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Women’s bill: Congress in bind

When the government takes up the women’s reservation bill on Monday — the centenary of International Women’s Day — it will not worry about getting the numbers to pass the bill in the Rajya Sabha or even in the Lok Sabha later.

india Updated: Mar 06, 2010 01:04 IST
Saroj Nagi

When the government takes up the women’s reservation bill on Monday — the centenary of International Women’s Day — it will not worry about getting the numbers to pass the bill in the Rajya Sabha or even in the Lok Sabha later.

With the Left and the BJP’s support, the numbers are assurred.

But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will have to worry whether he will be able to run his government for the next four years after alienating some of the parties supporting the UPA from outside — the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party and possibly even the Bahujan Samaj Party, which are implacably opposed to passing the bill.

These parties have 27 MPs in the 245-member Rajya Sabha and 46 in the 543-member Lok Sabha. Their withdrawal of support would leave the UPA with 274 members in the Lok Sabha (excluding Speaker Meira Kumar and Madhu Koda, who is in jail).

With 272 members needed for a majority, any further loss in numbers could make the passing of financial bills, including the Budget, harder in the Lok Sabha.

Not surprisingly, on Thursday, Parliamentary Affairs Minister P K Bansal hosted a dinner to woo independent MPs like Kirori Lal, Kalyan Singh, Jaswant Singh, R Shetty, Digvijay Singh, Tarun Mandal and Jaya Prada.

“Opponents to the bill that seeks to give 33 per cent seats to women in the Lok Sabha and assemblies know we will be left with a thin majority in the Lower House,” said a Congressman.

“This is where they can put pressure on us. But we have to call their bluff,” the Congressman added.

In the future, the Congress can, of course, boost its numbers by splitting parties.
Most parties have already issued a whip to their MPs to be present in the Rajya Sabha on Monday. But the big question is whether the bill can be passed despite the backing of 152 UPA, Left and BJP MPs and some additional support from others.

“It all depends to what extent the anti-bill parties go,’’ said a Union minister.

To pass a Constitution amendment bill, some kind of order is needed to record the votes of MPs. Will Lalu Prasad’s RJD, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s SP or Sharad Yadav’s JD(U), who want a sub quota for OBCs and minorities, allow this? They have not done so in the past.

“There will be a war on the issue,’’ warned the RJD’s Lalu, who met the PM to seek an all-party meet for a consensus.

“It’s too late for that,” the Congress leader said.

During the day, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee spoke to Mulayam Singh, known for his antipathy to the women’s bill.

(inputs by Aurangzeb Naqshbandi)