Having already caused the Congress to break into a serious sweat over the Leader of Opposition position in the Lok Sabha, it now appears that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Union government could tighten the screws on the Congress by denying them the deputy speaker post, as well.
A report in The Economic Times says the ruling side is contending that there is actually no strict rule or convention that the deputy speaker is always from the largest opposition party. "Let us see how it plays out," a senior leader is quoted as saying. It adds that if Congress is actually denied the post, it will be the first break from tradition since 1991.
Losing the position of the deputy Speaker would greatly hurt the Congress's prestige. The deputy speaker acts as the presiding officer in case of leave or absence of the Speaker of the Lok Sabha. All functions of the Speaker, including presiding over sessions of the Lok Sabha, conducting business in the house, deciding if a bill is a money bill, maintaining discipline and decorum and punishing members for unruly behaviour including by suspension.
The Congress has already protested the BJP's disinclination to allow speaker Sumitra Mahajan to use her discretionary power to grant the Congress the Leader of Opposition post. With a strength of only 44 MPs, the Congress is about 11 MPs short of the 10 percent benchmark for parties to be considered a 'recognised party'. The Congress has countered this by saying it had a pre-poll alliance with other parties as the UPA and therefore has the required strength along with other alliance partners' MPs.
The Leader of the Opposition position is the equivalent of a Cabinet rank. More important, the Leader of Opposition is a member of panels that select candidates for key Constitutional posts including the Lokpal. Getting the Leader of the Opposition position -- or at the very least the deputy speaker's chair -- will be the only thing that sets the Congress party apart from the regional parties in the Lok Sabha such as the AIADMK and the Trinamool Congress that are sniping at its heels in terms of strength in the lower house.
However, as with the LOP position that has stayed vacant in past Congress regimes, the 1984-89 Rajiv Gandhi government did not allow an Opposition party to occupythe position of deputy speaker, but instead Congress ally, AIADMK 's Thambi Durai took the post, the ET report points out.
The problem is that the Congress is not even in a strong position among the Opposition parties. Earlier reports have said that while BJP leaders may concur on the tradition of giving the deputy Speaker's chair to an opposition party, in this case there could be other, more friendly forces in the Opposition ranks, namely the AIADMK once again.
Incidentally, former deputy Speaker Thambidurai was one of the proposers for the name of Sumitra Mahajan as Speaker. The AIADMK recently repeated Thambidurai as its choice for Parliamentary party leader.
His name has been doing the rounds for the the deputy Speaker's post for some time now.
On the LOP position, Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge formally staked claim to the position on Wednesday. According to a report in The Times of India Kharge met Mahajan on Wednesday and submitted a memorandum with signatures from all UPA MPs. "It is for her (Mahajan) to take a view on the matter," Kharge was quoted as saying.
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Updated Date: Jul 10, 2014 11:19:59 IST