Delhi stares at 'mini-election' as EC recommends disqualification of AAP MLAs

Delhi stares at 'mini-election' as EC recommends disqualification of AAP MLAs
Delhi is staring at a 'mini-election' with the Election Commission on Friday recommending the disqualification of 20 MLAs, including a minister, of the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) for "violating" the office of profit provisions by accepting appointment as Parliamentary secretaries.

The recommendation to the President comes as a huge blow to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal as one of his ministers Kailash Gahlot and confidants like Lal Bahadur Shastri's grandson Adarsh Shastri and Alka Lamba also face disqualification. The President is bound to concur with the recommendations of the EC on such complaints.

Sources said the EC has sent its opinion to President Ram Nath Kovind four days before Chief Election Commissioner A K Joti is to retire. Officially, the EC said it would not comment on what recommendation it gave to the President, as the matter is subjudice.

The AAP has reacted angrily to the recommendation, saying the EC has "never touched this low", while opponents BJP and Congress latched on to it seeking the resignation of the government. AAP had been arguing that this post did not qualify as an office of profit as there is no monetary benefit attached to it.

Though the potential disqualification would not have an impact on the government's continuation, as AAP still would have at least 45 members in a 70-member Assembly, the question would be about the number of seats the Kejriwal-led party can retain in the subsequent election. Congress, with not a single member, and four-member BJP will be hoping to increase their strength in the House where AAP now has 66 MLAs, including rebel Kapil Mishra.

The initial complaint was against 21 MLAs but one of them -- former journalist Jarnail Singh -- had resigned following which the EC dropped the petition against him.

It all started with the Kejriwal on 13 March, 2015 year appointing the MLAs as Parliamentary Secretaries. After the appointment, AAP government then sought an amendment to the Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification) Act, 1997 to provide "retrospective" exemption for Parliamentary Secretaries "without prior sanction" from the Central government.

As per the Government of National Capital Territory Act, it can have only one parliamentary secretary attached to the office of the Chief Minister and the amendment was aimed at providing legal cover to these appointments. The then President Pranab Mukherjee refused to give assent to the bill while Delhi High Court also set aside the order appointing the MLAs as parliamentary secretaries.

In between, a lawyer Prashant Patel also approached the Election Commission seeking the disqualification of these MLAs. Later, Congress also approached the EC with a similar complaint.

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