In a major setback to the Congress, the Supreme Court on Monday rejected a petition seeking the status of the Leader of Opposition in the Parliament for its party.
In the landmark 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress was reduced to merely 44 seats, less than 10 percent of the total seats in the Lower House — believed to be a prerequisite to being appointed Leader of Opposition. The Narendra Modi government has reportedly insisted on the criterion being applied in order to accord the status to the party. Its has based its argument on a six-decade old ruling by India's first Speaker GV Malvankar.
The decision of the Supreme Court assumes significance as the Leader of Opposition's post is equivalent to that of a cabinet minister, as pointed out in this Firstpost article. The leader of opposition is mandated to be a part of the selection panel of several constitutional posts, including the Lokpal, CVC and the NHRC.
Interestingly, the criterion of 10% seats is not mentioned on the website of the Rajya Sabha, which mentions the qualification required for the post. The website quotes The Salary and Allowances of Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Act, 1977, which defines the Leader of Opposition as a ''member of the Council of States or the House of the People, as the case may be, 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 Chairman of the Council of States or the Speaker of the House of the People, as the case may be.'
However, according to an article in The Economic Times, the BJP-led government is also relying on a 1998 legislation that holds that a party that has 30 to 54 MPs in the Lok Sabha would be recognised as a 'group' and only a party with more than 55 MPs would be termed as a 'recognised party'.
Earlier, the Supreme Court had asked the government to take quick action and had said that the issue could not be put in cold storage. It had also observed then that the Parliament had never envisaged a situation where there would be no Leader of Opposition.
How the Congress reacts to this latest setback in its quest to wield some influence in the Lok Sabha, remains to be seen.