Edition : July 2014

Poll Leaves a Shameful Legacy

The General Election to the 16th Lok Sabha has thrown quite a few unpredicted results. Among them the most mentionable and memorable ones are two. One, after a gap of three decades a single political party – BJP – crossed the magic figure of 273 to form a Government at the Centre on its own strength. Two, a numerically largest political party – Congress – in opposition to the government failed to reach the elusive figure of 55 to get a formal recognition as a Parliamentary Opposition Party and its leader as the Leader of the Opposition (LoP). What do these two figures signify? The figure 273 represents more than one half of the total membership of the House of the People (HoP) which is 545.

The figure 55 represents the one-tenth of that figure (545) which is equal to the quorum fixed under article 100 of the Constitution. The consequences of the two surprising results mentioned earlier are that first, there will be a stable government at the Centre and secondly, Lok Sabha will not have a LoP which is a vital adjunct of parliamentary democracy. Although the figure 55 is related to the percentage of the total strength of the House which in turn is related to the constitutional provision regarding quorum, it was Speaker G.V. Mavalankar who laid down a clear rule in this behalf which is embodied in Direction 121 titled "Condition for recognition". That Direction reads as follows:–

121. In recognizing a Parliamentary Party or Group, the Speaker shall take into consideration the following principles – An association of members who propose to form a Parliamentary Party:– (a) shall have announced at the time of the general elections a distinct ideology and programme of Parliamentary work on which they have been returned to the House; (b) shall have an organization both inside and outside the House; and (c) shall have at least a strength equal to the quorum fixed to constitute a sitting of the House, that is one-tenth of the total number of members of the House.

As regards a Parliamentary Group, the Direction provides that an association of members to form a Parliamentary Group shall satisfy the conditions specified above and shall have atleast strength of 30 members. In a nutshell, the opposition parliamentary party should have 55 members and a parliamentary group 30 members so as to be eligible to get recognition as such. In laying-down these principles the basic idea was to discourage multiplicity of parties and growth of splinter groups. It is, however, a different matter that over the years parties have prolifited in numbers which itself has become a matter of concern. Ever since the formulation of Direction 121, it has been scrupulously observed. Accordingly, prior to the 1977 General Election to the Lok Sabha, except for a brief spell of one year (December 1969 to December 1970), there had been no official opposition in the sense the term is used in the parliamentary system of government. Under the two-party system, as in Britain, any uncertainty as to which party has the right to be called the "Official Opposition" is obviated. As stated by May, "it is the largest minority which is prepared in the event of the resignation of the Government to assume office". Hence the necessity and importance of the Direction 121 in Indian context.

After the Congress Party split in November 1969, certain members dissociating themselves with the ruling congress party formed a separate party called the Congress (O). Since it had strength of 60 members in the House and satisfied all the conditions prescribed for recognition as a parliamentary party, it was for the first time since 1952, recognized as the Opposition Party and its leader Dr. Ram Subhag Singh was recognized as the LoP. The recognition lasted till the dissolution of the Fourth Lok Sabha in December 1970. In the Fifth Lok Sabha, however, none of the opposition parties secured a minimum strength needed for recognition. Therefore, no group of members was recognized as a parliamentary party/group in the House. After the Sixth Lok Sabha elections in 1977 the Janata Party came into power and the membership of the hitherto ruling Congress Party was reduced to the second largest in the Lok Sabha. Consequently Congress Parliamentary party was recognized as the Opposition Party and its leader as the LoP. This led to the enactment of the Salary and Allowances of Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Act, 1977 giving statutory recognition to the post of LoP in Lok Sabha/Rajya Sabha. The Act defines the term LoP as member of the Lok Sabha/ Rajya Sabha who is for the time being, the leader of that House of the party in opposition to the Government having the greatest numerical strength and recognized as such by the Speaker or the Chairman, as the case may be. In the explanation to the said definition, it has been clarified that where there are two or more parties in Opposition to the Government, in the Lok Sabha/Rajya Sabha, having the same numerical strength, the Speaker/Chairman shall, having regard to the status of the parties, recognize any one of the Leaders of such parties as the LoP for the purposes of that Act and such recognition shall be final and conclusive. Long back, however, the House Committee appointed by the Presiding Officers of Legislatures in India had recommended that the Leader of the largest recognized Opposition Party (whether a regular party or party composed of different parties or groups) should be recognized as the LoP.

