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A right idea at the wrong time

Bad political management continues to haunt the Congress, which will run into rough weather once the much-awaited Women’s Reservation Bill is taken up in Parliament for voting today, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: Mar 07, 2010, 21:09 IST
Pankaj Vohra
Pankaj Vohra
Hindustan Times

Bad political management continues to haunt the Congress, which will run into rough weather once the much-awaited Women’s Reservation Bill is taken up in Parliament for voting today. Ideally speaking, the Bill that seeks to empower women by giving them 33 per cent reservation in Parliament and legislative assemblies, should have been adopted through a consensus.

However, since there are several political parties including allies of the Congress, that oppose the Bill, the strategy should have been to get it passed towards the end of the Budget session when the entire budgetary provisions had been cleared by the Lok Sabha. There is no doubt that March 8 is an important date as it is celebrated as International Women’s Day. But in democracy as in realpolitik, there is something known as strategy. It was not necessary that the Bill be passed on March 8 itself, as the objective should be to see it go through, without putting the government at risk.

It appears that the Congress managers are very confident that there will be no major impediment to passing the Bill, which also has the support of the BJP and the Left. Congress allies like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav and others are against its passage.

One way of looking at things would be to ensure that there is no difficulty in getting the Bill through since it may have the support of both Houses. Another way would be to see its political dimensions. The Bill will divide the UPA and could prove to be a tactical mistake. There were divisions in the coalition after the Budget was presented and many allies took a stand similar to that of the Opposition.

What is happening now is that the Congress may have walked into a trap set by the BJP and the Left parties on the Women’s Bill. If passed, the BJP and Left will seek to take credit for it by claiming that the deed could not have been done without their support. The Congress will also try to take credit but will have to somehow do business with the allies to get its budgetary provisions passed.

During that stage, what can become a matter of concern for the Congress is that while the BJP and the Left will be on the other side, its allies may not necessarily support its position. The dependence on one-man parties or Independents is always risky. Congress leaders must remember that if any money bill gets defeated, the government can fall. Therefore, the party, which seems to be losing in terms of devising ways to manage things in Parliament, has exposed itself to great risk.

Under normal circumstances, the passage of the Bill at the end of the session would have been a wiser decision. It is common knowledge that the opposition of Mulayam, Lalu and others to the Women’s Reservation Bill is because it will undo the gains their respective parties have made following the implementation of the Mandal Commission, which boosted the backward classes. They see a Brahminical conspiracy in the move to get the Women’s Bill passed and may take to the streets if this happens.

For elements that are opposed to any kind of reservation, the Bill can never find support but a strange situation appears to be developing in Parliament. The whips have ensured that the numbers inside the two Houses may back the Bill but outside the numbers game could cause problems. There should not have been such a hurry to take up the Bill in the mid-Budget session. Good politics demanded that the deed would have been wisely executed if it was done at the end. Consensus would have been even better. Between us.

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