The Election Commission of India’s decisive blow to the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi, disqualifying 20 of its legislators as unfit to hold their posts under the office of profit rules, has virtually set the stage for a mini-election that will see the AAP, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress vie for their in the 70-member-strong Delhi legislative assembly.
While the final decision will rest with the President of India, to whom the EC has sent the recommendation to for his assent, there is no immediate threat to the AAP government in Delhi. The AAP, which won the 2015 Delhi Assembly election decisively, winning 66 seats, reducing the BJP to 4 and the Congress to an empty bag, remains in a solid position as far as the number of seats is concerned.
While we are yet to hear from the President on the EC’s recommendations, we bring you a breakdown of the build-up to this decision and understand its likely impact.
What is the Office of Profit case against AAP?
Prashant Patel, a Delhi lawyer had moved a petition against 21 AAP MLAs, appointed parliamentary secretaries to ministers for “smooth functioning” of the government, for holding offices of profit. Of these 21 legislators, one MLA, Jarnail Singh, resigned in January to contest the Punjab elections.
The AAP, however, has said in its defence that these parliamentary secretaries were not given any perks and hence did not qualify as under the definition of office of profit. Notably, former Congress president Sonia Gandhi had in March 2006 resigned from parliament on moral grounds when similar charges were levelled against her by the opposition.
Timeline of events leading to EC recommending disqualification of 20 AAP MLAs:
March 13, 2015: Almost a month after sweeping Delhi with a thumping majority, the Arvind Kejriwal-led government appointed 21 AAP MLAs as ‘parliamentary secretaries’ to ministers for the smooth functioning of the government.
June 19, 2015: Delhi lawyer Prashant Patel files a petition with the President’s secretariat questioning the legality of the appointment of parliamentary secretaries by the AAP government in Delhi.
June 24, 2015: Delhi Assembly passes the Delhi Member of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification) ( Amendment Bill ), 2015 excluding Parliamentary Secretaries from ‘Office of Profit” with retrospective effect.
June 13, 2016: A year later, the President rejected the amendment to the Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification) Act, 1997, passed by the Delhi Assembly seeking to exempt the legislators appointed as parliamentary secretaries from the ambit of office of profit.
July 14-21, 2016: The Election Commission holds a personal hearing for 21 AAP MLAs, who were made parliamentary secretaries and were facing the risk of disqualification from the Assembly, in the ‘Office of Profit’ case.
June 25, 2016: Centre returns 14 bills passed by Delhi government, including Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification) Bill.
September 8, 2016: The Delhi high court set aside the appointments of 21 AAP MLAs as parliamentary secretaries while observing that their appointment orders were issued without the concurrence of the Lieutenant Governor (LG).
September 8, 2016: EC issues show-cause notice to 21 AAP legislators who were appointed as Parliamentary Secretaries by the Delhi government in 2015.
January 2017: AAP MLA Jarnail Singh, one of the 21 legislators appointed as a parliamentary secretary, resigns to contest Punjab assembly elections.
October 9, 2017: Election Commission decides to start hearing arguments in the ‘office of profit’ case against 20 AAP MLAs from Delhi, with election commissioner O P Rawat, who had recused himself after Delhi chief minister and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal questioned his neutrality, agreeing to join the proceedings at CEC AK Joti’s request. Notices issued to AAP legislators seeking explanation on the office of profit matter.
January 19, 2018: EC recommends disqualification of 20 AAP legislators for holding ‘office of profit’.