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NDA sticks with Birla, Congress picks Suresh for 4th-ever Speaker contest

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NEW DELHI: In the first trial of strength for the newly-elected Modi govt, opposition on Tuesday decided to field its candidate K Suresh against NDA 's nominee Om Birla for the post of Lok Sabha Speaker .

The contest, which had looked likely, became inevitable after govt turned down the opposition's demand for the post of deputy speaker as a pre-condition for facilitating a consensus on a fresh term for Birla, the outgoing speaker. Govt refused to accept the opposition's demand, saying the issue of deputy speaker could be negotiated later.

Though this will be only the fourth time - and the first in nearly 50 years - when a speaker will not be elected by consensus, the contest on Wednesday is only in line with the intense acrimony that marked the LS campaign and has since persisted. The post was contested in 1952, the first Lok Sabha, in 1967 and 1976.

With NDA having an official strength of 293 in the 543-strong House, the stage is set for Birla, third-term MP from Kota, to get a second term as speaker. He will be the fifth person after M A Ayyangar, G S Dhillon, Balram Jakhar and GMC Balayogi to hold the office two times in a row. Only Jakhar completed two full terms.

Congress 's Suresh is a veteran of eight terms from Kerala but his choice has equally, if not more, to do with him being a Dalit. Congress and some allies are seeking to build on the advantage they are perceived to have gained among Dalits on the strength of their allegation that BJP under Modi planned to scrap caste quotas.

We want speakers to be elected via consensus: Rijiju

Defence minister Rajnath Singh held several rounds of discussions with opposition leaders, including Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, for a consensus over the speaker’s choice. However, the opposition insisted on a commitment for the deputy speaker’s post going to one of their own. Govt, which had looked uncomfortable with the idea, did not agree to the condition saying the issue should be left for later.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said as per convention, the deputy speaker’s post was spared for the opposition, a claim refuted by NDA, which cited multiple instances under Congress regimes of both positions being held by nominees of the treasury benches.

“For the last two days, we have been in contact with main opposition parties, talked to their floor leaders regarding the post of speaker. We want speakers to be elected unopposed and through consensus. We appealed to them to support the speaker candidate but they demanded the deputy speaker’s post. We said it is not right to conduct elections for speaker and deputy speaker posts together. We request them for no election for speaker,” parliamentary affairs minister Kiren Rijiju said.

Though only the second fiddle as deputy speaker gets to preside over House proceedings in the absence of the speaker, the holder of the post can strike a discordant note for the govt in a fractious Parliament.

BJP has the entire NDA flock sticking together. In contrast, TMC made public its annoyance with Congress over what it called the unilateral declaration of Suresh’s candidature.

JD(U) leader and Union minister Rajiv Ranjan Singh ‘Lalan’ said Birla’s name was decided unanimously by all NDA parties. After the decision, Birla called on PM Modi, who was present in Parliament. Later, home minister Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh, BJP president J P Nadda and NDA leaders handed over Birla’s nomination papers to Lok Sabha secretary general Utpal Kumar Singh.

If the opposition insists on a division during the election on Wednesday, votes will be cast on paper slips as the electronic display system cannot be used because members of the new House are yet to be allotted seats.
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