Yadavs torpedo Women's Bill, upset Sonia's dream
New Delhi: The celebrations of International Women's Day went awry and
horribly wrong for Sonia Gandhi and the Congress when the 14-year-old
Women's Reservation Bill failed to sail through the Rajya Sabha on
Monday. Just a day before, Sonia had told her partymen that she was
determined to get the Bill passed for two reasons: to fulfill Rajiv
Gandhi's dream and a fitting tribute to the day. Both of that did not
happen, leaving the Congress red-faced.
A TV grab shows Mohammad Hamid Ansari surrounded by falling pieces of
paper - ripped by Members of Parliament - during a debate of The
Women's Reservation Bill on Monday. Photo Courtesy: AFP
But poor floor management of the Congress Party, its lack of
communication with the Opposition parties and utter confusion led to a
flock of Yadavs' men thumbing their nose at the Bill. Going a step
further, few MPs belonging to Lalu Prasad Yadav's RJD and Mulayam
Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party put the Parliament and democracy to
shame when they tore the Bill and attacked Hamid Ansari, the Vice
President and Chairman of the Rajya Sabha.
A confused Congress sent mixed and contradictory signals when things
started slipping out of hand in a day of fast developments. The Bill
was pushed and shoved for introduction from one time slot to another
till a war weary Congress gave up at dusk, postponing the introduction
of the Bill to Tuesday.
Initially, the Congress, armed with brute support in the Rajya Sabha,
thought it could push the Bill. But realising that the Chair could not
ask disrupters to leave the House when a Constitutional Bill was to be
debated, the Congress went into a huddle at Sonia Gandhi's 10 Janpath.
The deadlock put the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on
the defensive as the two regional parties - the Samajwadi Party and
the Rashtriya Janata Dal with their support base in the Hindi
heartland - threatened to withdraw support to the government accusing
it of trampling on the interests of "women belonging to minorities,
Dalits and backward class".
The support withdrawal will not result in the fall of the government
but will make its majority slim in the 543-member Lok Sabha,
especially when the crucial Finance Bill is set to come up.
The proposed legislation to reserve 33.3 per cent seats in Parliament
and state legislatures for women was drafted by the United Front
Government, headed by H D Deve Gowda, and tabled in Parliament for the
first time on September 12, 1996. It was referred to a parliamentary
panel headed by the late Left leader Geeta Mukherjee.
Though it has been introduced in Parliament several times since then,
the Bill could not be passed. When Gowda's successor I K Gujral sought
to introduce it in 1997, he was shouted down by members of his own
party, the undivided Janata Dal. In 1999, when the then law minister
Ram Jethamalani sought to table the Bill during the NDA government's
tenure, an RJD minister snatched the papers from his hands.
So, in 2008, when law minister H R Bhardwaj introduced the Bill in the
Rajya Sabha, he was guarded by Congress ministers like V Narayansamy
and Renuka Chaudhary to ensure that the incident was not repeated.
The Bill provides for reservation for women at each level of
legislative decision-making, starting with the Lok Sabha to state and
local legislatures. If the Bill is passed, one-third of the total
available seats would be reserved for women in national, state or
local governments. In continuation of the existing provisions already
mandating reservations for scheduled caste and scheduled tribes,
one-third of such SC and ST candidates must be women.
The historic bill, first introduced in 1996 that promises to reserve
33 percent of legislative seats for women in the country was moved in
the Rajya Sabha amid unruly scenes as a dozen members opposing it tore
up the document and hurled the pieces at chairman Hamid Ansari before
forcing a fifth adjournment of the day.
This happened on a day when both Houses assembled to the call to
"celebrate and honour women" and include them in the decision making
process to mark Women's Day being observed worldwide.
The controversial bill - for which the ruling United Progress Alliance
(UPA) has support of numbers from the opposition Bhartiya Janata Party
(BJP) and the Communists but opposition from the northern regional
parties - faced repeated opposition in the two houses, though it was
taken up for consideration only in the Rajya Sabha Monday.
The bill is now expected to be taken up for vote Tuesday amid reports
that Manmohan Singh has called an all-party meeting to arrive at a
The government seems to have been caught completely unprepared by
Monday's turn of events as a huge buzz had been created in the media
and outside over the imminent passage of the bill that was trumpeted
as one of the signal acts of the government. The bill, if it became
law, promised to politically empower women in a way that few countries
could boast of and one that would have radically transformed the way
politics was practised.
But the anti-bill lobby, headed by the Yadav chieftains, Mulayam Singh
Yadav of the SP and Lalu Prasad (Yadav) of the RJD, both former chief
ministers, had come well prepared as they mounted not just vocal but
physical opposition to the bill while threatening not just withdrawal
of support to the government but "political war" if the government
went ahead with it.
"We will use our democratic rights fully whatever the consequences.
This is a political dacoity. It won't be tolerated," Lalu Prasad
thundered to reporters.
The Janata Dal-United (JD-U) is split over the support to the bill
with a section loyal to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar signalliing
its intention to back the legislation.
With the fate of the bill appearing to hang in the balance and
questions being asked if the government had got cold feet over it, Law
Minister M. Veerappa Moily assured in the evening: "We have a majority
of 200 and we could have passed the bill. But a bill of this nature,
which will have a historical importance and have important
implications and seeks constitution amendment cannot be bulldozed.
"We need a healthy debate. It is listed for consideration tomorrow
(Tuesday). There was a lot of 'hungama' (ruckus) today which was
totally uncalled for," he told reporters after the Rajya Sabha was
The Congress slammed a "handful" of opposition members for their
"churlish" attempts to derail the bill but said the government was
determined to pass it.
"The present reservation bill is a subject where the only question is
when and not if. It's an idea whose time has come and the inevitable
cannot be postponed," he added.
"Despite all the churlish attempts to the contrary, something which
would and will make India, the Indian womanhood and Indian democracy
proud, is being turned by a bare handful of persons into the shame of
democracy," spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said.
Both the BJP and Communists have promised support but criticised the
government on floor management and for not anticipating the nature of
the opposition. Brinda Karat, leader of the Communist Party of
India-Marxist, said the government should have ensured the house
chairman's dignity and said "there were enough women MPs who could
have circled and protected the chairman if the government had only
planned in time."
The bill has otherwise found wide support from India's diverse social
and intellectual spectrum. The Centre for Social Research (CSR), an
activist group, has even begun the process of selecting 1,000 women
from across India and grooming them to contest elections in
anticipation of the legislation.
Source: India Syndicate and IANS
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