The Congress is not eligible for the post of Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha as it does not have the requisite strength (10% of total seats), attorney general Mukul Rohatgi has told Speaker Sumitra Mahajan.
Meanwhile, Congress on Saturday slammed Rohatgi over the issue and said that he has given the opinion to "please" his political masters.
Congress leader Anand Sharma said on Saturday that the Speaker is "under pressure" from the BJP government on the LoP issue. He furthur said the Speaker should function impartially.
In an indication that it may use Rohatgi’s opinion to deny the Congress LoP status, the BJP’s parliamentary party spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy said, “The Speaker has been extremely judicious in seeking the advice of the attorney general on the issue.
The attorney general is the highest constitutional advisor to the government. Since he has given a considered opinion on precedence and legality, it may be difficult for the Speaker to install a Leader of Opposition of the Congress. The Congress may have to reconcile with this position.”
The Congress, which has 44 seats out of the total 543 in the 16th Lok Sabha, has been insisting that it deserves the position. Even on Friday, its leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, said it was “most unfortunate” that the Congress had not been given LoP status in Lok Sabha.
Read: Politically correct: why Parliament needs a Leader of Opposition
He urged Mahajan to be “neutral” and allow the “voice of dissent” in Parliament. Earlier, the Congress had even threatened to move court if it were to be denied LoP status.
Rohatgi, the country’s top law officer, is said to have told Mahajan that a party required at least 55 seats to be accorded LoP status.
Sources said he referred to the fact that there was no LoP for the entire duration of Jawaharlal Nehru’s reign as prime minister, and when the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress won 414 Lok Sabha seats in 1984.
He is also understood to have pointed out that the first time Lok Sabha had an LoP was in 1969, after the first speaker, GV Mavlanakar, framed rules in this regard in 1956.
Read: Congress may not deserve it, but give it the LoP post
Apart from being the official representative of the Opposition, the post of LoP is crucial because of its role in key appointments to the Central Vigilance Commission, Central Information Commission, National Human Rights Commission and Lokpal.
However, laws governing these appointments make provisions to ensure the absence of an LoP or any other member of the appointing panel does not vitiate the appointments.
“There is a legality and politics to the issue. The Leader of the Opposition not only plays a vital role in parliamentary jurisprudence but also has an important voice in decisions on sensitive appointments. Therefore, to deny the post merely on numbers is a travesty of justice and a trampling of parliamentary conventions,” said Congress spokesman Manish Tewari.
Mahajan has kept everybody guessing on the crucial decision even as the Congress appears to be taking an aggressive stand. The government has left it to the Speaker to decide on the Congress’ petition — signed by 60 parliamentarians, including its allies, such as Sharad Pawar's NCP.
Read: Govt may give AIADMK LS deputy Speaker post