Government vs Opposition On Speaker, First Contest In Decades

Lok Sabha Speaker Election: Nomination of Congress' K Suresh came after a stand-off between INDIA bloc and BJP's ruling coalition, which called for consensus to re-appoint Kota MP Om Birla as Speaker.

Congress MP K Suresh filing his nomination for the Lok Sabha Speaker election.

New Delhi:

The BJP's ruling coalition and the Congress' INDIA opposition bloc will go head-to-head Wednesday in a battle for the Lok Sabha Speaker's post - arguably one of the most important in a parliamentary democracy and to be held for the first time in decades - after the two failed to agree a division of seats.

The Speaker and his/her deputy - the post fuelling disagreements between the two political giants - are usually elected by consensus, lack of which in this instance underlines the fractious BJP-Congress ties.

The election - scheduled for 11 am tomorrow - will see the BJP's Om Birla, a three-time MP from Kota in Rajasthan, up against the Congress' Kodikunnil Suresh, an eight-term parliamentarian from Kerala's Mavelikara. Mr Suresh is the longest-serving parliamentarian in the 18th Lok Sabha.

Mr Birla is likely to win given the BJP-led alliance's majority; the Lok Sabha Speaker is elected by a simple majority of MPs voting and the ruling coalition can call on 293 votes to the INDIA bloc's 232.

After filing his papers Mr Suresh told the press, "This is the party's decision... not mine. There is a convention... that Deputy Speaker will be from the opposition. But they (the BJP) are not ready to do this. We were waiting till 11.50 am... but there was no response. So we filed the nomination."

READ | "We Tried For Consensus But...": Congress' K Suresh To NDTV

Union Minister Piyush Goyal, however, countered that claim, saying there is no precedent to suggest the Deputy Speaker's post must go to a member of an opposition party.

BJP Seeks Consensus, Congress Replies

There was much drama this morning - ahead of the noon deadline to file nominations - as the BJP sought the opposition's consensus over the re-appointment of Mr Birla as the Lok Sabha Speaker.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kiren Rijiju were so tasked. Mr Singh and Mr Rijiju met INDIA bloc leaders, including the Congress' Mallikarjun Kharge, and were told consensus relied on the opposition getting the Deputy Speaker's post.

READ | In Speaker Row, Rajnath Singh's Call, Congress' Deputy Reply

The deputy's chair is traditionally reserved for an opposition MP to ensure a balanced House.

The post was not filled in the second Modi government (2019-2024), but in the first (2014-2019), it was awarded to an ally of the ruling BJP - the AIADMK's M Thambidurai held the position.

The meeting did not go as the BJP may have hoped. The opposition said it stood ready to support Mr Birla's candidature but only providing it was given the deputy's post.

Sources told NDTV the BJP was not forthcoming on this demand; the party reportedly wanted immediate consensus for Mr Birla and said a decision on his deputy would be taken later.

READ | Om Birla To Be Speaker Again, BJP-Led Govt Sticks To Continuity

The opposition, however, refused to play ball and, as the clock ticked down to the noon deadline, whispers emerged that the Congress' K Suresh would be offered as an alternative to Om Birla.

And so it happened; as visuals showed senior leaders from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance accompanying Mr Birla to file his papers, it was confirmed that Mr Suresh had submitted his name.

In the inevitable back-and-forth to follow, BJP sources told NDTV efforts had been made to build consensus with an opposition that responded with "pressure politics".

Sources said the Congress' KC Venugopal and TR Baalu of Tamil Nadu's ruling DMK insisted on a commitment from the BJP - one to the effect the Deputy Speaker would be an opposition MP.

The same sources - who also said the BJP had indicated its unwillingness to offer such an assurance - blamed the opposition's "lack of commitment led to a failure of consensus".

Trinamool Twist

There is, meanwhile, a plot twist brewing backstage.

Sources said the Trinamool - on paper a part of INDIA - was not consulted in the "unilateral" nomination of Mr Suresh. and that the party would decide how to react by this evening.

"We were not contacted about this... there was no discussion. Unfortunately, this is a unilateral decision," party MP Abhishek Banerjee said. Mr Banerjee was later seen with Congress MP Rahul Gandhi inside Parliament; the two were engaged in a private discussion.

READ | Trinamool Upset By INDIA's Last-Gasp Speaker Move: Sources

Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's party has a difficult relationship with the Congress-led opposition grouping; there remains a perennial 'will she, won't she' question mark over her support.

Last month, while the general election was on, Ms Banerjee offered her backing, telling reporters the Trinamool is a key part of the INDIA bloc. She even called the opposition group her "brainchild".

READ | "Part Of INDIA" Says Mamata. "Don't Trust," Adhir Ranjan Responds

A day earlier Ms Banerjee - who had put her membership of the bloc on hold after public spats over seat-sharing deals - declared she would provide "outside support" in the event of an election win.

BJP Vs Congress. Who Said What?

Union Aviation Minister Ram Mohan Naidu has criticised the opposition for placing conditions, telling reporters, "Democracy does not work on conditions... NDA did what it could to build consensus for the Speaker's post. When it was their turn (the opposition's) to help... they put up a condition. This was never a convention to support Speaker...They want to do politics in this too."

Earlier, while the INDIA bloc was waiting on the BJP's response, Mrl Gandhi referred to reports quoting Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling on the opposition to work "constructively" with his government.

"Today newspapers reported that PM Modi said the opposition should cooperate constructively. Rajnath Singh called Mallikarjun Kharge and asked him to extend support... entire opposition said we will support but convention is Deputy Speaker should be from our side. Rajnath Singh said he would call back... but he has not yet...PM is asking for cooperation but our leader is getting insulted..."

Who Will Be Lok Sabha Speaker?

The battle for the Speaker's post has rumbled on since the 2024 Lok Sabha election results were announced and it became clear the BJP could not form its third successive government without support from allies, particularly Chandrababu Naidu's TDP and Nitish Kumar's JDU.

There was, then, much ado about a TDP MP being made Speaker as part of a deal to 'reward' the Andhra Pradesh party, but the BJP quickly made it clear it would retain the key position.

There was then speculation the BJP could appoint Bhartruhari Mahtab, its MP from Cuttack in Odisha, after the party formed a government in the eastern state for the first time.

READ | In Pro Tem Speaker Row, "Ashamed" Rijiju Slams Congress

Mr Mahtab was named Pro Tem Speaker, instead, and will administer oaths to all Lok Sabha MPs.

The Congress - which wanted Mr Suresh as Pro Tem - hit out at the BJP over Mr Mahtab's appointment. Senior leader KC Venugopal called it "an attempt to destroy democratic norms..."

With input from agencies

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