After four years of Modi Sarkar 2.0 and with only two Parliament sessions left — the winter and budget — the 17th Lok Sabha is yet to get a Deputy Speaker.
In spite of several reminders to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, the election for the same is yet to be called. The matter has even reached the Supreme Court in the form of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL). The top court has demanded to know from the Centre why the post is still vacant.
Article 93 Vs Reality
The function of the Deputy Speaker is to decide whether a bill is a Money Bill or not. He is also responsible for the discipline and decorum of the House. He is not subservient to the Speaker and is responsible directly to the House. In the absence of the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker authorises the powers of a Speaker.
Article 93 of the Indian Constitution clearly states that both the Speaker and Deputy Speaker should be elected “as soon as may be”. Norm says the first Parliament session after a new government takes oath shall elect both posts. Yet, the position of the Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha — the second-highest-ranking legislative officer after the Speaker— has been vacant since Modi 2.0 came to power in 2019.
But why is this the case?
Congress’ Lok Sabha whip Manickam Tagore blames the “intent” of the government. “One of the institutions, particularly in the Lok Sabha, is the office of the Deputy Speaker. That institution has been broken or is kept locked. His office has been kept locked … The simple reason is he (the Speaker) does not want to give it to the main opposition party, nothing else,” Tagore tells News18.
Tagore was referring to a non-binding Parliamentary tradition where the post of the Deputy Speaker is generally given to the opposition. The last Deputy Speaker the Indian Parliament saw was DMK’s M Thambi Durai.
Tagore further said in order to get a Deputy Speaker, the Lok Sabha secretariat has to convene an election for the post with the approval of the Speaker, who, in this case, is BJP’s Kota MP Om Birla. He makes a political point alleging that the fact that this post has been lying vacant for so long needs to be seen in the larger scheme of things of “democratic institutions” being targeted.
Regardless of the political pitch, the fact remains that it never took so long for a government to elect a Deputy Speaker. The longest it took was in the 12th Lok Sabha — 269 days, according to the Statistical Handbook, Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs.
BJP’s Different Logics
However, the BJP has a counter-logic to it. BJP’s Delhi MP Ramesh Bidhuri says no party in the Lok Sabha has the requisite numbers. “There is a clear stipulation that any party has to have at least 50 MPs to elect the Deputy Speaker,” Bidhuri tells News18.
When asked about Tagore’s charge, quick came his reply, “Arre bhai, that is a constitutional provision. They (the opposition) behave like Kejriwal as if there is no Constitution in this country…Ask them, if you are not capable enough to be one, (Deputy Speaker) how can you be made one?”
However, News18 spoke to constitutional experts who are not convinced. They hint that once the Speaker calls for an election, either one can win unopposed, or even in the case of a proper election, the numbers of a bloc count. If the entire opposition puts a common candidate, their total numbers in the Lok Sabha will count, they argue.
A BJP minister, who refused to speak on either Tagore’s charge or Bidhuri’s logic, told News18, on conditions of anonymity, “Is the functioning of the House getting affected in the absence of a Deputy Speaker? So where’s the hurry?”
But, on the contrary, there is a huge delay.
A PIL in the Supreme Court citing this missing Deputy speaker post forced the top court to issue a notice to the Centre in February this year. However, Constitution Experts caution that the courts can’t do much about it as Article 122 (1) prohibits external interference. But the stressing on “as soon as may be”, which is clearly articulated by Article 93, gives the Supreme Court power to question the Centre over its delay, which it has already exercised.
But, what is the role of the Speaker, who has to call the election, so far? “We have approached him two to three times. Every time, he just smiles. He doesn’t say anything,” says Congress’s Lok Sabha whip.
With nearly four and a half years over, is the Centre smiling away the Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker’s post?