President Ram Nath Kovind on Sunday accepted the recommendation of the Election Commission to disqualify the 20 MLAs of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the ruling party in the national capital, for holding offices of profit.
A notification issued by the Law Ministry quoted the President as saying, “In the light of the opinion expressed by the Election Commission (EC), the 20 members of the Delhi legislative assembly have been disqualified.”
The AAP MLAs were appointed as Parliamentary Secretaries and a petitioner in a complaint to the EC and the President in 2015 said that being a parliamentary secretary was holding an office of profit and this invited disqualification. After the President’s decision, the AAP said it would use all legal options available.
Request for meeting
AAP Delhi convener Gopal Rai said the 20 MLAs had requested to meet the President to discuss the issue before his decision was announced on Sunday. However, they could not get an appointment as the President was “not available.”
“We had requested a meeting for Sunday morning, but were denied, and now [Sunday afternoon] we get this news. We will approach the court and will hope for justice,” Mr. Rai said.
A Parliamentary Secretary assists a Minister, and the office usually comes with perks as well as a measure of political influence. However, in a notification confirming the appointment of the 20 MLAs, the government had said no remuneration or perks would be given to the Parliamentary Secretaries.
The 20 MLAs who are facing disqualification include Transport Minister Kailash Gehlot, who is the MLA from Najafgarh.
“It is unfortunate that the President took the decision in such haste, without even giving us a chance to speak. It is a ploy by the Centre, using constitutional institutions to derail our government. But we will not give up. We have faith in the judiciary. The doors of the High Court and the Supreme Court are still open for us,” said Alka Lamba, representing from Chandni Chowk and one of the 20 disqualified MLAs.
AAP spokesperson Saurabh Bharadwaj also questioned the speed at which the recommendation was accepted by the President.
“The ‘speed’ at which the President delivered the 120-page order raises suspicion about many institutions. Wish the same speed while President & LG sit on legislations passed by Delhi Assembly,” tweeted Mr. Bharadwaj.
The controversy started in 2015, when the AAP came to power with a whopping majority of 67 out of 70 seats and appointed 21 lawmakers as parliamentary secretaries. One out of these 21, Jarnail Singh, left his position to fight elections from Punjab.
Though attempts were made to exclude the post of the parliamentary secretaries from the ambit of ‘office of profit’ by the Arvind Kejriwal government, former President Pranab Mukherjee refused to approve the proposal.