The women's reservation bill has once again run into rough weather. Less than 24 hours after the UPA-Left meeting at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's residence decided on its introduction in the ongoing winter session of Parliament, the UPA stood divided while other opponents, including the Samajwadi Party, openly said that they will oppose "tooth and nail" the bill that seeks to reserve one third seats for women in the Lok Sabha and state Assemblies.
RJD chief Lalu Yadav, who had agreed to the introduction of the bill at the meeting, on Thursday led a delegation of party MPs to meet Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee and demand a subquota for OBCs and minorities. The contingent demanded that before introducing the bill, the Government convene an all-party meeting to evolve a consensus - a demand that could scuttle the bill given the intransigent stand of its opponents.
Even while Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi was welcoming the UPA-Left's decision on introducing the bill, RJD MPs made their opposition evident. "We want a quota within the quota for OBCs, minorities, SCs and STs," said RJD's Deputy Leader D P Yadav and his colleague Ram Kripal Yadav who claimed that the opposition to the bill was growing "by the hour." And in an echo of their demand, RPI's Ramdas Athawale also added: "We also want a subquota."
Mukherjee, according to DP Yadav, has agreed to call an all party meeting. As for the Railway Minister who reportedly sought the bill's introduction at the UPA-Left meeting, he said: "Lalu Yadav cannot go and will not go against the party stand." DP Yadav was also keen that the UPA parliamentary party meet to discuss the issue.
In a sign of brewing trouble on the constitutional amendment bill that requires a two-thirds majority for passing, the Forum of OBC, SC and ST MPs is likely to meet on Tuesday to raise the demand for a subquota.
With over 140 MPs, cutting across party lines, on board, the Forum is a powerful pressure group. The convenor is Congressman Hanumantha Rao. And if the Forum meeting is not called, members like DP Yadav threatened to float a parallel outfit.
Though the Congress and the Left back the bill officially, several Congressman are wary of their Government's move. Unwilling to be quoted, they could be seen going around Parliament, urging other opponents of the bill, including the RJD and the SP, to stall its introduction.
The SP has already said that it will go to any length to block the present bill. "We are committed to oppose it," said Amar Singh. The SP favours the Election Commission formula that parties give one-third tickets to women in elections.
The division over the bill is evident not only in the UPA and secular line up but also in the BJP-NDA. The Shiv Sena is open about its opposition. But the BJP, which favours the EC formula, has decided not to oppose the bill even though many of its MPs are reportedly against it in the hope that the inter and intra UPA differences would scuttle it.
BJP's deputy leader VK Malhotra even read a conspiracy in the Congress move to refer the bill to the Standing Committee after introduction. "If they were really serious, they would have agreed to the EC formula on which all parties are agreed,'' he said. In the NDA camp, the JD(U) as a whole is against the bill in its present form while there are several members in the BJD who oppose it.
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