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The first day of the budget session of Parliament started off on Monday on a predictable note: The Opposition protested against the price rise and the rail fare hike in and outside the House even though the government had agreed to debate both issues. For those watching the proceedings, the adjournments and the aggressive posturing were hardly surprising: This is how the last few sessions during UPA 2 had gone and so the NDA was being paid back in its own coin. This time, however, the protests were not only motivated by the price rise and rail fare hike but also the fact that the ruling coalition is silent over granting the Leader of Opposition (LoP) status to the Congress, which won 44 seats in the Lok Sabha elections. While the NDA has thrown the 10% rule in the Congress’ face, the latter is not ready to buy that argument because the rules are not clear on the issue and has threatened to go to court to resolve the matter. On Monday, the Congress president made a strong pitch for the party being given the post of LoP, contending that it is the single largest party in the Opposition.
The fight between the BJP and the Congress over the LoP issue has become a political prestige battle: Other than the 10% rule, the BJP’s contention is that in 1984, when the Congress came to power with an overwhelming majority, no LoP was appointed even though the Salary and Allowances of Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Act, which still forms the basis for recognition of the LoP, was in place. And so, it contends, there is nothing wrong in following the same procedure now. The Act, in fact, says nothing on any criterion that must be used to recognise an LoP. The 10% rule is created from the General Direction 121 of the Lok Sabha Speaker that stipulates 1/10th of the total MPs as a requirement for the recognition of party/group in the House. As things stand now, the ball is very much in the Speaker’s court. The LoP’s position is not just an ornamental post; the person is a key member on various crucial House panels.
The LoP issue has all the ingredients of becoming a political controversy and the NDA must be well aware of that. The NDA’s plate is full with multiple problems and so opening another front will be foolhardy and without an LoP, questions could be raised about the legitimacy of the decisions that it takes during its tenure.