Narendra Modi with Sumitra Mahajan at Parliament House on Sunday. Picture by Ramakant Kushwaha
New Delhi, July 6: The BJP is in no mood to yield to the Congress’s insistent demand for the post of leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha.
While maintaining that Speaker Sumitra Mahajan alone had the prerogative and powers to decide whether the lower House would have a leader of Opposition, a highly placed government source sought to buttress the BJP’s case against having one.
The source pointed to rulings, conventions and the Congress’s attitude towards the Opposition in an era when it ruled with a “brute” majority.
Asked what the ruling NDA would do if the Congress held up proceedings on being denied the post, the source said: “If a ransom practice of this kind is adopted and Parliament’s functioning is held hostage to a demand that is legally and constitutionally untenable, it is a sad commentary on the functioning of our democracy.”
Although the Rules of Business and Procedures of the Lok Sabha are silent on the issue, the BJP’s case rests largely on the rules framed by the first Lok Sabha Speaker, G.V. Mavalankar.
Direction 121 (1) of the “Directions by the Speaker Lok Sabha” (under the rules formulated by Mavalankar in 1953) stated that a party must have at least 10 per cent of the strength of the House in order to qualify as a parliamentary group, “that is, their number should not be less than the quorum fixed to constitute a sitting of the House, which is one-tenth of the total membership”.
Going by this, the Congress would need at least 55 MPs (it has 44 in the current Lok Sabha) to be eligible for the post of leader of Opposition.
The government source recalled that for the years that Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi were Prime Ministers, from 1952 to 1969 (Indira returned after a post-Emergency interregnum), the Lok Sabha did not have a leader of Opposition.
The spell was broken in 1969 in the fourth Lok Sabha when Ram Subhag Singh of the Congress (O) became the leader of Opposition, following a split in the Congress.
Indira Gandhi, who headed the larger segment of the vivisected Congress, was the Prime Minister but the splinter group had enough members — 60 — to claim the Opposition party’s status. The fifth Lok Sabha was bereft of one when the CPM was the largest Opposition group with 25 MPs.
When the Janata Party ousted the Congress in 1977, the Congress, with 154 MPs, secured the post of leader of Opposition.
When the Congress swept the 1980 polls, the Opposition was without a leader because the Janata Party (S) got just 41 seats, three fewer than what the Congress has now.
The Congress repeated its victory in 1984. The largest Opposition grouping was the Telugu Desam Party with 30 seats. Contradictory accounts exist on whether the Desam had claimed the post of leader of Opposition despite not having the conventionally required numbers: one version said its parliamentary party leader, P. Upendra, had asked the Speaker while the Congress’s claim was there was no such request.
However, the Congress has built its case on a law that was enacted in 1977.
The Salary and Allowances of Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Act, 1977, defines the leader of the 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 Congress has also argued that the post had acquired a systemic role because of Supreme Court rulings and amendments that mandate the incumbent to be on search panels to appoint members of high offices like the central vigilance commissioner, Lok Pal and the central information commissioner.
A government source said: “There is something called the doctrine of necessity. If necessary, we can include the leader of the largest grouping or if stipulated in the relevant laws, the Opposition leader of the Rajya Sabha who has already been appointed.”