The 10% rule decided whether there will be a leader of opposition in Lok Sabha for the last 64 years. According to this, the party which comes second must bag at least 55 of 545 seats to get the LOP post.
The grand old Congress party came a very poor second this time, getting just 44 seats. Even in the post-Emergency 1977 elections, the Congress had managed a tally of 153 seats. In 2014, its electoral humiliation was complete when it had to beg for the LOP post.
The BJP, for the first time in its political life, scored a decisive victory by winning 282 seats. With victory came power. But power seldom evokes humility. It was evident when BJP leaders jeered the Congress for seeking the LOP post even after falling 11 short of the mark.
Some BJP leaders arrogantly advised the Congress to introspect rather than focusing on the LOP post. By rubbing salt on the electoral wounds of Congress, the BJP did what the Congress had done during the post-independence exercise to finalize the Constitution.
During the Constituent Assembly debate on November 8, 1948, prominent political leader from United Province (later Uttar Pradesh) Z H Lari stressed the importance of leader of opposition in a democracy and wanted his salary and status to be specified in the Constitution.
Lari had said, “Everyone knows that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is also a truism to say that every party that comes into power tries to make its hold permanent. The only check on degeneration of party government into despotism is the existence of another party which keeps a strict eye on the doings of the cabinet.
“Everybody knows that in parliamentary practice, the biggest party constitutes the opposition. All other parties, if there are more than two, are mere parties. The privilege of the opposition goes to the largest party after the party occupying the treasury benches which is the biggest party.”
T T Krishnamachari from Madras had responded rather rudely to Lari’s advice for strengthening democratic practices. He had said, “I have been hearing, almost from 1937, ever since the 1935 Act came into operation in the provinces, of the cry made by people who unfortunately are without any chance of coming into office or power that there is no opposition, that the Congress party is doing its best to see that an opposition does not arise, and that where an opposition exists, it does not function.”
The amendment proposed by Lari was rejected as Dr B R Ambedkar and a majority of members agreed with Krishnamachari, who had said, “Will a leader of opposition who is paid a salary be able to organize a party? Even granting that the leader of opposition is paid the same salary, allowances and emoluments as the prime minister of India, does that mean that he would be able to create a party?”
The role envisaged for leader of opposition then and now has undergone a sea change. The LOP occupies an important place in panels tasked to select vital functionaries mandated to detect and punish corruption in high places.
Fairness and transparency in selecting these functionaries – CBI director, chief vigilance commissioner and vigilance commissioners, and Lokpal and Lokayuktas – are as important as the fight against corruption.
The Second Administrative Reforms Committee headed by Veerappa Moily too had assigned importance to leader of opposition in its report recommending constitution of Civil Services Board, which would determine the tenure and posting of top civil servants. The committee had said the CSB chairperson and its members would be appointed by the PM in consultation with the LOP.
It had said, “Where the leader of opposition in Lok Sabha has not been recognized as such, the leader of the single largest group in the opposition in Lok Sabha shall be deemed to be the leader of opposition.”
Why has the LOP been given such importance in the selection process for key posts? It was to lend credence to the process of selection and inspire public confidence in the selected person to deal with corruption in high places.
The Supreme Court in Karnataka vs Union of India [1977 (4) SCC 608] had said, “In all democratic countries, when allegations and rumours circulate causing crisis of confidence in the integrity of public life or about other matters of public importance, it is essential that public confidence should be restored and this can be done only by thoroughly investigating and probing the rumours and allegations.”
A meaningful opposition brings vibrancy to parliamentary debates by pointing out possible flaws in the government’s policies. This in turn fuels a debate in the public and essentially purifies the actions of the government, which augurs well for the public at large. And BJP knows that LOP is the key to building a meaningful opposition.
Will it show political sagacity to allow Congress have the LOP post? The Speaker’s decision will soon show.