The Telegraph
Saturday , September 22 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong eyes Opposition leader chair

Calcutta, Sept. 21: The Congress will stake its claim to the post of leader of the Opposition in the Assembly after its six ministers resign from the Mamata Banerjee-led government tomorrow afternoon.

In the 294-member House, the Congress has 42 MLAs while the CPM has 39. The CPM’s Surjya Kanta Mishra is the now leader of the Opposition, representing the Left Front, which as a group has more legislators at 61.

“Our party will sit in the Opposition after pulling out of the state government. The Congress, with its numerical strength, will then be the single-largest Opposition party in the Assembly. The Congress Legislature Party will shortly write to the Speaker staking its claim to the Opposition leader’s post,” state Congress president Pradip Bhattacharya said this afternoon.

According to rules, the Speaker has the “sole discretion” to take a call on who will be the Opposition leader. Usually, the post goes to a member of the single-largest Opposition party.

Speaker Biman Banerjee told The Telegraph he would decide on the issue after talking to all the political parties and going through House records. “This is a tricky issue. So I will take a decision after taking into account all aspects. Let the Congress submit its demand in writing first,” he said.

Assembly officials said the Speaker would have to choose between a party and a combine.

They cited a ruling by then Speaker Saila Kumar Mukherjee on June 25, 1952, declaring Jyoti Basu the leader of the Opposition even though his Communist Party of India (CPI) had only 30 legislators against the 51 MLAs of the alliance comprising the Jan Sangh, Forward Bloc, Hindu Mahasabha and the PSP. These parties had fought the elections separately but formed an alliance later.

Assembly records quoted the late Mukherjee as saying in his ruling: “The CPI was a party in the House, its number being 30. Other groups in the Opposition collectively had a strength of 51. Therefore, the CPI could be said to be a party in the Opposition having the largest numerical strength in the House.”

An Assembly official said that unlike the Left parties, the Opposition parties in 1952 had not forged a pre-election alliance. “They came together after the polls. Taking this aspect into account, the Speaker might have given his ruling,” he said.

Former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee said: “Had I been the Speaker, I would have given my ruling in favour of the Left Front as the parties in the group had fought the elections together and elected its leader on the basis of collective opinion.”

The Congress’s Manas Bhunia appeared optimistic about his party’s chances. “The CLP will emerge as the single-largest party,” he said.