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Women's quota bill: Red flag for Yadavs, bargaining tool for Cong

By Renu Mittal
Last updated on: March 04, 2010 01:01 IST
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Will the Congress and its president Sonia Gandhi be finally successful in pushing through the Women's Reservation Bill that provides 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and legislative assemblies?

The government wants to have the bill listed in the Rajya Sabha for consideration and passing on March 8, aiming to make a statement on the International Women's Day.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi has called the presidents of the state mahila units of her party for a meeting on Thursday to ask them to spread the message of the bill in their states and to build the right atmosphere to counter those opposing the same.

While on paper, both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left parties have committed themselves to supporting the bill, the main Opposition will come from the parties led by the Yadavs; notably Lalu Prasad Yadav-led Rashtriya Janata Dal, Mulayam Singh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party and Sharad Yadav-led Janata Dal United, which are working overtime to ensure that the bill does not see the light of the day.

Sources say that Finance Minister and leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee hels a long meeting with Lalu Yadav on Wednesday, where he sought the former railway minister's support for the Women's Reservation Bill. Lalu has opposed the bill in its present form, demanding specific reservations for women from backward communities, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.

Mukherjee is scheduled to meet leaders of other prominent parties to garner support for the smooth passage of the bill.

Some critics claim that these leaders might even pledge support to the government over other contentious issues, including price rise, if the Women's Reservation Bill is dropped. This is precisely why the government, which has been cornered over the issue of price rise, is angling for, they say. Critics claim that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance is again using the historic bill as a bargaining tool.

Senior Congress leaders have dismissed such speculations, claiming that the party chief was serious about passing the bill in the current session of Parliament, and that is why the Cabinet had given its nod for it.

But the timing of the bill is suspect. The passage of the bill, which has the potential of changing the very dynamics of Indian politics, would have made more political sense during the run-up to an election, when the Congress could have hoped for a favourable verdict.

But the next elections are almost four years away and the Congress is not facing any political instability right now. Why then, ask political observers, is the Congress going ahead with the bill at this time?

One senior leader pointed out that the bill might be a way of sending a clear message to the Congress' allies and supporting parties; that the party would rather face a fresh round of elections than sacrifice good governance.

Another leader, considered close to 10 Janpath, believes that Sonia Gandhi wants to hand over a new dispensation to Rahul Gandhi, and the Women's Reservation Bill would be one of the instruments to clean out the system and introduce fresh faces in the process.

There are apprehensions in some circles that the bill may be struck down by the Supreme Court, which might feel that gender-based reservation is against the spirit of the Constitution, but senior leaders say that the Congress will go ahead with the bill, irrespective of what the courts might decide later.

With the government pushing the bill with all its might, sources say that a genuine attempt will be made to pass it in the Rajya Sabha, in spite of ugly scenes expected from the parties led by the Yadav trio, who may make it into an 'upper caste versus the others' issue.

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Renu Mittal In New Delhi
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