The coveted front row of the Lok Sabha is set for the biggest reshuffle in recent times this summer with five senior parliamentarians who were frontbenchers not returning to the House.
The National Democratic Alliance’s share in the front row — the seats closest to the Speaker’s chair — will increase marginally. The Congress’s quota is stuck at two after the party managed to win 52 seats, just eight more than its tally in the 16th Lok Sabha, in the latest general elections.
Former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda, former foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, Congress floor leader Mallikarjun Kharge and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) patriarch LK Advani are among the leaders who will not occupy the front row in the 17th Lok Sabha. All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) leader M Thambidurai also loses his seat in the front row .
Deve Gowda, Kharge and Thambidurai lost elections while Swaraj opted out of contesting the polls. Advani, a seven term-MP representing Gandhinagar, was denied a renomination by the BJP.
“The front row seats are generally allotted to senior MPs and floor leaders of different parties. Former Prime Ministers are also allotted front row seats out of courtesy if he or she is elected back in the House. A party’s front row quota also depends on its overall strength,” said a senior Lok Sabha official on condition of anonymity.
Apart from the five confirmed changes, two more party leaders might lose their preferred seats: Biju Janata Dal (BJD) floor leader Bhartruhari Mahtab and Trinamool Congress’s Sudip Bandopadhyay. Both the BJD and the Trinamool found front row slots in 2014 when the two parties came to the House with 34 and 20 MPs, respectively. But in the latest elections, the Trinamool and the BJD slipped to 22 and 10 seats, respectively, and their quota stands at 0.8 and 0.4 seats as per the calculation.
The BJP, which has 303 MPs, may get up to two additional seats and thereby increase the NDA’s quota from 12 seats.
BJP president Amit Shah, who was sworn in as a cabinet minister in the third NDA government, will certainly get a seat in the front row, which he also occupied in the Rajya Sabha. Senior BJP ministers such as Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, and Sadananda Gowda are also expected to occupy the front row.
In line with the floor arrangement in the Lok Sabha, the first seat or seat number one, on the right side of the speaker’s chair, is allotted to the Prime Minister. The seat next to the PM’s generally goes to the senior-most minister. In the United Progressive Alliance-era, leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee and in the last five years, home minister Rajnath Singh sat in seat number 2. The last seat of that row is allotted to the deputy speaker.
The BJP could also give one of its seats to a senior leader of a friendly party, which has happened in the past in other governments, a person aware of the developments said on condition of anonymity.
Among BJP allies, senior minister and Lok Janshakti Party leader Ram Vilas Paswan, Shiv Sena’s Arvind Sawant and Shiromani Akali Dal’s Harsimrat Kaur are also expected to occupy the front row.
In the last Lok Sabha, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress floor leader Kharge occupied two front row seats. This time, Sonia Gandhi’s seat remains the same. If Rahul Gandhi decides to replace his mother as the leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party, he too will come to the front row from his current second row seat.
“We only allot the seats to the parties in each row and then the parties decide where its leaders will sit. Whatever is the recommendation, we accept,” added the senior Lok Sabha official.