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A constitutional amendment Bill moved by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government on Monday to reserve one third of all seats in Parliament and state legislatures for women has run into trouble and is unlikely to be put to vote anytime soon.
<b1>After moving the bill for passing in Rajya Sabha (RS) on Monday, the government chose not to put it to vote, as a group of 10 members of Parliament from SP and RJD violently disrupted proceedings through the day. Though the Bill will be listed for discussion and voting on Tuesday, the government is unlikely to press for voting, sources said.
The Congress core group took stock of the situation and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will meet leaders of RJD, SP and JDU on Tuesday to seek a consensus. Congress sources said the RJD-SP combine is open to supporting a reduced quantum of reservation.
The Bill may have had the support of nearly 200 of 233 members in the Upper House, counting MPs of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Left. But a resolute opposition mounted by the SP and RJD — a group that has 26 members in Lok Sabha and 16 in RS — forced the government to rethink on both tactical and ideological grounds.
A looming revolt within the ranks — with most male Congress MPs against the Bill and ally Mamata Banerjee pressing for a review – also forced the government’s hands, said sources.
HT had reported in the March 6 edition that despite the numbers in favour of the bill, the government’s move will be decided by political calculations, particularly the thin majority that it will be reduced to in Lok Sabha if SP-RJD combine withdrew support.
“Passing finance Bills, including the Budget, with a wafer-thin majority would have been difficult,” said a minister.
“Running the government business would have become nightmare. This became our primary concern,” he said. The Budget is pending discussion and passing in Parliament.
An SP-led argument that quota for women would reduce chances of Muslims to enter legislatures also put the government on back foot, according to another source.
“With women’s quota, 264 of 543 LS seats would have been reserved, including the existing SC and ST quotas. This will severely restrict the Muslims whose representation has decreased from 34 members to 28 from 14th to the current Lok Sabha.
Given the condition of Muslim women, they are unlikely to be elected from reserved seats — there are only three Muslim women in the current LS and only 14 have been elected in the entire history,” said Mohammad Adeeb, a Congress-supported independent Rajya Sabha MP from UP.
This argument found favour with several leaders of the ruling coalition. Railway minister Mamata Banerjee also told the PM that the concerns of the Muslims could severely affect the political fortunes of the alliance.
The resistance from within the Congress and UPA too became tangible as the opposition onslaught built up through the day. “What’s the big hurry? We must analyse the Bill better,” said a Congress minister, a view echoed by at least six other MPs HT spoke to. “We are being unnecessarily obstinate,” said one.
Among other questions raised was one about whether such a “momentous amendment to the constitution should be passed without a debate”.
“The only way to put the Bill to vote was by physically throwing out the disrupters. It would have been a wrong precedent to set for a future government to misuse,” a Congress leader said.
“That kind of a voting would also have been challenged in the Supreme Court,” he added. The stiff resistance from different quarters has also brought to the forefront what would be an ideal quantum of reservation for women. “We could re-look whether it must be 33 percent or 20 percent,” a leader said.
Women’s reservation has been am issue close to Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s heart and promised in the party manifesto in 2004 and 2009.