Parliament appears set to create history as the Rajya Sabha takes up the Women's Reservation Bill on Monday with Congress, BJP and Left parties joining hands in favour of the measure and divisions emerging among the opponents.
Passage of the Bill, hanging fire for 13 years for want of consensus, in the Rajya Sabha, where it is scheduled for consideration tomorrow, is almost a certainty given the formidable strength of its backers -- Congress, BJP and the Left parties and a number of other smaller parties like TDP, DMK, AIADMK, Akali Dal and National Conference.
The Upper House has an effective strength of 233 and the voice of the opponents has been dented with Bihar Chief Minister and JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar springing a surprise by suddenly turning a champion of the Bill.
The opponents to the measure now number less than 26 in the House as the JD(U) remained sharply divided following Kumar's statement.
A constitution amendment needs a special majority in voting needing the support of 155 in the House. The bill has clear support of at least over 165 MPs now.
Law and Justice Minister M Veerappa Moily would be moving for consideration 'The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill', which is also known as Women's Reservation Bill to coincide with the International Women's Day tomorrow. The Bill seeks to provide 33 per cent reservation for women in Lok Sabha and state assemblies.
The opponents to the measure have declared "war" against the legislation. SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, RJD chief Lalu Prasad and JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav have stuck to their opposition to the bill in its present form and demanded quota within quota for backward and Muslim women.
In the Rajya Sabha, Congress has 71 members, BJP 45, CPI(M) 15, AIADMK 7, NCP 6, CPI 5, DMK 4, BJD 4, Telugu Desam and Trinamool Congress 2 each and Forward Block 1. All these parties are known supporters of the legislation which takes the number to 162.
Akali Dal, which has 3 members in the Rajya Sabha, has already announced its support.
On the eve of the consideration of the Bill, government sought to reach out to its opponents, appealing to all to support the long-pending measure unanimously and assuring them of talks on "other ideas".
"It is desire, hope and appeal to all that we should support this important measure unanimously in the present form. Law is not a static thing and it is a dynamic one. If there are any ideas, we can talk later," Parliamentary Affairs Minister P K Bansal told PTI.
The Congress and BJP have issued a three-line whip to their members for backing the bill. CPI leader D Raja said he has asked party members to be present in the House and likewise other Left leaders have done so.
Like Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Raja also felt that there would be no problem in the passage of the Bill "if one goes by the numbers".
Raja said, besides, there have been a number of parties like DMK, AIADMK, TDP and BJD supporting the measure.
Replying to a question where it would be a "red letter" day in Parliament as the legislation would change the complexion of Lok Sabha, he hoped it would be a "historic and momentous decision" and he does not see any problem.
However, the numbers are stacked against the opponents of the bill which is seen as an attempt by the Congress to break the Opposition unity over issues of price rise and fuel price hike.
Though the strength of the Rajya Sabha is 245, its effective strength now is 233 as there are 12 vacancies, including that of six nominated members.
Attempts to take up the Bill in the last about 13 years have been scuttled, sometimes at the introduction stage itself by its vocal opponents who have been demanding a quota for the Backward classes within the 33 per cent quota.
When the bill was introduced for the first time, it was snatched from the hands of the then prime minister I K Gujral in 1997 and torn to pieces by members his Janata Dal heading the United Front.
Subsequently, the incident was repeated when the then Law Minister Ram Jethamalani sought to table the bill during the NDA government's tenure.
Champions of the Women's Reservation Bill appeared to have won the first round ahead of the Bill being taken up in Rajya Sabha on Monday with its opponents in disarray and the JD(U), a known critic, sharply divided.
This became clear with the Congress and the BJP seeking to take credit for the long-delayed measure even ahead of its passage.
Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav lashed out at the Bill saying it was "dangerous". Yadav on Sunday said empowerment of the fairer sex should be rather done through quota in government jobs. He alleged that the legislation was a "conspiracy" to prevent Muslims, Dalits, and backward classes from entering Parliament and state assemblies.
"SP is not against reservation to women, but we are against the present format of the bill, which is a conspiracy by the Congress and the BJP to prevent Muslims, backwards and Dalits to get elected to the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabhas," Yadav told reporters in Lucknow.
"It's not an allegation, it's a reality as Congress and BJP had always been anti-Muslim, anti-backward and anti-Dalit. Therefore, they want to amend the Constitution," he alleged.
He said when not a single Muslim was elected to Parliament from states like Gujarat, MP, Maharashtra, Punjab and Haryana, how can a Muslim woman could be elected without reservation.
"This bill is dangerous as women have been included in reservation being extended to Muslims, OBCs and SC/ST. If this bill is enacted, especially Muslims and OBCs would be at the receiving end," he said. "It's a big conspiracy not to allow leadership grow among Muslims, OBCs and Dalits," he alleged. PTI
Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) will oppose the Women's Reservation Bill "tooth and nail and are even prepared to be marshalled out," its president Lalu Prasad said on Sunday .
Dubbing the bill as a "political blunder", Prasad alleged that it was a conspiracy hatched by both BJP and Congress parties to suppress representation of women belonging to the OBC, ST/SC and Muslim communities.
The Centre does not have guts to implement the Ranganath Mishra Commission and Sachar panel reports, and hence passing of the Women's Reservation Bill was merely a "diversionary tactic", he told reporters here before leaving for New Delhi to garner support against the bill in its present form. "I am for 50 per cent reservation for women belonging to all communities... But you cannot ignore the the interests of women from deprived sections of the society.
"Did women like Sushma Swaraj require reservation to reach the top ? ... It only proves that the Bill is meant for the elite classes," Prasad said.
Criticising Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for his alleged "dual standards" on the Bill, he said Kumar had as member of joint parliamentary committee given a note of dissent to the bill in 1997. The RJD chief alleged that Kumar was trying to appease his alliance partner BJP as this is the assembly election year in the state.
Claiming that certain top leaders of the BJP and Congress were in constant touch with him, Prasad said "They told me if the parties (BJP and Congress) had not issued the whip they would have voted against the Bill."
Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj on Sunday said she was confident that the women's reservation bill would be passed in Parliament with two-third majority.
"Since the UPA government does not have required numbers to pass the bill, it is the responsibility of the main opposition party to help in passing the bill," Swaraj said addressing a press conference here this evening.
"If the Congress party had taken such initiative to discharge its duty as main opposition party during the NDA regime, the women' reservation bill would have been passed in 1999," Swaraj said.
The senior BJP leader said the support to the UPA government on women's reservation bill was issue-based. "They (Congress) never cooperated with us and we do not expect that they will do so in future also if the BJP wishes to seek any support from them," Swaraj added.
Swaraj admitted that within the NDA and even her own party leaders, there were differences over the bill in its present form. "But when the party has decided to support the bill and has issued the whip, everyone has to support the same," she said.
She said it was the BJP in 1994 that brought the women's reservation bill in its agenda during the Vadodara convention. "Since the party believes that complete empowerment of women will come with political empowerment as it gives authority, BJP is supporting the bill," Swaraj added. PTI