Continuing his opposition to the Women's Reservation Bill, Janata Dal-United (JD-U) president Sharad Yadav says that 90 per cent of MPs are against the bill that seeks to set aside a third of all seats in India's legislatures for women.
"If there is no party whip, 90 per cent of the MPs will oppose the bill, whether they are from the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) or the NDA (National Democratic Alliance), whether they are from backward classes or upper castes, whether they are male or women MPs," Yadav claimed in an interview.
Will the women's bill, passed by the Rajya Sabha on March 9, be introduced in the Lok Sabha?
"You may ask that question to the UPA managers. It will face stiffer opposition in the Lok Sabha from us and like-minded parties such as the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)," Yadav said.
"And I can tell you the bill will fall flat if there is no whip," said Yadav, 63, a seventh-time Lok Sabha MP and convenor of the NDA that is led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Differences had surfaced in the JD-U when the women's bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha.
While most of the seven JD-U Rajya Sabha MPs supported the bill, the 20 party MPs in the Lok Sabha led by Yadav opposed it. JD-U leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar supported it, saying the legislation was one whose time had come.
Sharad Yadav joined the other Yadav duo - Samajwadi's Mulayam Singh Yadav and RJD's Lalu Prasad - to protest against the bill in the Lok Sabha. They received the indirect support of Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress, whose two MPs abstained from the voting, in the Rajya Sabha although the party is a member of the Congress-led UPA alliance.
The bill, which provides for 33 percent reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies, was passed with an overwhelming majority in the Rajya Sabha. The BJP, other constituents of the NDA and the Left supported it.
The bill is yet to be introduced in the Lok Sabha.
As the Yadav trio and their supporters staged noisy protests in the Lok Sabha, Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee stated that the bill would be introduced only "after wider consultations" with all parties.
The JD-U and other parties want a sub-quota for women from other backward classes (OBCs) and minorities in the seats reserved for women.
According to Yadav, the bill in the present form will benefit only "a few elite women from the metros".
"It has only the support of some vocal Delhi-based NGOs. Not even from other cities," he said.
Then why are the Congress, the BJP and other parties supporting it?
"Let all parties allow a free discussion and withdraw the whip. The frank opinion of the MPs and the cadres will be heard then," the JD-U leader said.
Yadav said the differences over the bill was not a major obstacle in his alliance with the BJP in Bihar.
"You may not agree on all issues in an alliance. Similarly, Nitish might not have personally agreed to opposing the bill. But we are all united in the JD-U and the NDA."
Then why did the JD-U members support the bill in the Rajya Sabha?
"Sometimes, as a party, you may have to make some tactical moves. But I can tell you that all our MPs in the Lok Sabha are united in opposing the bill."
If the JD-U is for reservations for women from OBCs and minorities, will it nominate women from those sections in the coming elections to the Bihar assembly?
"We have been trying to empower women. But the selection of candidates depends on their winnability too," Yadav said.