New Delhi, July 3: The Congress leadership has decided to fight for its “legal right” to the post of leader of Opposition.
Initially in two minds about laying claim, the party changed its view after examining the legal scheme and parliamentary rulings and finding no basis for the hypothesis that 10 per cent strength in the Lok Sabha was mandatory for a party to get leader of Opposition status. Several BJP leaders had argued that 10 per cent strength was necessary.
If Speaker Sumitra Mahajan rejects the Congress’s claim, there is likely to be trouble in Parliament, followed by a court battle, because the party has decided to fight politically as well as legally.
Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge and chief whip Jyotiraditya Scindia called on the Speaker this afternoon and conveyed the sentiment, arguing that they hoped the presiding officer would take a decision in true democratic spirit. The Congress believes the government of the day has no role in the decision.
Although Kharge and Scindia did not reveal what transpired at the meeting, a top Congress leader told The Telegraph: “There is no way this injustice will be accepted by us as the legal position is crystal clear. We are aware how the BJP leaders are trying to create confusion about the issue but we will be forced to take the matter to the Supreme Court if injustice is done in Parliament. It is, however, too early to talk about that option as we believe the Speaker is objective.”
There is no mention of the process of selection of the leader of Opposition in the Rules of Business & Procedures of the Lok Sabha, and the Congress believes the clarity comes from the Salary and Allowances of Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Act, 1977.
This law defines the leader of Opposition as “a member of the Council of States (Rajya Sabha) or the House of the People (Lok Sabha), as the case may be, who is, for the time being, the leader in that House of the party in opposition to the government having the greatest numerical strength and recognised as such by the chairman of the Council of States or the Speaker of the House of the People, as the case may be”.
The law further says: “If there are two or more parties in opposition to the government, in the Council of States or in the House of the People, having the same numerical strength, the chairman of the Council of States or the Speaker of the House of the people, as the case may be, shall, having regard to the status of the parties, recognise any one of the leaders of such parties as the leader of the Opposition for the purposes of this section and such recognition shall be final and conclusive.”
There is no mention of a 10 per cent criterion. Before the enactment of the law in 1977, one Speaker did set the 10 per cent condition in a ruling, but no Speaker has ever given a similar ruling after the law came into force. In the recent past, appointments to the post of leader of Opposition have been made under the 1977 law.
The Congress believes the controversy will show Narendra Modi as “undemocratic” and earn him a possible judicial snub at a later stage.
One Congress leader said: “If there has been no leader of Opposition in the past, including in Congress regimes, the fault lies with the then Speaker and the political parties. The 1977 law makes no mention of a 10 per cent clause.”
Another leader argued that “some other recent laws have given the leader of Opposition a larger systemic role which cannot be ignored”.
“Also, the BJP should not forget the Congress has got one per cent more votes than the BJP did in the last Lok Sabha election. We might have won barely 44 seats but our strength in terms of votes is bigger. It will be ironical if Parliament is denied a leader of Opposition despite over 60 per cent voters not being in the ruling camp,” the leader said.
However, some crucial appointments can be made even without a leader of Opposition. For instance, the RTI Act says the leader of the largest party in the Lok Sabha can be part of the panel to choose information commissioners. The CVC Act too says the leader of the largest party can participate in the selection of chief vigilance commissioner. The Lokpal Act does mention the leader of Opposition as a selection panel member but an appointment in the absence of a member cannot be declared invalid.