At the risk of appearing to buckle down, the government on Thursday responded to pressure from the three Yadavs, the thinly veiled threat of rebellion in the BJP and the simmering discontent in its own camp over the women’s reservation bill by putting the bill on hold till further consultations.
<b1>It was guided by its own interest in first clearing the financial business — including the passage of the finance bill — before bringing the women’s bill perhaps in the second half of the budget session, sometime in April.
Normalcy returned to the Lok Sabha after three days of turmoil after Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee said the Centre would consult the Yadav troika — Sharad Yadav (JD-U), Lalu Prasad (Rashtriya Janata Dal) and Mulayam Singh Yadav (Samajwadi Party) — and all concerned before introducing the bill in the Lok Sabha.
“Some sort of assurance was sought on the progress of the Constitution Amendment Bill (women’s bill). Before bringing it to the Lok Sabha, government will complete the process of consultations with all concerned,” Mukherjee said in a statement in the Lok Sabha after the logjam on the issue was broken.
His statement remained open-ended. It was silent on the nature, scope and modality of consultations. And unlike earlier occasions, the government this time refrained from committing itself to a political consensus before bringing the bill.
“We do not want to create another problem by stating this. But we are for the bill in its existing form," said a well-placed Congress leader.
The day was marked by high drama and fast paced developments, cutting across party lines. The BJP, whose support was crucial in passing the bill, was busy fighting the open rebellion in its ranks, with members like Yogi Adityanath threatening to defy the party whip even after senior leader L K Advani heard out and placated his party MPs. Even as the BJP was fighting its battle, the first sign of discontent in the Congress ranks also showed up. Congress member Israr ul Haq from Kishanganj demanded that the bill take the concerns of minorities into account.
But the day belonged to the Yadav troika, Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee who, too, was keen on including the Muslims in the reservation ambit and Congress president Sonia Gandhi who, unlike her determination in pushing the bill in the Rajya Sabha, decided to wait it out in the Lok Sabha to help the government push the financial business.
The first signs of a breakthrough came when the Congress Core Group met at the Prime Minster’s office in Parliament House. Gandhi, who attended it, also had a brief interaction with the Yadavs in the Lok Sabha and asked Mukherjee to meet them.
Bannerjee, NCP leader Sharad Pawar and DMK’s T R Baalu were also present at the two hour meeting.
Mukherjee then drafted a brief statement which was approved by these leaders and the Prime Minister and then read out in the House.
During the meeting with Mukherjee, the Yadav troika protested at the manner in which the bill was brought in the Rajya Sabha. They renewed their demand for a subquota for Muslims and backward classes and called for an all party meeting.
They also protested at allowing outside police forces in the house for evicting seven Rajya Sabha members, who were suspended on Tuesday for protesting against the bill.
After the meeting, Mulayam said, “there is solution to all problems. This issue will also be resolved.”
Earlier, when the House met in the morning, Speaker Meira Kumar allowed the Yadavs to speak on the bill in an attempt to run the House. “Unless all parties agree, the bill should not be introduced in Lok Sabha,” said Mulayam.
Lalu Prasad, who had spoken to Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi on the issue, asked the government to introduce creamy layer concept in the bill so that deprived women can benefit.
However, they were not satisfied with Mukherjee’s verbal assurance of consultations. Accordingly, this was followed by another round of discussions where the logjam was broken.