It would seem that Arvind Kejriwal sees Narendra Modi as the illegal occupant of a chair which he so wishes for himself.Nothing else explains the Delhi Chief Minister’s single-minded obsession for the Prime Minister. In a long line of such ad hominem attacks — where the pretense varies from fulmination over a degree to outrage over choosing bureaucrats — the latest is over the issue of President Pranab Mukherjee’s refusal to sign a bill which sought to retrospectively allow 21 Aam Admi Party MLAs to hold a second paying position as parliamentary secretaries.
The bill, which was passed last year, was aimed at validating the post of the legislators who now face possible disqualification. The MLAs’ fate depends now on the Election Commission that is considering a petition seeking their disqualification. Were such a thing indeed to happen, there could be fresh bypolls in Delhi and a major political showdown between the AAP, BJP and Congress.
To understand why Kejriwal dragged Modi into the picture and blamed him for a decision that was taken by the President and will ultimately rest in the hands of the EC, we must first take a look at whether Kejriwal has a case for outrage.
To the point, was the President wrong in withholding his assent to the amendment which the Delhi Government had sought to the Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification) Act, 1997, to exclude the post of parliamentary secretaries from the list of “office of profit”?
The simple answer is, no. Here’s why:
President Pranab Mukherjee was acting in consonance with the Indian Constitution which prohibits legislators or parliamentarians from holding any positions with monetary or other benefits. This clause — known as office of profit — is aimed at reducing conflict-of-interest situations for public representatives.
Section 15 of the government of NCT of Delhi Act, 1991, clarifies that a person shall not remain an MLA if he/she holds any office of profit under the Centre or government of a state or Union Territory.
In 2006, Sonia Gandhi had to resign as a Lok Sabha MP from Rae Bareilly as well quit National Advisory Council (NAC) chairperson’s post after TDP petitioned President A P J Abdul Kalam demanding that Congress president be disqualified for holding the position, which they alleged was an ”office of profit”.
The MP or MLA is already entitled to a remuneration. The AAP, in fact, last December passed a bill approving a 400% hike in the basic monthly salary of Delhi MLAs besides significant hike in a slew of allowances. The monthly package of MLAs was increased from Rs 88,000 to Rs 2.10 lakh per month, while their annual travelling allowance was increased from Rs 50,000 to Rs 3 lakh per year.
Now if the same MLA also becomes a parliament secretary, they are entitled to office rooms, vehicles and other perks. Since one person cannot hold two “office for profit”, any such appointment can be considered illegal unless it has prior legal sanction. The law is clear that what constitutes an “office of profit” and what does not must be pre-defined.
This means Arvind Kejriwal is on a sticky wicket here and this explains why the Delhi Chief Minister sought to give a political reply (by blaming Modi) to a technical issue.
The Delhi Chief Minister claimed on Tuesday that Modi is still unable to “digest his defeat in Delhi” and is therefore indulging in political vendetta to stop AAP MLAs who are apparently “working for free.”
“What problem does PM Modi have if our MLAs are willing to work for free of cost as Parliamentary secretaries? Our notification to them very clearly stated that they won’t get any salary nor special privileges?” Kejriwal asked.
In a series of tweets on the issue, he also suggested that the “Prime Minister doesn’t respect democracy. He is only afraid of AAP. Modi ji says neither I will work, nor will allow others to work.”
Aside from the fact that not having a parliamentary secretary’s post should not hinder any MLA from carrying out her/his duties, it can be argued that if anyone is showing disrespect to democratic proceedings here, it is Kejriwal, not Modi.
By blaming the Prime Minister for a decision taken by the President and which now rests with the EC, the Delhi CM is insinuating that all constitutional posts are subservient to the PM. He is demeaning both the President’s chair and the EC’s post.
By his political bluster, the Delhi Chief Minister is also undermining democratic proceedings and is looking for clemency from Constitutional and legal bindings almost as if he is the Emperor or Rome who writes his own law.
Kejriwal’s provocative comments, that Modi is scared of AAP and haunted by his apparition, are a blatant attempt to divert attention from his government’s ill-advised move.
If Kejriwal wants to be taken seriously as a politician and a leader, he will have to do much better than show schoolboyish disregard for Constitutional proceedings. Else he will remain a caricature trapped in his own image.