With the BJP-led NDA government in no mood to placate the Congress, by granting it the post of the Leader of Opposition (LoP), the month-long Budget session of parliament scheduled to start on Monday is heading for confrontation. While a section of Congress leaders were in view to avoid confrontation and wait for the electorate’s mood to change, but a dominant section now believes that party cannot afford to sit back in view of assembly elections in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi coming up later this year and moreso, when the government was refusing to accommodate them.
It appears that more than to confront the government on the price rise, inflation, hikes in railway fair and fuel, Congress appears more incensed at being denied the LoP post. A top party source said the Congress has the "legal right" over the Leader of Opposition post and hence it will fight it out both politically and legally. Though there is no official word yet form the government, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan has hinted that she would go by the precedents in not declaring anybody LoP since the Congress did not have 55 members in the House to stake such a claim. "We have thoroughly examined the legal scheme as also the parliamentary rulings and hence we believe that there is no basis for the theory that 10 per cent strength in the Lok Sabha was mandatory for a party to get the LoP status," the source said.
Though the Speaker's rulings are normally final and non-justiciable, a party leader said the Congress may even take the issue to the Supreme Court but only if the Speaker rejects its claim. He said the Congress has a valid legal case since there is no mention about the process of selection of LoP in the Rules of Business & Procedures of the Lok Sabha and hence the Speaker ought to go by the Salary and Allowances of Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Act, 1977.
Many leaders are now putting pressure on the top Congress leadership to go aggressive in the Parliament. These leaders feel the party should not be humble in its defeat in the elections but pay back the BJP in the same coin with blockade of Parliament as the BJP did for the past 10 years as it will be a lesson to it on how turning Parliament into a political battlefield for months after months harmed the national interest. Congress is also gearing up to attack the government accusing it destroying institutions, taking queue from attack mounted against the government, by Chief Justice of India RM Lodha for segregating former Solicitor General and senior lawyer Gopal Subramanium's case from among the nominees for appointment as Supreme Court judges.
The hardliners in the party like Capt. Amarinder Singh and Anand Sharma, deputy leaders of Congress in the two Houses, and general secretary Shakeel Ahmed want the party to use its numbers in the Rajya Sabha to put the government to task, by starting blocking each and every legislative business the government tries to push. The BJP and its NDA allies are in a hopeless minority in the Rajya Sabha at least for the next two years. They argue that a "constructive opposition" advanced by a section of the party is no answer to the brazen obstructionism displayed by the BJP in the past ten years.
Pointing out that the BJP had blocked many key legislations by not allowing Parliament to function on other flimsy issues, these leaders say the Congress should adopt the same tactic when the government now tries push the same legislations or at least express reservation in passing them and insist on further changes.
But there are many in the party, who are suggesting that the opposition should lie low for at least six months before it starts attacking the government. They believe that instead of going on the warpath, the Congress should utilise this time to put its own house in order. Even a senior leader told dna that he wanted the party to wait for the people to react to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi government’s tough decisions. He wanted the party leadership to utilise time to introspect about its electoral performance and evolve a roadmap for the restricting of organisation.