Driven up the wall on the Women's Reservation Bill, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Samajwadi Party on Monday said they would withdraw support to the United Progressive Alliance government if the law was passed its present form.
Both RJD chief Lalu Prasad and SP supremo Mulayam Singh called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to convey their decision and concern over the stand taken by the UPA government. Soon after, the Prime Minister hurriedly met leaders belonging to the Bahujan Samaj Party, arch-rival of the SP.
Dr. Singh is said to have decided to meet Mr. Prasad, Mr. Singh and Janata Dal (United) chief Sharad Yadav, who too is waging a war on the issue separately, ahead of Tuesday's all-party meeting in an obvious bid to placate them well aware that withdrawal of support could pose problems to his government.
Later in the evening, Mr. Prasad called on President Pratibha Patil to explain the party's opposition to the Bill.
Mr. Prasad and Mr. Yadav jointly declared their intention to withdraw support to the government. Both said the Congress was behaving autocratically and sought to ride roughshod over them.
The RJD has four members and the SP 21 in the Lok Sabha and both parties had given the President letters of their unilateral support to the government. They were not part of the list submitted by Dr. Singh while staking claim to form the government.
Together the RJD and the SP have 15 members in the Rajya Sabha, where the Congress is already in a minority and this shortfall will only make floor management a difficult proposition should the Opposition press for a division on routine affairs.
Both Mr. Prasad and Mr. Singh stressed that they could reconsider their decision only if the government accommodated their view and effected amendments in the Bill allowing for sub-reservation for women belonging to the deprived sections.
Acting in tandem, these two leaders charged that the Prime Minister had not cared to heed their request to convene an all-party meeting to build consensus. Asked if they intended formalising their decision by calling on the President, the RJD chief asked: “Isn't my public proclamation sufficient?”
Mr. Prasad was particularly severe, charging that the UPA's action to deny reservation to women from Dalits, backward classes and minorities amounted to “political dacoity.”
Notwithstanding the decision of these two parties, Dr. Singh discussed the fallout with senior colleagues.
Should they formally withdraw support, the UPA will be left with about 290 members in the 543-member Lok Sabha, just a tad above the half-way mark.