Morality was to be our mantra. But realpolitik has become our tantra. This is how I would describe the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s reaction to the reported news of disqualification of 20 MLAs by the Election Commission. Regardless of how the events unfold in coming days and week, our party has already lost the moral high ground in the eyes of public. Let us go briefly in the issue.
On March 13, 2015, hardly a month after a landslide victory with 67 MLAs in the 70-seat Delhi Assembly elections, Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal appointed 21 MLAs as Parliamentary Secretaries. On June 19, 2015, a young advocate, Prashant Patel, petitioned to the President that these MLAs be disqualified because these positions constituted Offices of Profit. The President referred the issue to the Election Commission.
On June 24,2015, the Delhi Assembly passed a ‘Removal of Disqualification Amendment Bill’ retro-effective from the day the AAP government was sworn in (Feb 14,2015), wherein the assembly declared that the office of Parliamentary Secretary (PS) to the Chief Minister and Minister of Government of NCT of Delhi shall not be disqualified and shall be deemed never to have been disqualified.
The bill was sent to President Pranab Mukherjee who however refused to give assent to the bill (June 13, 2016). Thus, the central government on June 25, 2016 sent the bill back to Delhi assembly. Meanwhile, Election Commission (EC) started the proceedings and in July 2016, arranged for the hearing of MLAs. In another development, the Delhi High Court on September 22, 2016 set aside the order of Delhi’s AAP government of appointing MLAs as Parliamentary Secretaries on the ground that the decision lacked the approval of the Delhi Lieutenant Governor.
According to advocate Patel, EC gave a total 11 rounds of hearing to MLAs (another lie by AAP yesterday saying that EC did not hear to their MLAs). Finally, yesterday, the media widely reported that EC had recommended disqualification of MLAs to the President. Legal experts believe that the President is bound to accept the recommendation.
In the Constitution, the Office of Profit has not been clearly defined, but the controversy arising on this issue is not new. Articles 102 and 191 of the Constitution explain the ground of disqualification of a lawmaker (member of legislature) if s(he) holds an office of profit. The ideal reason behind this law was that a lawmaker should serve the public for which s(he) has been chosen and not get into any other businesses. Also, by not holding any other office, the legislator would be able to spare himself from the influence of government (executive). There have been various court decisions pertaining to this matter, some at variance with others, but a common thread has been that a legislator should not be holding an Office of Profit under the executive so that independence of legislature is preserved and it does not become subservient to the executive.
With this understanding, it is easier to see a few instance of moral turpitude by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in this case.
In the first place, what was the need to appoint 21 MLAs, thereby venturing into an area of legal complexity? AAP was born with a stubborn vow (jidd) to cleanse corruption in Indian politics and provide an alternative model of politics. A party that vouches for ‘vyastha parivartan’, this kind of political expediency was hardly justified. Not only that, Kejriwal took it to the next level, by passing a Bill in the Delhi assembly which removed Parliamentary Secretaries from the list of office of Profit. Then Kejriwal introduced the Bill without seeking prior approval from LG (remember Delhi is a partial state and LG is the executive head).
AAP cannot hide its “political crookedness” by hiding behind its predecessor Sheila Dixit doing the same thing in 2006 with19 MLAs.
Second, attacking a constitutional body like the EC for its decision is another low. When our party won its massive mandate of 67 seats, the EC was all good and pious, but when it recommended disqualification of 20 MLAs, the same institution became a ‘puppet of Modi’!
Having been associated with and volunteered for AAP since its beginning, I am not surprised at the swift decline of our fortunes. At the organizational level, we have seen the absolute backtracking on our ideology and principles. The party was founded with three cardinal principles, which promised a new age politics: Financial Transparency (chande kee paardarshita), inner party democracy (Swaraj) and internal vigilance (Aantrik Lokpal). However, in the last five years, Arvind Kejriwal has not only systematically demolished these principle, he has reduced the party to a mere club-level functioning.
The Office of Profit injury has come at a time when the party is still recovering from the humiliation of an internal “2 G (Gupta) scam” of AAP. It is widely believed that Arvind Kejriwal’s decision has not been totally above-board, as Sushil Gupta, a wealthy man, had defected to AAP from Congress only a few weeks before being nominated to the Rajya Sabha.
The public and party volunteers at large were baffled as to why Kejriwal chose an unknown yet rich person from an opponent political party. In public life, morality is a matter of perception too. Little did Mr. Kejriwal anticipate that the episode would lead to so much scrutiny and public ridicule!
In the ongoing Office of Profit fiasco as well, Kejriwal has again demonstrated a streak for unethical practice, moral corruption, and lack of regard for the constitutional safeguards.