The LoP Issue

By Prabhakar Timble
08 July 2014 05:51 IST

 Sumitra Mahajan, the Presiding Officer of the 16th Lok Sabha in all probability may deny the rightful office of the “leader of opposition” to the single largest political party, thereby setting an unhealthy parliamentary convention. There are strong rumours that Mahajan may live up to the expectations of the BJP, the political party to which she belongs. This is the test of the Speaker, who once elected should rise and function above party politics. As the head and the custodian of the House, the Speaker is the guardian of democracy in the apex legislative body which represents the people. The challenge to demand compliance to voices of dissent aggravates when the government in power enjoys the luxury of strong majority. Holding the political and administrative executive accountable to parliament and the fundamental laws becomes critical when government revels in robust numerical strength. A neutral Speaker is expected to balance the pendulum of power by emerging as the protector of the values of democracy, dissent, debate and dialogue. The Speaker should also consider that there is a gamut of laws governing appointments to the National Human Rights Commission, Chief Vigilance Officer, Chief Information Commissioner, National Women’s Commission, Lok Pal etc., which make it mandatory for the leader of opposition to be on the panel of selection.

Rule book

After the statutory recognition of the Leader of Opposition through “ The Salary and Allowances of Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Act, 1977”, there should be no controversy over the issue on whether a “leader of opposition”(LoP) would adorn the 16th Lok Sabha or it would be left to the discretion of the Speaker of the House. Prior to this enactment, there was no official recognition, status and privilege for LoP. Even if left to discretion, it needs to be an intelligible and progressive exercise.

The term "Leader of the Opposition" as defined under the 1977 enactment is ‘that member of the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha who, for the time being, is the Leader of that House of the Party in Opposition to the Government having the greatest numerical strength and recognized, as such, by the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha or the Speaker of the Lok Sabha.  Nowhere in the statute the requirement that the concerned party should have at least 10% of the total strength of the House is expressed or implied.

What is clear is that the LoP would be the leader of the single largest political party and not of a coalition of parties emanating from either a pre-poll or post-poll alliance. Coalitions can be made at any time. They may also break in no time. It is difficult to discern when and which coalition partner is in support or in opposition to the ruling dispensation. It is futile on the part of the Congress party to argue out its case based on pre-poll or post-poll coalition of parties. The discretion of the Speaker of the House could be invoked only if two or more political parties have the same numerical strength. There is no choice for the Speaker to deny recognition to the leader of the single largest party in opposition to the government simply on the ground that the strength of the political party does not measure to 10% of the strength of the Lok Sabha/Rajya Sabha. Earlier ruling by former Speaker of the Lok Sabha putting the minimum requirement of 10% for recognition cannot stand as valid precedent after the parliament formulated the statute on the subject.

The rules framed by the first Lok Sabha Speaker, G.V. Mavalankar (1953) stated that a party must have at least 10 per cent of the strength of the House in order to qualify as a parliamentary group, “that is, their number should not be less than the quorum fixed to constitute a sitting of the House, which is one-tenth of the total membership”. It is for the current Speaker to formulate the rule in keeping with the provisions of the 1977 statute and not stick to a precedent which has lost its relevance after the enacted law is in force.

Intent of legislature

There is no mention of the term political party in the Indian Constitution. The only reference we find is in the tenth schedule of the Constitution which is known as the anti-defection law. However, the term recognised/unrecognised political parties and groups are elucidated in the laws relating to elections and the rules/codes enunciated by the Election Commission of India. The rules of procedure and conduct of business formulated by the Presiding Officers of the two houses of parliament make references to groups and parties.

The Leaders and Chief Whips of Recognised Parties and Groups in Parliament (Facilities) Act, 1998 attempts to categorise recognised parties and groups in parliament based on the numerical strength in respective House. The quantitative parameters of strength in the House are laid down for extending the facilities to leaders and chief whips of political parties. As opposed to this, the Act of 1977 providing the statutory position to LoP has not laid down any numerical parameter of minimum strength of the political party. This shows that the intention of the legislature was not to put any embargo of numerical strength on the office of LoP. The intent was to provide the statutory recognition as opposed to leaving it to the discretion of the party in power or the Presiding Officer of the House. The provision of recognition by the Speaker to the LoP is more of a formality guided by the consideration of maintaining the respect and dignity of the Presiding Officer rather than one to be taken on examination of precedents and merits.

The 1977 statute has put the choice of LoP outside the purview of the Speaker. However, to uphold the exalted position of the Speaker and the LoP, it is expected that the leader of the single largest party in opposition to the government would stand recognised automatically. If the Speaker is reading in the statute existence of a hidden power to determine whether the single largest party in opposition qualifies itself to be a parliamentary group using the 1953 Mavalankar numerical yardstick, it would be a gross error of understanding and interpretation.

This is the time for the entire opposition to rally and petition to the Speaker to adhere to the statute rather than follow an old rule claiming it to be a glowing precedent. If the combined strength of opposition derives a vicarious pleasure of keeping the leader of the Congress party away from the chair of LoP, such temporary joy would damage parliamentary democracy. An adverse action of the current Speaker should not be allowed to rot uncontested to mature into a damaging precedent.

Blogger's Profile

Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

Drop a comment

Enter The Code Displayed hereRefresh Image


Previous Comments

Congress does not deserve to be treated respectfully. Party had never shown respect for constitution and its norms. All this hypocracy by overt and covert congressman should be stopped.

- Madhav Bastodker, Ponda | 12 th July 2014 07:47

 

Related Blogs