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Women's Bill: Congress scores a political knockout

By Sheela Bhatt
Last updated on: March 09, 2010 21:55 IST
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Congressmen are having the last laugh. They have called the bluff of Lalu Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav, whose party members were disrupting the Rajya Sabha.

Most of opposition parties thought that the Congress did not have a strategy to tackle the ruckus over the bill.

A senior Congress leader told, "It was a hectic day. The BJP was putting hurdles thinking that the government will be unable to move the bill. They thought voting will never take place. But we stood our ground. They wanted debate. We managed it. They told us that clear the House before they can vote. So we did it."

The bill was passed with overwhelming numbers that included votes of the Congress, the BJP and the Left parties in the Rajya Sabha. It was a pleasant surprise after Monday's fiasco. At the end of the day Chairman of RS Hamid Ansari has sent a letter of thanks to Arun Jaitley,leader of Oppostion. 

In the intense drama over the bill, Congressmen have proved that the party can teach a lesson or two to its opponents in the game where media is an important element.

During the political game played out in last few days over the bill, the Congress party's machinery was able to re-establish how Sonia Gandhi's political weight can tilt the balance in getting the nation a historical and trendsetting legislation. She has also been credited with the Right to Information Act and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. Now the way things played out in Rajya Sabha, she is getting praise from her party for pushing the Women's Bill also.

"The political will of Sonia Gandhi made it possible," said a senior Cabinet minister after coming out of the Rajya Sabha.

The Congress has understood the media game and how to play it to its advantage, says an office bearer of the Congress party. A senior leader said, "We didn't get tough with Lalu or Mulayam Singh Yadav's party men. We didn't want them to garner all the sympathy on the first day itself."

He says, "We waited for a day and it paid off."

When asked why the government remained inactive on Monday, the Cabinet minister said, "You should allow opposition to play it out the event. No?"

What he meant was that the government needed the opposition to vent out their concerns and anger so that once the government strikes it would have the last word and not the disgruntled elements.

A senior office bearer of the party and leader from a southern state said, "In the core group meeting, Sonia Gandhi insisted that voting take place today."

The government then made the quick plan to tolerate the chaos for sometime and then ask security to force the disrupting members to leave the house. Their eviction was not shown on television.

There was a little subterfuge involved because many members of the BJP and the Left parties were caught unawares. When the bill was taken up for debate and voting a very few were aware of it. However, Jaitley insisted that his party won't support the bill if the debate is not allowed before voting. That was a tense moment.He straightaway went to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Due to his insistence, the debate was allowed. Government was too much in hurry because it was afraid of things going wrong.

On Monday, BJP leader Arun Jaitley had raised doubt over government's sincerity but today the Congress cleared its name and created history.

"We pulled a fast one on the BJP members and have showed our commitment," said a Congress member.

However, as everyone knows its a long way to go for the Congress and supporters of the bill. The bill will now go to the Lok Sabha where the business advisory committee will schedule it.

It is certain that the finance and appropriation bill will be taken up first and only then will the Women's Bill come up before the Lok Sabha. The United Progressive Alliance's ally Trinmool Congress and the Janata Dal-Secular have disagreed with certain parts of the bill. The same way, within the Congress lots of Muslim and OBC leaders have apprehensions about the bill. All these forces, some of them are quite powerful, will force the leadership to take into account their grievances.

In view of slim majority that the UPA has in the Lok Sabha and its allies opposition to the suggested fuel price rise in the Budget, the women's bill will not come up immediately.

Also after Lok Sabha passes the bill, half the India's states (15 out of 30) will have to pass the bill by a two-thirds majority. So it's a long way to go.

However, women of India have something to cheer about with passing of the bill in the Rajya Sabha. It gives them an excuse to nurture a political dream.

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Sheela Bhatt