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Sleeves rolled up, Rahul in new avatar

- Cong VP gets off backbench and strides towards well during price mayhem, BJP passes buck
Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives at Parliament on the first day of the budget session on Monday. (PTI)

New Delhi, July 7: Rahul Gandhi rolled up his sleeves and strode towards the Lok Sabha well to protest the price rise today, the contrast with his usual laidback style creating a flutter on the first day of the budget session.

His move came as his party, outside the House, raised the pitch of its demand for the post of leader of the Opposition and signalled it was ready to move court if the Speaker disagreed with its claim.

“We are the single largest party and we have a pre-poll alliance. We are entitled to the post,” Sonia Gandhi told reporters outside Parliament.

The Congress president is ready with a letter, to be signed by all MPs from the party and allies, to urge the Speaker to decide the matter “at the earliest”. Else, the Congress plans to file a writ petition in the Supreme Court, sources said.

“We shall give a reasonable time to the Speaker to decide. After that, all options are open for us,” party spokesperson Anand Sharma said.

Inside the lower House, the roles were reversed from the UPA days as the Congress created a din over rising prices and, denied an adjournment motion by the Speaker, prevented any business.

During the ruckus, heads turned in surprise as Rahul rose from his usual backbench seat and, rolling up his kurta sleeves, headed towards the well where his party colleagues were shouting: “Modi sarkar ho gayee fail; mehnga rail, mehnga tel (The Modi government has failed; trains are costly and so is oil).”

He did not join them, though, but stood beside his mother in the front row just at the edge of the well. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in the House.

Rahul’s act attracted eyeballs as the 44-year-old is perceived to be somewhat reluctant to take up a proactive role in Parliament.

The third-time MP rarely participates in House discussions and, as during the 10 years of UPA rule, remains a backbencher.

Congress MP Kamal Nath refused to read too much into Rahul’s actions. “Well, Rahul Gandhi is an active part of the Opposition,” was all he said when asked to comment.

Rahul has been lying low since the Congress fell to its lowest-ever Lok Sabha tally under his leadership. The party has just 44 MPs in a House of 543.

He has refused to lead the party in Parliament, forcing it to pick the low-profile Mallikarjun Kharge instead.

Post battle

The Congress has challenged the BJP argument that a party needs at least 55 Lok Sabha seats — a tenth of the House strength — to claim the post of leader of the Opposition.

Anand Sharma said: “The 1977 enactment of Parliament clearly states that the leader of the largest Opposition party gets the post.”

The Congress argues that the leader of the Opposition has a key role in the selection of heads of constitutional bodies. It says the government would be “subverting” and “vitiating” the appointments process if it does not allow a leader of the Opposition to be appointed.

Sonia’s statement implies the Congress is also ready to claim the post on the ground that the UPA, as a pre-poll grouping, meets the cut-off since it has 60 Lok Sabha members. But a government source accused the Congress of “clutching at straws”.

“First, the (UPA) parties, including the Congress, need to apply to the Speaker as a pre-poll group. The 1953 directions (from then Speaker G.V. Mavalankar) state that the grouping must be bound by a common ideology and a joint programme that assumes they fought the election on a common manifesto,” he said.

“The Indian Union Muslim League is a pre-poll ally of the Congress. Can the Congress plainly state that it shares the Muslim League’s ideology? Did the UPA contest on a joint manifesto? None of these conditions exist.”

The source also asked whether, to meet a legislative requirement, the Congress’s pre-poll allies would subsume their identities under that of their larger partner and accept someone chosen by the Congress as their leader in Parliament.