AAP's office of profit case: President Ram Nath Kovind okays disqualification of 20 Delhi lawmakers
New Delhi: President Ram Nath Kovind has accepted the recommendation of the Election Commission to disqualify 20 lawmakers of Delhi's ruling Aam Aadmi Party. The Commission said the legislators violated the provisions of the Office of Profit, under which lawmakers cannot hold any post in the government that entitles them to perks or powers unless a law has been passed to exempt the posts. Mr Kejriwal's party, which described the President's order as "unconstitutional " and "dangerous for democracy", said it would go to the Supreme Court if need be. The Delhi High Court will hear their appeal on Monday.
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The disqualification of the 20 lawmakers will not dent AAP's majority in the Delhi assembly. AAP has 66 seats in the 70-member assembly. Its numbers will now be down to 46, which is well past the half-way mark of 35.
The opposition Congress and the BJP have said Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal should quit on "moral grounds". The BJP has four seats in the house; the Congress has none. If a by-election is held on 20 seats, it would give both parties a chance to increase their tally.
"They slapped fake cases on our legislators, got the CBI to conduct raids on me, but they found nothing. In the end, they disqualified 20 of our MLAs," Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said. Party leader Ashutosh said the President's order was "unconstitutional and dangerous for democracy," reported news agency PTI. Minister Gopal Rai said, "AAP will knock the doors of the Supreme Court if need be".
"AAP has been helped by BJP and the Election Commission in delaying the decision for over three weeks," said Ajay Maken, whose party, the Congress, had sought the lawmakers' disqualification from the Commission in June 2016. "Had the decision come before December 22, these 20 legislators couldn't have voted for the Rajya Sabha elections," he added.
The BJP's Meenakshi Lekhi said, "The fact that their RS nomination happened means EC was working at its own pace and there was no pressure that Arvind Kejriwal seems to have alleged.These are constitutional bodies whose mandate is to obey the law".
AAP legislators, who moved the Delhi High Court on Friday, did not get any interim relief. In September 2016, the court had cancelled the AAP government's order appointing the legislators as parliamentary secretaries as it lacked the approval of the Lieutenant Governor, the administrative head of Delhi.
Days after sweeping the Delhi elections in 2015, the AAP government passed an amendment to the Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly Act to exempt the post of parliamentary secretary from the definition of office of profit with retrospective effect.
On March 13, the government appointed 21 legislators as parliamentary secretaries, saying they won't take remuneration and so it was not under the office of profit regulations. The number went down to 20 after Rajouri Garden lawmaker Jarnail Singh resigned to contest against Parkash Singh Badal in the Punjab Assembly elections last year.
The list of 20 disqualified legislators include prominent names, like Najafgarh legislator Kailash Gahlot who is also Delhi Transport Minister, Chandni Chowk legislator Alka Lamba, Burari legislator Sanjeev Jha, Kalkaji legislator Avtar Singh and Narela legislator Sharad Kumar.