The AAP MLA “Office of Profit” Crisis Explained Through School


The AAP MLA “Office of Profit” Crisis Explained Through School

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Once upon a time, Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party were the media’s darlings. They filled up the 24X7 news cycle, long before there was a Donald Trump and Karni Sena. But once in office, better sense prevailed as they got down to the work they were elected to do, a memo that Trump is yet to receive.

Now, however, the AAP is back in the news. President Kovind gave his assent yesterday, to disqualify 20 party MLAs after a recommendation by the Election Commission. The appointment of the MLAs was made two years ago, and the disqualification is on account of these folks holding an “office of profit”. Reading the legal jargon around it made our brains fade (to borrow from Steve Smith), so here’s an example to help understand it better.

Remember taking an exam in school? That day we all hated? More than the Karni Sena hates Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Teachers set the question paper, students attempt it, and an examiner corrects the paper. And then it’s time to think of excuses when result day is around. The reason that this process is fair is because a student is writing the exam and the teacher, a different person, not related or biased in favour or against the student in any way, is checking the student’s knowledge.

But what if a student wrote an exam that was set by his mother, who works as a teacher in the same school? Or as Rahul Gandhi calls it, Congress Presidential Elections.

It is the separation of those who set questions, answer them, and check papers that ensures that the process is just and fair.

In that case, the student finds himself in a position where he could possibly profit from that process. He could obtain the question paper beforehand, and prepare himself accordingly. He could even sell that question paper to his friends and make money off his parent’s position. Under the UPA II, this was known as Coalgate. It is the separation of those who set questions, answer them, and check papers that ensures that the process is just and fair. Remember the time N Srinivisan had to probe charges against N Srinivasan and the committee reported to N Srinivasan, that N Srinivasan was innocent? Or the time the Adityanath government dropped charges against Adityanath? That’s how it usually ends.

Of course, politics is not school, although one could argue that it is equally chaotic. The 20 AAP MLAs have been adjudged to be holding an “office of profit”, where they were in a position where they could possibly profit, monetarily or otherwise, from holding the elected position. It’s not the first time someone has been disqualified for holding an office of profit in India. Jaya Bachchan was famously disqualified from the Rajya Sabha, while Sonia Gandhi had to resign from several posts after pressure from the opposition.

However, the AAP has tried to fight back. If the teacher set the paper for the SSC board, and her son was a student of the ICSE board in the same school, does he gain any advantage? Probably not. It’s what the Aam Aadmi Party has argued, claiming that the MLAs appointed as parliamentary secretaries didn’t “profit” in any way from the appointment. The Delhi Government made it clear that they would not receive any remunerations and perquisites.

The case of whether the appointments constitute an “office of profit” will now be heard in the Delhi High Court. Politicians will take to Twitter and TV channels to play India’s true national sport – the schoolyard blame game.