The high points of Election-2014 are a study in irony. While the BJP made history by becoming the first non-Congress party since Independence to register a majority of its own, the incumbent tumbled to its lowest ever tally.
Its final tally short of 10% of the 543 directly elected seats in the Lok Sabha, the Congress’s leader in the House will be denied the cabinet rank under the Salary and Allowances of the Leader of Opposition in Parliament Act, 1977.
Not just that. As per parliamentary procedures for “recognition of parties and groups by the Speaker,” the Congress will be treated as a group, not a party. Kaul and Shakdher’s authoritative work on Practice and Procedures of Parliament is abundantly clear that the recognized Opposition “should at least be able to command a strength that should enable to keep the House (sic).” In simpler terms, it means the principal Opposition party’s numbers should not be less than the quorum fixed to constitute the sitting of the House — which is one tenth (54) of its total membership (543 plus two nominated). The Congress finds itself in a piquant, almost humiliating, situation because it didn’t even set its eyes on an honourable defeat, leave alone a difficult victory.
The party gave up the fight after losing power in Delhi and Rajasthan and failing to dislodge the BJP in MP and Chhattisgarh in the assembly polls ahead of the general elections. “We lost the will as the leadership did little to shore up cadres’ morale,” admitted a senior Congress functionary. “We ran a disjointed campaign with no clear narrative, unlike Narendra Modi’s promise of quality life that broke caste barriers.” The Congress official predicated a long an excruciating haul ahead, saying the party has to start from the scratch the way it did on Sonia Gandhi’s entry into active politics in 1998: “We now look worse than even Sitaram Kesri’s Congress.”
Another time when such a situation arose in recent years was in 1984 after the Congress’s landslide in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination.
Against it’s over 400 seats, the second largest party was NTR’s Telugu Desam with 30 members recognized as a group, not a party.
As for the Act, its scope is restricted to laying down the LoP’s salary and perks, including conveyance facilities, domestic and foreign travel allowance, office accommodation, secretarial backing, rent-free furnished residence and medical treatment in government hospitals. These facilities aren’t available to the largest group that otherwise gets to sit in a block with a seat earmarked for their leader. The Speaker can, in his discretion, provide the leader of the largest group an office in Parliament House minus the secretarial support to which a recognized LoP is entitled. “In the course of debates, no distinction is made, the group’s leader shown the deference that’s due to a person holding the LoP’s rank under the Act,” explained GC Malhotra, former Lok Sabha secretary general.
But in politics, respect comes with numbers. It’s a game dictated by people’s mandate the Congress has so heavily lost!