Since 1969, following members of the Lok Sabha have functioned as LoPs:

Ram Subhag Singh Congress (O) 1969-70 4th Lok Sabha
Y.B. Chavan Indian National Congress 1977-79 6th Lok Sabha
C.M. Stephen Indian National Congress —do— 6th Lok Sabha
Jagjivan Ram Janata Party —do— 6th Lok Sabha
Rajiv Gandhi Congress 1989-90 9th Lok Sabha
Lal Krishana Advani BJP 1990-93 10th Lok Sabha
    2004-09 14th Lok Sabha
Atal Bihari Vajpayee BJP 1993-96 11th Lok Sabha
    1996-97 11th Lok Sabha
P.V. Narsimah Rao Congress May 1996 11th Lok Sabha
Sharad Pawar Congress 1998-99 12th Lok Sabha/td>
Smt. Sonia Gandhi Congress 1999-2004 13th Lok Sabha
Smt. Sushma Swaraj BJP 2009-2014 15th Lok Sabha

Coming to the situation in the current Sixteenth Lok Sabha, Congress is the largest opposition party with 44 seats. It is closely trailed by the AIADMK with 37 seats and Trinamool Congress with 34 seats. Applying 10% rule, therefore, as on today the 16th Lok Sabha will not have a LoP, though, as already stated, this will not be the first time that it has happened so. Rather it is being pointed out that even during the tenures of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi no LoP was named. The office of the LoP is one of considerable importance not only in relation to the matters of business in the House but also outside so far as India is concerned. The LoP is required to be consulted in respect of certain key statutory appointments. For instance, the Central Information Commission is required to the appointed on the recommendation of a Committee of which LoP of HoP is one of the members (Section 12(3), Right to Information Act, 2005). The chairperson and other members of the National Human Rights Commission are to be appointed after obtaining the recommendations of a Committee consisting among others of the LoPs in the Lok Sabha/Rajya Sabha (Section 4, Protection of Human Rights Act, 1983). The Chairperson and members of Lokpal can be appointed after obtaining the recommendations of a Selection Committee of which one of the members is LoP in HoP (Section 4, Lok Pal and Lok Ayuktas Act, 2013). The appointment of the Chief of Central Vigilance Commission has also to be cleared by a Committee of which LoP is one of the Members under the CVC Act of 2003. However, it needs to be clarified that some of the relevant statutes also provide that no appointments thereunder would be invalid merely by reasons of any vacancy in the committees concerned. In fact, in the case of appointments' committee for the Central Information Commission it has been specifically provided that where the LoP in the HoP has not been recognized as such, the Leader of the single largest group in opposition to the Government in the HoP shall be deemed to be the LoP. Therefore legally speaking the non-recognized LoP in the HoP is not a material factor although the question of propriety may not altogether be ignored while recommending important functionaries, since the basic postulation is that these appointments are meant to be properly institutionalized through a process that transcends political partisanship. Opposition is an essential and integral part of democracy. Two views are aired in the current situation of No LoP in HoP. One view says that "to move away from the partisan atmosphere that impeded the functioning of the last Lok Sabha, the NDA government must be gracious and the Speaker should accord Congress the role of the official opposition in the Lok Sabha". On the other hand it is contented that the 10% rule which was laid down for good reasons should be adhered to which has been done since the first Lok Sabha. ""Among party that lays stake to the status of the LoP should earn the position by getting their members elected in adequate numbers." In the final analysis, it is evident that the Act of 1977, which defines the expression LoP, does not refer to the requirement of one-tenth rule. It is mentioned only in the Speaker's Direction. Both, however, mention about the Speaker's recognition. Therefore, the ball now appears to be in the Speaker's Court. However for any modification of the Direction, the Congress party has to stake its claim and move the Speaker in the matter. As per the press report Congress President Sonia Gandhi has already addressed a letter to the Speaker staking the claim of her party to the recognition to the LoP. The ball is therefore in the Hon'ble Speaker's Court. It is hoped that her decision will not be far away in view of the next Session of Parliament which is due to commence this month.

— B.G. Gujar

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