Women's Bill set to take off

SP, BSP and RJD still opposed to the proposed legislation

Women's Bill set to take off

BACKBREAKING BURDEN: Not just indoors, the Indian woman in the 21st century bears life’s load outdoors, too. DH photo by B H Shivakumar

Although the government has numbers on its side to pilot the Bill through, Samajwadi Party (SP) supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav on Sunday termed the Bill “anti-Muslim” and “anti-backward”, saying his party would strongly oppose when it comes before the House.

“The present form of the Bill is against the interests of Muslims, Dalits and backward castes...We shall oppose it with all our might,” Yadav said at a press conference in Lucknow.

The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) also said it will oppose the Bill in its present format and has demanded quota within quota for Dalits, minorities, backward classes and the poor among the upper castes.

Addressing a press conference here on Sunday, BSP general secretary S C Mishra said his leader Mayawati has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh explaining her party’s stand on the issue.

Union Law Minister M Veerappa Moily is likely to table the landmark Bill in the Rajya Sabha (RS) on Monday. And, with the Congress and its allies in the UPA as well as the BJP and the Left parties likely to support it, the Bill is expected to sail through in the Upper House despite strong opposition from the SP and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).

The Janata Dal (United)—a strong opponent of the Bill in its current form—too seems to be reconsidering its position on the issue after senior party leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said the time had now come to reserve seats for women in the LS and state Assemblies.

JD (U) chief Sharad Yadav, however, is still opposed to the proposed legislation as it does not provide for “quota within quota” for women of other backward castes (OBCs) and minority communities. Yadav has for long stated that the Bill in its current form would only help elite class women and not the underprivileged.

Discussion
The JD (U) has seven MPs in the RS and 20 in the LS. Party chief whip Ali Anwar said the MPs would meet at Sharad Yadav’s residence early on Monday to decide if they should support or oppose the Bill.

“It is true that there are two different opinions within the party on this issue and that is why we are going to meet and discuss it,” he said.

Anwar, however, hinted that the JD (U) might not issue a whip to its MPs to either support or oppose the Bill—ostensibly to let Yadav and other like-minded MPs to vote against it, even if most of its parliamentarians agree with Nitish Kumar’s view.

The SP, however, is likely to issue a whip to its 12 MPs in the RS to oppose the Bill. The RJD too has asked its four MPs in the Upper House to follow suit.

Addressing a news conference in Lucknow, the SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav termed the Women’s Reservation Bill a dangerous move by the Congress and the BJP to prevent Muslims, Dalits and people of backward castes from entering the Parliament and State Assemblies.

“Our stand is that there should be reservation within reservation for Dalit and Muslim women,” said SP general secretary Mohan Singh.  

In Patna, RJD chief Lalu Prasad said his party MPs would oppose the Bill “tooth and nail” and that they were even prepared to be “marshaled out” of the House.

The Congress-led UPA government, however, on Sunday indicated it would move ahead with the Bill. “After all, the country needs such legislation. With all our best of intentions, the political parties could not evolve a system where adequate representation was made available to the women,” said Moily, adding that the proposed constitutional amendment was “the only remedy”.

A Constitution amendment Bill requires the support of two-thirds of the members in the House. With the current effective strength of the RS being 233, the UPA government seems confident the Bill would be passed in the Upper House with over 165 MPs, including some independents, supporting it.

The Biju Janata Dal, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Telugu Desam Party, Nationalist Congress Party, Shiromani Akali Dal and a few other smaller parties are expected to support the Bill.

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