Understanding why the TDP or JD(U) would demand the Speaker’s post

How important is the Speaker? Tejashwi Yadav once said, “If we really wanted to arm-twist the government, we would have asked for the Speaker post.”
Chandrababu Naidu (left) with Nitish Kumar
Chandrababu Naidu (left) with Nitish KumarX

As Narendra Modi comes back as Prime Minister a third time, the conversations and questions are centred not around him, but two partners in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Telugu Desam Party’s (TDP) Chandrababu Naidu and Janata Dal-United’s (JDU) Nitish Kumar have headlined the news ever since the results came out on June 4.

With no simple majority for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Modi’s third term is dependent on the numbers brought in by the leaders from Andhra Pradesh and Bihar. Many reports claim that the allies may ask for the Speaker’s post, though both have denied it for now. For those used to the last decade’s parliamentary activities, the demand didn’t quite make sense – why would an NDA ally with so much bargaining power lay emphasis on the Speaker post?

The answer lies in the anti-defection law prescribed in the 10th Schedule of the Constitution, introduced through the 52nd Amendment in 1985. A legislator who voluntarily gives up the membership of their political party or votes against the instructions of their party is liable for disqualification. But the 10th Schedule shields legislators from disqualification if two-thirds of a party’s MPs or MLAs in an elected house ‘merge’ with another party. In such a scenario, it is the Speaker’s discretion that decides whether or not to disqualify the legislators.

The most recent example for this took place in Maharashtra in January 2024 when Speaker Rahul Narwekar ascribed the Chief Minister Eknath Shinde-led faction the status of the ‘real’ Shiv Sena party. A faction of MLAs led by Shinde had turned against then chief minister Uddhav Thackeray in June 2022. The matter was taken to the Supreme Court, but in February 2023, the SC observed that the Speaker is the deciding authority as per the anti-defection law.

Chakshu Roy, head of civic and legislative research engagements at PRS Legislative Research, said, “Primarily, the position of the Indian speaker is a contradiction. It is one of the most prestigious posts at the heart of our legislation making body, the Lok Sabha. Speakers are supposed to be non-partisan, but they are also members of a political party and depend on it for the continuity of their political careers. The constitutional powers vested in them under the anti-defection law also gives them the ability to make and break governments. These contradictions put the Speaker under tremendous pressure.”

The lack of partisanship in the Lok Sabha Speaker has often been a point of contention. GMC Balayogi (the 12th and 13th Lok Sabha speaker) had chaired several Parliamentary committees and his ties to TDP supremo Chandrababu Naidu were well known. Despite the non-partisan nature of the post, Balayogi was very much a TDP leader, keen on protecting his party’s interests.

In fact, the sentiment was outright vocalised nearly 10 years ago by Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejashwi Yadav when he was asked about his Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) commitment with Nitish’s JDU.

“If we really wanted to arm-twist the government for more power, we would have asked for the Speaker post,” Yadav had said.

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