The Congress is bracing for its first post-election battle in Parliament, which will convene on Wednesday. It aims to secure, if possible, the positions of the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Speaker in the Lok Sabha.
However, with its depleted numbers — just 44, less than the mandated 10 per cent of seats to qualify for the Leader of the Opposition status — the Congress’ success will depend on the new Speaker, who will be from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
As for the Deputy Speaker, unless a consensus evolves, the Lok Sabha will elect the next incumbent.
The BJP, Congress sources said, wants to resolve the question of both slots before June 4, but unless things go its way, the Congress wants to wait for the new Speaker.
Though the party wants to make a bid for both, if it is forced to make a choice, it will go for the Leader of the Opposition.
The third and the fourth largest parties in the 16th Lok Sabha — the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Trinamool Congress with 37 and 34 MPs respectively — are also working together to secure either the Leader of the Opposition or Deputy Speaker position.
Sources said the AIADMK was keen to get M. Thambidurai, its parliamentary party leader, elected as Deputy Speaker. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday, ahead of the Parliament session.
For the Congress, still the largest party in the Rajya Sabha with 67 MPs (the BJP is the second largest party with 42 MPs), its ability to assume the leadership role in the Opposition in the Lok Sabha is crucial to its attempt to salvage its position.
On May 24, at the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) meeting, party president Sonia Gandhi said, “Our strength in the Lok Sabha may be small, but we are still the largest party in the Rajya Sabha. Together, the CPP is still a formidable group and can function as a formidable Opposition.” More significantly, she stressed, “And we can and will work together with like-minded parties to strengthen the watchful role of the Parliamentary Opposition.” This invitation to other Opposition parties has had a mixed response. “Whoever is opposed to the BJP will coordinate with the Congress. The era of non-Congressism is dead, now is the era of anti-BJPism,” Janata Dal-United general secretary and Rajya Sabha MP K.C. Tyagi told The Hindu . “Newly elected CPI(M) MP Mohammad Salim was more cautious while speaking on behalf of the Left that now has only 11 MPs in each House. “Let the real business of Parliament start. If we find that the Opposition space is being squeezed by the government, we will have to evolve issue-based coordination,” he said.
The Biju Janata Dal, that has 20 seats in the Lok Sabha, is also ambivalent. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik will meet Mr. Modi on Monday at 12.30 pm. Party MP Bhartuhari Mahatabr told The Hindu , “Our stated position is that we are equidistant from the BJP and the Congress. But we will work things out in the budget session.”
As for the Trinamool, party sources indicated that its first objective is to work on getting either the Leader of the Opposition or Deputy Speaker post, in cooperation with non-Congress Opposition parties like the AIADMK and the BJD.