Narendra Modi government will not have Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha again

May 24, 2019

The Congress has won 52 Lok Sabha seats in the just-concluded Lok Sabha election. The party has improved its tally in the Lok Sabha from 44 in 2014 and remains the main Opposition party in the house. However, like the 16 th Lok Sabha, the Congress has not qualified to have a Leader of Opposition in the 17 th Lok Sabha.

Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha is an important position for the person is involved in appointments to key offices including that of the Lokpal, CBI director, chief vigilance commissioner, chief information commissioner and the chairperson of the NHRC.

Mallikarjun Kharge, the Congress legislative party leader in the 16 th Lok Sabha, had refused to participate in the meeting for appointment of Lokpal. The BJP had not accorded the Congress the status of the official Opposition party in the Lok Sabha.

Under the existing rules, an Opposition party can claim to have a Leader of Opposition in any of the houses provided the party has won 10 per cent of the seats. This number is 55 in the Lok Sabha, which is a 543-member house.

Kharge was invited to Lokpal appointment committee as special invitee and not as the Leader of Opposition. His refusal to attend the Lokpal appointment panel meet stalled the process, which even the government did not appear very keen to complete despite Supreme Court’s terse observations.

The Congress demanded an amendment to the relevant laws to allow the single-largest party in the Opposition to send its legislative party leader to attend meetings of key appointment panels. Amendment was made with regard to the appointment of the CVC and also the CBI director but the Lokpal Act was not modified to bring the single-largest Opposition party on board if it did not secure 10 per cent seats in the Lok Sabha.

The 10% Mavalankar rule

India did not have a Leader of Opposition till 1969. In the first three Lok Sabha elections, the Congress-led by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had an overarching influence. Nehru’s Congress won 1951-52, 1957 and 1962 Lok Sabha elections with an overwhelming majority and the main Opposition parties consistently failed to win 10 per cent of the seats.

The 10 per cent rule was spelt out by GV Mavalankar, the first Lok Sabha speaker. Mavalankar had ruled in the Lok Sabha that the strength of the main Opposition party, to be officially recognised as such, must be equal to the quorum of the house. Quorum is equivalent to 10 per cent of the members.

The statutory definition of the Leader of Opposition, however, came with the Salary and Allowances of Leader of Opposition Act of 1977. It said the Leader of Opposition will be from the Opposition party having the greatest numerical strength and recognised as such by the Lok Sabha Speaker or the Rajya Sabha Chairperson in the respective houses.

The 1977 Act did not set the 10 per cent condition but Mavalankar’s was a ruling of the Speaker and was enforceable as law. Mavalankar rule was finally incorporated in Direction 121(1) in Parliament (Facilities) Act 1998. This rule remains unchanged.

No LoP in the past

After Nehru years, the Lok Sabha had its first Leader of Opposition for about one year in 1969-70. In 1971 Lok Sabha election that Indira Gandhi won single-handedly after splitting the Nehru’s Congress, the largest Opposition party won only 16 seats. That party, INC(O) was not accorded the status of the Opposition party in the Lok Sabha.

After the 1977 electoral debacle, Indira Gandhi stormed back to power in 1980. The Opposition was decimated with the largest party in the camp the Janata Party (Secular) – winning only 41 seats. It did not have the official status of the Opposition party in the Lok Sabha.

The Congress won a bigger mandate in 1984 when the election was held in the shadow of Indira Gandhi’s assassination. The Congress had won 415 Lok Sabha seats while the largest Opposition party was the TDP which got 30 seats.

However, making a departure from the past, the Rajiv Gandhi government accorded the LoP status to the TDP’s leader in the Lok Sabha.

In 2014, the BJP became the first party since 1984 to win a majority on its own in a Lok Sabha election. The Congress, the largest Opposition party could win only 44 seats in the Lok Sabha falling 11 short of the quorum number. The Modi government adhered to the Mavalankar rule to deny the Congress leader the status of LoP in the Lok Sabha.

It is unlikely that the BJP would change its stand on the LoP status given that the Congress has again failed to win the required number of seats in the Lok Sabha election.

Source :Indiatoday

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