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Sonia Gandhi goes all out for Women's reservation bill

By Renu Mittal
March 05, 2010 00:17 IST
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So keen is Congress President Sonia Gandhi to have the women's reservation bill passed in the Rajya Sabha that she told women MPs of her party who met her during on Thursday that "even if they have to snatch papers and tear them" they must do so to ensure that the bill is passed in the upper house of Parliament.

A senior woman MP of the Congress said that what the Congress president meant was that the party's Rajya Sabha MPs must be pro-active during the consideration and passing of the bill and must match the Yadav clan who have declared "war"on the women reservation bill by ensuring that they do not hijack the proceedings of the house during the debate.

The Business Advisory Committee of the Rajya Sabha which met on Thursday has allotted one day for the debate on the women bill with Sitaram Yechury of the Communist Party of India-Marxist making it clear in the meeting that the issue has been debated for the last many many years and they would be game to vote for the bill even without a discussion.

The Bharatiya Janata Party which is also backing the bill has also made it clear to the ruling Congress that they would be willing to vote for the bill even if there even if there are severe disruptions and some parties did not allow a discussion to take place.

Congress Parliamentary Party chairperson Sonia Gandhi who addressed the general body meeting of the Congress Parliamentary Party made it clear that along with the Food security bill, the women's reservation bill formed the topmost priority for the United Progressive Alliance. She said that March 8 is the centenary celebrations of the International Women's Day and "what a gift to the women of India if we can pass the bill on that day". What she meant was that if it can be passed in the Rajya Sabha on that day, which itself would be a historic step forward in the bill finally seeing the light of day.

The actual strength of the Rajya Sabha is 250 and currently there are 12 vacancies. A constitution amendment bill like the women's reservation bill needs to be passed by two thirds of the members present and voting and with congress, BJP and left ranged on the same side, a two-thirds majority is not a problem for the government.

The Congress has begun moves to discuss the issue with all likeminded political parties which are on board as far as the bill is concerned and which includes National Democratic Alliance partners like the Biju Janata Dal  and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.
Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Bansal has begun dinner diplomacy to garner support for the bill. He is hosting a dinner for chief whips of various parties on Thursday to discuss the women bill. This will give the government a clearer idea of what exactly are the support areas or reservations of these parties.

While the big three parties the congress, BJP and the Left have publicly committed their support for the bill, there are some parties within the UPA like the Trinamool Congress who have qualms over women's reservation and want a sub-quota for backwards and dalits but since Mamta Banerjee has already given her support to the bill in the cabinet, she would go ahead and back the bill. The DMK which again is a predominantly backward party also has some reservation but they would go ahead and support the bill.

For the moment Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party is singing the same tune as the Yadav brotherhood, asking for sub reservations for backwards and dalits but as one senior leader of her party put it, "with Behenji you never know. Her final decision will come only at the last minute, whether to oppose, to support, to boycott, to abstain or whatever". So her MPs are not saying anything at the moment, but waiting for the leader to make her decision known.

BJP leaders aver that JD-U leader and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar is himself favourably inclined towards the bill but Sharad Yadav has very strong views on the matter and is unwilling to extend support at any cost. Sharad Yadav, along with Mulayam Singh Yadav and Laloo Prasad Yadav have created the main campaign against the bill and taken it along caste lines.

It is learnt that a meeting of the so called "third front" has been convened on Friday which will discuss opposition unity on food prices as well as the women's reservation bill. This has been convened by the Mulayam-Laloo duo though the BJP has not been invited to the meeting. The left parties have been called as well as the AIADMK as the issue of cut motions also stands in the way of the government passing its budget smoothly.

The BJP has said it can support the left if they move a cut motion. If that happens and other upa outside supporting parties also come on board, it would be a tricky situation for the government to keep the numbers ahead of the opposition.

But while prices and oil hike have created opposition unity, the women's reservation bill would witness opposition disunity but it would also see the coming together of arch rivals Congress and BJP with the left standing in support, a left which is currently opposed to both the congress and the BJP on ideological lines. Interesting combinations would be witnessed in the upper house as the ruling party works hard to create history.
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Renu Mittal in New Delhi