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OPINION | Delhi High Court Order on AAP MLAs is a Relief for BJP Too

It would suit the BJP if the decision by the poll panel is delayed till after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, which now looks quite “achievable”.

Sidharth Mishra |

Updated:March 24, 2018, 2:33 PM IST
OPINION | Delhi High Court Order on AAP MLAs is a Relief for BJP Too
Representative image (PTI)
The decision of the Delhi High Court reinstating 20 Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leaders as members of the Delhi Assembly has been welcomed in Arvind Kejriwal’s party. That’s pretty natural. For a party which is gasping for breath and with its leader on an apology binge, such relief would for certain come as a whiff of fresh air.

These MLAs were dismissed in January by the President on charges of holding office of profit.

However, it’s in the BJP circles that the decision is being welcomed, albeit quietly, as a relief. Despite the much chest-beating over its victories in the north-eastern states, the BJP leadership, it’s pretty well-known, is quite disturbed over the below-par performance in Gujarat Assembly polls and the reverses it has faced in bypolls in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

Given the background, the BJP for now can ill afford to enter into an electoral battle in Delhi without the guarantee of a victory. A reversal in the electoral fortune in the national capital and any gains for the Congress would have a magnifying effect on the perception about the political health of the two national parties.

Thus, the reaction of AAP’s two rival parties has been very different. Delhi BJP president Manoj Tiwari has said, rather loquaciously, “The Election Commission should definitely give a proper re-hearing to the MLAs, but it should be noted that the court has not absolved the MLAs of the charge of having benefited from holding the office of profit. We welcomed the directions of the high court and the Election Commission in the past. Similarly, we respect Friday's decision. It is a unique proof of the independence of judiciary and freedom in the Indian democracy.”

The Congress, on the other hand, has now started to press for the resignation of the MLAs on moral grounds, citing the example of their leader Sonia Gandhi, who on facing similar charges, had resigned the Lok Sabha seat to re-contest and re-enter Parliament.

Despite the desire of the Congress, it’s unlikely that the AAP MLAs see much value in a moral stand for now. The line taken by the dismissed MLAs, now reinstated by the High Court, is that since no profit ever accrued to them from the office they have purported to have held, they should not be penalised.

The High Court, we must note, has not dismissed the charge but may have inadvertently started a lengthy process of re-examination. The Election Commission, at the time of recommending dismissal of these MLAs, had held the view that the intent of these legislators was to make profit and therefore a bill was brought in the Assembly to include the office of parliamentary secretary to the ministers in the list of exempted positions.

Since the bill sought to include these offices from retrospective effect and had other lacunae, it failed and thus the poll panel’s decision to recommend dismissal followed.

It’s unlikely that the poll panel would reverse its earlier order. But then the process of hearing, parties seeking adjournments during the hearings, and as protagonist Sunny Deol had said in his famous film Damini, “Tareekh pe tareekh (adjournment after adjournment),” the matter would drag on. It would suit the BJP if the decision by the poll panel is delayed till after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, which now looks quite “achievable”.

On the other hand, for the Congress, after having given a zero-seat performance in the 2015 Assembly polls, the delay in the by-elections is like an opportunity missed.

Of the 20 seats, which could have gone to polls had the High Court not intervened, 14 have been Congress strongholds in the past, before its vote-bank of Dalits and Minorities shifted lock, stock and barrel to the AAP.

However, a much weakened party organisation of Arvind Kejriwal’s outfit and the realisation among the non-BJP voters on the need for consolidation would have made retention of all the seats difficult for the AAP.

The voters in Delhi also realise that in the last municipal polls, the BJP managed to romp home because the voters averse to it were divided between the AAP and the Congress.

With the return of prominent faces in the party-fold, and former chief minister Sheila Dikshit once again entering the city’s politics, the likelihood of non-BJP votes going to the Congress and not AAP is anytime greater today than it was in the past five years.

Today, the traditional vote bank of the BJP in the city, the business class, is also upset with the ruling party at the Centre for having failed to get it any relief so far from the Supreme Court-monitored sealing drive against the commercial establishments in residential premises.

While the BJP has failed to give relief from sealing and AAP failed to give governance, the Ajay Maken-led Delhi Congress is aggressively reminding people about the Sheila Dikshit government and the “good governance it provided to the city”.

With corruption charges against Dikshit government, too, not sticking, the Congress naturally feels it’s the right opportunity for them to make their way back to the centre-stage.

But as TS Eliot had famously said in his epic Hollow Men, “Between the idea; And the reality; Between the motion; And the act; Falls the Shadow.”

For now, it’s shadow on the Congress party’s attempts at reviving its fortune.

(The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal)
| Edited by: Nitya Thirumalai
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