It was loss of nerve by the government and determined opposition from the Mandal backward caste lobby, coupled with reluctance among male MPs across the political spectrum to sign their own political death warrants, that turned what was to be a historic day into a damp squib with no sign of the Women's Reservation Bill being passed.
The Bharatiya Janata Party used the “need for a discussion” as a tool to jettison the Bill with its party spokesperson clearly expressing unhappiness at not being properly consulted while charging the Congress with “trying to take all the credit” for legislation.
On a day of fast moving developments, the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal withdrew support to the government and its leaders met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee while the Bill itself was deferred to Tuesday and no one was certain it would be taken up.
In the Janata Dal (United) camp, there was a difference of opinion on the Bill, which is now expected to be sorted out after party president Sharad Yadav speaks to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
On Tuesday morning the Prime Minister will be meeting the three yadav leaders — Mulayam, Lalu Prasad, Sharad — in yet another bid to make a breakthrough, however, slim the chance of their relenting.
All the parties opposed to the Bill have let it be known that they would support it if there was a quota for backward caste and Muslim women within the overall women's reservation.
No will or strategy
There was no sign of a government strategy or will to get legislation through. In fact, consultations with parties began after unruly scenes in the Upper House forced several adjournments.
The Opposition alleged the government had not done its homework, had not contacted parties supporting the Bill (till Monday afternoon) and that it had no road map for the Bill's smooth passage. The government seemed to be at a loss for words and one could see angry Ministers running here and there in Parliament's corridors.
Some Opposition MPs said the government had lost nerve after the SP and the RJD pulled back support. But Congressmen denied this. And if the government was worried about the fallout on the smooth passage of the Finance Bill later this session, why did it beat the drum about taking up the contentious Women's Bill now?
There were meetings after meetings with no result in sight except shelving of the bill. The Prime Minister called a meeting of leaders of parties supporting the legislation where BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley said they wanted the Bill passed but after a debate. This seemed to overturn the stand taken by a senior leader, who had, a few days ago, pointed out that discussions and debate were taking place for the last 15 years.
With the BJP clearly using the niceties of parliamentary procedure as an excuse, the CPI(M) also took that line, contradicting the stand taken by its leaders a few days ago.
Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M) had said there was no need for a debate and the Bill could be straightaway put to vote. But on Monday, he decided “to go along” with the views of some “others' that there should be a discussion.
D. Raja of the CPI also expressed similar sentiments.
As one senior leader said: “The issue of reservation for women has had majority support in Parliament with the Congress, Left, the BJP and some others favouring it for 15 years. It has not been passed mainly because of silent opposition to it from within the ranks of the so-called supporting parties. They would have to obey the party whip, but which MP wants to sign his own death warrant?”