BANGALORE: Congress, which has just 44 members but is the second largest party in the Lok Sabha, is in no mood to give up the fight for the post of the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha.
A section of the Indian media reported yesterday that the Congress is considering taking the matter to court if it is denied the post, but is no hurry as Speaker Sumitra Mahajan is yet to take a decision in this regard. It feels it is too early to come to a conclusion right now.
There is some confusion in the rules as some claim that any party, in order to claim the Leader of the Opposition post, should have at least 10 per cent of the total seats.
If this rule applies, then Congress does not stand any chance, but the party has come up with two different arguments to stake claim to the post.
It says that it had a pre-poll alliance before the elections and its UPA tally is more than 55.
Citing provisions from 'The Salary and Allowances of the Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Act, 1977, and Rules Made Thereunder (as amended up to December, 2002),' Congress leader Shakeel Ahmed said that the leader of the party in Opposition which has the greatest numerical strength gets the post of the Leader of the Opposition.
He said that while such an observation was made by GV Mavalankar, the first Lok Sabha Speaker, it stands superseded by the aforementioned Act of Parliament which makes it clear that there is no 10 per cent stipulation.
The Congress, still the largest party in the Rajya Sabha with 67 MPs (the BJP is the second largest party with 42 MPs), its ability to assume the leadership role in the Opposition in the Lok Sabha is crucial to its attempt to salvage its position.
Mahajan is expected to take a decision on the matter before the beginning of the Budget session.
If Congress succeeds, Kharge would have to shed his low-profile image and be more pro-active.
Kharge was Railway Minister in UPA II and was elected from Gulbarga for a second time in the recently held elections. He was elected to the Karnataka Assembly nine times and had functioned as the Leader of Opposition there.
Mahajan steers clear
Sumitra Mahajan steered clear of the issue of grant of Leader of Opposition status in the House to the Congress despite the party appearing to raise the pitch for it.
"The meeting of leaders of political parties was convened to discuss the business of the House," was the refrain of the Speaker after the luncheon meeting to repeated questions on what was her decision on the issue.
The Speaker had earlier said she will take a decision on the issue before the budget session after consulting constitutional experts and "experienced" persons.
Leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge merely said that meeting was to discuss the issue to be raised during budget session.
Significantly, a Union Minister remarked that how could the Speaker decide on the matter when the Congress is yet to formally seek the status.
He said people have not granted the numbers to the Congress to get that status and said the rules have been framed in 1977 and would be followed. He also cited the example of 1984 when the TDP was not accorded the status.
Asked whether Congress would write to the Speaker on the issue, party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala had said the decision will be taken by party leaders in both the Houses after consultations with Congress President Sonia Gandhi and party Vice President Rahul Gandhi.
AFTAB H. KOLA
Wirh inputs from agencies