By Avinash Pandey
Edited by Sanchita Malhotra, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist
Bharat Ratna, Baba Saheb Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar widely regarded as the Father of the Indian Constitution, were in the favor of a strong Opposition for a healthy and well functioning Democracy. He believed in equal respect and official status for the Opposition.
Undoubtedly, the Opposition plays a vital role in the efficient functioning of a Parliamentary Democracy. Similar is the position of the Leader of Opposition. With the passing years, the position and importance of Leader of Opposition has increased manifold.
The Leader of Opposition is not only given a status equivalent to that of a Cabinet Minister, he/she is allotted extra time to speak in Parliament, he/she can intervene on the spots in debates and facilitate parliamentary functioning in ways more than one.
Leader of Opposition is a primary member in the panel of appointment of statutory bodies like Chief Vigilance Commissioner & other Vigilance Commissioners, Chief Information Commissioner & other Information Commissioners, Chairman Lokpal & other Lokpals and Director of Central Bureau of Investigation. Such was a step taken to ensure a degree of credibility & faith in these organizations and to avoid undermining the democratic checks and balances. NOW THE IMPORTANCE OF LEADER OF OPPOSITION IS FULLY ESTABLISHED.
Many may argue that INC with 44 seats cannot have a Leader of Opposition. So, let’s first visit the laws related to Leader of Opposition.
1. THE SALARY AND ALLOWANCES OF LEADERS OF OPPOSITION IN PARLIAMENT ACT, 1977 is the only fundamental act on the issue of Leader of Opposition. It states that the Leader of the “Party” in Opposition to the Government having “greatest numerical strength” recognised by the Speaker is the Leader of Opposition. Thus, in 16th Lok Sabha, INC have greatest numerical strength, so their leader is to be the Leader of Opposition.
2. The other law over which hue and cry is made is THE LEADERS AND CHIEF WHIPS OF RECOGNISED PARTIES AND GROUPS IN PARLIAMENT (FACILITIES) ACT, 1998 . This law defines “Recognised Group” and “Recognised Party” in Clause 2.a(ii) and 2.b(ii) respectively. In Clause 3 it goes on to mention the entitlement of telephone and secretariat facilities to leaders, deputy leaders and chief whip of the “recognised group” and “recognised party” as per the definition in clause 2. Also, in Clause 3(ii), it clearly mentions that such provisions are not valid for the Leader of Opposition as defined in Section 2 of the Salary and Allowances of the Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Act, 1977.
Thus, THIS LAW HAS NOTHING TO DO with the Leader of Opposition as the definition of “recognised group” and “recognised party” is not meant for the context of LOP but to provide facilities to groups and parties on the basis of their strength in Lok Sabha.
3. DIRECTIONS BY THE SPEAKER LOK SABHA, 1956 is about recognising a Parliamentary Party or Group. In it’s Section 121(i)(c), it says that there shall have atleast a strength equal to one-tenth (55) of the total members of the house. Interestingly, in it’s Section 121(i)(a), it says that a pre-poll alliance on the basis of ideology will also be recognised as a Parliamentary Party. So, if INC have only 44 members, UPA (a pre-poll alliance) have 60, which is more than the required number. Thus, UPA can be recognised as a Parliamentary Party.
Most Important, this is just a RULE and cannot supersede a LAW (Act of 1977). Also, Smt. Sumitra Mahajan can anytime change the rule for a better Parliamentary Democracy.
It is also to be noted that in an RTI related document for Smt. Sushma Swaraj, Leader of Opposition in the 15th Lok Sabha, it was clearly mentioned that LOP in Lok Sabha is accorded statutory recognition and given salary and certain other facilities and amenities under THE SALARY AND ALLOWANCES OF LEADERS OF OPPOSITION IN PARLIAMENT ACT, 1977, with no mention to any other Rule, Law or Act.
BJP claims that there was no Leader of Opposition from 1952 to 1969, 1970 to 1977 and 1979 to 1989, when Congress was in power. So, they (NDA Govt.) also won’t accord any LOP in Lok Sabha to INC. There are two things they cannot and should not ignore. First, the position of LOP has never been vacant since 1989 and as discussed above, the importance gained by the position of LOP over the years, it cannot be neglected now. Second, it will be specious to the people of India who have voted them in majority for a good and democratic practice and not to follow what INC has done earlier. Do not tread the path of INC, it’s very appalling.
What about the PM’s statement in the Parliament when he said that he will take forward all his Opposition, not only that, he will consider the party not having a single MP. Was it meant for beautiful words only? As discussed above, even under the present laws INC deserves to be accorded the position of Leader of Opposition. However, if people still feel, I have misinterpreted the laws, then an Amendment should be brought here. If an Amendment (or rather Ordinance) can be done for the position of Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister (which could have been avoided) then for the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha is not a big deal. It should be done with utmost urgency and as soon as possible.
The approach of Shri Narendra Modi led NDA Government is not only specious but mala fide too. It will be very bad for a Parliamentary Democracy, without the Leader of Opposition. Mr. Modi, as a CM of Gujarat has given a portend to his style of power concentration when during the entire decade there was his controversial relation with the Gujarat Lokayukta and it’s office. His style of Governance makes me skeptical and thus, a strong opposition is even more required.
Here is an instance to show the importance of LOP: Smt. Sushma Swaraj, in her authority as the Leader of Opposition, who had in 2011 pointed discrepancies in the appointment of Mr. P J Thomas as Central Vigilance Commissioner. Her opinion was upheld by the Supreme Court, which later struck down Thomas’s appointment. Thus, it’s an important position and the government must not get away from it.
Leader of Opposition is a crucial position now a days. Government cannot keep this post vacant to by pass the Opposition’s view over various important appointments and issues. This style of governance is very appalling, deleterious and debilitating for the Parliamentary Democracy. The Laws are in favor of INC, if not bring an Amendment (LOP is important than your PS, Mr. PM).
The Government has reflected very poorly on it’s words, values, virtues and democratic approach. It has failed people by comparing with INC. It’s time for the Speaker Lok Sabha, to show her integrity and credibility towards Democracy.