Support for women's bill grows

An Indian flower vendor reacts to a customer as she sits at her roadside stall in Bangalore on March 6, 2010. A bill guaranteeing a third of parliamentary seats for women will be presented in India's Rajya Sabha (Upper House) of Parliament on International Women's Day on March 8. Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi has told party MPs that she accorded the 'highest importance' to the women's reservation bill and it would be a 'gift to the women of India if it is introduced and passed' in parliament. AFP

DMK, National Conferene and Akali Dal, together accounting for nine MPs in Rajya Sabha, today also pledged their backing to the  Constitution amendment bill, which has been put up in the business schedule of the Upper House on Monday, placing the government in a comfortable position in the game of numbers.

Kumar's support came as a bolt from the blue for his party chief Sharad Yadav, a strong opponent of the bill since 1997 when it was first introduced, who said the party was still opposed to it. JD-U has seven MPs in Rajya Sabha and 20 in the Lok Sabha.

As it is a Constitution amendment bill, its passage requires a special majority of two-third backing of at least 155 members in a House 245 with an effective strength of 233.
The government has the clear support of 138 members of Congress, BJP and Left parties besides that of a number of small parties, which takes the backing to more than 165.

Kumar, who had given a dissent note opposing the Bill in the mid-nineties, today said the time has now given for passage of the bill and it would not  be good to block it.

"When I was a member of the Joint Parliamentary Committee, I had given a dissent note (more than a decade ago). Now the time has come to give women reservation in Parliament and State Assemblies. I will talk to Sharadji and appeal to him to ensure passage of the bill,"  told reporters in Patna.

Kumar said that it would be good if the government accepts the demand for introducing quota within quota but it would not be appropriate to block the bill on the issue.
"Ideally, women of extremely backward and backward castes should be provided reservation in both Parliament and Assembly. We will keep our efforts on for getting it," he added.

However, JD-U President Sharad Yadav, a strong opponent of the Bill ever since its introduction in 1997, said his party's opposition to the measure in its present form would continue.

On Kumar's stand, Yadav told reporters in Delhi that the Chief Minister had also talked to him about his "suggestion" and pointed out that he had strongly opposed the measure in the past demanding quota within quota for women belonging to backward castes.

Asked whether he was rejecting Kumar's suggestion, he evaded a direct reply saying,"the answer is in what I have said."  To a question whether the party would oppose the Bill when it comes before Rajya Sabha, Yadav said that his party's opposition was not transient.

Yadav dared both BJP and Congress to seek passage of the bill without issuing any whip to their members. "If they are saying that they have majority then I challenge them not to issue any whip to their members on the issue. JD-U will also not issue a whip and then if they succeed in passing the bill, I will be the first to accept it," Yadav said adding this will "expose" the "internal situation" in their organizations on the issue.

Expressing his party's support, DMK leader and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi said issues like sub-quota raised by other parties could be sorted out later.
"Let us first accept the invitation for the feast and then decide what delicacy is good for us and what is not not," he said in his inimitable style.

Akali Dal, an ally of the BJP, announced that it would issue a whip to its MPs to ensure their presence and support to the Bill. Party president and Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and his wife, Sukhbir, asserted that their party was always in favour of reservation for women.

Meanwhile, Congress and the BJP sought to take credit for the legislation.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi said that empowerment of women was the dream of late Rajiv Gandhi while BJP's leader Arun Jaitley said his party would have to play "important role" in the passage of the Bill in Rajya Sabha as the UPA does not have majority.

Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, said women's reservation was a dream of two senior most BJP leaders Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L K Advani.
"BJP first mooted the idea of this Bill in 1995 in its National Council at Vadodara," she said.

RJD's Lalu Prasad and SP's Mulayam Singh Yadav, known opponents of the Bill in its present form, have warned of uproar in Parliament if government went ahead with the measure.

SP leader Mohan Singh said that his party would use all Parliamentary practices in the Rajya Sabha to register its protest on the Bill. Seeking to make political capital on the issue, BJP President Nitin Gadkari convened an emergency meeting of the party Core Group with the main opposition insisting it was determined to ensure its passage.

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