By the very virtue that distinguished it from every other political force in India, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) stands isolated as 20 of its MLAs have been summarily disqualified for holding an “office of profit” and a similar number faces miscellaneous criminal charges. When he drove his common man’s car and refused the palatial government bungalow allotted to the Delhi chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal held a mirror that reflected all others as unduly entitled and retrograde in the way they flaunted their privileges and perks. Here, finally, was a politician who had internalised the notion of the nation-state as the harbinger of modernity in terms of absolute equality of social relations. By the very act of refusing privileges considered integral to those in the legislature, Kejriwal and AAP elevated and empowered the citizen. But when you inhabit that haloed ground, the architecture for future edifices has to be equally impeccable. While the present dispensation has shown an alarming propensity to target political rivals, it is equally disquieting that an idealistic newcomer such as Kejriwal too has failed to live up to the lofty standards he set.

The constitutional principle behind office-of-profit being a fundamental criterion inviting disqualification is the separation of powers between the legislature and the executive. The objective behind the provision is to ensure absolute independence of the legislators by laying down that they cannot receive favours or benefits from the executive and thus becomes amenable to their influence. The office-of-profit principle does not necessarily mean financial benefits. Even an administrative position without financial entitlements is against the law. All the other political parties routinely flout this principle. By using numbers, parties keep amending the list of offices to be exempted from what can constitute the office of profit. The office of parliamentary secretary is a device used by political parties to circumvent the constitutional ceiling on the number of ministers as a percentage of total strength of the Assembly. The ruling BJP in Rajasthan as well as the Congress in Karnataka have both used this route. Kejriwal acted no different and circumvented the constitutional principle by enacting an amendment to the Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification) Act 1997 to exempt the appointments he had made. The difference was that while other States managed to pass similar Acts, AAP’s Bill did not receive presidential assent and the MLAs have subsequently been disqualified.

AAP now faces by-elections in 20 constituencies where both the BJP and the Congress will stretch themselves that extra mile to ensure his party’s defeat. But without the moral armour of a party which professed to be different from the rest, for both Kejriwal and his party these elections pose a tough political challenge. It would be difficult for Kejriwal to now argue that behind the high notes there was no banal ambition that he chided all others for.