Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan should designate a member of the Lower House of Parliament as Leader of the Opposition even if "there is no clear applicable rule", feels one of her predecessors Somnath Chatterjee.
"That will also put an end to the fact that Indian Parliament does not have an LoP, which will weaken democratic system we have adopted," the former Speaker, who presided over the 14th Lok Sabha from 2004-2009, told PTI today.
At the outset, he made it clear that 10 per cent of the membership of the Lok Sabha is needed for an Opposition party to be given the status of the Leader of the Opposition.
He, however, hastened to add that the issue should be left to the discretion of the Speaker.
"So far as I know 10 per cent of the membership of the House. I think this should be left to the discretion of the Speaker," he said when asked as to what was the criteria for a member of a party to get the LoP status and what should be done in the current situation.
"I believe, for the proper functioning, someone should be designated as LoP, which recognises the important role of the opposition in an elected democratic setup.
"Therefore, I feel even if there is no clear applicable rule, Honourable Speaker may kindly in her discretion designate an honourable member of the House to be the LoP. Who will be designated should be decided by the number of members of different parties have in the House," he said.
Chatterjee's remarks came in the backdrop of Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi opining that Congress is not eligible and there is no precedent since the days of the first Lok Sabha to grant the post to a party which does not have the minimum required MPs.
The AG's opinion came as a setback to Congress which has made a strong pitch for the Leader of Opposition post despite securing just 44 seats in the 543-member House. A party has to win 55 seats to get 10 per cent members.
Rohatagi had conveyed his views to Mahajan who had sought his opinion in view of the dilemma she is facing over the issue, sources said.
The top law officer of the country has said there is no precedence where a party was given the LoP position -- the status of a Cabinet Minister -- without meeting the criteria of 10 per cent seats since the days of first Lok Sabha when G V Mavlankar was the Speaker.
Even during the time of Rajiv Gandhi in 1984, Congress with over 400 seats had refused to grant LoP status to TDP for the same reason, the AG has told the Speaker.
The AG is also learnt to have rejected the contention that LoP status could be given to the leader of Congress-led UPA coalition as there is no such precedence. UPA has 60 members in the House.
BJP has said Congress may have to be content without the LoP post in the Lok Sabha as it will be difficult for the Speaker to give it to the party after she sought an opinion from the AG on the issue.
This argument that LOP needs to be there because of CVC Acts is absolutely specious. The act clearly states that in case there is no LOP, the leader of the largest party would do.
Debate over a critical office
The 10 per cent rule was established by V.G. Mavalankar and incorporated later in the Directions for the functioning of the Lok Sabha as Direction 121, though it did not mention the LoP as such. The 1998 law concerning the facilities to be given to leaders and whips of recognised parties and groups, which fixes 55 as the minimum number of members required for recognition as a Parliamentary Party in the lower House, does not mention the LoP either. It is the 1977 statute on the LoP’s salary that does so. And that definition says the LoP shall be the leader of the party in opposition with the greatest numerical strength and “recognised as such” by the Speaker. While the statute itself is silent on it, the question arises if the Speaker, while recognising the LoP, needs to go by parliamentary precedent and Direction 121.
A recognised leader of the opposition is necessary for the proper and harmonious functioning of Parliament and for the working of several of the recently enacted laws. Legal ambiguity, the Congress party’s own flawed record and the BJP’s triumphalism over its rival’s poor electoral performance, should not stand in the way of an important parliamentary office being filled.
Let congress first get an NOC from each of the opposition MPs that they have No Objection to Congress being the leader. And then the matter may be taken into consideration.
The law and precedence does not allow the COngress the position LOP period.
When the issue first cropped up, I thought BJP was being petty in denying Congress LoP, even though it has not earned it. I thought it could be gracious and offer them this position as a gesture of goodwill.
But after seeing Congress squirm, and act as if it is entitled to a position for which it has actually been rejected by the people, I think it was a good decision. The comedy it provides is an extra benefit.