Ending all speculation, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan on Tuesday formally rejected the Congress' demand for the post of leader of the Opposition (LoP).
In a letter to Sonia Gandhi, the Speaker cited rulings and precedents from 1980 and 1984, when the party was in power and there was no official LoP. The rules of the House specify that a party is eligible for the post only if it has at least 55 seats (10%) in the lower House. The Congress has 44.
The Congress chief had earlier written to Mahajan claiming the post for Mallikarjun Kharge, the party's leader in the Lok Sabha.
While this means Kharge will miss out on cabinet minister status and perks, Kharge will still be invited to meetings for selecting the central information commissioners and central vigilance commissioner as leader of the largest opposition group in the LS.
The Congress, however, will not have a say in appointment of the Lokpal and CBI director. While the LoP is part of the panel that recommends names for these posts, the law allows their appointment even if the LoP slot is vacant.
In her reply to Gandhi, Mahajan said she had consulted constitutional experts. Among them was attorney general Mukul Rohatgi, who recently said the Congress didn't have the numbers for it to be granted LoP status.
Claiming he wasn't disappointed, Kharge told PTI, "I will consult the high command... on what further action is needed."
Incidentally, the Supreme Court has already rejected a petition that sought the LoP status for the Congress leader, holding that the Speaker's ruling in the chamber of the House "is not amenable to judicial review," a three-member SC bench had observed.