Opinion | Lok Sabha: How Past Coalition Governments Elected Speakers

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The Lok Sabha will soon choose a new Speaker. Given the fact that there is a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led coalition government in power, with the ruling party just shy of a majority on its own, the choice of the Speaker has drawn considerable attention. The office has been the focus of attention especially when ruling parties/alliances have slimmer majorities and splits in parties become the order of the day. The Speaker has a vital role when it comes to interpreting anti-defection provisions on the one hand and presiding over what can often be an acrimonious house on the other.

This time around, there was initial talk of members of the non-BJP, NDA (National Democratic Alliance) coalition partners seeking the Speaker's post. This rumour gradually receded with the principal non-BJP parties in the coalition conceding that it should be left to the BJP to have a candidate of its choice. There are reports of a formal process of consultation being initiated by the ruling party in this regard.
It is important to record that whenever a party has secured a clear majority in the Lok Sabha, the Speaker has always been from the ruling party. It has been a slightly different story whenever we have had coalition governments.

From Rabi Ray To P.A. Sangma

In 1989, Rabi Ray from the Janata Dal became the Speaker as the National Front government led by V.P. Singh assumed office. In 1991, when the Congress formed a minority government, Shivraj Patil from the Congress became Speaker. In 1998, when the BJP-led NDA came to power, Balayogi from the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) was elected as the Speaker, and he was re-elected in 1999. Later, when he passed away, the post went to another BJP ally in the NDA: the Shiv Sena, with Manohar Joshi becoming speaker. When the UPA came to power in 2004, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which was an ally, saw its leader Somnath Chatterjee becoming the Speaker. In 2009, the second UPA government saw Meira Kumar from the Congress being elected as the Speaker.
During the first two BJP-led NDA governments under the leadership of Narendra Modi, Sumitra Mahajan and Om Birla held the office.

The only time when the Speaker did not hail from a party or alliance which came to power after the election was 1996. This was on account of the unique political circumstances that prevailed at the time of the Speaker's election. No party had secured a majority in the election and the President had invited Atal Bihari Vajpayee to form the government. The Vajpayee government did not have a majority and was not keen on a floor test before moving the confidence motion. The Speaker's election came first. The Opposition decided to field P.A. Sangma for the post of Speaker. In a strategic move, the BJP decided not to field a candidate and went on to state that Sangma was endorsed by them too. The Opposition candidate was thus unanimously elected as Speaker.

What UK Does

It is important to record that in the home of parliamentary democracy, the United Kingdom, there is a convention in the House of Commons, that once someone is elected as Speaker, he or she gives up membership of his/her party. No party puts up a candidate against the speaker in the next elections and they continue as speaker till they decide to retire. This explains the adage `Once a Speaker. Always a Speaker!'. In his famous novel, First Among Equals, Jeffrey Archer has a character who competes for the position of the leader of the majority party. When he loses, he decides to retire from active politics and becomes Speaker.

The convention mentioned above has not been followed in India. Speakers of the Lok Sabha have gone on to become Union Ministers. Gurdial Singh Dhillon, Shivraj Patil and Balram Jakhar can be cited as examples in this regard. N. Sanjiva Reddy resigned on two different occasions (1969 and 1977) as Speaker in order to contest the Presidential elections. He lost the first time and won the next time. It is also important to note that four Speakers lost the Lok Sabha elections after completing their term as speaker. These include Baliram Bhagat (1977), Balram Jakhar (1989), Manohar Joshi (2004) and Meira Kumar (2014).

In the next few days, who becomes the Speaker of the Lok Sabha will be clear. This time, it appears that given the party's dominance in the NDA, the BJP will be able to ensure that its nominee occupies the presiding officer's chair.

(Dr. Sandeep Shastri is the National Coordinator of the Lokniti Network)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author