Dear CEC, it was incumbent upon EC to hear AAP MLAs, not the other way round
The manner in which the Election Commission of India (EC) and President Ram Nath Kovind handled the office-of-profit petition against 20 Delhi MLAs of the Aam Aadmi Party is suspicious.
The EC took over two years to formulate its opinion on the original petition, referred to it by the President, but submitted it quietly on the last working day of the retiring chief election commissioner.
President Kovind made matters worse by displaying haste in dealing with the case and promptly disqualified the legislators. Key decisions like these are rarely taken on weekends, but Kovind issued orders on a Saturday and they were made public on a Sunday.
Now, the newly promoted CEC, Om Prakash Rawat, is fiercely contesting the allegation that the EC did not give the MLAs a hearing. In an interview given to The Indian Express, Rawat sternly rejected the contention that the EC should have held at least one hearing on the merits of case before finalising its opinion.
“Absolutely no, unless they have mentioned it [in their written response]”, he said, adding that if the AAP MLAs wanted a hearing, it is they who should have, instead, approached the EC.
Rawat's combativeness is surprising, coming as it does amid criticism from several quarters of the EC's conduct in this case. Former secretary general of the Lok Sabha PDT Achary, a well-known Constitution expert, had told Catch earlier that the EC had conducted hearings only on the maintainability of the case and not its merits.
Several former CECs have also reportedly showed disappointment with the EC's actions, senior journalist Aloke Tikku posted on twitter that the last time Election Commission sent an opinion in another Office of Profit case, the President took 86 days to act after receiving the order.
The last time Election Commission sent an opinion in an Office of Profit case, it took the EC 1 day to send the opinion and 86 days for President to issue his order. Last week, it took the EC and the President all of 1 day to send, process and issue orders to disqualify 20 MLAs. pic.twitter.com/IgIblUwaMB— Aloke Tikku (@aloketikku) January 22, 2018
The EC itself ordinarily takes due caution in handling matters regarding disqualification of elected representatives. In June last year, it disqualified a sitting MLA and a minister in the Madhya Pradesh government for a malpractice he indulged in in the previous polls.
Narottam Mishra was disqualified for paying for news coverage and not reporting it to the EC.
EC is often criticised for delay in acting on such complaints, but what works in EC's defence is that due caution must be exercised before disqualifying a representative elected by lakhs of voters. Each of the 20 AAP MLAs represented a lakh or more voters and their party was sent to the Delhi Assembly with an unprecedented mandate.
The least that the EC could have done to respect that mandate is to have given the MLAs a proper hearing. This hold true for President Kovind as well. As the final arbiter in the case and as the fountainhead of India's constitutional setup, he ought to have taken time to consider the EC's opinion and weigh its pros and cons.
If the disqualified MLAs succeed in obtaining a stay from the judiciary, the President's office will be tainted. If the disqualification is overturned, the embarrassment for Kovind will be bigger than the President's office faced when the Uttarakhand High Court quashed the imposition of President's Rule in Uttarakhand, in 2016.