Responding to allegations that the Election Commission (EC) finalised its opinion in the office of profit matter against 20 AAP MLAs without hearing their arguments on the merits of the case, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Om Prakash Rawat told The Indian Express on Monday that the party had two opportunities to request the EC to hold hearings, but they didn’t.
Asked about the EC’s last ruling of June 23, 2017, which states that the Commission will intimate the next date of hearing in “due course”, Rawat, who was announced as A K Joti’s successor on Sunday, said, “These (two) notices were issued only for that (purpose). If they felt the need or imperative for oral evidences, then they should have pointed it out and we would have fixed a date for hearing. But you (AAP) are not talking of that. You are talking of something that is already known to the Commission.” Rawat will officially assume charge as the new CEC on Tuesday.
The EC had tendered its opinion to the President on Friday, finding the 20 legislators guilty of holding office of profit by being parliamentary secretaries to cabinet ministers in the Delhi government. The President acted on this advice in a day, and disqualified all MLAs on Saturday.
The two notices that Rawat referred to were issued to the party MLAs on September 28 and November 2 last year, in which they were asked to file their written submissions on the information provided by the Delhi government with regard to the offices of parliamentary secretaries.
In their response to the above notices, the MLAs had urged the Commission not to proceed with the case until their challenge to the EC order of June 23, 2017 was disposed of by the High Court. On June 23 last year, the EC had rejected AAP’s plea, which contended that since the Delhi High Court had on September 8, 2016 set aside the appointment of parliamentary secretaries as being illegal, the question of profiting from such offices does not arise.
The AAP MLAs, in their written submission, also raised the issue of Rawat’s recusal from all AAP-related matters and pleaded that since important constitutional rights of the MLAs were at stake, the matter must be heard by a full quorum, that is all three election commissioners. The poll panel, in its opinion, had slammed the party for making such a plea and said that the AAP legislators had no intention of allowing the case to proceed further.
Asked if Rawat too felt that AAP was trying to stall the EC’s proceedings, he told The Indian Express, “One can’t say (definitively) because there is nothing as proof. The only thing (we have) is that the sequence of events, as they happened, show that maybe, yes, it (the party) was (trying to stall). You (AAP) did this (accused Rawat of being biased) by way of an interview without any basis. Then you took the plea that since there is no quorum, you cannot hear (the matter). If you put two and two together, it makes four.”
Rawat, in an unprecedented decision on April 19, 2017, recused himself from hearing all cases and complaints related to the AAP, after Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal questioned his impartiality in a media interview and alleged that he was close to the ruling dispensation.
After skipping a few hearings on the office of profit case, Rawat, on Joti’s request after Nasim Zaidi retired as CEC in July last year, agreed to be part of all AAP-related cases again. The Commission’s final opinion on disqualification of AAP MLAs has also been signed by him.
Rawat said that he doesn’t regret recusing himself but that experience taught him a lesson — to not take a decision in the spur of the moment. “One should not take such decisions in the spur of the moment. One should mull over it, think, weigh all pros and cons, take some time and only then (decide),” he said.