A cornered government faced flak from the BJP which today sought to make political capital out of its failure to get Women's Reservation Bill passed in the Rajya Sabha by accusing it of developing a cold feet after SP and RJD threatened to withdraw support. Both BJP and CPI(M) said the government should have convened an all-party meeting on the issue earlier.
"I go back today evening with a distinct impression that the intention of the government is suspect. This government has developed cold feet," Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley said, adding, that "unless something spectacular happens tomorrow" the bill is not likely to be passed.
He referred to threat of withdrawal of outside support by SP and RJD, saying, "It is obvious the government majority is shaky and this weak government is lacking in will-power."
When it was pointed out that Law Minister Veerappa Moily has assured that the Bill will come up for discussion tomorrow as well, Jaitley said government may have listed it only as a formality but it was clear from its attitude that it has lost steam and is back-tracking despite opposition support.
Jaitley said passing such an important legislation without discussion was not possible as it was a "question of the legitimacy of the Bill and Parliament, and this would be akin to making a mockery of Parliament".
"I feel ashamed over what happened in Rajya Sabha today (referring to the din created by SP and RJD MPs). The image of the House has been maligned. It was clear that Congress had not done its homework. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should have called an all-party meeting over the issue earlier," BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu told reporters outside Parliament.
CPI(M) Rajya Sabha MP Brinda Karat said that "it was shameful and unfortunate that the bill could not be cleared on the occasion of the International Women's Day.
"It is a shame on the government that it could not get it done today. It had the numbers with it and even the Opposition was supporting it. The prime minister should have convened the all-party meeting on the issue earlier," she said.
Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj said BJP was both "dejected and disappointed" with the government failure to steer the Bill and for lacking in strategic floor management to get it passed.
Minister for Information and Broadcasting Ambika Soni, however, defended the government, saying that "the Centre does not believe in a ham-handed approach. We wanted a discussion on the bill in Rajya Sabha but the opposition parties behaved in an unruly manner".
She said "the unfinished agenda of today (of the bill's passage) has been listed for tomorrow". Soni said that the government never tried to take credit for introducing the bill in the Rajya Sabha.
"We never tried to score brownie points. We always said that it has been joint effort by all the parties," she said.
Jaitley said, "If two to four per cent members create a noise in the House it cannot be held to ransom. He maintained that if 10-12 members are allowed to stall every amendment, legislation would become impossible. Taking a dig at the government, the BJP MP said in the larger context this was a "defeat of Indian democracy".
Though 85-90 per cent members of the Rajya Sabha were supporting the Bill the government could not get the Bill passed, he said.
"After repeated adjournments by afternoon, it was clear the government's resolve to get it passed was weakening," Jaitley said.