“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”John Adams, The Works Of John Adams, Second President Of The United States
The relationship between the Opposition and the ruling party that forms the government is often seen akin to a cat-dog relationship, but that is far from its true purpose.
One must remember that the role of the Opposition is not just to oppose but to oppose constructively. Sadly, the former logic stands true in the case of India.
A classic example is the GST. When the Congress was in power, the BJP blatantly opposed this reform; and when the BJP came to power, the Congress did the same!
The ruling party gets to perform all the key functions but this does not mean that the Opposition has no work.
It is the latter’s work to check the free hand of the ruling party by constructive criticism and contribute towards the formation of better policies and schemes.
What has happened now?
Recently, the Prime Minister said that the Opposition should actively participate in House proceedings.
“The opposition need not bother about their numbers. I hope they speak actively and participate in House proceedings,” he assured.
Such an accommodating attitude of the PM towards the dwindling Opposition gives a shot in the arm to the great Indian democracy and is much appreciated. But there is a problem, the Lok Sabha does not have an ‘Official Opposition’!
What is the controversy?
There are 2 ways of recognizing the Official Opposition:
- There is a Mavalankar rule (after GV Mavalankar, the first Speaker of the Lok Sabha) which spells out that a party, in order to be officially recognized as the main Opposition party, has to have a minimum of 10% of its members in the Lok Sabha.
There are 543 MPs in the Lower House, 10% of this number is 55. This means that the Congress needs a minimum of 55 MPs for official recognition.
In 2014, it had won 44 seats in the Lok Sabha, 11 seats shy of the 55 seat threshold. Quoting the Mavalankar rule, the Modi government denied it the Leader of Opposition status in the Lok Sabha.
But there is another provision.
- In the ‘Salary and Allowances of Leader of Opposition Act’ of 1977, the Leader of Opposition is defined as the leader from the Opposition party having the largest number of MPs. The Speaker should recognize this arrangement. Back in the ’80s, the then PM Rajiv Gandhi accorded with this definition to recognize Telugu Desam Party (TDP)’s leader as the Leader of Opposition.
In this General Election, Congress managed to win a total of 52 seats, just 3 seats shy from the 10% rule. Now either PM Modi can himself take this step to forego the Mavalankar’s rule or the Congress can ask the Speaker to recognize it as the official opposition.
The Leader of Opposition has the same salaries and allowances as that of a Cabinet minister. He/She also sits on the panels that recommend key appointments like that of the Lokpal (corruption ombudsman), Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), Chief Information Commissioner (CIC), National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and also the CBI director.
Because of this technicality, the appointment of key posts like that of the Lokpal has been impeded because his/her appointment asks for the Leader of Opposition (according to the 10% rule), and the Leader is missing.
Amendment has been made for the appointments of the other key posts (except Lokpal) to deal with the numerical strength issue of the opposition party. The Lokpal appointment issue became a bone of contention when a Lokpal had to be appointed.
Also Read: Lokpal Potential For You And Me … Big !!!
Time will tell whether or not the ruling regime will recognize the ‘Official Opposition’, which it should since the Prime Minister himself is talking of a higher moral ground whereby the government nurtures the Opposition.
The greater concern here is the attitude of the Opposition. Recently, key opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee, M.K. Stalin, Mayawati, and Akhilesh Yadav skipped PM Modi’s meeting on simultaneous elections, even though it was a matter of concern for them.
This is a domain where the Opposition of our country lags. There is a certain procedure of doing things and how it is working right now, just blatantly opposing by boycotting key initiatives, is foolish.
It is their work is to be critical of the government’s work so that the latter can perform better.
But in order to do its work, the Opposition has to protest the right way, inside the Parliament.
Where are we losing out?
If the Opposition is not united or doesn’t work systematically, it is us citizens who will lose the most, but mainly in two ways.
- What could have turned out to be a brilliant policy or scheme might end up being just average because the Opposition did not give the government key inputs or criticism. The opportunity cost is high.
- Several bills were pending in the Rajya Sabha because the ruling party is not in majority there. Though all the pending bills need not be passed (nor do they deserve to), some of them should.
It is time for the Opposition to unite for the greater good of the citizens, if not to learn from its past mistakes, for its good. Who knows, maybe it could have survived the Modi wave had it united earlier.
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