In a big blow to Delhi's ruling AAP, President Ram Nath Kovind on Sunday approved the Election Commission's recommendation to disqualify 20 of its MLAs in the office of profit case. While the BJP hailed the move, the AAP said it would approach the courts against it.
The Congress, however, accused the BJP and the Election Commission for delaying the disqualification to help AAP get its nominees elected to the Rajya Sabha.
Following the President's approval, the Union Law and Justice Ministry issued a notification saying that the President has held that the 20 members of the Delhi Legislative Assembly stand disqualified under 15 (1) (a) of the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD) Act.
These 20 MLAs 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.
The Election Commission on Friday recommended disqualification of the 20 AAP MLAs for holding office of profit as Parliamentary Secretaries, giving its opinion to the President on a complaint by advocate Prashant Patel, a member of the Hindu Legal Cell, in June 2015, who petitioned then President Pranab Mukherjee against the appointments.
The application by Patel said 21 AAP MLAs, including Jarnail Singh (Rajouri Garden) who resigned to contest the Punjab Assembly polls last year, were appointed Parliamentary Secretaries to Ministers in the Delhi government in violation of the law and Constitution.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state unit welcomed the approval, saying the decision had contributed to the protection of democratic values.
"With his speedy decision, the President has made a major contribution towards protecting democratic values.
"People of Delhi feel that these AAP MLAs must return all financial benefits they have taken after the date on which a circular on their appointment and facilities was issued," said state party chief Manoj Tiwari.
Congress Delhi chief Ajay Maken said that if the decision of disqualification had come earlier, the AAP could not have been able to get its candidates elected to the Rajya Sabha, and alleged a deal between the AAP and the BJP, which explained why the disqualification was delayed by over a month.
The AAP said that it will now approach the High Court against this "extremely unconstitutional, unethical and biased decision of the EC".
"If required we will go to the Supreme Court. The Constitution is supreme and is the law of the land and has been protected by our judiciary time and again," said party supremo Arvind Kejriwal.
He said that his party got 67 seats in the 70-member Delhi assembly by God's grace because after three years, 20 of his party's MLAs were going to be declared disqualified.
Kejriwal's media advisor Nagendar Sharma said "Modi government's appointed EC's" order was silent on MLAs not being given an opportunity to be heard.
"What was their pecuniary gain and there is no mention of latest Supreme Court 2014 judgment on office of profit"
"Mark my words: This non-opinion by puppet EC and considered order of President will lead to humiliation of institutions, like in Uttarakhand and Arunachal cases," he said.
"For Modi government nothing matters -- not even dignity of President -- when he decides to hit below the belt as always," he added.