Om Birla is NDA's pick for LS Speaker; Oppn forces election by fielding Kodikunnil Suresh

BJP's Om Birla will fight it out with Kodikunnil Suresh of the Congress for the Lok Sabha Speaker's post after efforts to reach a consensus between the government and the opposition failed.
Om Birla, Kodikunnil Suresh
Om Birla, Kodikunnil Suresh

New Delhi | The ruling BJP-led NDA on Tuesday maintained its streak of continuity in its third term by fielding previous Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla for the crucial parliamentary position again, but its bid for a consensus was thwarted by the opposition which forced an election by nominating Kodikunnil Suresh as its candidate.

The opposition's last-minute decision to go for a rare contest came after senior BJP leaders did not agree to its precondition that the INDIA bloc must be offered the post of Deputy Speaker in lieu of supporting Birla, who is the clear favourites in case of an election.

A brief interaction involving Congress leader K C Venugopal and DMK's T R Baalu from the opposition side and Union ministers Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah and J P Nadda, who is also the BJP president, at Singh's office in Parliament to evolve a consensus ended in acrimony as both sides stuck to their position.

Both opposition leaders walked out, with Venugopal accusing the government of not following the "convention" of an opposition candidate for the Deputy Speaker's position and announcing the decision to field a candidate against Birla.

Union ministers Piyush Goyal of the BJP and Lalan Singh of the JD(U) accused the opposition of resorting to pressure politics and putting forth preconditions despite senior ministers' assurance that its demand will be considered when the time to pick the Deputy Speaker comes.

"There can be no pressure politics," Union minister and JD(U) leader Lalan Singh told reporters, while Goyal said democracy cannot be run on preconditions.

The scheduled day for picking the Speaker is Wednesday and if an election occurs, it will be only the third time in Lok Sabha's history, official sources said.

With the NDA having 293 MPs in its kitty and the INDIA bloc 233, numbers clearly favour Birla in Lok Sabha, which currently has 542 members after Rahul Gandhi resigned from one of the two seats he was elected from. At least three independent members also support the opposition.

The NDA is hopeful that some unaligned parties, including the YSR Congress having four MPs, will also back Birla.

BJP sources claimed that the Congress has been the main aggressor on the issue and some other INDIA bloc members are not very keen on a contest.

If Birla, the BJP MP from Kota, is elected, it will be fifth time that a Speaker would serve beyond the tenure of one Lok Sabha. Though Congress leader Balram Jakhar is the only presiding officer to have served two complete terms extending seventh and eighth Lok Sabha.

A third-term MP, Birla is also a three-term former Rajasthan MLA and has risen through the ranks in the BJP. Suresh, his rival for the Speaker's post, is a eighth-term MP from Kerala and hails from a Dalit community.

If a division of votes takes place in Lok Sabha on Wednesday, then paper slips will be used as the electronic system is not operational yet in the new Lok Sabha where members are still in the process of being allocated their seats.

Seasoned BJP leader Rajnath Singh had taken the lead in reaching out to opposition parties over the issue as Birla emerged as the NDA's consensus choice and met its senior leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Suresh said it is not about winning or losing, but about a convention that Speaker will be of ruling party and deputy speaker from the opposition.

"Last two Lok Sabhas, they denied us deputy speaker's post because they said you are not recognised as the opposition. Now we are recognised as the opposition, (and) deputy speaker post is our right. But they are not ready to give us. Till 11.50, we were waiting for reply from government's side but they did not give any reply," he told reporters.

Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said this has come barely 24 hours after the prime minister advocated consensus in running the country.

"Convention has been that the Speaker is elected unanimously and the deputy speaker's post goes to the opposition," Ramesh said.

He accused Prime Minister Modi of breaking this tradition.

"It is actually no surprise. He has still not woken up to the reality of the 2024 poll verdict which was a PPM defeat for him--personal, political and moral," he posted on X.

Sources said more than 10 sets of nominations (called notices for motion) were filed in support of Birla's candidature, including from Prime Minister Modi, Union ministers Shah, Singh and Nadda, and members of BJP allies like TDP, JD(U), JD(S) and LJP (R).

Three sets of nominations were filed in support of Suresh.

Known of its knack of springing surprises, the BJP leadership chose to stick to Birla in line with its decision to retains its old hands in key positions.

Though the Speaker is independent of political and executive control, realpolitik considerations are often the driving force behind the choice for the Chair which is the nerve centre of Parliament's functioning.

Lok Sabha braces for Speaker's election after 1976

New Delhi | The Lok Sabha will witness a rare election for the Speaker's post – the first since 1976 – as Congress member Kodikunnil Suresh has been made the opposition candidate against NDA nominee Om Birla.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said Defence Minister Rajnath Singh failed to give an assurance on the opposition party’s claim to the Deputy Speaker's post.

While elections to the Speaker's post were common before Independence, the position of the presiding officer of the Lok Sabha has witnessed contests only thrice in Independent India – in 1952, 1967 and 1976.

In 1952, Congress member G V Mavalankar was elected as the Lok Sabha Speaker. Mavalankar polled 394 votes against opponent Shantaram More, who managed to garner 55 votes.

In 1967, Tenneti Viswanatham contested the election for Lok Sabha Speaker against Congress nominee Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy. Reddy was elected as the Speaker having polled 278 votes against Viswanatham’s 207.

In the fifth Lok Sabha, the duration of the fifth session was extended by an year following the imposition of Emergency by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975. The then Speaker G S Dhillon had resigned on December 1, 1975.

Congress leader Baliram Bhagat was elected the Lok Sabha Speaker on January 5, 1976. Gandhi had moved the motion to elect Bhagat as the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, while Prasannabhai Mehta of the Congress (O) had moved the motion to elect Jana Sangh leader Jagannathrao Joshi to the post. Bhagat polled 344 votes against Joshi's 58.

In 1998, the then Congress leader Sharad Pawar had moved a motion to elect P A Sangma as the Speaker, which was negatived. After the rejection of Pawar’s motion, the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee moved a motion to choose TDP member G M C Balayogi as the Lok Sabha Speaker. The motion moved by Vajpayee was adopted.

Since Independence, only M A Ayyangar, G S Dhillon, Balram Jakhar and G M C Balayogi have retained the coveted posts in the subsequent Lok Sabhas.

Jakhar was the Speaker of the seventh and the eighth Lok Sabhas and holds the distinction of being the only presiding officer to complete two full terms.

Balayogi was chosen as the Speaker of the 12th Lok Sabha, which had a tenure of 19 months. He was also chosen as the Speaker of the 13th Lok Sabha on October 22, 1999, till his death in a chopper crash on March 3, 2002.

On Tuesday, as the Congress nominated eight-term member Kodikunnil Suresh for the Lok Sabha Speaker's post, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kiren Rijiju appealed to the opposition to reconsider its decision.

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