The biggest jolt to the Congress on Tuesday came not from the opponents of the women’s reservation bill, the Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal, whose position was well known, but from ally Mamata Banerjee, who suddenly criticised the bill and directed her party to abstain from voting on it in the Rajya Sabha.
Banerjee condemned the government, of which she is a part, for pushing through the bill in an “undemocratic and unconstitutional manner” and joined SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav and RJD chief Lalu Prasad in demanding separate reservation for Muslim, Dalit and OBC women within the women’s quota.
“I don’t understand what has happened,” said Congress president Sonia Gandhi in an interview to NDTV. “I’m told that when it came up in cabinet, all three coalition partners were supportive. Mamata was in the meeting and I was told by the person who sat next to her that she was very enthusiastic.”
Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress is the Congress’s biggest coalition partner in the UPA. In the Rajya Sabha, where it has only two seats, its abstention did not matter much. But it will in the Lok Sabha, where it has 19 seats — and where too, the Bill has to be passed with a two-thirds majority.
“Political parties need to factor in the enormous changes that have come about in the country’s polity in the 14 years since the women’s reservation bill was first introduced in Parliament in 1996,” Banerjee said, explaining her new
“The Sachar and Ranganath Mishra commissions have brought out the plight of Muslims. The bill needs to incorporate these concerns,” she added, after holding a half hour meeting with Mulayam and Lalu.
“They (Yadav and Prasad) are friends, senior leaders and UPA alliance partners. When the government can talk to the CPM (on the bill), what prevented it from talking to leaders of supporting parties such as Prasad and Yadav?” Banerjee asked.
She also claimed she had not been told that voting would be held on Tuesday.
Banerjee’s change of heart is apparently related to her concern for her support base in West Bengal where assembly elections will be held in 2011.