In a blow to Delhi's ruling Aam Aadmi Party, the Election Commission on Friday asked the President to disqualify 20 of its MLAs for holding offices of profit, setting the stage for their ouster from the assembly.
The development does not threaten the AAP government as it has 65 MLAs in the 70-member assembly.
Still, the Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress demanded that Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal resign on moral grounds.
Reacting furiously to the EC order, AAP claimed the Chief Election Commissioner was trying to destabilise its government at the behest of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
All these MLAs moved the Delhi high court challenging the EC's recommendation but Justice Rekha Palli refused to pass any interim order.
In its opinion sent to President Ram Nath Kovind on Friday morning, the Election Commission said the MLAs, by occupying the post of parliamentary secretaries between March 13, 2015 and September 8, 2016, held office of profit, and were liable to be disqualified as legislators, highly-placed sources said.
Parliamentary Secretaries assist ministers with their work.
The AAP insisted that despite holding the office these MLAs did not take any salaries or perks.
The AAP launched an unrestrained attack on Chief Election Commissioner A K Joti, saying he was 'repaying the debt' to Prime Minister Narendra Modi before his retirement on Monday, January 22.
"A K Joti was the principal secretary under (the then Gujarat Chief Minister) Narendra Modi and then the chief secretary of Gujarat. He is retiring on Monday. So you want to repay Modi ji's debt. You are mortgaging a constitutional post like the Election Commission," AAP's Delhi unit spokesman Saurabh Bharadwaj alleged.
'The EC should not be the letter box of the PMO. But that is the reality today,' another senior AAP leader Ashutosh tweeted.
Joti, an IAS officer of 1975 batch of Gujarat cadre, took charge as an election commissioner in 2015 before his elevation as CEC.
Noting that the EC's order defied the "principles of natural justice", Bharadwaj said the poll panel did not hear the MLAs' side.
The President is bound by the recommendation of the Commission. Under the rules, petitions to the President seeking disqualification of lawmakers are referred to the EC.
The poll panel takes a decision and sends its recommendation to the Rashtrapati Bhavan which is accepted.
In the present case, the petition was made to disqualify 21 MLAs, but one resigned a few months ago.
Once the president accepts the recommendation, byelections will have to be held for 20 assembly seats.
The disqualification will not put into jeopardy Kejriwal's government because of its huge majority in the Delhi assembly.
However, the disqualification will bring down its strength drastically to 46.
The BJP was quick to question if the AAP government had any 'moral right' left after the EC's recommendation to the President.
BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra cited corruption and criminal cases against AAP MLas to claim that the party which started its political journey from India Against Corruption movement has become 'I am corruption'.
"Many of the Kejriwal cabinet members had to resign. Fifteen of their MLAs have cases against them and 12 were arrested under different charges. In this scenario, the biggest question before the people is whether Arvind Kejriwal government has any moral right to remain in power," Patra told reporters.
Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari lauded the EC's action, saying it is a 'moral defeat' for Kejriwal who should resign.
He said the BJP stands prepared for elections 'any moment'.
Delhi Congress president Ajay Maken also said the chief minister had lost the moral right to be in power.
'Where is Lokpal? The MLAs and Ministers enjoying perks of power and foreign travel-Where is political probity,' he tweeted.
The 20 MLAs set to be disqualified include a minister, Kailash Gahlot of Najafgarh constituency and high profile MLA Alka Lamba.
Later in the evening, the Delhi high court refused to grant interim relief to AAP.
However, it asked the EC to inform the court by January 22 whether any final communication has been sent to President Kovind on the disqualification of the MLAs.
During the brief hearing, Justice Rekha Palli questioned the conduct of the MLAs, and said they hadappeared before the poll panel and took shield behind the fact that their pleas were pending in the high court.