A day after the Election Commission recommended to President Ram Nath Kovind to disqualify 20 Aam Aadmi Party members of the Delhi Assembly for holding office of profit, the legislators met Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Saturday. At the meeting, they decided to ask the President to hear them before taking the final decision.
The “office of profit” they are accused of holding was that of parliamentary secretary to which they were appointed in 2015. While the appointment was scrapped by the Delhi High Court in 2016, a complaint had also been made to the President to disqualify the MLAs for taking offices of profit in violation of legal and Constitutional provisions. The President, as required by the law, had then sought the Election Commission’s opinion, which is binding on him.
Senior AAP leaders, however, said they are bracing for bye-elections and for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s attempts to exploit fissures within their party.
In the past three years, friction within the AAP’s ranks has spilled out into the open many times. Most notably, former minister Kapil Mishra rebelled, senior leader Kumar Vishwas voiced discontent and several MLAs went up against Kejriwal on matters ranging from the expulsion of Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan to the allegation of party members exploiting women in Punjab before the last year’s Assembly election.
Even if the 20 legislators are disqualified, it will not affect AAP’s majority given that the party has 66 MLAs in the 70-member Delhi Assembly.
‘Not scared of polls’
“We have decided to write to the President of India at the earliest and seek time from him to hear us,” senior AAP leader Ashutosh said after the legislators met Kejriwal.
But “if nothing works out”, he said, “we have to ready ourselves for bye-polls”.
Madan Lal, the legislator from Kasturba Nagar who is among those facing disqualification, said they were not anxious about going to the polls again. “But why should we [have to contest again]?” he asked. “We have got a mandate for five years, and if we are asked to discontinue, it could lead to a feeling among the masses that we have done something wrong.”
He said if bye-polls need to be held, the BJP may “try to take advantage of the frictions within the party.” “But they will not succeed,” he added. “Residents of Delhi can cut through such politics and get to the core of the issues. It is a contest of ideologies and people have seen how the BJP operates.”
Ashutosh added, “Let them [the BJP] do what they want. We are not scared of contesting polls.”
‘System failed us’
Alka Lamba, the MLA from Chandni Chowk who is also facing disqualification, insisted that she and her colleagues had been hard done by. “Now that the system has failed us, all our hopes are with the President,” she said. “We never derived any benefit from the posts of parliamentary secretary but the Election Commission did not give us a chance to speak. We hope that the President does before he arrives at a conclusion.”
Lamba too said she was not afraid of facing the electorate again. “There is definitely a possibility that attempts will be made to take advantage of the friction within the party but we are not scared of bye-elections if the need arises,” she said. “We are the party that has contested the highest number of elections in the shortest time span.”
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