The Congress Monday again asserted its right to lead the opposition in the Lok Sabha, saying it is “entitled” for it, even as the government and Speaker Sumitra Mahajan evaded the issue.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi, speaking on the issue for the first time publicly, said her party was entitled to the post as it was the second largest party in the lower house.
“We are the single largest (opposition) party and we have a pre-poll alliance. Hence, we are entitled to get the post of leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha,” she told reporters in parliament.
The Congress has 44 members in the Lok Sabha, far below the Bharatiya Janata Party’s 280 MPs.
But it falls short of the 10 percent mark – 55 members in the 545-member house – which the ruling BJP has cited as mandatory under rules for getting the leader of opposition status in Lok Sabha.
Asked what action her party would take if the government refused its demand, Gandhi said: “Let’s see.”
The BJP has put the ball in the speaker’s court. Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu again said Monday that Mahajan would have the final word on the issue.
The speaker refused to reveal her mind.
“I won’t react to media reports, will speak if any party approaches me,” Mahajan said.
Congress sources had earlier said the party was considering the option of going to court if its leader in the Lok Sabha was not recognised as the leader of the opposition.
Congress leader Kamal Nath contended that the speaker couldn’t deny the Congress the post.
“Speaker’s direction is not an adequate reason for not giving the leader of opposition post to the Congress,” he said.
Party leader Ambika Soni said the leader of the opposition’s post was “an integral part of the functioning of parliament”.
Earlier, Naidu said the issue of the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha was not raised at the all-party meet which preceded parliament’s budget session that began Monday.
The rail budget is to be presented Tuesday and the general budget Thursday.
Naidu added that the government was open to discussion.
“We are willing to discuss each and every issue depending on its national importance and also the admissibility of the same by the respective presiding officer,” he said.
The meeting was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley among others.