Kolkata, Sep 23 (IANS) After withdrawing support from West Bengal's Mamata Banerjee government, with which it shared power for 16 months, the state Congress is now pushing for the leader of opposition position in the state assembly.
It's an issue that has political leaders and experts divided.
The Congress is yet to firm up its stand and make a presentation to the speaker on the issue. But if the move is successful, the Congress would have made a big leap from being an ally of the government to being the principal opposition. The Congress has 42 members in the state assembly, while the CPI-M's strength stands at 39. CPI-M's Surjya Kanta Mishra is the current leader of opposition.
State Congress chief Pradip Bhattacahrya said he held discussions with the high command Saturday on the issue.
"The high command has told us that we should discuss the matter in the party and then get back to it. We will hold a meeting of the Congress Legislature Party and take a political decision, and then inform the speaker (Biman Banerjee)," Bhattacharya said.
When contacted, Mishra refused to be drawn into a discussion.
"Let them place their appeal, then we will respond. I don't wish to make any comment at this stage," Mishra told IANS.
However, sources in the CPI-M, which spearheads the Left Front (LF), said the grouping, which has 61 legislators, had contested the assembly polls as a coalition. Mishra had been elected leader of opposition by the Front, not the CPI-M.
"The deputy leader is Subhas Naskar, who comes from another Front partner, Revolutionary Socialist Party. The opposition whip is Biswanath Karak, who is from Forward Bloc. This shows that they have been elected as Front leaders," said the source.
Speaker Biman Banerjee said he would react only after receiving a communication from the Congress.
"I have not received any communication from the Congress on this officially. Even unofficially, they have not broached the topic before me. Let them apply first. Then I will spell out my decision after taking into consideration all aspects," Banerjee told IANS.
According to former Lok Sabha secretary general P.D.T. Achary, the assembly speaker has an important role to play if such a dispute arises as his decision is final and binding.
"It all depends on how the speaker interprets the rules. But as per the rule book, the largest party that's opposed to the government of the day gets the post of the leader of the opposition in the legislature," Achary told IANS in New Delhi.
"An alliance does not find a mention in the rule book. As you know, we have a precedent of a pre-poll alliance, with the group with the largest number of seats in parliament or a legislature getting the invitation to form the government. But, the speaker has the powers to interpret the rules and decide on such cases," he added.
Amartya Mukhopadhyay, professor of political science at Calcutta University, differed.
"There were two pre-election alliances. One of them has collapsed. Now as per the constitution the bigger pre-election alliance in the opposition should get the post," he told IANS.
"So even if a party, which has broken away from the ruling alliance, has more number of lawmakers than the principal party in the bigger pre-election alliance in the opposition, that is immaterial. It is the pre-election alliance which has to be taken into consideration.
"Logically speaking, this may seem unfortunate, because the Congress has more number of MLAs than the CPI-M. But this is what the constitution says."
Trinamool Congress sources said chief minister and party supremo Mamata Banerjee, who is yet to spell out her stand, might not be averse to the Congress taking the mantle of the principal opposition, as it would suit her politically.
"Number one, the Congress would then look more like Banerjee's sworn adversary than a former, or even a potential, ally. This will help the Trinamool in eating into the Congress vote bank by clubbing it together with the LF. Second, it will lead to a loss of face for the LF, which is Banerjee's main rival in the state," sources said.