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Women's reservation bill rocks Lok Sabha

Sharp differences in the ruling United Front over reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and state legislatures came to the fore once again on Tuesday.

The Lok Sabha had to be adjourned abruptly for an hour by Deputy Speaker Suraj Bhan. When the House reassembled, Speaker Purno A Sangma remarked that unless the government took a decision about the bill nothing could be done.

Fissures in the UF became obvious when several Janata Dal, Rashtriya Janata Dal and Samajwadi Party members expressed strong opposition to the bill in its present form and wanted the reservation for other backward castes and minorities implemented first.

Congress MP Santosh Mohan Dev and the BJP's Jaswant Singh said their parties supported the bill, and that the UF should come to the House united on the issue.

The members belonging to the Left, led by Somnath Chatterjee (Communist Party of India-Marxist), vociferously demanded that the bill be taken up for discussion. The Constitution 81st Amendment bill has been listed as item number 20 on Tuesday's agenda.

Earlier, as soon as zero hour began, women members led by Geeta Mukherjee (Communist Party of India) stormed into the well of the House. They were joined by Congress women MPs led by Girija Vyas and BJP women MPs led by Sushma Swaraj.

This prompted Rajesh Ranjan 'Pappu' Yadav of the SP and several Muslim members of the SP, the JD and the RJD to oppose discussion on the issue.

When repeated pleas by the deputy speaker failed to pacify the agitated members, he adjourned the House till 1300 hours.

As soon as the House reassembled after the adjournment, Suraj Bhan tried in vain to switch over to other business. At this point of time, Speaker Sangma came to the House.

When it was repeatedly pointed out that the UF was divided on the issue, Pappu Yadav said a majority of Congress and BJP members were also opposed to the proposed legislation.

Sangma said he knew the mind of every member on the issue. The House is divided on the bill, the speaker said.

This led one member to remark that the government, and not the House, was divided.

The government is part of the House, the speaker said.

At this point of time, Chitta Basu (Forward Bloc) raised a point of order with regard to the bill.

Sushma Swaraj said she wanted to speak on why the bill had been given such a low priority. She vociferously opposed Sangma's attempt to switch over to other items on the agenda.

As soon as the House assembled for the day, Geeta Mukherjee, supported by several party colleagues, demanded a statement from the government on the status of the bill.

This was immediately followed by loud protests from all sections of the House.

Order was restored minutes after Suraj Bhan said the issue could be raised during zero hour.

In the Rajya Sabha, the proceedings were stalled for about 15 minutes with members belonging to the CPI, the BJP, the Congress and the CPI-M protesting against the delay in Parliament taking up the bill.

Gurudas Dasgupta (CPI) said the Left parties fully supported the bill. John Fernandes (Congress) said the Lok Sabha speaker had announced on Monday that the Congress and the BJP were not opposing the bill, but some constituents of the UF were doing so.

V K Malhotra (BJP) said the House should take up the bill and then it would be known who was against the bill.

Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Jayanthi Natarajan told the members that the prime minister and his government were ''irrevocably committed'' to passing the bill. It had been listed in the agenda of the lower house,'' she added.


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