New Delhi: The Congress party is not entitled to the post of Leader of the Opposition, according to the government's top lawyer, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi.
Rohatgi has conveyed this to Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan who had sought his opinion in view of the dilemma she is facing over the issue, sources said.
The AG has said Congress is not eligible as it does not have the required 10 per cent (55 seats) in the 543-member Lok Sabha, the sources said. Congress has only 44 seats.
To back his opinion, the AG has said there is no precedence where a party was given the LoP position—the status of a Cabinet Minister—without meeting the criteria of 10 per cent seats since the days of first Lok Sabha when G V Mavlankar was the Speaker, they said.
Even during the time of Rajiv Gandhi, Congress with over 400 seats had refused to grant LoP status to TDP for the same reason, the AG has told the Speaker.
The AG is also learnt to have rejected the contention that LoP status could be given to the leader of Congress-led UPA coalition as there is no such precedence. UPA has 60 members in the House.
Lok Sabha Secretariat officials refused to make any comment, saying a decision in the matter was yet to be taken.
Mahajan, who has been facing the tough situation on taking a call on the tricky issue, has said that she would consult legal and constitutional experts besides experienced persons in firming up a decision.
Reacting to the development, Congress, which has recently upped the ante over the issue, hoped that the Speaker will “not be misguided” by the opinion of the AG.
“Attorney General represents the government's opinion. He articulates the government's viewpoint. Government has nothing to do with it (LoP issue). It is the domain of the Speaker. We will react after the ruling of the Speaker,” Congress General Secretary Shakeel Ahmed.
Congress and Government have been trading barbs over the LoP issue with the main opposition even bringing the Speaker in its line of fire on the issue.
Asserting that the post of Leader of Opposition is its “right”, the Congress party has accused the government of playing “petty politics” over the issue and hoped Speaker Sumitra Mahajan will not allow her judgement to be “coloured” by various shades of politics.
Congress has been peeved over the delay in deciding on the issue and suggested that the Speaker might be consulting the government.
“This (delay) means a decision will be taken in consultation with the government. This means whatever the government will want will happen,” Amarinder Singh said.
The government side reacted angrily saying the Congress' views reflected its “desperation” while Mahajan declined to wade into the LoP controversy.
Singh, the Congress' Deputy Leader in the House, has said the party has written to the Speaker to formally demand the LoP post.