The role of the opposition in a democracy cannot be undermined or overlooked, as it is no less important than the power given to the ruling parties. In fact, the very essence of democracy is that it makes opposition possible. It is the people’s choice of returning the less popular party to the House of parliament as ‘watch dogs’ of the system.

Parliamentary opposition was invented in the eighteenth century by Anglo Saxon political thinkers. Political opposition was institutionalized in a parliamentary system of government in order to have a systematic check on corruption that power generally brought to the ruling parties.

In a parliamentary system, losing a general election may mean not having the confidence of the majority but it certainly confers on the losing party/parties the significant and crucial role of belonging to the opposition. The party or parties winning the majority of votes in a democracy forms the government and remains in power with its leader serving as the Prime Minister of the country, while the leader of the losing party enjoys the status of the leader of opposition in the House.

The opposition is responsible for raising political consciousness among the people. Its right to criticize the government over issues of national importance keeps the ruling party on its toes. It is constructive in making all parliamentary affairs more transparent to the public. It helps bare all facts and figures, throws open to debate issues that need discussions and keeps a check on any unjust use of power by the ruling party.

In countries like the United Kingdom, where two-party system prevails, the opposition acts as a ‘shadow cabinet’ keeping a vigil on the government. In other non-parliamentary form of government too, the opposition gets equal representation on all political issues similar to the ruling parties. In the USA, where a two-party presidential system is followed, the opposition party in the lower House of Representatives of the US  Congress forms various committees to present all its views and arguments on all issues of national and international significance. However, in the US, the parliament as a whole is responsible for control, whereas in a parliamentary democracy it is the opposition who takes on the responsibility of control.

In a multiparty system like in India, the efficiency of the opposition often depends on how well they are coordinated among themselves. Different ideologies may lead to lack of consensus on many issues, however, the same holds true for the parties that are in power. The government cannot run unless there is some unity in thought among the ruling parties. Irrespective of all internal differences, the opposition should stand united when playing the role of a critic of the ruling government.

For an effective functioning of the opposition, it has to have the maturity and the courage to speak according to the need of the political hour. It must evaluate government policies carefully before reacting to them. Unwarranted walkouts and protests may undermine their own interests if their criticism is found wanting in logic and need.

At times good projects and policies may get dragged into controversies or get stalled for a lack of understanding on part of the opposition. It has to feel the pulse of public opinion. It must have the courage to not only speak their mind against arbitrary policies of the ruling government but it must also have the vision to accept those policies of the government, which are positive and strengthen the state or the society.