Proposal needs amendments to parliamentary party constitution
NEW DELHI: The Bharatiya Janata Party could take a leaf out of the Congress’ book to create a new position for L.K. Advani in its parliamentary wing as and when he steps down as Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha.
It is understood that a move is afoot to delink the positions of Leader of the Opposition (in either House) from that of leader of the combined legislature party. The BJP’s parliamentary party constitution would have to be amended to make that possible. It is learnt that some party members have been asked to study the document and work out how it could be amended.
It is still early days — there is time before the start of the winter session of Parliament — but if this idea gains ground, Mr. Advani may step down as Leader of the Opposition and simultaneously get elected leader of the BJP legislature party. Following a clear signal from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh that it would like Mr. Advani to step down from his formal position to assume the role of a mentor, hectic efforts were on to find a way for him to retain some position. However, some party leaders maintain that the understanding was that he should be a “mentor” without a formal position.
One view is that he should become chairman of the National Democratic Alliance, a position given to the former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee after the 2004 Lok Sabha defeat. He has a room in Parliament House with a nameplate and his designation.
However, the proposal — it was an informal suggestion — did not find favour with Mr. Advani, it is learnt. One, it would mean taking that designation away from Mr. Vajpayee; and two, it would leave almost no space for Mr. Advani to continue to play a role in the BJP parliamentary wing.The second view — on which some people are reported to be working — is that the BJP should amend its parliamentary party constitution to create a position of leader of the legislature party comprising MPs of both Houses, apart from the positions of leader of the Opposition in either House. This would mean emulating the Congress — Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is the Leader of the House in the Rajya Sabha and Pranab Mukherjee, in the Lok Sabha; and Sonia Gandhi is the chairman of the Congress Legislature Party comprising MPs of both Houses. In this capacity, she chairs and addresses meetings of the Congress parliamentary party.
Rule VI(a) of the BJP constitution on the parliamentary party office-bearers says: “1. A Leader of the Legislature Party who shall normally be a member of the Lower House. 2. Leader of the Party in each House (the leader of the Party will be leader of the Party in the House to which he belongs. The leader of the Party in the other House will be the Deputy Leader of the Legislature Party) ….” And so on.
Simply put, this means that while each House will have a leader — currently it is Mr. Advani in the Lok Sabha and Arun Jaitley in the Rajya Sabha — the leader of the combined legislature party will normally be the leader in the Lower House and the Deputy Leader will be from the “other House.”
Rule XXIX provides for an amendment and says: “An amendment should be passed by at least two-thirds of the members present at the meeting who should be not less than half of the total membership.” In short, the parliamentary party itself can meet and amend the constitution. After this, the Parliamentary Board can approve it. It does not have to go before the party’s National Council.
This would give Mr. Advani a position and at the same time allow him an “honourable exit” as Leader of the Opposition, a statutory position. Any change in the status would require the party to communicate it to the Speaker through the chief whip (currently Mr. Ramesh Bais) or the national president, Rajnath Singh.
Parity of status
If the party goes through with it, Mr. Advani will retain full control over its legislature wing, while losing his statutory position as Leader of the Opposition along with Cabinet status. It would also mean some sort of parity of status between the leaders of the Opposition in the two Houses — in this instance, Mr. Jaitley and Ms. Swaraj, widely tipped to take over from Mr. Advani as Leader of Opposition.
Without this amendment, the new Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha after Mr. Advani relinquishes the post, would almost automatically become the leader of the combined parliamentary party.