Fight over leader of opposition: Congress could go the legal route

The struggle between the  NDA and the Congress for the post of Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha is likely to continue this week with reports indicating that the Congress could take this fight to the Supreme Court.

According to an Economic Timesreport, the Speaker of the House Sumitra Mahajan has given “a clear message” that she will not be offering the post of the leader of opposition to the Congress. While leader of the Congress’ legislative group Mallikarjun Kharge told ET that, “It is in the domain of the Speaker, she has to decide,” the report adds that sources indicate that the Congress “has started mulling whether or not it should take legal recourse for the same.”

Earlier, commenting on the same issue, a senior leader had told The telegraph, “There is no way this injustice will be accepted by us as the legal position is crystal clear. We are aware how the BJP leaders are trying to create confusion about the issue but we will be forced to take the matter to the Supreme Court if injustice is done in Parliament. It is, however, too early to talk about that option as we believe the Speaker is objective.”

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Legal expert Rajeev Dhawan told ET that while the Congress does have a “strong case”, he doubts “whether the Supreme Court would interfere in the internal affairs of parliament.”

Currently the leader of the opposition is equivalent to the rank of a cabinet minister. The leader of opposition also has an important role to play in several key government appointments, such as Chief Vigilance Commissioner, and post the Lokpal bill, the appointment of the Lokpal. Last year, BJP leader Sushma Swaraj who was the leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha had created a fuss over the appointment of lawyer PP Rao to the Lokpal panel saying he was a Congress sympathiser.

And where Congress’ demand for Leader of Opposition is concerned, the party’s own history of how it treated opposition in the past makes the current hue-and-cry seem a little hypocritical.

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As this report in Indian Express points out in 1984 when under Rajeev Gandhi Congress won 415 seats, it had “denied that very status to the party which came in second.” TDP’s P Upendra, which was the second biggest party in that session of Lok Sabha with 30 seats, was never made Leader of Opposition, adds the report.

Then Congress Speaker Balram Jakhar had told the paper, “he couldn’t recall ‘any trouble or issue over this matter,'” Subhash Kashyap, then secretary-general of Lok Sabha had a different tale to tell.

 

He told IE, “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.” Kashyap added that while Upendra was given the necessary privileges and protocol, he was never officially made Leader of Opposition and notes that “there was no fuss, no demand, nothing” from the TDP leader.

Minister for parliamentary affairs M Venkaiah Naidu told ET that even when Indira and Rajiv Gandhi were in power, there was no formal Leader of Opposition. “The House can function just as well without an official leader of the opposition,” he added.

According to The Leaders and Chief Whips of Recognised Parties and Groups in Parliament (Facilities) Act 1988, a parliamentary ‘group’ is one that has 30-54 members, while to be officially seen as a party, one needs 55 members. The Congress with 44 MPs doesn’t fulfil this criteria for now.

While the Congress continues to play the victim card as it fights for the leader of opposition, it’s certainly not going to give the party an image boost. As Firstpost editor Sandip Roy had noted in the Piece, “the Congress has found a new role for itself after it’s massive election rout. It would like to be the nation’s Victim-in-Chief.”

He had added that with the current drama over the seat of Leader of Opposition, the Congress hopes to “show Modi as ‘undemocratic’ and win the party sympathy.” Except that the public doesn’t seem to care.

He added that perhaps the Congress should sit and ponder over the 44 seat debacle “instead of quibbling about what the rules say or do not say.” He had also noted that, the Congress’ stubbornness in the matter is also likely to be seen in the eyes of the public as confirming the image of the party as one that won’t give up on privileges even when giving a drubbing in the elections.

“It appears to retain a healthy appetite for the perks and privileges of the leader of the Opposition as listed by that same 1977 Act– telephone and secretarial facilities, an advance for the purchase of a motor car, a furnished residence exempt from income-tax etc,” he had written.

For the Congress, the current fight for the position of the Lok Sabha’s leader of opposition might be justified in pure democratic terms: that a strong government also needs a strong opposition. But given the paltry numbers in the Lok Sabha, the Congress can hardly hope to be a strong opposition to the current government.

Courtesy : Firstpost

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