Zee Media Bureau/Ajith Vijay Kumar
New Delhi: With the government appearing to be in no mood to budge, Congress president Sonia Gandhi indicated a hardening of stance on the issue by saying that her party must get the post of Leader of Opposition.
Talking to reporters, Monday, Sonia said, “We are the single largest party and we have a pre-poll alliance...we are entitled to get the post of Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha.”
When quizzed on what her party will do if the government denies it the LoP post, she said, “We will see.”
The Congress president came out in the open to press for the Leader of Opposition post for her party after the government indicated that the Speaker may go by the `rule book` on the issue. As per parliamentary rules, a party should have a minimum of 10% strength in the 543-member Lok Sabha to be legible for the post. The Congress has only 44 seats, 11 short of the minimum required strength.
However, the government was also cautious to stress that Speaker Sumitra Mahajan is the sole person to decide on the matter.
The government`s clarification came after senior Congress leader Kamal Nath cast aprehensions on the fairness of the Speaker. Nath, who was parliamentary affairs minister in the UPA government, said Mahajan`s decision on the issue of Leader of Opposition in Lower House could be "flavoured" by BJP and Narendra Modi.
Insisting that there is no rule which denies a party LoP status unless it has 10% of the total strength, the former parliamentary affairs minister said that while a Speaker is generally neutral when it comes to dealing with Parliamentary processes, it may be different in a contentious situation.
Kamal Nath added that the Congress would take the matter to court if the decision does not go in its favour.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said that it was unfortunate that such a comment has been made by senior leader like Kamal Nath. "Speaker will go by rulebook and take a decision. The Speaker is above all parties," Naidu assured.
The Congress is keen for the LoP post for obvious reasons.
One, the LoP in the Lok Sabha,is a member of panels that selects key officials, including the Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Lokpal, the Chief Commissioner of the Central Vigilance Commission, the Chief Information Commissioner, the National Human Rights Commission and the Secretary-General of the Lok Sabha.
Secondly, the post of LoP will enable the Congress to emerge as the natural pole of opposition to the NDA government in the Parliament. The BJP and its allies have a brute majority in the Lok Sabha but lack numbers in the Rajya Sabha. The post of LoP in lower House will help the Congress unite all anti-government forces in the House.
The Congress appears keen for a face-off over the issue as a denial of the LoP status will enable it to target Prime Minister Narendra Modi for being “undemocratic”.
The BJP is also bracing for fight with the party pointing out that there was no LoP between 1980-89.
However, the Congress contends that the absence of LoP between 1980-89 was because no party had demanded the post and it cannot be citied as precedent to deny Congress the LoP now as the party is demanding it.
The Congress also argues that the absence of a designated LoP will tantamount to thwarting the parliamentary mandate as the Parliament had passed Acts on CVC, CIC, Lokpal and NHRC with the assumption that there would always be an LoP – who would be party of the selections panels for the heads of the four bodies.