At 4.15 pm on Monday when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met Opposition parties supporting the Women’s Reservation Bill, it was the first contact the government had made with leaders of BJP, Left and TDP whose strength along with that of the Congress formed the majority in the House to pass the bill. By then, the disrupters had even sought to target Vice-President Hamid Ansari.
“But till then, the government had not made any floor level contact even with the supporting parties for finalising the strategy to pass the bill,” Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley said. “The government was without a game plan to pass the bill and a handful of disrupters had a free run when 99 per cent of the House was in favour.”
The government even suggested to the Opposition leaders, “why not we pass the bill without a debate”. To which, those from the BJP and the Left did not agree. “We said we wanted a debate to ensure the credibity of an epoch-making legislation. We support women’s quota, but there should be a debate. This is a Constitutional amendment Bill and no ordinary Bill,” Jaitely said.
The government’s side held it was difficult to hold a debate with RJD and SP out to disrupt the House, unless their members were removed from the House. Jaitley, CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury and CPI’s Gurudas Dasgupta favoured the chair acting against them “in proportion to the scale of disruption”. At this stage, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee indicated he had to worry about the passing of the Budget too, giving an impression that the government was rethinking its strategy to push the Bill. “The government seemed to be jittery after Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad announced withdrawal of support,” the BJP leader said.
When the House was adjourned in the evening, the BJP blamed the government for failing to see the Bill through. “We were willing to have all our MPs stay. But the government could not manage the floor well.” Jaitley added, “This is a defeat for Indian democracy. The Opposition was willing to support the government, but the government’s hands began to tremble. The government is stepping back.”