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Opposition without a head
While an effective opposition is as necessary as a functioning government for the success of parliamentary democracy, in the 16th Lok Sabha, the opposition stands badly fragmented. Having been reduced to a dismal, below-50 seat tally, the main party in opposition, the Congress, is not even entitled to have its leader recognised as leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha.
The well-established principle and practice, right from the first Lok Sabha, has been that the leader of the largest party in opposition is recognised as leader of the opposition, provided the party has the number of seats required to constitute a sitting of the House. That is, at minimum, the party’s seat share should be one-tenth of the total membership, the same as the quorum fixed for a sitting of the House.
Between 1952 and 1969, there was no opposition party with the requisite strength and, therefore, there was no officially recognised leader of the opposition, even though some outstanding personalities occupied the opposition benches and led their parties during this period. In 1969, in the fourth Lok Sabha, following the split in the Congress, the leader of the Congress (O), Ram Subhag Singh, became the first person to be formally recognised and given the status of leader of the opposition. During the sixth Lok Sabha (1977-80), we had Y.B. Chavan, C.M. Stephen and Jagjivan Ram as successive leaders of the opposition. Again, during the seventh and eighth Lok Sabhas (1980-1989), no party in opposition had the requisite strength. During subsequent Lok Sabhas (ninth to 15th), covering the period 1989 to 2014, we had duly recognised leaders of the opposition, including Rajiv Gandhi, L.K. Advani, A.B. Vajpayee, P.V. Narasimha Rao, Sharad Pawar, Sonia Gandhi and Sushma Swaraj.
Until 1977, there was no emolument or salary attached to the office of leader of the opposition. After the sixth general election in 1977, which brought in the Janata Party government, the Salary and Allowances of Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Act was passed. The act extends to leaders of the opposition in both Houses a certain official status and facilities, including a salary, allowances and perks equivalent to a cabinet minister.
The 1977 act defines the leader of the opposition as that member of the Rajya Sabha or Lok Sabha who leads the opposition party with the greatest numerical strength and is recognised as such by the presiding officer of the House. Although the definition in the act does not spell out the 10 per cent membership requirement, it is clearly implied in the recognition condition. For the Lok continued…