Observing that an unwilling person or party cannot be trusted with the responsibility of the position of Leader of Opposition (LoP), the Bombay High Court, on Monday, dismissed a plea filed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), seeking to be given the LoP post in the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). The HC said it cannot allow BJP, which had ‘expressly refused’ to hold the post in 2017, to seek the position now after a lapse of three years, which is presently being held by the Congress party.
A bench of Justices Shahrukh Kathawalla and Madhav Jamdar also said that a mere change of mind or heart by the BJP cannot be accepted now to overthrow the Congress from the ‘democratic’ post.
The judges trashed the plea filed by Prabhakar Shinde, the BJP corporator from Mulund, challenging the decision of city's Mayor Kishori Pendekar, who refused to declare the saffron party leader as the LoP of BMC.
In his plea, through senior counsel Birendra Saraf, Shinde argued that his party, being the largest party in opposition, should be given the LoP post.
However, Congress, through its LoP in BMC Ravi Raja, pointed out that the BJP had refused to take the post in 2017. Thus, after considering the legal opinion, Pednekar handed over the post to him, since his party had received a majority of votes after Shiv Sena and BJP.
Having considered the contentions, Justice Kathawalla noted, "Though BJP had earlier decided not to be active in the opposition, due to changed political equations, it has now decided to discharge the role of an effective and active opposition party.”
"Thus, in our opinion, the BJP, which had expressly refused to accept the post in 2017, cannot now in 2020, seek to be appointed to this position, merely on the ground that it has changed its mind. The law does not cover a mere change of mind or volition or decision of a party in opposition, which had earlier expressly refused to accept the post," the bench added.
The judges said if such a demand of the BJP due to such change of mind is allowed, then it would lead to absurd results as much as the LoP would have to be changed every time a party changed its mind.
"In our opinion, the law does not contemplate an important post such as that of LoP to be occupied temporarily on the whims of any person or party. We do not think that a mere contention that due to changing political circumstances, the BJP decided to take the role of opposition in the BMC, would permit the BJP to overthrow the current LoP from Congress," Justice Kathawalla held.
"On the contrary, it would result in misuse and mischief causing volatility in such an important democratic position," the bench said while noting that the BJP was admittedly not willing to discharge the obligations and duties of the LoP at the relevant time.
"An unwilling person or party cannot be trusted with the responsibility of the office of the Leader of Opposition," Justice Kathawalla said while referring to a judgment of the HC on a similar issue.