Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Thursday wrote a formal letter to Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, staking claim for the post of the leader of Opposition (LoP) in the Lok Sabha.
Since the Congress' strength has reduced to 44, wherein it fails to meet the criteria of one-tenth of the strength of the House, its leader in the House Mallikarjun Kharge does not automatically qualify for the post of the LoP.
Congress sources said the idea to dash off a letter to the Speaker was to test Prime Minister Narendra Modi's commitment in the Parliament on Wednesday that he would take the Opposition along in all decisions. Though the letter is addressed to the Speaker, the ball is actually in Modi's court as to whether his government concedes or opposes the post to the Congress, they said.
Sonia has argued that the rule of 10 per cent strength in the House as envisaged in the rules in early years has become redundant with the specific law on the leader of Opposition, and hence as the largest opposition party, the Congress deserves the post of leader of the Opposition. She has mentioned Section 2 of the Salary and Allowances of Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Act, 1977, coupled with the Leaders and Chief Whips of Recognised Parties and Groups in Parliament (Facilities) Act of 2000.
The 1977 Act defines the leader of Opposition as "a member who is, for the time being, the Leader in that House of the party in opposition to the Government having the greatest numerical strength and recognised as such by the Speaker of the House of the People".
Union parliamentary affairs minister M Venkiah Naidu wriggled out of this controversy, saying granting Congress the LoP was the Speaker's prerogative. But in past, he is quoted as having said the government was studying past precedents, referring to successive Congress governments not granting status of official opposition to any party. There was no such leader of opposition in the first three Lok Sabhas and again in the fifth, seventh and eighth Lok Sabhas, when the Congress was in brute majority.
After the Congress split, Ram Subhag Singh of the Congress (O) became the first leader of Opposition for a year from December 17, 1969 to December 27, 1970. After India Gandhi lost the elections in 1977, YB Chavan became the second leader of Opposition in 1977, succeeded by CM Stephen in 1978 and resuming for a brief period again in 1979, followed by Jagjivan Ram of Janata Party for less than a month in 1979 — all in the sixth Lok Sabha.
After none qualifying for the post in the seventh and eighth Lok Sabha, there were several others becoming the leaders of Opposition starting with Rajiv Gandhi (Cong) from December 1989 to December 1990, followed by LK Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee of BJP, PV Narasimha Rao of Congress, Vajpayee, Sharad Pawar, then in Congress, from March 1998 to April 1999 and Sonia Gandhi from October 1999 to February 2004,L K Advani from 2004 to 2009 and Sushma Swaraj from 2009 to 2014.