Refreshing changes in the 18th Lok Sabha

Defying all predictions, a resurgent Opposition managed to blunt the Modi juggernaut by securing 234 seats, a sharp increase from the 2019 elections.
Though the BJP remains the dominant party in the 18th Lok Sabha, it failed to touch the 272 seats required for a simple majority.
Though the BJP remains the dominant party in the 18th Lok Sabha, it failed to touch the 272 seats required for a simple majority.Photo | PTI

With Narendra Modi preparing to take oath as prime minister for his third consecutive term on Sunday, the 2024 Lok Sabha elections could be dubbed as probably one of the most consequential elections that may reshape the future of Indian politics.

Though the BJP remains the dominant party in the 18th Lok Sabha, it failed to touch the 272 seats required for a simple majority. With just 240 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha, the BJP found a lifeline with its biggest two pre-poll allies, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) led by Chandrababu Naidu and the Janata Dal (United) led by Nitish Kumar, to form a government.

Defying all predictions, a resurgent Opposition managed to blunt the Modi juggernaut by securing 234 seats, a sharp increase from the 2019 elections.

Speaking to this newspaper, Gaurav Gogoi, newly elected Congress Lok Sabha MP from Assam’s Jorhat, said the people have given Parliament and the Constitution a lifeline through their votes in the 2024 Lok Sabha election.

Though the BJP remains the dominant party in the 18th Lok Sabha, it failed to touch the 272 seats required for a simple majority.
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New House in order

The first session of the 18th Lok Sabha will likely begin in the third week of June with the oath-taking by the newly elected candidates as members of the House, following which a new Speaker will be elected.

The next day, the President will address a joint sitting of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, thus formally inaugurating the session. During the session, Prime Minister Modi will also introduce members of his Council of Ministers to both the Houses.

Back to the coalition era

With NDA 3.0, the country is once again back to the coalition era after a decade. However, many including the Opposition, express apprehension about whether Modi can adapt to the pulls and pressures of alliances after having enjoyed an overwhelming majority for a decade. Coalition governments are not unchartered territory for Indian politics as it has had them for almost 34 years.

While India’s first coalition government came into power in 1977, former prime ministers such as Narasimha Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and Manmohan Singh have led such governments without hiccups.

The first NDA coalition government was in 1996 led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. However, it fell in 13 days after failing to prove its majority. In 1998, Vajpayee returned to power by cobbling together the second NDA coalition, which completed its full term. Manmohan Singh ran two successive coalition governments from 2004 to 2014. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was touted for its initiatives in economic reforms. “The question is whether PM Modi will show the flexibility to accommodate the interests of his coalition partners,” said a political observer.

The INDIA bloc believes the NDA will not survive for long as the BJP has proven deadly for the regional parties, Samajwadi Party leader Ghanshyam Tiwari told this paper.

Closing the gap

According to former Lok Sabha secretary general P D T Achary, it is probably the first time that the Lok Sabha has witnessed a narrow difference of 60 seats between the Opposition and the ruling benches. “In my memory, I haven’t seen such a narrow gap between both sides. This means the Opposition’s voice will be heard,” said Achary. The NDA has 293 MPs, a little more than the majority mark of 272 in the 543-member Lok Sabha.

Bigger role in House panels, more time for debates

In many ways, the 18th Lok Sabha is set to look different from the previous one. While the previous Modi governments in 2019 and 2014 enjoyed a brute majority, the new Lok Sabha will see a diminished version of it. In 2019, the BJP-led NDA won 353 seats, out of which, the BJP alone secured an unprecedented 303. In 2014, the BJP won 282 seats.

Achary says with the increase in the numbers, the Opposition is set to get better representation in various Parliamentary panels such as the Standing Committees, privilege committees, and Select Committees. “All the committees will be evenly filled. The chairmanship of the committees will also be divided proportionately. The Opposition will get the chairmanship of many committees as they have good numbers,” Achary told this newspaper.

