Upset with some of its party MPs for speaking their minds against the Women's Reservation Bill and fearing a virtual revolt, the Bharatiya Janata Party has cracked the whip and said every party MP will vote in favour of the Bill as and when it is taken up in the Lok Sabha.
At a meeting of MPs at senior leader L.K. Advani's residence here on Thursday, it was made clear that every MP must toe the party line and refrain from adversely commenting on the Bill. That, however, did not prevent them from voicing their dissent and even charging the leadership with being “unnecessarily” proactive on the issue. Some urged it not to issue a whip and others questioned the wisdom of the party agreeing to “rotation” of reserved seats, saying the MPs will not nurture their constituencies.
The BJP leadership said a parliamentary party meeting would be called to discuss the issue.
Conscious of the three-fold tasks before the party — maintaining discipline, not allowing the Congress to run away with all credit for empowering women, and ensuring that the MPs followed the party line as they did toe in the Rajya Sabha — BJP leader in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj got into action early in the morning, calling MPs telephonically and giving them a piece of her mind for speaking out against the Bill in public.
Later in the day, she charged the Congress with carrying out a “misinformation campaign” of revolt in the BJP. At the same time, she admitted that it would be a lie to say some party MPs did not have differing views, but said they would follow the BJP line when it came to the vote. Calling party chief whip Ramesh Bais to her room, Ms. Swaraj first got him to deny that he had spoken to anyone (he was quoted in one newspaper as having spoken against the Bill) and then she said: “Tell them what Congress MPs have been up to.” Mr. Bais then told journalists that he was approached by Congress MPs Sandeep Dikshit and Paban Singh Ghatowar, who told him that the BJP must “do something” as in the Congress it would be difficult to say anything because “Madam Sonia Gandhi is fully committed to the legislation.”
However, both Mr. Ghatowar, who is the chief whip, and Mr. Dikshit, deputy chief whip, denied this altogether, saying they had talked to Mr. Bais only on floor management. “After the damning news reports, Mr. Bais is obviously looking for a scapegoat,” was their counter-charge.
Ms. Swaraj, who faces the challenge of ensuring full support for the Bill in the Lower House, said: “On every issue and on each piece of legislation there are differences in any party. In our party no one's mouth is sealed; they are free to express their views. But once the leadership takes a decision, everyone falls in line. That is the party system and whips are issued for all Bills and all debates where there is a vote recorded.” The same would happen to the women's Bill. There was no doubt that the BJP would support the Bill in the Lok Sabha, she emphasised.