Sometimes silence could really be golden. It is doubtful if the Congress is doing its badly dented image any good by pushing stridently for the post of the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, in a situation where the odds are piled against it. The party has not got the 10 per cent of Lok Sabha seats that would allow it to claim the coveted position. With what the president of the party, Sonia Gandhi, has called the party’s “pre-poll” alliance, the petition to the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Sumitra Mahajan, has 60 signatories, a number that exceeds the 55 seats necessary to make up the 10 per cent. The Congress, as certain members of the Bharatiya Janata Party cannot resist reminding it, has managed a sorry 44 seats. But there is enough legislative ambiguity about the post for senior leaders of the Congress to claim, in effect, that the 10 per cent rule cannot work since the Congress is the single largest party in the House after the BJP. None of this looks good. The choice of the leader of the Opposition rests entirely with the Speaker. In this case, Ms Mahajan is perfectly free not to decide on the Congress; there is nothing to stop her. If she does decide on the Congress, it would have to be perceived as an act of courtesy, not the fulfilling of a ‘claim’ the Congress is making. And this should not surprise the Congress either. When the Congress won 404 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha in 1984, there was no leader of the Opposition in the Lower House. The Congress cannot keep making up arguments to establish its ‘right’ to the chair.
It may be argued, however, that it would be good to have a participating opposition in a healthy democracy. In recent years, democratic wisdom has chosen the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha as a key member of panels for the selection of sensitive positions, such as the Central vigilance commissioner, the Central information commissioner, the director of the Central Bureau of Investigation and so on. Transparency in these matters is always of advantage to the government in power: it enhances its credibility and displays the fairness of its intentions. Such themes are not always a matter of rules, laws, technicalities and percentages, but have to do with the vision of governance. But how that vision is to be given form depends, in this Lok Sabha, on the BJP. The Congress is losing whatever shreds of dignity it has left by pushing the case.