A historic bill granting 33 per cent reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies was today passed by the Rajya Sabha after two days of high drama that saw suspension of seven members who violently disrupted proceedings.
The Women's Reservation Bill, pushed by the government despite the threat of withdrawal of support by Samajwadi Party and RJD, was passed by a two-third majority, a day after it was moved in the House for consideration but could not be taken up because of unruly scenes. Of the votes polled, 186 were in favour of the bill and only one was against.
The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill could get through with "unequivocal" support from the BJP and the Left in the Upper House where the ruling UPA coalition is in minority. The 245-member House has an effective strength of 233. UPA ally Trinamool Congress, with two members in the Upper House, did not participate in the voting.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley described the measure as "momentous and historic". BSP, having 12 members, walked out of the House saying the bill did not contain amendments suggested by it.
Lok Sabha also witnessed unruly scenes created by SP, RJD and JD(U) who forced four adjournments.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who intervened in the discussion, described the occasion as a "momentous" and the legislation as a "historic and great" step in the empowerment of women.
"It is not not an anti-minority or anti-SC or ST bill. But it only carries forward the emancipation of women," he said in his brief speech allaying apprehensions of opponents like SP and RJD that the bill was aimed against Muslim, OBC and dalit women.
Last-ditch efforts by opponents of the bill, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, RJD chief Lalu Prasad, who have threatened to withdraw support, and JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav, failed to persuade Prime Minister and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi from not not going ahead with the legislation in its present form.
The bill had the backing of all the UPA constituents, minus Trinamool Congress, the BJP, the Left parties and a number of small parties like the AIADMK and TDP.
The measure will now now go to Lok Sabha where also the ruling UPA has the numbers to get it passed with support from BJP, Left and other small parties backing it, notwithstanding opposition from SP, RJD and a divided JD(U). Gandhi expressed confidence that the government's stability was not not under threat over passage of the bill.
Apparently peeved over the importance given to Left parties by the government in getting the bill passed, Trinamool Congress, the largest constituent of the UPA after the Congress, kept away from voting. Its two members did not not vote. "The Prime Minister promised us yesterday that an all-party conference would be convened today. But they never told us.
"It appears Brinda Karat and CPI(M) have been taken into confidence. I am upset. Lalu and we are government allies. We don't want to bulldoze democratic process," Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee told reporters.
The Trinamool Congress is also said to be making calculations about the impact the bill will have on minorities in view of the Assembly elections in West Bengal due next year.
In an unprecedented action for the House of elders, seven MPs belonging to SP and RJD and an expelled JD(U) member were suspended for the rest of the Budget session for their unruly behaviour with the Chair yesterday. They were physically evicted by marshals after they squatted on the floor of the House for a couple of hours refusing to leave the House.
A discussion on the Bill, which the BJP and the Left parties had insisted for giving their support, was possible only after the eviction of the suspended MPs and the walk out by colleagues from their parties. PTI