The principles of natural justice dictate that the accused must be granted a fair hearing. The Election Commission’s unilateral decision earlier yesterday to disqualify 20 Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLAs for occupying offices of profit was taken without there being a single hearing on the issue.
The Commission took two years to decide on the maintainability of the plea to disqualify the MLAs. After it held that it is the competent authority to hear the matter, no hearing was held. The subversion of natural justice and procedure is shocking, because it appears to have been done purposefully.
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Over the past year, multiple senior jurists and lawyers have already clarified why this particular case should not invite disqualification. The Delhi High Court had declared the appointment of 21 AAP MLAs as Parliamentary secretaries void ab initio, since the Lieutenant Governor had not given his assent to a Bill exempting Parliamentary Secretaries from the definition of office of profit. If the appointments were void ab initio, how can the EC consider positions that did not exist to begin with as offices of profit?
Moreover, the interpretation of the law on Office of Profit being made by the EC is against the spirit of the law itself. The appointment letter clearly stated “The Parliamentary Secretaries will not be eligible for any remuneration or any perks of any kind, from the government.”
None of the MLAs in question actually received any benefit from the government. With no benefit accruing to any MLA, can the position of a Parliamentary Secretary even be considered an office of profit?
Now that the AAP MLAs have moved the High Court, the merits of the case will be decided by the judiciary. But the EC’s active participation in the Centre’ political vendetta against the AAP government does merit a serious look at the state of our democratic institutions.
Chief Election Commissioner Achal Joti was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Principal Secretary during his term as Chief Minister of Gujarat. Mr Joti will be turning 65 on 23 January, necessitating his retirement from the office of the CEC on Monday. On the eve of his retirement, he convened a meeting of the full body of the Election Commission, and with no warning or notice, decided to strike down the election of the 20 AAP MLAs. The timing and manner of the EC’s action, coupled with Mr Jyoti’s history as a bureaucrat close to PM Modi, there is conspiracy written all over this disqualification.
AAP has been a victim of state persecution in the past, through arbitrary arrests of over 15 MLAs in frivolous matters by the Delhi Police, through raids on Ministers by the CBI and through the Income Tax department. However, all three agencies mentioned above are under the direct control of the Central government and therefore one expects them to be misused politically, especially with such a petty and vindictive government at the Centre.
But the Election Commission is supposed to be above politics and operate with full independence. The EC has allowed itself to become just another tool of oppression in the hands of the Modi government.
When 20 MLAs of an Opposition party that is particularly hated by the party in power are disqualified without giving them a hearing, it is safe to say we are in the midst of an institutional meltdown. The pillars of our democracy, whether it is the judiciary or the EC, are being compromised and undermined. The threat to democracy as we know it is real.
Under no circumstances will AAP accept this persecution lying down. Not only will the party fight against such dictatorial rule, even the people of Delhi will send a strong message to the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
The arbitrary disqualification of MLAs elected by the people of Delhi is also an affront to the wishes of those people who chose these 20 individuals to represent them in the Delhi Assembly. The people of Delhi have faith in the Arvind Kejriwal government, and such pressure tactics only prove that the BJP has still not recovered from its humiliation in the 2015 Delhi Assembly election.
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