At a late night meeting, the Union Cabinet cleared the contentious Women’s Reservation Bill in its original form for introduction in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, amid open threats from parties like the JD(U) that they will block its introduction unless there is subquota for Dalits, OBCs and minorities.
One of the last of the major commitments of the Congress-led UPA’s common minimum programme, the women’s bill seeks to reserve one third seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state assemblies. Once introduced, the constitutional amendment bill would be routed to the standing committee to help hammer out a consensus on it.
At the Cabinet meeting, neither the DMK’s TR Baalu nor the LJP’s Ram Vilas Paswan raised any objection. But RJD’s Lalu Prasad flagged the issue of a subquota. To this, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Law Minister HR Bhardwaj said that each party will get an opportunity to raise its concerns when the bill goes to the standing committee.
Sources said that at the meeting, an appeal was made that the UPA project a united front. Lalu reportedly kept quiet but at one point made a passing reference to the EC formula of parties giving a certain percentage of tickets to women.
The government decided to bring the bill in Rajya Sabha to ensure its longevity. Unlike the fate of draft legislations in Lok Sabha, which lapse with its dissolution, those in Rajya Sabha survive as it is a permanent chamber. Since 1996, the bill has been introduced with difficulty thrice in Lok Sabha and has, each time, lapsed with dissolution of the House. But the Upper House may witness uproarious scenes. Efforts to convince the opponents to the bill in the UPA are on, with Congress president Sonia Gandhi seen talking to Lalu in Lok Sabha.
Meanwhile, whether in the UPA, NDA or UNPA, parties opposed to the original bill are now trying to coordinate their strategies. SP's Amar Singh spoke to RJD's Lalu on Sunday. JD(U)'s Sharad Yadav threatened to block the existing bill as it would adversely affect the fate of OBC, minority and Dalit women. He cited the SP, BSP, RJD, JD(U) and Dravidian parties as against the existing bill. “I am coordinating strategy with Nitish Kumar (JD-U), Mayawati (BJP), Ram Vilas Paswan (LJP) and others,” he added.
“You are playing with fire,” Yadav told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when he came across him in Parliament House. “We will not allow the government to introduce the bill; it is a constitutional amendment which should be passed by the consent of all parties,” he said.
Lalu told reporters his party is “not against” the bill but wants subquotas for deprived and minority women. “When the bill reaches the final stages, members should take a bold step and pass it by consensus.”
CPM’s Sitaram Yechury urged parties to let the bill be tabled and raise their objections during the debate. The Congress, on its part, wondered how parties which opposed exclusion of the creamy layer in OBC quotas were asking for the same vis a vis the women's bill.