Receding hope

The celebrations over the passage of the women’s reservation bill in the Rajya Sabha last month seem to have been premature, going by the outcome of the all-party meet held in Delhi. The opposition to the bill has further hardened, positions of its supporters have slightly shifted and new proposals, which had earlier been rejected as inadequate, have made a comeback. While the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal have stuck to their demand for sub-quotas for backward classes, the Trinamool Congress has sought a quota for Muslim women. The CPM, which has seen its Muslim support base in West Bengal shifting to the Trinamool Congress, is wary of opposing this proposal. The BSP has sought quotas for dalit women, over and above 33 per cent, in proportion to their population. The BJP, while reaffirming its support, has revived the proposal for political parties setting aside one-third of seats for women. It has also said that it would not allow passage of the bill in the Lok Sabha if marshals are used to evict opposing members. With the SP and the RJD ready to go to any extent to block the bill, the BJP’s condition will make its passage impossible.

There is also a proposal, again not new, to bring down the percentage of reserved seats to 20. This will be a major climbdown. The idea of parties allocating 33 per cent of tickets to women will not help, because they will then be given unwinnable seats to meet the quota requirement. And parties will not accept any action by the Election Commission, like derecognition, for violation of the law. The Congress also made the tactical mistake of claiming credit for the passage of the bill in the Rajya Sabha and attributing it to Sonia Gandhi’s initiative, clearly annoying other parties.

All this makes the introduction of the bill in the Lok Sabha in the budget session improbable. The government will not risk passage of other important legislation like the finance bill by forcing the women’s bill through. The withdrawal of support by the SP and the RJD and the postures of the Trinamool Congress and the BSP have made its position precarious. It has offered more consultations but there is little chance of a wider consensus emerging now or in the near future.

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