March 2015: 21 AAP MLAs appointed as Parliamentary Secretaries by the 67 MLA strong AAP Government in Delhi.
19th June 2015: Advocate Prashant Patel files a petition before the President of India to disqualify the 21 MLAs on grounds that the post of “parliamentary secretaries” was an “office of profit” and the MLAs could not hold such office.
23rd June 2015: Fearing disqualification of its 21 MLAs because of the above illegality, the AAP government passed a bill to give exemption to these secretaries from disqualification with retrospect effect.
June 2016: The President rejects the above bill of the Delhi government.
Since then, the Election Commission (EC) is seized of the matter and the sword of Damocles is hanging over the head of these 21 MLAs. But why is it taking so long to arrive at a conclusion. Why hasn’t the EC yet announced its verdict about whether the MLAs are disqualified or not?
The answer is simple: Multiple delaying tactics.
While the legal process in India by itself is slow, AAP has left no stone un-turned to slow it even further.
The Delhi High Court had on September 8 2016, set aside the appointment of 21 party MLAs as parliamentary secretaries. Citing this, AAP had contended that since the HC had declared the appointment null and void, there was no question of hearing a petition about an office that never existed. The EC found that the AAP MLAs “did hold de facto the office of parliamentary secretaries” from March 13, 2015 to September 8, 2016.
The 21 AAP MLAs in the dock had also asked the EC for individual oral hearings, a clear “delaying tactic”, as claimed by Patel. If each MLA had to be heard separately, the time and effort taken would be much more. Also, every MLA could rake up different arguments, muddling the case.
More recently, the EC had reportedly served a notice to the AAP MLAs on September 28 seeking their written submissions. Many of their replies did not address the central issue and ended up raising other queries including the “lack of quorum” in EC to conduct hearing on disqualification petition. The EC has now given them the final chance to place their defence on record.
The question arises: Why these delaying tactics?
The most obvious answer is, AAP knows they it is in the wrong and to avoid getting caught with their pants down, is trying to delay the inevitable. This is also borne out by the fact that within days of the initial complaint being registered, the Government moved retrospective amendments to save its MLAs.
But there may be another angle to it.
Three Rajya Sabha seats will fall vacant in January 2018. Congress nominees, Dr Karan Singh, Janardhan Dwivedi and Pervez Hashmi would be completing their six year term on 27 January 2018. All the seats would naturally go to AAP because of its brute strength of 67/70 MLAs in the Delhi Assembly. If before these RS elections, AAP is to lose 21 MLAs, it could make them struggle to get those 3 RS seats. And if the loss of 21 MLAs brings in political instability, matters could be worse.
Rajya Sabha members get a large number of benefits. A monthly salary of Rs 50000, Daily Allowance of Rs 2,000 per day for each day of residence on duty, Constituency Allowance totalling Rs 45,000 per month, Office Expense Allowance of Rs 45,000 per month. Besides they get Travel allowances and various travel facilities. Every member has the facility to avail 34 single air journeys during a year with spouse or any number of companions or relatives. On the strength of the Identity Card, a Rajya Sabha member is entitled to travel at any time by any railway in India in first class air-conditioned or executive class.
Besides the above, there are various accommodation benefits, telephone call benefits, free water and electricty upto a limit, medical facilities etc.
Can one blame the “Aam Aadmis” for wanting the “khaas life”?