The Women Reservation Bill looks set to throw in disarray the opposition that has been working together and giving a tough time to government in Parliament on price rise.
With the government and Congress president Sonia Gandhi indicating on Thursday that the Bill will come up in the Rajya Sabha on March 8, the opposition parties made their stance known and as expected, there was divergence of views.
Both the BJP and the Left backed the legislation reserving one-third of the seats in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies for women. Other Backward Classes (OBC) leaders Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad and Sharad Yadav let know their opposition, saying they would oppose the Bill in its present form "come what may".
Leaders of opposition Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley conceded that the BJP's decision will fracture opposition ranks. CPM's Sitaram Yechury said the Left was happy to learn that the Bill would be tabled on March 8. Mulayam and Lalu told Yechury they could back the Bill, if the quota was cut to 20 per cent.
Law Minister Veerappa Moily said the Centre was open to evolving a consensus for granting reservation to the OBCs later.
Swaraj said the Opposition was together on the issue of price-rise, but women's Bill
was a different matter. "On women's quota, we've come a long way." "We'll back it to the hilt," said Jaitley.
The BJP leaders said the government will have to do some homework to see the legislation through as it was a constitutional amendment. For a constitutional amendment to be adopted, two-thirds of the members of each of the two Houses have to be present and vote.
The OBC leaders argued that the Bill will benefit upper caste women and demanded a "quota-within-quota" for OBC women. "We will not tolerate it," Lalu Yadav said.
Earlier in the day, Gandhi told party MPs that she attached "highest importance" to the Bill, hanging fire for 15 years. Addressing the Congress Parliamentary Party, she said late Rajiv Gandhi had first unveiled the vision of empowering women. March 8 was the centenary of the International Women's Day and there could be no better gift for women of India on the day than the passage of the Bill.