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Legal advice against House role for Cong

New Delhi, July 25: The Congress is not entitled to the post of leader of the Opposition, attorney-general Mukul Rohatgi has told Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, sources close to him confirmed.

“During the past 65 years the law has not been validated on this. What is being done is following the existing parliamentary rules, under which the party seeking the status of leader of Opposition must secure at least 1/10 of the total number of seats in the Lok Sabha, which works to 55 seats. As the Congress party does not have the requisite strength it cannot claim stake for the LoP post,” Rohatgi has written, the sources said.

The Congress reacted cautiously, arguing that the attorney general was merely reflecting the government’s view and it is up to the Speaker to decide.

The sources said the attorney general has told Mahajan that in the absence of any definitive law, she can rely on the parliamentary rules formulated under the leadership of G.V. Mavalankar, the first Speaker. Mavalankar had ruled that the party seeking the status of leader of the Opposition must have at least 10 per cent of the strength of the Lok Sabha to qualify. This became part of the parliamentary rules under directions 121(1) of the Speaker, Lok Sabha, and was incorporated into The Leaders and Chief Whips of Recognised Parties and Groups in Parliament (facilities) Act, 1998.

In the 16th Lok Sabha, the Congress has only 44 MPs.

Another Act, The Salary and Allowances of Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Act, 1977, does not specify the number of seats a party must secure to claim the post. The act defines the status of the leader of the Opposition in either House as 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: “Where 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....”

It is this law that Congress leaders have been citing.

Congress spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed told The Telegraph: “The AG is reflecting the government’s position. The law is absolutely clear on the question of leader of Opposition; the single largest party will get the post and there is no mention anywhere of the 10 per cent strength. The government has nothing to do with the leader of Opposition post and the Speaker will have to take the decision independently using her wisdom.”

Asked about the future course of action if the post is denied to the Congress, Ahmed said: “We will react only after the Speaker takes a decision and formally conveys the same to us. We know it is the right of the Opposition and hope the Speaker will act in the true democratic spirit.”

Although the Congress is not spelling out its intentions, the matter is bound to reach the Supreme Court for final interpretation of the legal scheme. The Congress may not go to court itself because challenging the Speaker’s decision would be taken as undermining the supremacy of Parliament. But a petition can be filed by someone else.