Trouble is brewing in BJP with a section of party MPs in Lok Sabha expressing their opposition to the measure and threatening to vote against it and the party on Thursday decided to crack on the dissenters by issuing a whip to them to back it.
The BJP top brass swung into damage control and decided to issue a whip to its MPs to make them toe the party line.
Facing rebellion, top party leaders including the Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley and former party chief Rajnath Singh met the dissenting MPs this morning and sought to allay their fears over the bill which seeks to reserve one third of the seats in Lok Sabha and state assemblies for women and will unseat that number of men.
"We will issue a whip to party MPs when the bill comes up in Lok Sabha," Swaraj said after the meeting. Defiance of the whip can attract disqualification provisions against the members.BJP MPs had supported the measure in Rajya Sabha.
Prominent among those opposing the bill are Yogi Adityanath, MP from Gorakhpur, former union minister Hukumdeo Narayan Yadav, an old socialist from Janata Dal parivar, and party's chief whip in the Lok Sabha Ramesh Bais.
Some of the party MPs are even said to have threatened to vote against the measure when it is taken up in the Lower House. The support of BJP, which has 116 members in Lok Sabha, is crucial for the passage of the Constitutional amendment bill.
Bais, who had maintained on Wednesday that several party MPs had problems with the Bill in its present form and would air their grievances before the senior leaders, today said he had been misunderstood.
Former union Minister Murli Manohar Joshi said there may have been differences among some sections of the party but once BJP takes a stand everybody will have to go by it.
"In a democratic party, members may have different opinions on an issue and these can be discussed. But on the Bill the party has taken a stand and everybody will have to adhere to it," he said.
On the issue of a whip to members in Lok Sabha like it had been done for the party MPs in Rajya Sabha, Joshi, however, said, "The issue of whether whip should be issued in a democracy is debatable."
Hukumdeo Narayan Yadav, who was said to be one of the main opponents of the bill in the BJP, did a volte-face this morning, saying "I was with the BJP decision on supporting the bill when it came in Rajya Sabha and will abide by the party decision when it comes up in Lok Sabha. "Whatever I have to say about the bill, I will say in the party forum," he told PTI.
When asked about his earlier stand against the bill, he said, "The press may have thought that since other Yadavs like Lalu and Mulayam are opposed to the bill, I would be opposed too. Also because I am a socialist like them. But if I was in agreement with them, I would be in their party and would not have joined BJP."
BJP chief whip in Lok Sabha Ramesh Bais on Wednesday had claimed “at least 70 per cent of MPs” were against the Bill while a senior BJP MP said he would defy any whip to vote in its favour even though his party had offered it “unequivocal support” in the Rajya Sabha.
Ramesh Bais said there was strong resentment among Lok Sabha MPs over the Bill and his party leadership was engaged in placating MPs.
“At least seventy per cent of MPs are protesting against the women's reservation Bill and the way the party supported the Bill despite marshals being used in Rajya Sabha. Top leaders of the party have assured that grievances of the MPs will be taken into account,” Bais told The Indian Express, adding that Murli Manohar Joshi and Yashwant Sinha had already held the first round of discussions.
Hukumdeo Narayan Yadav, senior leader and BJP MP from Madhubani in Bihar, declared he would defy any party whip in Lok Sabha and vote against the Bill.
A former Union Minister, Yadav told The Indian Express: “If they issue a whip (to vote in favour of the Bill), I will break it and vote against it. Let them end my membership, I am not bothered. I am a socialist and I cannot compromise on issues of social justice.”
He said he had asked the BJP leadership not to issue a whip in Lok Sabha and allow MPs to exercise their choice. He also slammed the use of marshals in Rajya Sabha to evict seven MPs who were opposed to the Bill.
Yadav said the use of marshals amounted to “martial law” and his party had been a “mute spectator”.
“History will not spare the BJP. The BJP was like Bhishmapitamah and Dronacharya in Mahabharata who remained mute spectators to the disrobing of Draupadi,” he said. Attacking the policy of his party to support the Bill, he said the BJP would “decline further” if it ignored the backward classes.
Yogi Adityanath, MP from Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, too aired his protest, wondering why the party had shown such eagerness to back the women's reservation Bill when there were more pressing matters on hand.
Madhusudan Yadav, a first-time BJP MP from Rajnandgaon in Chhattisgarh, too objected that the party leadership had not protested the use of marshals to evict MPs from Rajya Sabha.
“The allies and supporters of UPA are protesting against the Bill. They used the support of the Opposition to use marshals and bulldoze the Bill through Rajya Sabha. We will not tolerate the use of marshals in Lok Sabha,” Yadav told The Indian Express.