Until the women’s quota bill came to it, no one bothered about the 31-member standing committee of personnel, public grievances, law and justice (SCPPGL&J) headed by E M Sudarsana Natchiappan.
It had no women on board and had two vacancies from among the Rajya Sabha members (now filled with women MPs) and five vacant slots from the Lok Sabha pool.
Suddenly, the panel has acquired tremendous political significance and its recommendations on the question of earmarking one-third seats for women in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies are likely to
alter the complexion of Indian politics. It is no surprise then that
the parties that failed to nominate their full quota to this panel are hurriedly trying to fill it up before the May 27 meeting.
As for the other panels, including 23 other department-related standing committees, 16 other standing committees and nine ad-hoc committees, the story remains the same. Hardly any standing committee has full membership.
According to information available in the Parliament website, barring eight panels in the category of (other standing committees and ad-hoc committees) that have the full quota of members on board, all others show vacancies that need to be filled, perhaps waiting for a contentious issue such as the quota bill.
In the present case, the stage is being set in the SCPPGL&J for a battle royale, with the pro and anti-bill forces trying to bring their most vociferous and determined voices on board.
A staunch opponent of the existing bill, RJD's Lalu Prasad Yadav replaced Sadhu Yadav with the very vocal Devendra Prasad Yadav to press for a sub-quota for OBCs and minorities. An equally vociferous proponent of the bill, CPM's Brinda Karat has walked into the panel against the vacancy created by the retirement of Independent MP P C Alexander.
The BJP and the Congress have fielded Najma Heptualla and Prabha Thakur respectively. And when the five vacancies from the Lok Sabha get filled, given the passions generated over the bill, the panel's deliberations may resemble Parliament during Zero Hour.
The bottomline: MPs have begun by flexing their partisan muscles on the Bill. This is a marked departure from rising above petty party interests away from the media glare to evolve a consensus. Whether a consensus emerges in this case is another question.