CAN DEMOCRACY SERVE PEOPLE WITHOUT LEADER OF OPPOSITION by Shantonu Sen

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The Supreme Court of India is now faced with this  proposition. Its verdict is expected  soon  . If a government is democratically elected by the people of the country as its done in India there is bound to be elected members who will not be part of the government. They will constitute the opposition and it stands to reason they will also have a leader.  If all those  elected are  members of the party that forms government  then its not a democracy . Its one party rule and is akin to dictatorship.

Some leaders of the BJP, the party that has formed the government , have advanced the argument that the people of India have dispensed with the post of the leader of opposition.  They argue that since the Congress Party has got 44 seats it cannot constitute an opposition party with a leader who can be recognized as Leader of The Opposition by the Parliament as a whole. It would appear that to kill the Congress Party’s claim to  the post of Leader  of the Opposition, the counter is  that  the 2014 election   verdict is there is no opposition to the ruling party. To suggest that  no elected Congress Party M P can claim to be the  Leader of the Opposition does not flow from the election results or the verdict it has thrown up.  It is so because    Congress has less than 10% of the strength of the Lower House. It is because   Rules of the House  say   that if elected members of the largest opposition party has a strength of less than 10%  of the House its leader cannot be the leader of the opposition. But this logic does not lay the foundation  to claim that in  2014 General Election people of India have decided to have a democracy without an opposition. The BJP is in the majority with 33% percent votes. The rest which constitutes 67% of the electorate has not voted for the BJP Their votes are scattered   among different parties who have between 44 seats (The Congress) and 4(The AAP ). They together constitute the opposition to the BJP and its allies.

The logic that there is no opposition to the BJP in the Loksabha does not have a leg to stand upon.  There is an  opposition without whose support no Constitutional Amendment  can be approved. The  opposition can compel the ruling party to act   as it  demands. It has done so in cases  like referring the Insurance bill to the Select Committee.   When  Opposition  unites it can compel the Government to bow. The Rules of the House , as they are, however, stand in the way of declaring the leader of the largest party as Leader of  the  Opposition. Hence  the crises and the  indirect invitation to the Supreme Court to  consider  the Rules of the House and pronounce on its  Constitutionality.

We tread on thin ice whenever Courts are called upon to pronounce on the Rules of the House   even or on  the  Speakers ruling.  In  the present case  the matter before the Supreme Court is the issue of the absence of an  incumbent Leader of Opposition and the absence creating hurdles in passing of the Lokpal Bill as this Bill has a role for the Leader of the Opposition in its provisions.  The Speaker’s Ruling that the Rules of the House do not permit declaring  an elected member of the largest opposition party as Leader of the Opposition is directly  not in question before the Supreme Court .While examining the Lokpal Bill provision requiring a role for the Leader of the Opposition  many issues will come up. The Role for the Leader of the Opposition is there in other Acts ..  The Speakers Ruling , the Rules of the House will hover around as the apex court comes to grip with the relevant provisions of the  Lokpal Bill.

Once the Parliament has passed bills providing for a role for the Leader of the Opposition  in  carrying forward the aims of the bill can this august office remain in limbo? Numbers in the House relate to his/her  privileges, office, secretariat , pay and perks . What of   his/her  role in the House in discharge of responsibilities vested  in the Leader of Opposition  in bills passed in Parliament? If the House/ Speaker  can review the Rules of the House  in this light well and  good, If not, the Supreme Court may well do the task.

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