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This article is written by Ms. Somya Jain from the Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies. This article studies the rule of Mavalankar in detail and its applicability in the present political arena. 

Introduction 

For a prolonged period, India has recognized the status and the importance of the leader of opposition in the political realm. Considering the role played by the leader of the opposition as one of the main parliamentary functionaries, it holds great relevance in the functioning of the legislature. Although the role played by the leader of the opposition has not been recognized under any rule, their contribution to establishing a democratic society cannot be undermined in any circumstance. In the light of recent events, it was witnessed that a single political party formed the government with a sweeping majority, laying no scope for the opposition to choose its leader. There have been various arguments regarding the contentions for recognition of a parliamentary party or a group by the Speaker to establish the criteria for the appointment of the leader of the opposition.

About Mavalankar Rule

Mr. Ganesh Vasudev Mavalankar, the first Speaker of Lok Sabha, attempted to formulate the requirements for recognizing a parliamentary party or a group in the political domain. He issued Directions under Rule 389 of the “Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the House of People”. Amongst the extensive directions enumerated by the Speaker, Directions 120 and 121 pertains to the “Recognition of Parliamentary Parties and Groups”. 

As per Direction 120, power has been granted to the Speaker to acknowledge any association of persons as a parliamentary party or group and that decision will be final and binding on all the parties. As regards, Direction 121 sets forth the conditions which have to be comprehended by the Speaker before sanctioning a group as a parliamentary party. According to Direction 121(1)(c), for an association of members to be treated as a parliamentary party, one of the requirements is to have a strength that will be equal to the quorum fixed to constitute a sitting in the House. The quorum should be one-tenth of 10% of the total number of members of the House. Therefore, as per the present strength of the Lok Sabha, there should be a minimum of 55 members in an association for it to be recognized as a party by the Speaker.

The prerequisite of one-tenth strength for a party to obtain the status of the parliamentary party has been in debate since its inception. Various Acts and Schedules have endeavored to define the conditions for the same, but no such clarifications have been instituted till today. 

History and origin

Delving into the history of the country, India was without any leader of opposition till the year 1969. The first three Lok sabha elections saw remarkable victory for the Indian National Congress, leaving no vacuum for the opposition parties to even reach the criteria of 10% for it to be recognized as “opposition”. Much awaited debates arose on account of Mavalankar’s 10% rule to recognize an association as a parliamentary party. 

According to Article 118 of the Constitution of India, the rules of procedure concerning legislature which were in force before the commencement of the Constitution will have enforcement after the Constitution has been instituted and it can be subjected to timely modifications brought about by the Speaker of the House of the People. The Constituent Assembly (Legislative) Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business was in force immediately before the commencement of the Constitution of India and it got modified and adopted by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and got published under the title “Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the House of the People” in the Gazette of India dated on the 17th of April, 1952. These rules can be modified as and when the need arises under Rule 389. The first Speaker, G.V. Mavalankar sought to bring out certain Directions under the said Rules. The criteria of 10% were then introduced which came to be greatly known as the Mavalankar Rule. This rule was largely accepted by the political parties and was brought into a written form by means of the directions issued by the Speaker. A submission was also made in this regard that the directions are in the nature of statutory provisions and have its own effect. 

The position was granted statutory recognition in 1977 with the introduction of the Salary and Allowances of Leader of Opposition Act. Section 2 of this Act construed and defined the term “Leader of Opposition”. It can be observed under this Section that the leader of the opposition is the member of parliament who has been chosen as the leader of that opposition party which has the greatest numerical strength. This is subjected to the scrutiny of the recognition given by the Speaker of the House of the People. This was often seen in contradiction with the direction enumerated by Mavalankar’s 10% criteria. 

Further, the Leaders and Chief Whips of Recognised Parties and Groups in Parliament (Facilities) Act, 1998, also defines what will constitute a recognized party. According to Section 2 of the said Act, a recognized party is a party having a strength not less than fifty-five members in the House (with respect to Lok Sabha) and not less than twenty-five members in the Council (in case of Rajya Sabha). The Act further specifies that the definition of a leader of opposition aligns with the 1977 Act.

