Several political parties, including from the ruling NDA and the opposition INDIA bloc, on Sunday made a strong pitch for the passage of the women's reservation bill during the five-day Parliament session beginning Monday, with the government asserting that an "appropriate decision will be taken at an appropriate time".
At an all-party meeting convened by the government on the eve of the session, the government also formally informed parliamentarians about the move to the new Parliament building on Tuesday on the auspicious occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi.
The demand for discussing issues like caste census, price rise, unemployment, border row involving China, Manipur situation and alleged social conflicts at some places was raised by the Congress, its leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury told reporters. A few other opposition parties also spoke in the same vein on some of these matters.
The Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill, which was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on August 10 and is listed on the government's agenda for passage in the coming session, was also criticised by some opposition leaders as "unconstitutional".
However, it was the vigorous pitch for legislating reserved seats for women in elected bodies like Lok Sabha and state assemblies that emerged as the highlight of the meeting as BJP ally and NCP leader Praful Patel joined the Congress and its allies besides unaligned parties like the BRS, TDP and the BJD to urge the government to script history on the momentous occasion of Parliament's shift to the new building.
The TMC noted the relatively large contingent of women MPs in West Bengal's ruling party, as it supported the need for such a bill.
"A new era is beginning," BJD MP Pinaki Misra said about Parliament's shift to the new building, asserting it will be a fitting occasion for ensuring women's reservation. He cited Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's longstanding support to the idea.
Patel said he was hopeful that such a bill would be passed with consensus.
Some regional parties such as the RJD and the Samajwadi Party, though, made a case for quota for backward castes, SCs and STs within any such reservation for women.
Asked about the demand, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi downplayed it, saying parties make different demands during all-party meetings. "The government will take an appropriate decision at an appropriate time," he told reporters.
A similar bill was passed by Rajya Sabha in 2010, reserving one-third of seats for women in Lok Sabha and state assemblies. It was never taken up in Lok Sabha and has since lapsed with the dissolution of the then Lower House.
The minister said tributes were paid at the all-party meeting to security forces personnel who laid down their lives in Kashmir as leaders observed silence in their memory.
On September 13, four security forces personnel -- Colonel Manpreet Singh, Commanding Officer, 19 Rashtriya Rifles, Major Ashish Dhonchak, Deputy Superintendent of Jammu and Kashmir Police Humayun Bhat and a soldier -- were killed by terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir's Anantnag district.
The minister said 51 leaders from 34 parties attended the meeting in which the government sought the cooperation of all the parties for a smooth conduct of the five-day session.
On the women's reservation bill, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said all opposition parties demanded its passage in this Parliament session and criticised the government for not consulting them before summoning Parliament.
Chowdhury told reporters that the government had informed them it was a regular session of Parliament. "Only the government knows what its intention is. It may surprise everyone with some new agenda," he said.
Joshi said a discussion on "Parliamentary Journey of 75 years starting from Samvidhan Sabha - Achievements, Experiences, Memories and Learnings" will take place in the old building on Monday before the ceremony of entering the new building a day later.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also likely to speak on the matter in Parliament.
The government's work in the new building will begin from Wednesday, he said, adding that there are a total of eight bills on its agenda.
DMK leader Tiruchi Siva accused the government of keeping other parties in the dark about the reason for calling the session, wondering what was the need for a regular sitting of Parliament when the winter session was due in November.
He wondered if the schedule for a group photo of all MPs on Tuesday meant that this was the last session of this Lok Sabha.
Opposition sources said Siva tore the schedule for Sunday’s event in the meeting, claiming that he received the invite only on Friday night and the programme was only in Hindi.
BRS leader K Keshava Rao, sources said, criticised the ruling BJP over the Sanatan Dharma issue.
Some opposition leaders also protested the decision to not have the Question Hour and the Zero Hour during this session. A demand was also made to revoke the suspension of two AAP MPs, Sanjay Singh and Raghav Chadha.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, the deputy leader of the House in Lok Sabha, Union Minister Piyush Goyal, the leader of the House in Rajya Sabha, and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi were among those who represented the government in the meeting.
Former prime minister and JD-S leader H D Deve Gowda, DMK's Kanimozhi, TDP's Ram Mohan Naidu, TMC's Derek O'Brien, AAP's Sanjay Singh, BJD's Sasmit Patra, BRS's K Keshava Rao, YSR Congress Party's V Vijayasai Reddy, RJD's Manoj Jha and JD(U)'s Anil Hegde and SP's Ram Gopal Yadav were also among those who attended the meeting.