The Congress is planning to submit a formal representation to Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan to assert the “legitimacy” of its claim to the post of Leader of Opposition, both as the party with the most members in the House after the BJP, and as the leader of the largest pre-poll alliance after the NDA.
Sources said the Congress move follows fears in the party that the Speaker is leaning towards denying the status of LoP to it. The party has just 44 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha.
The decision of the Speaker is crucial also because the LoP is part of the panel that selects the Lokpal, and the head and members of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and the Central Information Commission (CIC).
In its planned eight-page representation addressed to the Speaker, the Congress has said that even without its allies, it is entitled to the post. It has cited The Salary and Allowances of Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Act, 1977, which it says grants statutory recognition to the post of LoP, and mandates the creation of such a post.
Section 2 of the Act, the party will argue, says the “Leader of Opposition in relation to either House of Parliament is defined as a member of the Rajya Sabha or the Lok Sabha, who is the Leader of the party in opposition to the Government having the greatest numerical strength”.
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The section does not specify any other condition, the Congress will tell the Speaker in its representation. The LoP, the representation will say, is an “essential part of our Parliamentary fabric” and not a matter of “subjective discretion”. The specification of a quorum of 10 per cent to be recognized as a political party (under the Directions by the Speaker under the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha) does not hold, since the 1977 law cannot be superseded, and the rules are subordinate to the legislation under which they are framed, it will argue.
According to the Congress, even if the 10 per cent rule were to be followed, the party, along with its pre-poll allies, satisfies the requirement with a combined strength of 60 seats. The Congress has mentioned Sharad Pawar’s NCP (6 seats), Lalu Prasad’s RJD (4), Indian Union Muslim League (2), Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (2), Kerala Congress (M) (1) and the breakaway faction of RSP (1) as pre-poll allies.
The petition, which is ready, also argues that the BJP, which is in power, got only 31 per cent of votes polled. It claims that the Speaker does not have the power to not recognise as LoP anyone who meets the requirements under the 1977 Act, and that the question of the Speaker’s discretion arises only when two or more parties have the same numerical strength.
The LoP cannot be at the “discretion” of the party in power, which cannot refuse to recognise the post, the petition to the Speaker will argue.