Bazar), Sharad Kumar (Narela), Shiv Charan Goel (Moti Nagar), Sukhbir Singh (Mundka), Vijendar Garg (Rajinder Nagar) and Jarnail Singh (Tilak Nagar).
Transport minister Kailash Gahlot, who represents Najafga-rh, can now retain his ministerial portfolio for another six months. It is mandatory for Mr Gahlot to win any Assembly seat within six months in order to retain his ministerial portfolio.
The AAP had also moved the Delhi high court seeking a stay on the EC’s recommendation. The court has listed the case for a hearing on Monday.