NEW DELHI: Amid reports that Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan may decide on the Leader of the Opposition on the first day of the Budget session, Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Jyotiraditya Scindia met her on Thursday.
The Congress delegation’s meeting with the Speaker is also significant as it comes two days prior to the all-party meeting called to ensure the smooth running of the Monsoon/Budget session beginning on July 7.
Though Kharge termed the visit a “courtesy call” and denied that the issue of the Leader of the Opposition post was raised, Congress spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed struck a shrill note shortly afterwards: “We’ll not let the House function unless we’re given the the Leader of the Opposition post which is rightfully ours.”
“When the Congress, with 44 members, is the largest Opposition party, there is no question of it not getting the LoP post. I think the Speaker will announce the Congress’ name for the LoP post. I don’t think there should be any controversy about it. The LoP post in the Lok Sabha is the right of the Congress as per the Act,” he added.
Ahmed, however, is not a member of either House of Parliament. And a senior leader later clarified that the Congress “is not inclined to make a formal demand or to raise the pitch as that may go against the party. They (the government) may use it to decline us the position.”
“The government will be violating democratic norms which have evolved over the years, if it denies the main Opposition party the post in such a situation,” the leader said.
By all indications, Sumitra is more inclined to go by the dictum of the first Speaker, G V Mavalankar, that an Opposition party with less than 10 percent of the total 543 seats cannot be given the Leader of Opposition position.
The Congress is 10 MPs short of the mark. “There are rules and regulations. One says ‘10 percent’ and another says ‘the single-largest group’. And there are precedents which I will have to study,” the Speaker said a few days ago.
But the Congress has been citing an amendment to the Salary and Allowances of the Leaders Of Opposition in Parliament Act, 1977, and Rules Made Thereunder (amended up to December, 2002), which states that the leader of the party in the Opposition which has the greatest numerical strength gets the post of the Leader of the Opposition.
Mavalankar’s observation, the Congress maintains, stands superseded by the 1977 Act which makes clear that there is no 10 percent stipulation.
The Congress is also pointing out that it has 19 percent vote share, more than what the BJP got in 2009.