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Envisaging Strong Opposition

  • 10 Jul 2024
  • 13 min read

This editorial is based on “Friction in Parliament reflects political reality” which was published in Hindustan Times on 09/07/2024. The article highlights a significant change in the 18th Lok Sabha with a stronger opposition and challenges in maintaining decorum amidst increased scrutiny and assertive legislative dynamics.

Recent years have seen a shift where disruptions, rather than meaningful discussions, dominate parliamentary proceedings. Critical legislations like farm laws were alleged to have been passed without meaningful scrutiny from a dispirited Opposition and the parliamentary committee system was largely bypassed.

A feeble opposition poses greater risks than a weak government which can lead to detrimental consequences. A weak opposition fails to represent the voices and demands of a significant portion of the populace who did not support the ruling party.

The presence of a strong Opposition with 234 seats along with the recognition of the Leader of the Opposition (LoP) in the Lok Sabha, which was vacant for a decade, has significantly altered the appearance and workings of Parliament in 18th Lok Sabha.

In a democracy, the opposition is not only tolerated as constitutional, but must be maintained because it is indispensable.” --- Walter Whipmann

What is the Leader of Opposition?

  • About Opposition in Parliament:
    • Parliamentary opposition is a crucial political position to check the ruling government, especially in Westminster-based parliamentary systems.
    • The "Official/Principal Opposition" title is typically held by the largest party opposing the government, with its leader designated as the "Leader of the Opposition."
  • Leader of Opposition (LoP)

Leader of the Opposition (LoP) in Westminster model of United Kingdom:

  • In the Westminster model, the LoP holds the title "Prime Minister-in-waiting" and forms a shadow cabinet.
  • The shadow cabinet criticises government policies and offers alternative strategies, mirroring the real cabinet's functions.
  • Responsibilities of LoP include ensuring effective parliamentary functioning, leading debates, demanding accountability from the government, and upholding democratic norms.

What is the Significance of Opposition in a Democracy Like India?

  • Significant Role of Opposition:
    • A constructive opposition can play a major role in building public opinion against erroneous policies and programmes of the incumbent government.
    • The opposition's primary role involves reacting, questioning, and scrutinizing the government's actions daily in parliament, committees, media, and among the public.
    • It ensures the government adheres to constitutional norms and critically examines policies and legislation proposed by the ruling party.
    • In parliament, the opposition not only criticizes but also advocates for constituency-specific needs, proposes amendments, and seeks assurances using parliamentary procedures.
  • For Improved Parliamentary Functioning:
    • Presently, the parliamentary functioning faces several challenges which are as follows:
      • Declining Sittings: The number of sitting days in recent Lok Sabhas has decreased significantly compared to earlier terms, with the 16th and 17th Lok Sabhas averaging 66 and 55 days per year, respectively.
      • Low Productivity: Despite more sessions in the 17th Lok Sabha, productivity in terms of hours spent on legislative work declined sharply. For example, the 2023 Winter Session saw only 62 hours of overall work and 37 hours spent on Bills, compared to 281 hours and 125 hours in the 2019 Budget Session.
      • Declining Bill Passage: The number of Bills passed by the 17th Lok Sabha showed a gradual decline over its 15 sessions, from a peak of 35 Bills in the 2019 Budget Session to just six in the 2023 Budget Session.
      • Discussion Time: More than a third of the Bills passed in this Lok Sabha underwent less than an hour of discussion, highlighting limited scrutiny.
      • Declining role of Parliamentary Committees: In the 17th Lok Sabha, only 16% of Bills introduced in Parliament were referred to committees for detailed scrutiny, which is low when compared to earlier Lok Sabhas.
  • Strong opposition (with more representation in Parliament) will have equal stake in ensuring better productivity of the Parliament and addressing above-mentioned challenges.

What are Present Challenges with Opposition?

