AAP MLAs disqualification: BJP hails HC order, Congress backs EC; updates

Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and Deputy CM Manish Sisodia with MLAs celebrating the judgment of Delhi High Court at Kejriwal's residence in New Delhi. Photo: PTI
The Congress on Friday said it would fight the office-of-profit case involving 20 AAP MLAs in the Election Commission of India (ECI) again, after the Delhi High Court set aside their disqualification and asked the poll panel to hear the matter afresh. The party also said that the AAP MLAs should resign on "moral ground" and seek re-election, as had been done by former Congress president Sonia Gandhi who resigned from the Lok Sabha following a similar controversy.

"We will fight it out in the EC again as these 20 MLAs have enjoyed perks. HC has not disputed or denied this. The HC has just asked ECI to look at it again in the light of natural justice!" Congress's Delhi unit president Ajay Maken tweeted. He claimed that the AAP government itself had admitted before the EC that a huge amount was spent on office, furniture, transportation and perks for these MLAs who worked as parliamentary secretaries.

The high court termed the EC's recommendation on disqualification as "vitiated", and noted that there was violation of natural justice and no oral hearing was given to the MLAs before disqualifying them as legislators of the Delhi Assembly. "We respect today's judgement of the high court, but we would like to raise some important questions," Congress spokesperson Sushmita Dev told reporters.

"Both the BJP and the AAP are now in the same boat. The rules of natural justice have been upheld, but just like the AAP has made an absolute mockery of the laws, the BJP is flouting every rule in Manipur," she alleged.

1) AAP MLAs were given enough chances in disqualification matter: AK Jyoti

Former Chief Election Commissioner Achal Kumar Jyoti on Friday said that the Election Commission of India gave enough opportunities to the Aam Aadmi Party MLAs to respond to its notice in their disqualification matter.

"The Election Commission gave ample opportunities to AAP MLAs with written notices served to individual MLAs on September 28 and November 2, 2017 but the only arguments made from the MLAs side were that the matter was pending in Delhi High Court and hence the Commission should not hear the disqualification matter. The MLAs should have given the written representation to the Commission but they never gave," said Jyoti.

He further said that the MLAs failed to bring any stay order from the High Court to stay the hearing going on in the commission.

"There was no hurry and we always were of the opinion to give the AAP MLAs time to respond to our notices," he added.

2) AAP MLAs should quit on moral ground: Congress

The Congress on Friday demanded that ruling party MLAs and 12 MLAs in Manipur should resign on moral ground for violating constitutional laws.

It also alleged that one Congress MLA in Manipur, T H Shyamkumar, defected just after the announcement of the result and was appointed a minister in the state cabinet by the BJP.

"He has not even resigned and is still continuing as a minister in the most blatant act of illegality and sheer political opportunism," it said.

"We respect the judgment of High Court which has directed the Election Commission to hear the complaint against 20 AAP MLAs for holding office of profit, but we would like to raise some important questions," said Congress leader Sushmita Dev.

"Both the BJP and the AAP are now in the same boat. No doubt the rules of natural justice have been upheld, but just like the AAP has made an absolute mockery of the laws, the BJP is flouting every rule in Manipur. Just like the AAP, the BJP is also guilty of the same illegality in Manipur," she added.

3) BJP lauds High Court order on AAP MLAs

BJP described the Delhi High Court order as a "proof of the independence of the judiciary".

"The decision of the high court directing the EC to hear again the petition of 20 MLAs involved in the matter of office of profit is a unique proof of the independence of judiciary and freedom in Indian democracy," Delhi BJP President Manoj Tiwari said.

He said: "Just as we have welcomed the direction of the Election Commission in this matter, we respect the's decision as well."

"The EC should definitely give a proper re-hearing to the MLAs," he said, adding that but simultaneously "we should note that the court has not absolved the MLAs from the charge of being beneficiary of 'office of profit'".

4) Congress to pursue AAP MLAs' office-of-profit case with EC again

The Congress on Friday said it would fight the office-of-profit case involving 20 AAP MLAs in the Election Commission of India (ECI) again, after the Delhi High Court set aside their disqualification and asked the poll panel to hear the matter afresh.

The party also said that the AAP MLAs should resign on "moral ground" and seek re-election, as had been done by former Congress president Sonia Gandhi who resigned from the Lok Sabha following a similar controversy.

"We will fight it out in the EC again as these 20 MLAs have enjoyed perks. HC has not disputed or denied this. The HC has just asked ECI to look at it again in the light of natural justice!" Congress's Delhi unit president Ajay Maken tweeted.

He claimed that the AAP government itself had admitted before the EC that a huge amount was spent on office, furniture, transportation and perks for these MLAs who worked as parliamentary secretaries.

5) AAP says will take office-of-profit matter to people's court

Buoyed by the Delhi High Court verdict restoring the membership of its 20 legislators, the Aam Aadmi Party said it has won the "perception battle" in the office-of-profit case and now will take the matter to the people.

