Consensus Eludes Women’s Reservation Bill

April 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Euphoria raised over Women’s Reservation Bill’s passage in the Upper House (Rajya Sabha) appears to have virtually lost its importance within less than a month. The bill was passed by Rajya Sabha, last month on March 9, a day after the Women’s Day. The bill proposes to reserve 33% seats for women in the Parliament and State Legislatures. Prospects of the bill securing passage in the Lower House (Lok Sabha) seem fairly limited. This was indicated by the failure of the all-party meeting held in the capital city to reach any consensus. During the meeting (April 5), chaired by leader of Lok Sabha, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, leaders of different parties expressed their stand on the controversial bill.

A brief note, issued after the all-party meeting by Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, stated: “The leaders of various parties expressed their views on the Constitution (One Hundred and Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2008 pertaining to the Reservation of Seats for Women in the House of the People and State Assemblies.” “Further discussion will continue,” the note said, signaling that stalemate over the controversial bill has not yet been resolved.

The Congress party, heading the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition, is on stickier ground than before, as at the all-party meeting, its key ally – Trinamool Congress Party (TCP), also voiced opposition to the bill. During the meeting, TCP chief Mamata Bannerjee, supported the demand of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Samajwadi Party (SP) and Janata Dal-United (JD-U) for a “quota-within-quota,” as per which the bill should include reservation for women, who are Muslims, belong to backward classes and Dalits.

“The Muslim interest should not be ignored,” Bannerjee said during the meeting while joining the chorus raised by opponents of the bill.

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) also emphasized that the party would oppose the bill, if it was presented in its present form without a “quota-within-quota.”

Prospects of parties arriving at any agreement on the bill seem fairly limited. A key supporter of the bill, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has indicated that it would oppose it, if it included the demand for “quota-within-quota.”  Sushma Swaraj, leader of opposition in Lok Sabha, said that her party (BJP) was “totally against quota-within-quota.”

Interestingly, the left bloc legislators, supporters of the bill in its present form, have not clarified their stand on “quota-within-quota.”  While stating that his party was not opposed to “consider” the proposal for “quota-within-quota,” Basudeb Acharia (Communist Party of India-Marxist) said: “Under the constitutional set up, there is no provision in election either for OBC (Other Backward Classes) or Muslim minorities.” He laid stress that his party favored passage of the bill in its present form; in other words- without “quota-within-quota.” 

When questioned on his party’s stand on “quota-within-quota,” Gurudas Dasgupta (Communist Party of India) said: “We have not raised it.” At the same time, he said that his party was against the bill being “dumped.” The CPI is not against the government taking time “to arrive at a consensus” but was against “any kind of deferment if the intention is to dump the bill,” he said. 

The question of a “consensus” being reached on the bill seems practically impossible as the three parties (RJD, SP and JD-U) remain firm on their demand for a “quota-within-quota.” Their stand was supported at the all-party meeting by TCP and BSP. RJD chief Lalu Prasad said after the meeting: “I thank the government for this all-party meeting. But Muslim, backward classes and Dalit women must be given quota. Our stand has not changed. We have requested the government to rethink the issue and call for a second meeting.”

“We have opposed the bill in its present form. We are not opposed to reservation for women,” SP leader Mulayam Singh said.

With 441 members out of 544 members in Lok Sabha in favor of the bill, the Congress would lose majority in the House, if TCP withdraws its support. Interestingly, chances of the bill being presented in the Lok Sabha, without a consensus being arrived at seem fairly limited. The TCP legislators had abstained from discussion and vote on the bill in Rajya Sabha last month.

Developments suggest that bill is likely to be pushed to the backburner till a “consensus” is reached among the different political parties. In fact, the bill may not be introduced in the Lok Sabha without a “consensus” being arrived at. This is suggested by Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar’s reply to how would she handle the chaos and stormy scenes in the House over the bill. Laying stress that there was need for a “consensus first” among all parties on the bill, Kumar said: “There has to be a consensus about that for which they (the parties) are trying. Lets see what happens.” 

Ironically, differences prevailed even on the wording of the statement issued by the government at the end of the meeting. Initially, the government wanted to state that the meeting was held in a cordial atmosphere and that decency and decorum would be maintained in the Parliament. The government was also keen to state that efforts would be made to find an amicable solution to the issue. Objections raised by Lalu Prasad, however, compelled the government to redraft the statement, deleting these points and instead state: “Further discussions will continue.”

During the two-hour meeting, the government was represented by Mukherjee, Parliamentary Affairs Minister P.K. Bansal, Home Minister P. Chidambaram, Defense Minister A.K. Antony and Law Minister Veerappa Moily. Among others who attended the meeting were leaders of BJP, SP, RJD, BSP, CPI-M, CPI, JD-U, Telegu Desam Party, TCP and Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam. 