  • Numerical Disadvantage:
    • Many opposition parties face the challenge of lacking sufficient numerical strength in parliament compared to the ruling party or coalition.
      • For example, the 16th and 17th Lok Sabhas had no recognised Leader of Opposition as no party fulfilled the 10% criteria .
    • This affects their ability to influence legislative outcomes, secure committee memberships, and challenge government policies effectively.
    • However, this scenario seems changed in 18th Lok Sabha but representation of regional parties upto the number of voicing regional aspirations is still an issue.
  • Fragmentation and Ideological Diversity:
    • The opposition in India has been fragmented and poorly organised which has led to absence of a common minimum programme to be raised in and outside the parliament.
    • Internal rivalries and lack of cohesion among opposition leaders can undermine their collective effectiveness in challenging the ruling party.
    • Moreover, Indian opposition parties are often fragmented due to diverse ideologies, regional interests, and agendas which can lead to difficulty in presenting a cohesive opposition narrative and coordinating unified strategies against the government.
  • Prevalence of Vindictive Politics:
    • It has been alleged that the ruling party's control over state institutions, including law enforcement agencies, regulatory bodies, and electoral machinery, poses challenges for opposition parties.
    • This can lead to allegations of biased enforcement, electoral malpractices, and misuse of state power to undermine opposition activities.
      • For instance, according to a petition filed by political parties in the Supreme Court, around 95% of political leaders investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Directorate of Enforcement (ED) are opposition leaders.
  • Financial and Organizational Constraints:
    • Opposition parties, especially smaller ones, often struggle with limited financial resources and organizational capacity.
      • For example, political parties that secured at least 1% of the votes polled in the recent General or State Assembly elections were eligible to take donations through electoral bonds (however, this has been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court)
    • This hampers their ability to mobilize grassroots support, conduct effective electoral campaigns, and sustain political activities throughout the electoral cycle.
  • Limited Access to Media and Public Platforms:
    • The ruling party typically enjoys greater access to mainstream media and government-controlled platforms for communication.
    • Opposition parties may find it challenging to disseminate their messages, counter government narratives, and gain equal visibility in public discourse.
  • Legislative and Procedural Hurdles:
    • Opposition parties often face procedural hurdles in parliament, such as limited speaking time, curtailed debate opportunities, and dismissal of opposition motions.
    • This restricts their ability to scrutinize legislation, propose amendments, and hold the government accountable effectively.

Ways Forward:

  • Building Alliances: Strengthening alliances by opposition parties to collectively increase numerical strength and present a unified front against the ruling party or coalition can help in voicing concerns of the general public.
  • Empowering Parliamentary Oversight: Strengthen parliamentary oversight mechanisms by actively participating in parliamentary committees, debates, and legislative scrutiny.
  • Enhancing Organizational Capacity: Focusing on building robust organizational structures, enhancing outreach capabilities, and improving grassroots connect.
  • Equal Media Coverage: Providing equal coverage by State owned media channels such as Doordarshan and All India Radio for political campaigns and advertising.
  • Utilizing Digital and Alternative Media: Embrace digital platforms and alternative media channels to reach a wider audience with opposition messages.
  • Engaging with Public Opinion: Prioritize engagement with public opinion through regular interactions, town hall meetings, and public consultations.
  • Advocating Electoral Reforms: Advocate for electoral reforms that promote transparency, fairness, and equitable access to electoral processes.
    • Reforms such as State funding of elections as recommended by Indrajit Gupta Committee would provide a level playing field for the political parties.

Drishti Mains Question:

Q. How does a robust opposition contribute to effective governance and accountability? Highlight the challenges faced by opposition parties in fulfilling their constitutional role and suggest measures to strengthen their effectiveness in the Indian political context.

UPSC Civil Services Examination, Previous Year Questions (PYQs)


Consider the following statements: (2018)

1. In the first Lok Sabha, the single largest party in the opposition was the Swatantra Party.

2. In the Lok Sabha, a “Leader of the Opposition” was recognised for the first time in 1969.

3. In the Lok Sabha, if a party does not have a minimum of 75 members, its leader cannot be recognised as the Leader of the Opposition.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 and 3 only

(b) 2 only

(c) 2 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

Ans: (b)

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