The Congress in Assam suffered a setback after its legislature party leader Debabrata Saikia lost the position of the Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, following defeats in by-elections, deaths of two MLAs and two recent defections to the BJP.
“The present strength of the Indian National Congress Legislature Party, Assam Legislative Assembly is not equal to the quorum fixed to constitute a sitting of the House, that is one-sixth of the total number of Members of the House as required under the aforementioned provisions and therefore, the Hon’ble Speaker, Assam Legislative Assembly, has been pleased to withdraw the recognition of Shri Debabrata Saikia, MLA, as Leader of the Opposition, Assam Legislative Assembly, w.e.f. 1st January, 2021,” a Assam Gazette notification, signed by A N Deka, Secretary, Assam Assembly said.
In the 126-member Assembly, the Congress had won 26 seats. Since then, the party has lost two seats in by-elections — Baithalangso and Jania. Congress MLA Pranab Kumar Gogoi died in February last year, followed by former CM and sitting MLA Tarun Gogoi in November. Last month, two of its MLAs – Ajanta Neog and Rajdeep Goala – joined the BJP.
The Congress has also lost in two recently held local polls – Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) and Tiwa Autonomous Council (TAC). Soon after the elections to the 40-member BTC, lone Congress winner Sajal Kumar Sinha joined the BJP. In the TAC polls, the party won only one seat, down from the 15 it won in 2015.
For the upcoming state elections this year, the Congress is expected to tie up with the AIUDF, which enjoys a large support base amongst the Bengali-origin Muslims of the state, and try to form a grand alliance against the BJP. But, at the same time, the party also battles internal issues, with several leaders and members having reportedly complained against state unit president Ripun Bora and seeking a leadership change.
The Congress Legislative Party (CLP) on Tuesday wrote to Hitendra Nath Goswami, Speaker of the Assam Assembly, that it was “unfortunate and shocking” that at almost the end of the term of the current Assembly, the status was withdrawn. The CLP said that the Congress was “without any ambiguity the single-largest Opposition party in the current Assembly”.
“Due to the sudden demise of few Members and defection of few others belonging to INC, the number of members has decreased but we are still the single-largest Opposition party in the House,” the letter to Goswami by CLP secretary Durga Bhumij said.
The letter added, “Moreover, it may be stated herein that in many States like Chhattisgarh (BJP with only 14 out of 90 seats), West Bengal (INC with 23 out of 294 seats), Delhi (BJP with only 3 out of 70 seats) Opposition leaders are being bestowed with the status of Leader of Opposition despite having far less seats than so called 1/6th rule of Quorum. In essence, the matter boils down to discretion of the Speaker and it is evident from the example of other Legislative Assemblies of our country that the norm is to go by parliamentary tradition rather than numbers.”