Right time to push for Women's Bill: Satpathy

Right time to push for Women's Bill: Satpathy

Senior BJD MP Tathagata Satpathy. File photo

The BJD under Naveen Patnaik has now raised the pitch over Women's Reservation Bill and is approaching political parties. Patnaik has deputed leaders to discuss issues with other parties and build a consensus. Senior BJD MP Tathagata Satpathy spoke to Deccan Herald's Shemin Joy on the latest initiative by the party as well as a political situation in Odisha.

The BJD is approaching political parties to build a consensus on the controversial Women's Reservation Bill. Why are you raising the pitch now?

This is the time when just prior to elections every political party, in a democracy, is expected to listen to people's demand. One of the issues which is very close to BJD chief and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is women's emancipation and their participation in the development of the nation. During the recent Odisha Assembly session, a unanimous resolution was passed in favour of women's reservation in Parliament and Assemblies. The Congress and BJP also chipped in. Now we are following this up with meeting parties. Senior leaders in the party have been assigned to talk to various party leaders and convince them.

There are just a Winter Session and a short Budget session before the country goes to polls. Isn't it a little late to take this initiative now as the Lok Sabha's term is ending soon? Are you confident of building consensus and getting parties on board?

If we can build a consensus now, we can pass the Bill as soon as the next Lok Sabha is formed. If there is an understanding, this will be a priority and we can take it up at the outset of the next new Lok Sabha. This measure will have to be a considerably large amendment to the Constitution and it will require ratification of two-third states. You cannot do it unilaterally or arbitrarily. If we move this effort now and build a general consensus, hopefully, it will bear results when the 17th Lok Sabha is formed. So this is the right time to raise it.

Rajya Sabha has passed the bill in 2010 and it was stuck in Lok Sabha since then. BJP won a majority in 2014 and its NDA government has a majority. What could be the reasons why BJP did not take the initiative to pass the Bill despite having a majority?

I cannot be expected to describe the mindset of the BJP. People across the country now know that they do not tolerate anybody who is not a majority. Obviously, men or most men would not appreciate this (women in power). I do not think BJP's attitude towards such delicate societal matters needs more elucidation. Everybody knows how they are, what they stand for, what they believe in.

But there are other sceptics like the Samajwadi Party or the RJD. How will BJD convince them?

As far as I remember, nobody actually opposed it. I think Mulayam Singh Yadav (SP) and Lalu Prasad (RJD) wanted quota within quota. They did not, per se, oppose reservation for women. What they wanted was reservation within the reservation. And my personal opinion is, keeping in mind the multitude of legislation and court verdicts that have been enacted in the past over the issue of reservation, we should support appropriate quota within quota to keep the overall thing intact. This is my personal opinion and I am not quoting the party stand. I have not spoken to the party chief on this. If 'x' number of Lok Sabha and Assembly seats are reserved for SC and STs and if a certain overall portion becomes reserved for women, then that original balance should be maintained in this too.

There is another view that if there are no seats reserved, the parties should be made to field 33% candidates in elections. What is your view?

Unless there is a Constitutional amendment, how can you force a party to do so? That is not possible. Otherwise, the fight will be unequal because one party's woman candidate may be forced to fight other parties' male candidates. It has to be a law so that all parties are compelled to find women candidates for specific reserved seats.

Do you think BJP will be keen on this Bill at a time the pitch on Ram Mandir is peaking?

Ram Mandir issue is nothing new for the BJP. It is something that pops up before every election. I don't know in which era Lord Ram lived. I don't know in which era the Mandir will be built. What the BJD and what Naveen Patnaik is talking about is something current, an issue of the 21st century. This does not need divine intervention. This is a constitutional/legal question. The Parliament and Assemblies have the jurisdiction to address this issue.

In Odisha, the BJP is trying to dethrone BJD government. They have created a hype by roping in some leaders and bureaucrats. Is BJP a threat to BJD?

Not really. Nobody from our party has gone to their side. Some bureaucrats wanting more power might have joined BJP. Politics is everybody's envy. It is quite understandable some individual is desperate to get more powers. People are the best judge. They will decide whether when these people were in hot seats of authority, did they deliver to people? I am not qualified to comment on the bureaucrat who joined BJP recently because I do not know of her performance.

Some BJP leaders like Dilip Ray and Bijoy Mahapatra have also quit the BJP in Odisha saying they cannot be show-pieces. What does it tell?

Ray and Mahapatra are very well entrenched leaders who have acceptance among people. At one point they were with BJD but they left the party to join BJP. I have not talked to either of them but I obviously feel that they might have realised what BJP is. They are regular democratic politicians. They will not be comfortable in a shouting, screaming match. Only a particular kind of people are acceptable in BJP.

The Assembly and Lok Sabha elections are near. What will be BJD election plank?

We will face the electorate on our achievements, the popularity of CM and clean record of the government. We have not done something like demonetisation or GST that damaged livelihood. We had supported these initiatives earlier. When a government is doing something, there should not be opposition for the sake of opposition. But sadly, all these turned very bitter.

So BJD does not fear anti-incumbency?

Patnaik is a fearless man. He is very calm and composed but fearless. He does not get scared of anybody.

How do you rate the Narendra Modi government?

It is a disaster. From economy to foreign policy, everything is in shambles. They have damaged every institution in the past four-and-half years. They have damaged Parliament, CBI, RBI, name anyone. Midas could turn everything he touched to gold. But there are others who can turn everything they touch into waste material. Everybody across the country who is a little bit conscious will agree that moves such as demonetisation and GST in quick succession have crippled our economy. Look at the relations we have with our neighbours.

We are disliked in every country surrounding India. Everything has been destroyed. There is a feeling of insecurity among minority communities. Now, it is not just minorities but everyone is insecure today. People who come to power should realise that they cannot work wonders. They should at least work for the betterment of people and try to improve their lives. Leaders should practise talking facts.

Once you build up excessive expectations by talking out of your hat, it is not that you win an election or lose one, but you also destroy the very edifice of democracy. People will then tend to believe that all politicians are nonsensical and that they all talk but do not deliver.