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Advani balm; Cong slot iffy

Advani

New Delhi, June 10: L.K. Advani’s chamber in Parliament was restored to him today with his name embossed in brass on a wooden plate, but it did not carry any designation because he is no longer the NDA’s working chairman.

Last week, an Advani aide had removed his nameplate and designation as acting chairman of the NDA — alongside that of Atal Bihari Vajpayee as chairman of the NDA — from outside the room abutting the BJP office.

The reason was the aide was unsure if Advani would retain his job, and his office space, in the Modi-led dispensation. The word was he wanted to “pre-empt” an “ignominious” exit for the veteran.

BJP sources said Prime Minister Narendra Modi was “upset” with the idea of Advani without a room and insisted that his earlier chamber should be returned to him, complete with an ante-chamber for secretary Deepak Chopra, a visitors’ corner and secretarial staff.

But even as the BJP decided to be magnanimous towards Advani, the top echelon was in no mood to give the post of leader of Opposition (LoP) to the Congress.

Sources said the BJP was invoking rulings and convention to make a case for not recognising an LoP.

According to one theory, a party should have won at least a tenth of the House’s seats to be able to claim the post — a criterion the Congress has failed to meet. But some deny there is such a requirement, and most people agree that it all depends on the Speaker’s discretion.

“Why should we make a special allowance for the Congress just because it was ruling the country for years? We have to go by rules and precedents. If the Congress got the stipulated numbers, nobody could have stopped it from getting an LoP,” a source said.

Officially, the BJP maintained it was for Speaker Sumitra Mahajan to exercise her discretion. But the political signal was the ruling party did not want an LoP.

A minister repudiated the argument that an LoP was required to officiate on selection panels for appointment of statutory authorities such as the central vigilance commissioner and vigilance commissioners, central information commissioner, Lokpal and Lokayuktas and the National Human Rights Commission.

The relevant acts said the leader of the largest grouping that might not be the statutorily recognised Opposition could fill in for the LoP’s post or the post could stay vacant on the search committees.