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Troubling questions

January 23, 2018

The circumstances in which the issue of disqualification if 20 members of the Delhi assembly, belonging to ruling AAP, by the Election Commission and its subsequent ratification by the President of India, has been dealt, has raised some troubling questions with regard to the functioning of the democratic institutions of the country. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has strongly questioned the action of the Election Commission as also the haste in which the President accorded his assent to the said order on the grounds that the action had been taken in total disregard of the cue process of law, at the behest of BJP led government at the centre that had all along been looking for a chance to weaken the AAP. Not only the AAP leadership, some constitutional experts including some former election commissioners have challenged the manner in which the entire issue of the disqualification was dealt.
AAP while making it clear that the party was taking legal recourse has already reacted very sharply against the ‘haste’ in which the President acted on the EC’s decision, terming it as “unconstitutional” and “dangerous for democracy”. AAP leaders have also alleged that the disqualification recommendation was CEC’s “gift” to Narendra Modi.
It was way back in 2015 that Delhi government had appointed these legislators as parliamentary secretaries though they would not be entitled to any kind of monetary benefitsor other perks that these offices are supposed to have. The appointment of parliamentary secretaries by the state governments from amongst the legislators is not a new practice. Many states like Rajhastan and Karnataka have provisions for such appointments. Why Delhi government’s decision to this effect was said to be as bad in law by the Election Commission, raises many eyebrows and adds weight to the allegation of playing politics.
The decision of the Election Commission has not come as a surprise as indication of such an order coming was when the President to give his assent to an amendment to the Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification) Act, 1997, to exempt parliamentary secretaries from being termed as an ‘office of profit’. In normal course, the resolution adopted by the Delhi assembly should have been accepted by the President as the same was in accordance with Article 191(1)(a) which empowers the legislature of a state to make laws to declare any office as the ‘office of non-profit’. But that did not happen and it became apparent that axe was soon to fall on AAP. It looks like a travesty to constitutional morality, the law to prevent disqualification arising from the office of profit has always been the convenience of the Parliament and state legislature while the AAP has bene denied this opportunity.
The issues that are being raised about this development would be now placed before the judiciary to decide as to whether the Election Commission’s decision was in accordance with the spirit of the law but then there is a larger question that relates to conflicting constitutional principles that are being played in Delhi after the AAP came to power. The issue of distribution of powers between the Lt. Governor, an appointee of the central government and the state legislature, duly elected by the people in a democratic way, has many a time in the past witnessed acrimonies between the two institutions with Lt. Governor’s office establishing its supremacy. In other states, an act by the legislature would have resolved the “office of profit” issue. Whatever the judicial decision would come in this regard, this action of the centre adds weight to the demand for a re-look of the status of the Delhi assembly and granting it more powers and a bigger say in running the administration of the state.

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