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After RS, what next for women's bill?

By Renu Mittal
March 11, 2010 23:14 IST
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The government has given the Yadavs opposing the Women's Reservation Bill a face saver by which they can withdraw their agitation in the Lok Sabha and allow the House to function, and in return, the government has promised them nothing more than a dialogue and time to discuss the bill with Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, not even promising them an all party meeting.

Sources in the government state that they are very clear there would be no dilution of the bill nor would the government bring any changes or amendments, but would ensure it is passed in the present form, though in a meeting held with the allies and the Yadav leaders Pranab Mukherjee has promised 'the government would hold consultations with all concerned.'

The impasse was broken when Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav told the Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Bansal that the government was not even talking to them to discuss the women's bill.

Bansal offered to take him to Pranab Mukherjee, to which Mulayam said that senior Janata Dal-United leader Sharad Yadav should also be involved. So the three Yadav leaders -- Mulayam Singh, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad and Sharad Yadav -- along with Trinamool Congress supremo Mamta Banerjee, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader T R Baalu met Pranab Mukherjee.

At the end of the meeting it was decided to allow the House to run with the vote on account slated to be passed on Friday, and the government after holding consultations would bring the Women's Reservation Bill in the Lok Sabha after the recess, and would decide on the date keeping various factors and the outcome of the talks in mind.

Sources say that Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley also played a role in persuading the Yadavs to let the House run. His logic was that the government had passed the Railway vote on account in the Lok Sabha without a discussion and was wanting to do the same with the vote on account, so instead of allowing them to do that, the discussion should be held and the government should be put on the mat.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, in deference for not standing up for the Yadavs, have made it clear to the government that there should be no use of marshals or use of force to evict the agitating Members of Parliament from the House as it happened in the Rajya Sabha, and if that happened, the BJP would withdraw its support to the bill.

Sharad Yadav is known to have been very upset that the BJP leaders did not stand up for them in the Rajya Sabha when the protesting MPs were being physically lifted and evicted from the premises.

This gives time to the government to let all parties have their say and to let the fact that the government is going ahead with passing the bill -- sink in -- before it is brought to the Lok Sabha, say sources.

Pranab Mukherjee would also interact with and speak to Congress MPs on the bill, as many of them have grave reservations and are opposed to it. Some of the MPs like Sandeep Dixit and Pawan Ghatowar are, reportedly, having reservations against the bill.

Within the BJP too, Sushma Swaraj convened a meeting of BJP MPs at the residence of senior leader L K Advani to ask them not to air their differences publicly and in full media glare, but despite that, there were fireworks in the meeting with MPs asking that there should be no whip and that they should be left free to vote.

Sources say that Sharad Yadav, who is having a hard time keeping his own party together with a number of them slated to vote for the bill, is inciting some of the BJP MPs from Bihar, and it is at his prompting that many of them are speaking against the bill.

But BJP MP Ramesh Bians said that they have conveyed their concerns to the BJP leadership, but after a whip is issued, all MPs of the party would vote for the bill.

It is learnt that sections of the Congress and government were also concerned with the concerted campaign being unleashed that the women's bill was anti-backward and anti-Muslim, and felt that this campaign should be halted as it could damage the party's prospects amongst these sections. The party is expected to use this time to put the record straight.

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Renu Mittal