By Sidhant Srivastava
‘To be or not to be’ is a famous phrase of William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, and is used time and again on various occasions. But, nowadays in modern India the dilemma isn’t about ‘to be or not to be’ because everyone wants ‘to be’, the dilemma entails the decision on whether ‘to give or not to give’.
The issue being discussed here is regarding giving Congress the status of the Leader of Opposition (LOP) after the recent elections and the new government at the centre. The Congress, with 44 members, is the second largest party in the Lok Sabha.
However, it falls short of the 10 per cent mark — 55 members in the 545-member House — which the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has cited as mandatory as per rules for getting the Leader of Opposition status of its leader in the Lower House.
In 1984, the last time a single party secured a majority in the Lok Sabha, the Congress had 415 MPs. The newly formed BJP was down by two MPs. It was another newly formed party, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which came in second with 30 MPs. Congress denied the status of LOP to any party.
Also the former Nehru/Gandhi Congress regimes did not have LoPs.
So what is the hue and cry all about? “We are the single largest party and we have a pre-poll alliance. Hence, we are entitled to get the post of leader of opposition in Lok Sabha,” Ms. Gandhi told reporters in the Parliament.
Asked what action she would take if the government refused, Ms. Gandhi said, “Let’s see.”
Subhash Kashyap, then secretary-general of Lok Sabha, recalls it clearly: “It would be a betrayal of confidences of several people, some of whom are now dead, but there were goings-on in the Speaker’s chambers, when three people from the TDP walked in and asked for the post.”
“They were told that it would not be possible as we operated on precedents in the House of Commons and that G V Mavalankar, India’s first Speaker, had on the same basis of too-small-an-Opposition established such a precedent that Lok Sabha had not designated a Leader of Opposition till 1969.”
In Hyderabad, union minister M. Venkaiah Naidu said everyone must abide by the presiding officer’s decision. “There was no opposition leader during Nehruji’s regime. There was no opposition leader during Indira Gandhi’s era. The opposition leader was not there in Rajiv Gandhi’s rule,” Naidu contended.
Tossing the ball in speaker’s court, Naidu said, “It is a people’s verdict and matter related to the Constitution. Speaker’s decision should be adhered to and let’s see how the Speaker decides. There are some conventions, rules and regulations, precedents and directions of the Speaker. They are all there before us. Everybody has to go by that,” he said.
Insisting that there is no rule, which says that a party cannot get LoP status unless it has 10% of the total strength of the 543-member Lok Sabha, Kamal Nath, a senior party leader of the Congress said in Delhi that while a speaker is generally neutral when it comes to dealing with parliamentary processes, it may be different in a contentious situation like this.
Sources say, the Congress party is also considering going to court if it is not given the post of Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha. The issue is presently being discussed and the final decision has not yet been taken.
Insisting that the powers of the Speaker are ‘neither arbitrary, nor unbridled or unilateral’ on deciding the issue, Congress spokesman Randeep Surjewala said the post of the Leader of the Opposition is a ‘constitutional right’ of Congress as the biggest party in the opposition as also the biggest pre-poll alliance.
“We will cross the bridge when we come to it. Why answer a hypothetical question at this juncture? We will ponder on all this. No option will ever be ruled out”, Surjewala said when asked whether Congress would approach a court of law in the matter.
When told that the government was saying that the Speaker has to decide the issue, Surjewala remarked “we all know the Speaker also consults the government of the day”.
But the government is also acutely aware that while it has a big majority in the Lok Sabha, it is short on numbers in the Rajya Sabha and needs support there to push legislation. It might well look at leveraging the LoP’s post to ensure the Congress’ backing on bills.
Sidhant graduated from IIT and discovered his creative bent of mind towards writing after having a near death accident, he had never thought of taking his writing to a professional level. He started blogging just last year, but got an amazing response to his blogs (http://ihavenothingelseto.blogspot.in), he then joined a fashion and lifestyle magazine as the sub editor. He is more than happy to contribute insightful articles on diversified topics to The Indian Economist.