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Only miracle can save the women's bill now

By Sheela Bhatt
Last updated on: March 09, 2010 14:30 IST
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There was shock within the non-Congress Members of Parliament to see how the government remained inactive within the Rajya Sabha when the Women's Reservation Bill was tabled on Monday. 

Only a miracle and government's sincere political will can keep alive the bill tomorrow.

On Monday morning, the government was blessed with the majority inside the House to pass the bill; and still the government didn't use or failed to use the opportunity.

The women's bill could not be passed due to absence of any visible strategy and tact on the floor of House by the government. Critics say this could be the result of sabotage within the Congress.

Although, there are no proofs of internal sabotage yet, but it's a mystery why the government didn't prompt its members to demand action against disruptive elements before the lunch-break?

Clearly, there was a disconnection between the United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi's dream of passing the women's bill on a landmark day and political class' reservation against it. Government came under tremendous pressure from this class once Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Yadav and Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav took the centre-stage.

Congress party is stoutly denying any charge of the opposition, but surely damage has been done and it is left doing damage control. Their desperation to clear their name is quite evident. Jayanti Natrajan, spokesperson of the Congress, said agitatedly, "We have to run the government also." 

Arun Jaitley, leader of Opposition, told, " When I met Prime Minister (Manamohan Singh) in Parliament today in late afternoon I told him that we are ready to support you, we are ready to vote at 6 pm. You have to locate only 8 MPs who were engaged in disruptions inside the Rajya Sabha. Once they are withdrawn from the House, voting can take place after the debate."

PM Singh heard him and merely said, " Thank you."

Jaitley has alleged, "Congress' intensions to pass the bill are suspicious. Government has developed cold feet. Government is nervous."

Now, many Congressmen who are supporting the bill are blaming a section within the party, who were always against the bill. They think that this section silently worked out their strategy. They say that many old Congress hacks will lose their well-nurtured constituencies if the Women's Reservation Bill becomes Act.

There are many Congress MPs who are winning from the same seats since the last four or five elections. Under the women's bill, one third of the Lok Sabha seats will be rotating after every election.

This makes most old guards nervous. More than half of the old hacks will find themselves without suitable constituencies. That means well-entrenched and powerful fat cats of the Congress will see women's bill robbing them of their estate. Such monumental legislation was opposed within, but these dissenters remained silent, and were relieved to see the government failing.

The Bharatiya Janata Party supporters are saying that Muslim MPs of many parties are absolutely against the bill, because 181 seats every election will be reserved for women, if the bill becomes an act.

Already, some 131 seats are reserved for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. So, out of the 543 seats, chances of having Muslim MPs will be restricted to some 312 seats.

This is a dramatic reduction of opportunity and power base for the Muslim political class in the country. Under the new dispensation, Muslim MPs feel that the chances of Muslim women getting elected from the reserved seats will deteriorate further, because there are not enough Muslim women in public life.

Most of the Muslim political parties of Kerala and other states have opposed the bill.

Behind the scene, a large section of the Muslim community leaders, along with the OBC leaders, are pressurising the government. They are also helping the opposition to raise their voice.

Congress spokesperson dismissed such allegations, saying that government is still very serious and it will try once more to pass the bill, tomorrow.

PM Singh is scheduled to meet Lalu and Mulayam on Tuesday morning.

Some critics say that Congress was in a hurry to corner the credit and put it all in Sonia Gandhi's bag. There is a section in the opposition parties who are jealous or just irritated of Gandhi family's ever-increasing clout in Indian politics. There are many who would not like to strengthen the myth of Gandhis by giving them one more huge achievement in form of this historic bill.

However, on Monday, the Congress would have known how unpopular it is amongst non-Congress political class. 

The dislike for the Congress was evident in the harsh statements of Lalu Yadav and Mulayam Yadav.

A non-Congress MP from Tamil Nadu said, "Today both these Yadav leaders have turned a hero in their constituency. They were losing ground, but they have won the day and won the hearts of OBC voters."

He said, "There is no point naming them rowdy or violent. They have done their job in sync with their vote base to oppose the bill. The government have allowed them to turn hero by not taking any action to contain their disruption."

Today, it was observed that PM Singh and Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee were going slow when fast action were required to push the bill, because Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Yadav seemed bent upon withdrawing the outside support to UPA.

That would have given touch of instability to the government, because the majority of UPA would have reduced to single digit. Government will have to take care of the finance bill, which will come for approval in the Lok Sabha soon.

BJP MPs claim that 'aggression' in the Rajya Sabha was not as intense as seen many times before. As soon as some members misbehaved, they could have been controlled. But, if the Congress had taken some tough action inside the RS by moving the petition to chairman Ansari to take action against the members who had been violating the norms inside the House, then the government's maneuvering space in the Lok Sabha would have reduced.

By evening, when the things turned bad to worse, the women's bill was pitted against the finance bill.

Then, Congress's allies -- Nationalist Congress Party, Trinmool Congress and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam -- also prevailed upon the government to go slow and defer the voting. Some leaders of the Left parties alleged that Mamta Bannerji (TMC chief) is worried about the impact of women's bill on Muslim supporters, so she was also willing to defer the voting.

However, one wonders of his own, why Chairman Hamid Ansari did not take any action when some members attacked him?

The indications are that the members of the Rajya Sabha will debate tomorrow Railway budget.

There are many guilty men behind failing of the women's bill. But, anti-climax came because government lacked political will to ensure voting today itself.

There are some hard lessons of the day. UPA in its second avatar has faulted again. After the debacle of the Telangana issue in December 2009, the government is cornered again by its rivals.

Its so surprising to see that the Congress did relatively better when it had 141 seats. Now it has 208 seats, and fresh experience of ruling the country between 2004-2009; but its authority is not expanding proportionately. Monday's event has shown the government its limitation. And, no government likes their ego getting pricked like this.

The supporters of the women's bill have no option but to wait for miracle, on Tuesday.

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Sheela Bhatt