Rajat Sharma


AKB30 Om Birla was elected for the second time as Lok Sabha Speaker on Wednesday, by voice vote. After a 10 years’ wait, Congress got the chair of Leader of Opposition and Rahul took over as LOP. The opposition INDIA bloc had fielded K. Suresh in the Speaker’s election, but at the last moment, it did not press for voting. Om Birla was declared elected by pro-tem Speaker Bhartruhari Mahtab. Since independence, Om Birla is the sixth person to occupy the chair of Speaker for the second time. The most significant point to note in this election is that while on one hand, NDA remained solidly united, and managed to gain support from Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSR Congress and Shiromani Akali Dal, on the other hand, fissures were clearly visible in the INDIA opposition bloc. Congress reportedly took the decision not to press for division without taking allies into confidence. The result was, when Trinamool Congress members pressed for division, it was overruled by the pro-tem Speaker since no prior notice was given. Congress claimed, it wanted to maintain the tradition of maintaining unanimity in the election of Speaker and therefore, did not press for division. The secret was however spilled out by JMM member Mahua Majhi, who said, since the ruling alliance had a upper hand in the numbers game, the opposition did not press for division. For Rahul Gandhi, it was his first day as Leader of Opposition, which proved to be quite challenging. Unity among INDIA bloc parties was nowhere to be seen. The Congress had declared K. Suresh as its candidate for Speaker, without consulting Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee. TMC members were unhappy, and Rahul Gandhi had to speak to Mamata over phone before reaching the House. Mamata spoke to her MPs, but the advice that she gave later proved to be embarrassing for Congress and Rahul Gandhi. While Leader of the House Narendra Modi moved the motion for electing Om Birla as Speaker, Arvind Sawant of Shiv Sena (UBT) moved the motion in favour of K. Suresh. After Om Birla was declared elected by voice vote, Mamata’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee questioned why no voting was done. Congress leader Pramod Tiwari said, K. Suresh was fielded only as a token of protest against the government’s ‘autocratic’ actions, and the main purpose was served by filing of nomination. There was no need for division of votes and Congress wanted to maintain the tradition of electing the Speaker unanimously, he said. Another Congress leader Tariq Anwar said, TMC may be part of INDIA bloc, but it is a separate party and it may have its own view. Congress did not know that TMC wanted division of votes, Anwar said. Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Sanjay Raut said, fielding of candidate against Om Birla was only ‘symbolic’ and that is why, no voting was demanded. Rahul Gandhi has this amazing capability of discovering victory in defeats. When last month election campaign was in full swing across the country, Rahul Gandhi used to tell voters that “We will win, Modi will no more be the Prime Minister”. Before the Speaker election, he laid condition that Congress would support Birla for Speaker, only if his party was given the Deputy Speaker post. The government refused to accept his condition, and K. Suresh was fielded as candidate. When it became clear that the opposition candidate would lose in the numbers game, it decided not to press for a vote, and gave the alibi that it has been a tradition of electing a Speaker unanimously. One can ask Rahul Gandhi why K. Suresh was fielded in the first place, if his party respected this tradition. Secondly, the Speaker’s election was Rahul’s first test as Leader of Opposition, in which he clearly failed. He could not keep the opposition ranks united. It was initially claimed that K. Suresh was fielded after keeping all the allies in the loop, but it was now clear that it was a unilateral decision taken by Congress, and Mamata Banerjee was not taken into confidence. So on Day One, on the very first issue, there appeared a rift in opposition. Looking at the tone and tenor of Trinamool members, it appears Mamata Banerjee may continue to give jolts to Rahul Gandhi again. One should notice what Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav said while welcoming Om Birla as Speaker. Rahul Gandhi said, the Speaker should give equal time and opportunity to the opposition, because the opposition also reflects the voice of the people, and he hoped the Speaker would not stifle the opposition’s voice. Akhilesh Yadav took a slightly different line. He reminded how Om Birla in the last Lok Sabha had suspended 150 opposition MPs, and this should not happen again. One must be prepared to watch more scenes of opposition MPs flexing their muscles inside the House, given their present strength. Since the day Narendra Modi took over as Prime Minister for the third time, the opposition leaders were unwilling to accept that the people have re-elected Modi as PM. During his poll campaign, Rahul Gandhi used to tell voters, “Take it from me in writing, Modi will not remain PM after June 4”. When the election results came, and NDA got majority, Rahul Gandhi continued to say that the people of India have rejected Modi. Opposition leaders predicted that Nitish Kumar might change sides, TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu might leave the NDA and Modi could fail to form a coalition government. When the government did take oath, it was predicted that there would be quarrels over ministries and portfolios. There were speculations that Naidu might demand at least 10 top ministries, and Nitish Kumar might demand the post of Deputy Prime Minister. All these speculations proved baseless. Another hoax circulated was, Naidu has demanded Speaker’s post, but it later turned out to be untrue. Modi 3.0 government took over and work went on smoothly. The day the new government was formed, Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge said, this government has come in place by default, and may fall anytime. But the smooth manner in which the Speaker’s election took place through voice vote has disappointed all naysayers. The election of Om Birla has Speaker has proved beyond doubt that the entire NDA is with Modi, and Modi government is presently on a strong footing. Two more non-NDA parties threw their support behind the NDA during the Speaker’s election. On the other hand, rifts appeared among opposition parties on whether to have voting on Speaker’s election or not. The same was evident when Om Birla read out the resolution denouncing Congress and Indira Gandhi for the 1975 Emergency. Only Congress members opposed, but Samajwadi Party, TMC and other opposition parties did not oppose. Their members stood in two minutes’ silence after the resolution was adopted. Clearly, there were discordant voices rising from the Opposition over the Emergency issue.

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