‘Punish me, not the people of Delhi’ is chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s response to the threat that 21 of his MLAs could be disqualified for holding offices of profit.
New Delhi: With uncertainty looming large over whether the Election Commission would disqualify the 21 Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLAs for holding offices of profit in contravention of the law, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on June 15 attacked the Narendra Modi government at the Centre for targeting AAP when previous BJP and Congress regimes had also appointed parliamentary secretaries in the past.
Earlier this week, President Pranab Mukherjee refused to sign the Delhi MLA (Removal and Disqualification) Bill, passed by the Delhi assembly last year, that allowed 21 AAP MLAs to hold a second position as parliamentary secretary.
Kejriwal attacked Modi saying, “With folded hands, I appeal to him to punish me, beat me, but not harm the people of Delhi” by acting against the parliamentary secretaries who are working for the welfare of the people.
Another AAP leader, Ashutosh, seized upon a remark Goa chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar made on Tuesday about Modi making enquiries about Kejriwal’s impact in the BJP-ruled state to suggest the prime minister was rattled by the Aam Aadmi Party’s prospects.
“This is exactly what we were saying all along. This (fear) is also related to the move to disqualify 21 Delhi AAP MLAs. Modi is scared of AAP,” PTI quoted him as saying. Parsekar said that Modi had asked him what the impact of the recent rally Kejriwal held in Goa was likely to be. “The prime minister asked me about (the) recent (Arvind) Kejriwal (public) meeting and if (it will have) any future impact…(and) I said…no,” he had told reporters in Panaji after meeting Modi in New Delhi.
AAP has said it will contest the 2017 assembly elections in Goa. Modi’s query, Ashutosh said, “clearly indicates that he is scared of AAP… the way the party has been spreading across the country, including Punjab and Goa”.
Kejriwal says BJP, Congress also used parliamentary secretaries
Addressing a press conference, Kejriwal said the appointment of MLAs as parliamentary secretaries was nothing new. “When Sahib Singh (of BJP) was the chief minister, he had issued an order appointing Nand Kishore Garg as his parliamentary secretary. When the BJP did so, it was legal and when we do so, it becomes illegal,” he said.
“When Sheila Dikshit (Congress) was Delhi’s chief minister, she had made Ajay Maken the parliamentary secretary. The same Ajay Maken is now making noise. He was given staff and even sanctioned them leaves and signed their annual confidential reports. Then Prahlad Singh Sawhney and Mukesh Sharma were also made parliamentary secretaries.” The practice, Kejriwal insisted, had been going on since 1953, when three leaders, including well known Congress leader from Delhi, H.K. L Bhagat, were made principal secretaries.
The Delhi government also released the appointment letters of Sawhney and Sharma to the media and questioned how their appointment was “fair and legal”, when the Congress is now “making a [farcical] cry over the parliamentary secretaries appointed by the AAP government”.
The chief minister claimed that his 21 parliamentary secretaries have been doing great work and it was the Centre which did not want them to deliver. “When mohalla clinics are made, when school classrooms are made, the parliamentary secretaries map them. They are qualified engineers, doctors and MBAs, unlike the uneducated people of the earlier regimes.”
On a day, when some news channels showed how plush offices had been allotted to these parliamentary secretaries, Kejriwal said these MLAs have not been confining themselves to their offices only, but have been moving around performing important tasks. “They identify the places where the poor are not getting medical treatment, places where teachers do not treat students properly; identify places where transformers can be installed. They are our eyes, ears and hands. They do not get any money, salary or remuneration for this. So, I appeal to Modi with folded hands that your fight is with me. Beat me but do not punish the people.”
He added that the Delhi government’s schemes like its solar policy, odd-even traffic and even the opening of mohalla clinics, have been appreciated globally, and urged that his administration be allowed to work in peace.
Congress says it acted within law
While Modi has not responded to Kejriwal’s statement, Maken, who is now the Delhi Congress president, came out with a strong rebuttal. He claimed that Kejriwal was trying to pull wool over the eyes of the people by playing the victim, whereas the fact remained that he had appointed 21 MLAs, to allure them, and to keep them happy by giving them position, power and benefits.
Maken said that while under the Congress regime, only two or three parliamentary secretaries were appointed – that too with the approval of the Lieutenant Governor and as per the amendments brought out in 1999 and 2006 – Kejriwal had bypassed all laws and norms in appointing nearly a third of the strength of the house as parliamentary secretaries. “No other state or legislative body in the country has such a high percentage of MLAs occupying such a post,” Maken said, adding that under the AAP regime, the salaries of the MLAs have also been raised by 400% to provide them unjustified financial benefits.
He said the bill for taking the parliamentary secretaries out of the purview of office of profit, was not brought as a money bill, despite the fact that it promised salaries and perks to the appointees. “Everything has been driven by lust for power and money here,” he added.
Former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit also defended her appointment of parliamentary secretaries saying they were all done as per established norms and rules. “In our case, the parliamentary secretaries were appointed to the chief minister. Kejriwal government has appointed them for the ministers,” she pointed out.
A former parliamentary secretary of Delhi during Congress rule admitted that in the past, they have enjoyed perks and privileges, equivalent to cabinet ministers. “From being provided a car, two drivers, an office and even being sanctioned lakhs of rupees for refurbishing of the offices, we were almost at par with the cabinet ministers. But the difference is that in our case everything was with prior legislative approval.”
Over to Election Commission
The Kejriwal government order appointing these parliamentary secretaries had stated that they would not be eligible for any remuneration or perks but “may use government transport for official purposes only and office space in the ministers’ office would be provided to them to facilitate their work.”
With the president rejecting the bill, the focus has now shifted to the EC where a Delhi-based advocate, Prashant Patel, had filed a petition in March this year charging that the 21 AAP MLAs were occupying offices of profit in violation of the constitution.
On June 8, Patel had sought fast-tracking of the case before the EC. He had also appealed that all the MLAs be heard in a single day and not be granted any extension.
Patel has also criticised Kejriwal for making a political issue out of what was essentially a legal matter. “The prime minister’s role here is zero. As a vigilant law abiding citizen, I simply want the majesty of the Indian constitution and law of the land to prevail, which is why I filed the petition. The chief minister better blame Ambedkar, the president and the EC. This is a victory for all of them and our constitution,” he added.