If High Court rejects AAP's appeal, the party has said it will move the Supreme Court
New Delhi: 20 Aam Aadmi Party legislators will file new petitions in the High Court against their disqualification from the Delhi assembly, withdrawing today an earlier plea that the party said had become "infructuous" after President Ram Nath Kovind signed off on their removal. President Kovind had yesterday okayed the Election Commission's recommendation to disqualify the AAP legislators for holding offices of profit as parliament secretaries. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's party has said it will move the Supreme Court if the High Court rejects AAP's appeal, but Delhi seems headed towards fresh elections for the 20 seats.
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Delhi's Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia tweeted an open letter to the people of Delhi today, saying, "Is it justified to disqualify elected leaders in such an unconstitutional and illegal way? Is it fair to force elections? Is this not dirty politics?"
If courts do not reverse the disqualification of AAP legislators, by-elections will be held for the 20 seats. But even the loss of all 20 will not impact AAP's majority in the Delhi assembly. The party has 66 seats in the 70-member assembly. If it is reduced to 46, it will still have many more MLAs than the majority mark of 35.
Delhi's opposition parties Congress and the BJP have said Mr Kejriwal should quit on "moral grounds". The BJP has four members in the Delhi assembly, the Congress has none and a by-election will give both parties a chance to win a few seats.
The Election Commission recommended to the President on Friday last that the 20 AAP legislators, by occupying the post of parliamentary secretaries between March 2015 and September 2016, had held offices of profit and should be disqualified.
The MLAs immediately moved the High Court against the EC's recommendation, alleging that they were not given an opportunity to defend themselves by the poll panel. The High Court was to have heard that petition this evening.
AAP legislators withdrew the earlier petition and now a fresh petition will be filed, tweeted the party's Raghav Chadha, adding, "EC's recommendation & subsequent notification by Pres suffer from serious legal infirmities and is not worth the paper it is written on. Have full faith that the courts will consign it to the dustbin."
Parliamentary secretaries assist ministers with their work. AAP insists that despite holding the post, its MLAs did not take salary or perks and so they cannot be seen as having held offices of profit.
Allowed to appoint only a limited number of ministers, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had, after AAP's sweep of the Delhi assembly elections in 2015, appointed 21 legislators as parliament secretaries. He did so after AAP pushed an amendment to the Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly Act to exempt the post from the definition of office of profit with retrospective effect.
In September 2016, the High Court had cancelled their appointment, saying it was done without the approval of the Lieutenant Governor, the administrative head of Delhi. The Congress had appealed to the Election Commission to disqualify the AAP legislators for holding offices of profit. One of the AAP legislators quit last year.