If there was a toss-up between the post of Leader of Opposition and deputy Speaker, Congress would prefer the former, as it puts the party in an advantageous position. Rediff.com contributor Anita Katyal reports
Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sumitra Mahajan will be appointed Speaker of the 16th Lok Sabha on Friday. Other key parliamentary posts like that of Leader of Opposition, deputy Speaker, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and head of the all-important standing committee on finance will be keenly contested.
While the formal swearing in of Lok Sabha MPs continued through Thursday, there were hectic behind-the-scene parleys as key opposition parties, led by the 44-member Congress, jostle over the posts.
A Cabinet minister, close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, maintained that two of these posts could go to the Congress, as it is the largest opposition party. He also hinted that the National Democratic Alliance government was inclined to accept the Congress’ claim for the post of Leader of Opposition though a final call would be taken after the election of the Speaker.
The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, he disclosed, wanted at least one of the four posts in return for the party’s support in the Rajya Sabha, where the ruling alliance is in a minority.
The strength of a political party must be equal to one-tenth of the total number of members in the Lok Sabha for it to claim the position of Leader of Opposition. The Congress has only 44 seats, while the required strength is 55.
“I don’t think the prime minister will indulge in petty politics in such matters,” a BJP minister told Rediff.com, adding that it was for the Speaker to take a decision in such matters.
The BJP’s generosity may also be attributed to neither Congress president Sonia Gandhi nor vice-president Rahul Gandhi proposing to head its parliamentary party.
“The BJP may be tempted to take a conciliatory stand since Mallikarjun Kharge has been named Congress Parliamentary party leader. The BJP’s antipathy towards the Gandhis is well-known,” said a senior Congress leader.
While the Congress is pressing for the post of Leader of Opposition, the Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK, Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal and Mamata Banerjee-headed Trinamool Congress, are working to deny the post to the Congress.
BJP sources said the deputy Speaker’s post could be offered to the AIADMK although it goes to the principal opposition party. The BJP cites the example of the Congress, which had given this post to the AIADMK in 1984 for extending tacit support to the ruling party.
Congress sources said if there was a toss-up between the post of LOP and deputy Speaker, it would prefer the former as it puts the party in an advantageous position of challenging the ruling alliance. As LOP, Congress’ parliamentary party leader Mallikarjuna Kharge would also get Cabinet status.
While a final word is awaited, the debate over the interpretation of the rules continues to rage on. The ruling alliance has cited precedents when the LOP was not named by previous Congress governments.
The confusion has arisen as there are two laws relating to this matter. The Leaders and Chief Whips of Recognised Parties and Groups in Parliament (Facilities) Act, 1998, defines a "recoginsed party" in the Lok Sabha as "every party which has a strength of not less than 55 members in the house”.
The other law pertaining to the Salary and Allowances of Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Act, 1977, terms Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha as the member "who is for the time being the leader in that house of the party in opposition to the government having the greatest numerical strength and recognised as such by the Speaker".
The Congress has pointed to the 1977 law to buttress its claim for the LOP post, while the NDA cites the 1998 law.
Besides the LOP and deputy Speaker’s posts, the chairmanship of the powerful Public Accounts Committee also has to be decided in the coming days. The position normally goes to a member of the principal opposition party. The last chairman was BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi.
The PAC is an important parliamentary committee as it is mandated to examine government expenditure accounts granted by Parliament and any other accounts, and the reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. The Joshi-headed PAC made headlines when it examined the 2G spectrum scam.
The parliamentary standing committee on finance is also crucial as it scrutinises the government’s budgetary proposals and other laws proposed by the finance ministry. Although the NDA government will not have a problem given its majority in the Lok Sabha, it would nevertheless prefer a non-controversial person to head this panel.
While the matter will be sorted out in the coming days, the Congress named newly-elected Amritsar MP Amarinder Singh as the deputy leader of its parliamentary party in the Lok Sabha, while former minister Jyotiraditya Scindia was appointed chief whip. The Congress is depending on the feisty Amarinder Singh to take on the ruling alliance in his inimitable style. Scindia has been chosen in an effort to project a young face.
The Congress will also name its Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha in the next few days. Among the names doing the rounds for the post are Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ambika Soni and Anand Sharma. Former parliamentary affairs minister Rajeev Shukla may be the party’s chief whip in the Upper House.