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Winner shakes all

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Mamata, (above) Jayalalithaa

Pehle to sarkar chalane ke liye gathbandhan karna parta tha, abhi to pratipaksh hai nahi. Abhi to pratipaksh banane ke liye gathbandhan karna parega

(Earlier, to run a government, a coalition needed to be formed. Now there is no Opposition. Now to form an Opposition, there is need to form a coalition)

Narendra Modi in Varanasi

May 17: Narendra Modi may not entirely be joking while driving another spear into the flattened opponent and prompting critics to wonder whether a Prime Minister-designate should continue to battle yesterday’s demons in his finest hour of glory.

Sources suggested that the Trinamul Congress is testing the waters to tie up with the AIADMK and stake claim to the posts of leader of the Opposition and deputy Speaker in the Lok Sabha.

The demolished Congress is the second largest party in the new Lok Sabha but it has only 44 MPs. Trinamul (34) and AIADMK (37) account for 71 MPs, higher than the UPA’s tally of 61.

The number is now caught in a procedural twilight zone as a Speaker’s directive in 1969 had said a party should hold at least 10 per cent of the Lok Sabha seats to stake claim to the post of the leader of the Opposition.

But a subsequent law in 1977 mentions only “the party in Opposition to the government having the greatest numerical strength”. The law, while dealing with salaries and allowances of leaders of Opposition in both Houses, defines the leaders of the Opposition, providing the legal underpinning to the post.

If the 1969 rule is applied, a party will need at least 55 MPs before it can stake claim to the post of the leader of the Opposition, which enjoys cabinet rank. The Congress will then fall short by 11 MPs.

However, if the 1977 law comes into play, the Congress will benefit and either Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi can become the Opposition leader.

The 1969 ruling and the 1977 law differ on another crucial aspect. The 1969 directive refers to a “party” or a “group” while the 1977 law mentions only a “party”.

But Trinamul appears to be banking on its own experience in Bengal in 2006. Trinamul was then denied the Opposition leader’s post in Bengal because the party had only 29 seats in the 294-member House following the death of an MLA. After Trinamul’s Saugata Roy won a bypoll, the party was given the post.

Hashim Abdul Halim, the Bengal Assembly Speaker in 2006, said tonight: “The rule says the Opposition should have at least 10 per cent of the total seats in the House for its leader to be considered the leader of the Opposition.”

But former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee said tonight he was not aware of any such rule. “I have been a 10-time MP but I never knew about such a rule,” he said.

Constitutional expert Anil Divan said there was no constitutional provision for such a threshold. But he added that Parliament or an Assembly may frame its own rules and it is for the Speaker to take the final decision.

In such a scenario, the BJP is expected to be more than happy to deny the Congress the post.

A Trinamul leader said the party had a “pre-poll alliance” with the AIADMK, and so it had a legitimate claim over the posts. “Please check newspaper reports. We had withdrawn our candidates from Tamil Nadu and Puducherry in favour of the AIADMK. This shows that we had a pre-poll alliance with the AIADMK,” said a Trinamul leader.

Sources in the AIADMK declined to confirm or deny the claim.

“The Congress has lost the moral right to claim the leader of Opposition’s post,” the Trinamul leader said.

He said Mamata was in touch with Jayalalithaa and both were on the same page to rub salt into the Congress’s wounds. “The Trinamul and the AIADMK can share the LoP and the deputy Speaker’s post. Each of us can share the post for two-and-a-half years,” he said.

Jayalalithaa today sent a letter to Modi, wishing him and his proposed government the “very best” and congratulating him on “the magnificent victory”.

Mamata has not done so yet. Nor has Sonia.

Some Congress leaders feel that Sonia and Rahul have missed a chance to strike a functional relationship with Modi in the immediate aftermath of his stunning victory.

At her brief appearance before the media yesterday, Sonia had congratulated “the new government”. But perhaps the baggage of the past and the bitterness of the election campaign held her back from mentioning Modi or calling and wishing him.

Political convention did not require her to. Usually, an outgoing Prime Minister calls to congratulate his successor — a courtesy Atal Bihari Vajpayee had paid Manmohan Singh in 2004 — or a defeated prime ministerial candidate rings up his vanquisher, as L.K. Advani did in 2009. Singh returned the compliment yesterday with a call to Modi.

It’s possible that Sonia and Rahul, who bore the brunt of Modi’s attacks during the campaign, felt unsure how the BJP leader might react if they called him. Modi has continued to mock the Opposition even after his triumph.

Also, Sonia and Rahul were probably in a state of shock yesterday, although the son was smiling.

A few Congress veterans suggested that Sonia and Rahul might fulfil their “social obligations” after Monday’s Congress Working Committee meeting assesses the debacle.

Some Congress leaders also hope that once Modi takes the oath of office, he would work to bring about at least a semblance of functional ties.


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