In a major setback, the Election Commission on Friday has recommended the disqualification of a group of Aam Aadmi Party legislators for allegedly holding an office of profit, sources said, and a move that may lead to their removal from the Delhi assembly.
The Election Commission gave its opinion to the President on a complaint by the Congress filed in June 2016 seeking disqualification of the MLAs.
The Congress application said 21 AAP MLAs, including Jarnail Singh (Rajouri Garden) who resigned to contest Punjab Assembly polls last year, had been appointed Parliamentary Secretaries to Ministers in the Delhi government.
Under the Constitution, the President is bound to act in accordance with the poll panel’s recommendation.
There was no official word from the poll panel. But sources said that the Commission’s recommendation had been sent to President Ram Nath Kovind.
The move will pave the way for by polls in Delhi for 20 constituencies of the 70-member assembly. The AAP at present has officially 66 members in the House although some have since turned dissidents. The other four seats are held by the BJP.
Even if 20 MLAs are disqualified, the ruling party will still have a comfortable majority in the Delhi Assembly.
The MLAs who face axe are Alka Lamba, Adarsh Shastri, Sanjeev Jha, Rajesh Gupta, Kailash Gehlot, Vijendra Garg, Praveen Kumar, Sharad Kumar, Madan Lal Khufiya, Shiv Charan Goyal, Sarita Singh, Naresh Yadav, Rajesh Rishi, Anil Kumar, Som Dutt, Avtar Singh, Sukhvir Singh Dala, Manoj Kumar, Nitin Tyagi and Jarnail Singh (Tilak Nagar).
The AAP said the recommendation was based on false allegations, alleging that the “BJP through its agents seriously compromises the prestige of the EC just to divert the attention of the nation from its all round failures.”
“What (the) Modi government appointed Election Commission is leaking to the media is a recommendation made without hearing the arguments of MLAs on the false allegation of office of profit. Such a blatantly biased recommendation will not stand scrutiny in court of law.”
“This must be the first ever recommendation in EC history where a recommendation has been sent without even hearing the main matter on merits. No hearing took place in the EC on the point of office of profit,” AAP spokesperson Nagendra Sharma tweeted.
The panel last year in October issued a notice to the AAP MLAs seeking an explanation after rejecting their pleas to drop the ‘office of profit’ case against them.
In March 2015, the AAP government passed an amendment to the Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification) Act, 1997, to exempt the posts of Parliamentary Secretary from the definition of office of profit with retrospective effect.
But then President Pranab Mukherjee refused to give assent, following which the appointments were set aside by the Delhi High Court in September 2016, declaring them illegal since the order had been passed “without concurrence/approval of the Lt Governor”.