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Women’s Reservation Bill: “Conspiracy” Against Muslims…?

March 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: The Congress-led government’s attempt to create history on March 8, 2010 by securing passage of Women’s Reservation Bill through the Parliament on International Women’s Day has failed. The controversial bill reserves 33 percent of legislative seats in the Parliament. Ironically, though the bill has support of the Congress and from ranks of opposition, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Left bloc, it is fiercely opposed by Samajwadi Party (SP), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Bahuajan Samaj Party (BSP).

Being celebrated across the world for almost 100 years, the global theme highlighted by United Nations for International Women’s Day this year was “Equal rights, Equal opportunities: Progress for all.” In India, the attempt made to reserve 33 percent of seats for women in the Parliament did not succeed on March 8. Rather, the dismal picture presented of the ruckus created in the Parliament, leading to repeated adjournments of both the Houses, raised questions on politicians playing a greater part in distorting legislative procedures than in contributing to actually creating history. Soon after the bill was tabled in the Upper House (Rajya Sabha) by Law Minister Veerappa Moily, around a dozen members opposing it attacked the Chairperson, Vice President Hamid Ansari. They even threw tore the bill into pieces and threw around the paper, pen stands and microphone. The legislators opposing the bill shouted down the supporters to prevent a debate on the bill.

Justifying their opposition, the SP and RJD announced withdrawal of their support to the Congress-led coalition government. Demanding a quota within the reservation-quota for women, RJD chief Lalu Prasad said: “We are not opposing the bill per se. We want, and the nation wants, that the reservation should be given to backward women who don’t have resources. The real India should be empowered. Give them 50 percent reservation. We will not oppose that.” Taking the same stand, SP leader Mulayam Singh said that the bill should provide quota for minorities, Dalits and backward classes. Claiming that bill was a “conspiracy” against interests of Muslims and Dalits, SP chief said: “The interests of minorities and Dalits are being undermined. The reservation should be for Muslims.”

BSP leader Mayawati also opposes the bill without their being a “quota-within-quota” for women belonging to backward castes and the minority community. Incidentally, rifts are reported within the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) too, with one of its key allies Trinamool Congress led by Railway Minister Mamata Bannerjee demanding reservation for minorities and backward classes in the bill. 

While the BJP pledged its support to bill, it expressed reservations on voting for it without a debate on the same. Ravi Shankar Prasad, BJP legislator in Rajya Sabha said: “We want this bill to be passed with proper debate and it is the responsibility of the government to ensure this eventuality in the house. Let us try to trust the managerial ability of this government which is coming in to question with every passing hour.”

Meanwhile, as Women’s Day passed by with the government having failed to “create history,” Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said: “It’s wastage of the day (International Women’s Day). The Women’s Reservation Bill is a subject where the only question is when and not if. It is an idea whose time has come.” Criticizing the bill’s opponent, he said: “The thinking of a handful of people has been exposed…. This mentality brings shame on Indian democracy.”

In general, the Indian Muslim leaders and organizations are keen on a reservation bill for increasing minorities’ representation in the Parliament. The women’s bill, without any reference to Muslim women, carries little importance for them. They are opposed to it, fearing that it would further marginalize Muslims’ representation in the Parliament.

All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) represented by Maulana Badruddin Ajmal in the Lok Sabha has opposed the bill, describing it as “simply unacceptable for minorities especially Muslims.” “The bill is actually an anti-minority bill in guise of empowerment of women,” he said. AIDUF claims that prominent political houses aim to use the bill to let women members of their families enter the Parliament. The bill thus is a game plan of a section of political elite to make a weak woman weaker and a strong one stronger, AIDUF said. With there being a “negligible minority representation” in the Parliament, the bill will lead to “no representation” for the minorities. Without any quota for Muslim and Dalit women, the bill is a “mockery at all minorities and Dalits and against the interest of Indian nationhood,” AIUDF stated. “If religion based reservation is unacceptable for majority when it comes to political empowerment of minorities, how can a gender-based reservation be viewed as rational,” AIUDF questioned.

Since 1996, the Women’s Reservation Bill has been introduced and re-introduced several times in the Parliament to have only faced strong opposition. With their political base emerging from the support of minorities and backward classes, SP, RJD and BSP are determined to fiercely oppose it. Describing the bill as “political dacoity,” which “won’t be tolerated,” Lalu Prasad told media persons in presence of Mulayam Singh: “We will use our democratic rights fully whatever the consequences. They (the government) can get us thrown out.”

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