Ending all speculation on the issue, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan on Tuesday formally rejected the Congress’s claim for the post of Leader of Opposition in the House.
“I have gone by rules and tradition… The directions of the Speaker are very clear… I also took legal opinion before deciding on the matter,” said Mahajan.
“A communication has gone (to the Congress),” official sources said, refusing to divulge more details.
Congress president and parliamentary party leader Sonia Gandhi had earlier written to Mahajan seeking the status of Leader of Opposition for Mallikarjun Kharge, the party’s floor leader in the Lok Sabha. According to sources in the Congress, Sonia made Kharge the floor leader as she suspected that the BJP-led dispensation would not let her become the Leader of Opposition.
Kharge said he would comment only after seeing the Speaker’s letter. “No disappointment. There is no disappointment in my political life… I have seen the posts of state minister, cabinet minister and others. Such a thing is not new,” PTI quoted him as saying in Bangalore.
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Before taking the decision, the Speaker obtained the opinion of Attorney General Mukul Rohtagi, who was understood to have maintained that the Congress did not possess the requisite numbers to claim the post.
The Congress has only 44 members in the Lok Sabha. Though it is the second largest party after the BJP (282 members), it still falls short of the 55 members — 10 per cent of the total strength of the Lok Sabha — needed for staking claim to the post.
The Congress’s demand was based on the Salary and Allowances of Leader of Opposition in Parliament Act of 1977, which provided that the largest party in opposition would get the Leader of Opposition post.
In his opinion, Rohtagi referred to the ruling given by G V Mavalankar, the first Lok Sabha Speaker, who said the main opposition party’s strength must equal the quorum — which is 10 per cent of the total strength — required for functioning of the House. This point was later incorporated in Direction 121 (1) of the Directions by the Speaker, Lok Sabha, and The Leaders and Chief Whips of Recognised Parties and Groups in Parliament (facilities) Act of 1998.
The Speaker was understood to have pointed this out to the Congress. Mahajan also cited precedents of 1980 and 1984, when there was no recognised Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha. The Congress happened to be in power then.
The status of Leader of Opposition is significant in the context of appointments of Lokpal, Central Vigilance Commissioner, Chief Information Commissioner, CBI Director and Secretary General of the Lok Sabha. Many of these appointments are done on the recommendation of a panel that includes the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha among others.
The Speaker had said on Monday that she does not have any personal discretion. “A Speaker is supposed to follow rules. I have to go by rules. There are ‘Directions of the Speaker’ which mandate 10 per cent strength for a party in the Lok Sabha to be recognised as Leader of the Opposition… If anybody wants a change in them, then a committee can be formed to look into them. But I need to follow the rules. I cannot do any thing on this,” she said.