Insights into Editorial: Qualifying for Leader of the Opposition
In the year 1977: The leaders of opposition in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha were given statutory recognition.
They provide constructive criticism of the government policies. Gets same salaries and allowances that are equivalent to a Cabinet minister paid by the government.
To become leader of opposition, the single largest political party in opposition should have atleast 10% seats in the Lok Sabha. The Leader of such a party acts as the Leader of Opposition.
The opposition in India plays an important role in providing practical criticism of the ruling party. It is also consulted when important appointments are made.
After the election of the Lok Sabha Speaker, the question of a formally recognised Opposition party and Leader of the Opposition (LoP) of the Lok Sabha under the Salary and Allowances of Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Act, 1977, will arise.
The Act extends to LoPs in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha the same official status, allowances and perks that are admissible to Cabinet Ministers.
Eligibility criteria of the LoP:
Each house has a LoP, leader of the largest party that has not less than one-tenth of the total strength of the house. In Lok sabha, total strength = 545, one tenth = 55.
Largest party in opposition and its leader is recognized by the Speaker / Chairman as a matter of convention established by 1st lok sabha speaker GV Mavlankar.
The convention was later incorporated in Direction 121c, Directions by the Speaker.
In the case of the Lok Sabha, however, this is subject to recognition of the leader by the Speaker.
In the 16th Lok Sabha, the largest party in the Opposition, the Congress, had 44 seats. After careful consideration, it was decided not to recognise the party’s leader as LoP. Now, the matter needs to be revisited in the context of the 17th Lok Sabha.
LoP accorded statutory status and defined under Salary and allowances of Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Act, 1977.
Salary and allowances of Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Act, 1977:
The 1977 Act defines LoP as that member of the House who is 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.”
The Speaker’s decisions in this regard have so far been determined by Direction 121(c) which laid down one of the conditions for recognition of party or group as having “at least a strength equal to the quorum fixed to constitute a sitting of the House, that is one-tenth of the total number of members of the House”.
The Leaders and Chief Whips of Recognised Parties and Groups in Parliament (Facilities) Act, 1998 also refers to a recognised party in the Lok Sabha as a party that has not less than 55 members.
Therefore, it is important for the opposition to have a leader who can represent the interests of the non-dominant parties in these roles. The absence of an opposition leader will weaken India as the opposition will not be able to put up a unified front against the ruling party.
Significance of the LoP:
To provide constructive criticism on the policies of the government.
Helps to represent a view contrary from that of government.
LoP is required on the panels that recommend key appointments like Lokpal, CVC, CIC etc.
As per the 2nd ARC setup a Civil service Board– for transfer posting of top bureaucratic posts, the members of this Committee, will be selected by PM and LoP.
Above everything, the nation needs a stable government and a strong leader capable of taking firm decisions to ensure security, development and good governance within the rule of law.
However, for the success and survival of democracy, an effective Opposition is also a categorical imperative. It is said that if no Opposition exists, one may have to be created. Also, if there is no Opposition outside, there is every danger that it may grow within.
Comparison with other Countries:
Britain- the opposition is formally designated Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. They also form the Shadow Cabinet to balance the ruling cabinet and prepare its members for future ministerial offices.
United States – The President is held accountable by minority parties in Congress.
It’s also really important that the leader keeps a close eye and ear on what the public is saying, needs and wants – because problems are often caused by the Government not delivering.
There arises a problem when no party in opposition secures 55 or more seats. In such situations, the numerically largest party in the opposition should have the right to have a leader recognised as leader of the opposition by the speaker.
Besides, the 10% formulation is inconsistent with the law ‘the salary and allowances of leaders of opposition in Parliament Act, 1977’ which only says that the largest opposition party should get the post.
LoP plays a crucial role in bringing bipartisanship and neutrality to the appointments in institutions of accountability and transparency – CVC, CBI, CIC, Lokpal etc.
It can’t be overlooked or undermined, no matter what the flexibility or ambiguity that exist in the legal framework.
A flourishing democracy should accommodate the fundamental right to dissent. Inclusion of LoP provides objectivity and a contrarian perspective to decisions and appointments made by the government.