LoP, deputy speaker: Two missing from the house

Opposition will seek the job. Why should the regime resist?

We heard Narendra Modi during the poll campaign say, he had missed an opposition during his 10-year rule, and “it pains my heart”. The agony would have abated now. Janata-Janardan has granted him an opposition.

Though meant figuratively, it was true literally. The Lok Sabha has been missing a leader of the opposition for 10 years. Nothing new. There was no recognised LoP during the Nehru-Shastri years. There were taller titans on the opposition benches those days, but leading lilliputian parties. The CPI, the largest, had 16 MPs against the Congress’s 364 in the first house of 489.

The LoP post came into being after the 1969 Congress split, when the Congress (O) claimed it for Ram Subhag Singh. A 1977 Act of Parliament gave it a statutory status, stipulating that an opposition party ought to command at least a tenth of the house for its leader to claim the post, the privileges and the pay.

Illustration: Deni Lal Illustration: Deni Lal

The Congress now commands a fifth of the house, and has asked Rahul Gandhi to take up the role. He is yet to say yes. That’s the problem with Rahul. As the nuns sang in The Sound of Music, how do you make him stay, and listen to all they say?

The BJP would say, Rahul suffers from a sense of entitlement. On the contrary, he has been suffering from a sense of inadequacy. Like Hanuman, he has to be told about his strength by a Jambavan. This election provided him several—from Mallikarjun Kharge and K.C. Venugopal within the party to M.K. Stalin and Akhilesh Yadav among the allies. The hooray from the party and the public along his yatra too worked.

Lo! When guided well, Rahul delivered a tonne. Buck up, man! Learn from your grandmother! They called her a dumb doll when she took up the top job. Five years later, they called her Durga.

Back to the house and its misses. The 17th house also missed a deputy speaker. That was more serious—the LoP’s is only a statutory post; the deputy speaker’s is constitutional. Article 93 says, the Lok Sabha shall “choose two members of the house to be respectively speaker and deputy speaker thereof, and so often as the office of a speaker or deputy speaker becomes vacant, the house shall choose another member to be a speaker or deputy speaker, as the case may be.”

The 17th house was run for five years disregarding this. Pity poor Om Birla! If he had ever thought of quitting, he couldn’t have. Article 94 says, if a speaker wants to quit, he has to address his resignation to the deputy. With no deputy around, how could he?

Small matter? No, this was debated in the Constituent Assembly. H.V. Kamath and others argued that if a speaker wants to quit, he should resign to the president. Babasaheb Ambedkar convinced them that since the president is not the appointing authority, the speaker shouldn’t resign to the president. The appointing authority is the house, but since he cannot resign to each member, he may resign to the deputy who represents the house.

Hope the new house cures the malady, and elects a deputy. The convention was to have the speaker from the ruling side or from among those who favour the regime, and the deputy from the opposition. That was given the go-by during the first Modi regime when the deputy post was given to ally AIADMK.

This time the opposition will seek the job. If the regime resists, the 18th house will start on a nasty note. Can we avoid it?

We can if (a) the opposition behaves like gentlemen, and (b) the rulers listen to their conscience.

Their conscience? Yes! Didn’t you hear the sarsanghchalak say, “We must hear both sides in Parliament?” Noble thought, Bhagwat-ji!