Importance of the rule

The Mavalankar Rule came into existence to reduce the multiplication of parties and the growth of splinter groups. The recognition of political parties to form the opposition were embodied in the directions. The Rule rightly embraced the importance of the opposition party for their parliamentary work in the Lok Sabha. Two of the major roles performed by the opposition party include; providing constructive criticism on the policies of the government and forming an alternate government. For the success and survival of democracy, an effective opposition is of a categorical imperative. Therefore, if the opposition is absent, one should create the same. The opposition forces the government in power to provide the society with a stable government with a strong leader capable of making firm decisions to ensure security, development, and good governance within the rule of law. Considering the interests of the non-dominant parties, it is pertinent to understand the role of the opposition party and its leader. 

Mavalankar was of the opinion that the democracy will never grow on proper lines unless there is the fewest number of parties, possibly not more than two major parties, which can almost balance each other as the government and the opposition. 

Further, the leader of the opposition plays an important role in many selection committees. The Central Vigilance Commission Act, 2003, Right to Information Act, 2005, Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, and Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 provide for the membership of leaders of opposition in their respective selection committees. Amongst the said legislations, the CVC Act and RTI Act provide for the membership of the leader of the single largest group in the absence of the leader of the opposition party.

While the opposition embodies such an extensive role in the political arena, it becomes all the more important to set out rules for a party to be considered as an opposition party. 

Applicability of the rule in current times

There have been many instances in India, where the political parties failed to reach the requisite quorum necessary to form an opposition party. In 1980, when Ms. Indira Gandhi was entrusted with power, the main opposition Janata party could not achieve the 10% criteria. Later, Rajiv Gandhi’s government recognized P. Upendra as the leader of the opposition even though the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) failed to reach the criteria. In fact, till around 1968 for more than 20 years, there was no officially recognized leader of the opposition since no opposition party used to get even 55 seats and Indian National Congress used to have a position of the clear and comfortable majority. 

The Supreme Court in 2014, refused a petition to quash Mavalankar’s 10% rule. In the 16th Lok Sabha elections when the BJP government sought power with an overwhelming majority, Indian National Congress could not even form the opposition with the 10% requirement. While there were heated arguments regarding the applicability of Mavalnakar’s rule in the present situation, a bench led by Chief Justice of India R M Lodha, set aside the petition on the ground that the ruling Speaker in the House is not amenable to judicial review. 

Recently, in the case of Debabrata Saikia v. Hon’ble Speaker (2021), the Gauhati High Court dealt with the question of recognition of the opposition party with respect to the Mavalankar’s 10% Rule. While interpreting ‘leader of the opposition’ under Rule 2(p) of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Assam Legislative Assembly and Section 2 of the Salary and Allowances of the Leader of Opposition in the Assam Legislative Assembly Act, 1978, the court observed that the leader of the largest recognized party in the opposition or the leader of the party in opposition in the House having the greatest numerical strength would also have to be recognized as such by the Hon’ble Speaker. Thereby, the Mavalankar Rule found its position in the judgment sought. It was further held that the process of recognition of an association of members of a House as a legislature party or otherwise is not within the domain of the Election Commission of India, but under the rules, it is within the domain of the Speaker of the House. 

Criticism of the rule 

The rule has time and again been upheld for its applicability. But it has also faced various criticisms pertaining to its institution. It was largely contended that the Mavalankar rule was not the correct order since it was not notified and gazetted. It should be read according to the definition furnished under Section 2 of the Salary and Allowances of Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Act, 1977. 

It has been observed that the Parliament has recognized the situation of absence of the leader of the opposition and hence no conclusion can be drawn that the leader of a single largest group should become the leader of the opposition. 

Further, with the construction of anti-defection law in the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution,  the system of recognizing political parties in the legislature ended. It considered even a single member to form a legislature party. The constitutional provision will override any ‘direction’, and it is debatable whether the Speaker’s decision on the recognition of a ‘party’ or a ‘group’ can any more be dependent on the 10 percent norm. 

Such criticisms have questioned the stance taken by Mavalankar and created an atmosphere of ambiguity while dealing with granting the status of the parliamentary party. 

Conclusion

It cannot be denied that the opposition party and leader of the opposition play an indispensable part in the democracy and the absence of the same can hamper its very essence. Thereby, it must be ensured that a diligent and effective opposition party should be elected. For the smooth functioning of the process of recognizing a party as an opposition party, the legislation should be clear in its stance and enumerate recognized directions in this regard. There should be no obscurity in the definition of a recognized party. Since the internal matters of the Parliament are out of the purview of the Supreme Court, therefore, it is the duty of the Parliament to frame guidelines that would govern their status as a recognized party. 

References 


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