AAP's Delhi unit chief spokesperson Saurabh Bharadwaj said all the 20 party MLAs will meet people in their respective constituencies and explain to them how they were "targeted".

The remarks set the stage for a long political battle between the AAP and the opposition parties, mainly the BJP.

6) AAP MLAs meet party chief Kejriwal after HC relief

The 20 AAP MLAs, who were disqualified in the office-of-profit case, met Chief Minister and party chief Arvind Kejriwal at his residence here after the Delhi High Court provided them a breather.

Terming the verdict a "victory of democracy", Chandni Chowk MLA Alka Lamba said, "We are ready for all the challenges and are not afraid of difficulties. But the conspiracies to topple a stable government should stop now."

"Be it the Election Commission (EC) or those sitting at the central government, this (order) is a message to them. This is the victory of democracy and people from our constituencies," she said.

7) EC unlikely to challenge Delhi HC order quashing

The Election Commission indicated it is unlikely to challenge in the Supreme Court the Delhi High Court order, saying there was no precedent for the poll panel to do so.

However, Chief Election Commissioner O P Rawat refrained from making any comment on the high court order.

"Let us first go through the certified copy of the order. Then the secretariat will decide on taking action," he said.

He refused to say anything further, noting that the poll panel does not comment on a court order.

8) Kejriwal hails HC order, AAP MLAs attend Budget session

A jubilant Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal hailed the Delhi High Court order setting aside the disqualification of 20 AAP MLAs in the "politically sensitive" office-of-profit case and said it was a "victory of truth", even as the Congress vowed to keep on fighting the matter afresh.

Hours after the high court order, Delhi Assembly Speaker Ram Niwas Goel allowed the MLAs to enter the House and take part in the ongoing budget session, following which 10 AAP MLAs attended the session amid chants of 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' by fellow legislators.

9) Development work will speed up now: AAP MLAs after HC relief 

The AAP MLAs said today that the development work will speed up in their respective constituencies after the Delhi High Court order.

Kondli MLA Manoj Kumar said, "development works were being affected in my constituency since my disqualification in the alleged office-of-profit case. Officers were not even picking up my phone."

The Chandni Chowk MLA, Alka Lamba, said that due to her disqualification, she could not become a part of the budgetary process of the government and works were affected.

Transport Minister Kailash Gahlot, who had also been disqualified, said: "We had complete faith in the judiciary from day one. If EC would give a proper hearing to us, we would not need to move to court."

10) HC asks EC to 're-examine the factual matrix': In its 79-page order, the Bench said that the opinion of the EC was quashed for "violation of the principle of natural justice namely failure to give oral hearing and opportunity to address arguments on merits of the issue".  

"The order of remand is passed to the Election Commission of India to hear arguments and thereafter decide all the important and seminal issues, like what is meant by expression office-of-profit held under the government...," the court said.  

It asked the EC to "re-examine the factual matrix to decide whether the petitioners (AAP MLAs) had incurred disqualification on appointment as parliamentary secretaries, without being influenced by the earlier order or observations on the said aspect in this order". 

Following is the chronology of events in the office-of-profit case in which the Delhi High Court today set aside the disqualification of 20 Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLAs and directed the Election Commission (EC) to hear the matter afresh:

*Mar 13, 2015: The Arvind Kejriwal govt passes an order to appoint 21 MLAs as Parliamentary Secretaries.

*Jun 19: The appointment was challenged by advocate Prashant Patel who seeks their disqualification with President Pranab Mukherjee.

*Jun 24: Legislative Assembly passes the Delhi Member of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification) (Amendment Bill), 2015 excluding Parliamentary Secretaries from 'Office of Profit' with retrospective effect.

*Jun 13, 2016: President Mukherjee refuses to give his assent to the Bill.

*Jun 25: Centre returns 14 bills passed by Delhi government, including the Bill on Parliamentary secretaries.

*Jul 14-21: EC gives hearing to 21 AAP MLAs.

*Sep 8, 2016: The Delhi HC sets aside an order of the Kejriwal government appointing 21 of the party's MLAs as parliamentary secretaries.

*Sep 8: EC issues a show cause notice to 21 AAP MLAs.

*Jan 6, 2017: Jarnail Singh, AAP MLA from Rajouri Garden, resigns.

*Jun 24: EC rejects pleas of AAP MLAs to drop 'Office of Profit' case.

*Aug : The 20 AAP MLAs move HC against the EC's June 24 order.

*Oct 9: EC issues notice to AAP MLAs, seeks explanation.

*Jan 19, 2018: EC recommends to President Ram Nath Kovind disqualification.

*Jan 20: President Kovind approves th24:'s recommendation of disqualifying 20 AAP MLAs.

*Jan 24: MLAs moves High Court seeking quashing of the decision.

*Feb 7: The HC fixes day-today hearing of MLAs' pleas.

* Feb 28: The HC reserves order on AAP MLAs' pleas.

*Mar 23: The HC quashes notification that had led to disqualification of 20 AAP MLAs.

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