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Leader of Opposition In Parliament After 10 Years; Major Roles And Position Explained

| Updated: June 27, 2024 18:29

After 10 years, there is finally a Leader of Opposition (LoP) in the Lok Sabha in the form of Rae Bareli MP Rahul Gandhi.

For the last 10 years, no party had numbers equalling a tenth of the strength of the House, which has been by practice a requirement to lay claim to the post.

The Congress, the largest opposition party, won 44 and 52 seats in the 543-member House after the elections of 2014 and 2019 respectively. The party has almost doubled its 2019 tally to 99 seats in this election.

In 2014, Mallikarjun Kharge — now Congress president and Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha — was recognised Leader of the Congress party in Lok Sabha. In 2019, this position went to then Baharampur MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury. Both Congress leaders were part of panels to select candidates for high positions that required the presence of the Leader of Opposition.

The position of Leader of Opposition was officially described in The Salary and Allowances of Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Act, 1977.

The Act describes the LoP as a “member of the Council of States or the House of the People, as the case may be, who is, for the time being, 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”.

The law is clear that the Speaker is required to recognise the leader of the numerically largest party in opposition as the leader of opposition. The option of not recognising him/ her is just not available.

A mysterious rule is often quoted by some self-styled experts, which requires a party to have at least 10 per cent of the members of the House for the Speaker to recognise someone as the Leader of the Opposition. There is no such rule. Yes, there is direction 121 issued by the Speaker for recognising a party or group for the purpose of providing certain facilities in the House… This direction relates to the recognition of a party, not the LoP.

Before the BJP in 2014 and 2019, the Congress, which had 415 members in Lok Sabha in 1984, had denied the TDP, which had 30 MPs, the post of LoP.

The Leader of Opposition sits in the front row to the left of the Chair, and enjoys certain privileges on ceremonial occasions like escorting the Speaker-elect to the rostrum. The LoP is also entitled to a seat in the front row during the Address by the President to both Houses of Parliament.

The main duty of the LoP is to serve as the voice of the Opposition in the House. An official booklet on Parliament published in 2012 says the LoP in Lok Sabha “is considered as a shadow Prime Minister with a shadow Cabinet, ready to take over the administration if the Government resigns or is defeated on the floor of the House”.

Since the parliamentary system is based on “mutual forbearance”, the LoP lets the Prime Minister govern and is, in turn, permitted to oppose. “His/ her proactive role in facilitating smooth functioning of the business of the House is as important as that of the Government,” the booklet says.

Most importantly, the LoP is the Opposition’s representative in the high-powered committees headed by the PM for appointment to key posts such as the Director of CBI, the Central Vigilance Commissioner and Chief Information Commissioner, the Chairperson and Members of the National Human Rights Commission, and the Lokpal.

As the Leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha from 2014 to 2019, Kharge had alleged that the government repeatedly tried to keep the Opposition out of the selection of the Lokpal on the ground that there was no LoP.

In order of precedence, the Leaders of Opposition in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha come at No. 7, along with Union Cabinet Ministers, the National Security Advisor, the Principal Secretary to the PM, the Vice-Chairperson of the NITI Aayog, former PMs, and Chief Ministers.

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