AAP MLAs disqualification: How the 'office of profit' case unfolded

Pooja Shali
Pooja ShaliJan 19, 2018 | 20:54

AAP MLAs disqualification: How the 'office of profit' case unfolded

The news of the impending disqualification of 20 MLAs of the Aam Aadmi Party for allegedly holding office of profit spread like wildfire in newsrooms today (January 19) afternoon.

According to AAP leaders, the matter to be referred to the president of India is without a complete hearing of the "office of profit" case. With that, the expected political blame game ensued throughout the day.


Soon after coming to power in 2015, the AAP government had passed an amendment to the Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification) Act, 1997 to "exempt the post of parliamentary secretary from the definition of office of profit with retrospective effect". The Kejriwal government later appointed 21 AAP legislators as parliamentary secretaries in order "to assist ministers in speedy implementation of work". The party even claimed that the 21 MLAs won't take any remuneration and so wouldn't fall under the office of profit regulations.

It was the Congress, which on June 9, 2016 had moved the poll panel seeking disqualification of the 21 MLAs. Considering that one of them, Jarnail Singh, had resigned to contest the Punjab Assembly polls, the number stands at 20 now.


The disqualification of the MLAs will pave way for by-elections in the Delhi Assembly.

Sources claim 11 MLAs have been heard by the Election Commission and their statements recorded so far. The AAP, however, says these were not part of official hearing as the case was still in early stages of designating if EC, as a constitutional body, should hear the matter.

Around 2pm today, reporters claimed their sources in the Election Commission (EC) hinted at a possible recommendation being sent to the president's office. It was also reported that the recommendation letter would agree that the MLAs received undue privileges as parliamentary secretaries, an additional position given to elected representatives (the appointments were against protocol).


There, however, was no official announcement by the EC in this regard, neither a confirmation nor a denial. And this is what has precisely got the AAP's goat. The party leaders attacked the Election Commission for acting "as an agent of the BJP" and "leaking information to the media".

The development signals considerable trouble for the AAP, which also heads the government in Delhi. AAP MLA Madan Lal rushed to the Delhi High Court in the hope of managing to get a stay order on the case. The court, instead, refused any interim relief and will hear the matter again on Monday at 4pm. The HC also reiterated to the party that the court has already deemed the positions unconstitutional last year and would not interfere further, asking the party to approach and respond to EC summons.


"If approved by the president, 20 of the 66 MLAs will be disqualified, with immediate effect. With 46 in tow (BJP-3,  SAD-1), they would still retain majority in the 70-member Assembly.  

Interestingly, two MLAs within the AAP are anyway considered "opposition" - the vocal critic Kapil Mishra and Pankaj Pushkar, a supporter of Yogendra Yadav. So, the number would unofficially stand at 44 , for the AAP. 

Delhi will have to then brace for by-polls to 20 empty seats. The situation, however, is purely hypothetical right now considering neither the EC nor the president's office has confirmed the "movement of the file". Sources maintain that the notice has been received and is under consideration.

As reporters rushed to the AAP office by 3pm, party leader Saurabh Bhardwaj launched a scathing attack against the EC, making a personal remark about CEC AK Joti's age and his approaching retirement.

“AK Joti was the principal secretary under [the then Gujarat chief minister] Narendra Modi and then the chief secretary of Gujarat. He is retiring on Monday. So you want to repay Modiji’s debt. You are mortgaging a constitutional post like the Election Commission,” Bhardwaj said.

But the matter is at sub-judice, a fact that the AAP spokespersons were quick to remind.

Party leaders, meanwhile, started to reach Arvind Kejriwal's Civil Lines residence and went into a huddle. Each AAP insider, I spoke to, expressed deep anger against the Union government, before the line either got cut or went on hold. The party leaders were oscillating between "breaking news" correspondents and chalking out a survival strategy.

Since its inception, the AAP has accused most existing institutions of being corrupt and anti-people - media houses, political parties and bureaucracy had been declared as bought-off by the rich and the powerful. The party eventually realised that, once in power, the perpetual derogatory tone is not the best way forward.

Interestingly, the Election Commission's credibility had also been questioned occasionally by the party, but today the AAP came out all guns blazing. But it's debatable if their arguments were justified since rather than focussing on facts, party members primarily targetted the chief Election Commisioner over his alleged proximity to the BJP.

But it seems the AAP is not alone. Many others are also raising questions over the EC's move.

Did the EC give any reasonable evidence in its defence against AAP's allegations that an independent organisation has compromised its credibility at the behest of a ruling party at the Centre? Well, an explanation by the EC will clear the air, before Arvind Kejriwal seizes the opportunity.

Last updated: January 19, 2018 | 20:59
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