NEW DELHI: Not so much the ‘burning’ issues, price rise or rail fare hike, the flashpoint in the forthcoming Budget session of Parliament could be on the unseemly shadow boxing over the Leader of Opposition post. Or the government’s perceived move to dilute the UPA’s flagship programmes, 100-day job guarantee, food security and urban renewal mission.
The hot debate is over the Congress’ claim on the LoP post. It has almost taken away the focus from other key issues to be raised in the house when Parliament meets on July 7, primarily to hear and pass the Narendra Modi Government’s first railway and general budgets.
Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, for whom the party wants the LoP post, indicated on Saturday that Abhishek Manu Singhvi would be making a presentation before the Speaker on the issue, keeping the Congress view. “The Speaker has the power to give us the post. She may soon decide,” Kharge said.
The Speaker, sources said, has made it clear that without a formal application from the Congress, she “is in no hurry to decide”, either way. “How can she take a decision, unless there is an application of some sort?” it was said. The Congress camp has been acting coy about applying and not getting it, till Kharge and the party’s new chief whip in Lok Sabha, Jyotiraditya Scindia, met the Speaker two days ago. Mahajan asked for a “presentation” on the legal points being raised by them and “agreed to take a call thereafter”.
Singhvi, through his presentation, is expected to not only cite the provisions of the 1997 Salaries and Allowances of the Leader of Opposition, amended twice in 1997 and 2003, during non-Congress/BJP regimes, where it defines the post as one that is given to the largest opposition party in the house (both in Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha), but also put forth the Congress demand to be recognised as part of the UPA, a pre-poll alliance, with 59 MPs and not 44, as is being said. However, the rules of business and procedure of Lok Sabha is silent on this issue.
“It is an issue between the Speaker and the largest party in the opposition, the government side has no role in this. Let us see what decision she takes. Our follow up action would be based on that,” a senior Congress leader said. Having an issue on the platter, the Congress wants to make most of it to drive home the point that the new government, despite their overwhelming majority in the house, “is acting in an undemocratic manner, so as to not allow the opposition have say in the selection to constitutional and statutory bodies”, like the CVC, CBI Director, Lokpal, NHRC, CIC and others.
“The opposition party can stall the proceedings in the house and “even boycott the Speaker if she’s seen to be acting under the government’s pressure. We’ve taken note that a BJP spokesperson and Parliamentary Affairs Minister has spoken on this issue, with no locus standi. We’ll not let the house run, if we’re denied our rights,’’ Shakeel Ahmed, a general secretary of the party, said. At the Speaker’s all parliamentary parties meeting on Saturday, while TMC leader Kalyan Banerjee and other opposition leaders demanded a separate discussion on price rise and hike in rail fare, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu urged them to make their points during the discussions on the railway and general budgets. But gas pricing and Iraq situation, all agreed, should be taken up separately.
“We’ll go step by step - first, a presentation to the Speaker highlighting the legal provisions, second, raise it in the house. If decision is not taken, we’ll be forced to go to court to get clarity on the issue. Let the court say. If we do not deserve it, we’ll accept that. But we don’t think all this would be required. The Speaker is not an unreasonable person,” a Congress leader said, adding that the party was not so much bothered about the Deputy Speaker or Public Accounts Committee positions. Despite this simmering, at the Speaker’s all parliamentary parties meeting on Saturday, it was never raised.
Another flashpoint could not be, the Land Acquisition Act. The government wants to bring amendments which most of the opposition parties are not in favour. That is one of reasons why it was not included in the list of 20 bills and four ordinances that the government has put out. Naidu said, “The Prime Minister is ready to have discussion on all issues.”