Lack of discussion and not allowing time for the Opposition has been the major bone of contention in the previous Lok Sabha. Achary said that in the new Lok Sabha, the skew will be resolved as the speaking time on an issue is divided in proportion to the strength of parties. “For instance, if the Speaker decides to allocate 10 hours for discussion on an issue, in the new scenario, the government will get six hours to debate and the INDIA bloc with 234 members will get four hours. In the previous Lok Sabha, the ruling party would have got eight hours and the Opposition two hours,” he said.

Another highlight of the 2024 poll results is that the Congress – with the most seats after the BJP – is likely to get the post of the Leader of the Opposition (LoP). It increased its tally by one – touching the 100 mark – after Independent Lok Sabha member from Maharashtra Vishal Patil extended support to the party.

Opposition to vie for LoP, Deputy Speaker post

While the 17th Lok Sabha was unprecedented in functioning without a Deputy Speaker, Achary says that not appointing a Deputy Speaker was unconstitutional. Article 93 of the Constitution states that “the House of the People (Lok Sabha) must choose the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker as soon as may be.”

“The Deputy Speaker post is a constitutional position and by convention, it goes to the Opposition. The Opposition should claim the post in the new Lok Sabha. It is also an elected post. The practice has been to elect the Speaker first. Within a week, the Deputy Speaker will also be elected. The Speaker has to fix the date for the election of the Deputy Speaker,” said Achary.

Another post that will be filled is the Leader of the Opposition (LoP) in the Lok Sabha, which has been vacant since 2014. But Rahul Gandhi was not interested in claiming the post in 2014 and 2019. In the new House, the Congress with 100 seats, is likely to claim the post. Several MPs in the Congress have been pitching for Rahul as the LoP this time.

The Congress Working Committee on Saturday passed a resolution asking Rahul Gandhi to accept the post of LoP. Some of the partners in the INDIA bloc, including Shiv Sena (UBT), have extended support to Rahul Gandhi.

No Constitutional amendments

With a formidable Opposition, the coalition government will be on a sticky wicket in implementing contentious issues such as the Uniform Civil Code (UCC), delimitation of constituencies, National Register of Citizens (NRC), and the ‘One nation, one election’ plan, which proposes to hold simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha, state assemblies and local bodies.

Achary says that proposals such as ‘One nation, one poll’ require Constitutional amendments. It can’t be done without the consent of the Opposition now. “Most of the provisions in the Constitution need to be amended by a majority of two-thirds of the members of each House present and voting.

In this House, without the help of the Opposition, the government cannot carry out any amendment to the Constitution,” said Achary. Lok Sabha MP Gogoi says that a strong Opposition will thwart any attempt by the BJP to subvert the Constitution or Parliament. “If the BJP tries to even change a letter in the Constitution, we will prevent it. I’m confident that the current allies of the BJP will also lend support to us,” said Gogoi, adding that now the ruling establishment will not be able to deride Parliamentary procedures by rushing through many important Bills without discussions.

Checks and balances

The outgoing 17th Lok Sabha had witnessed unprecedented events such as the mass suspension of Parliamentarians, disqualification of two MPs Rahul Gandhi and Mahua Moitra, and the passage of crucial bills in both Houses without any debate or voting.

Though the BJP remains the dominant party in the 18th Lok Sabha, it failed to touch the 272 seats required for a simple majority.
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“The Opposition has a sizable number now. So the government has to take the Opposition on board on crucial bills. There will be more checks and balances now,” said Achary.

The outgoing Parliament also saw a record suspension of 206 MPs from the Lower and Upper Houses.

In the 2023 Winter Session alone, 146 MPs were suspended for staging protests in Parliament. According to a report by PRS legislative research, most bills were passed without recorded voting. The 17th Lok Sabha had also seen the passage of several crucial legislations such as the new criminal laws, the abrogation of Article 370 and three farm laws (now revoked) without discussions or consensus.

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