The dice seems loaded against the Women's Reservation Bill being adopted by the Lok Sabha in the second half of the Budget session starting April 15 with dissent growing louder and gathering strength at Monday's all-party meeting here.

A terse statement at the end of the two-and-a-half-hour discussion was issued by Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal saying “further discussions will continue”. No time-frame was mentioned. Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee, who convened the meeting, refused to say anything after it ended inconclusively.

Mulayam Singh (Samajwadi Party), Sharad Yadav (Janata Dal-United) and Lalu Prasad (Rashtriya Janata Dal) stuck to their stand opposing the Bill in its present form and supporting a sub-quota for backward caste women. They successfully attacked the United Progressive Alliance bastion, finding a new friend in Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress, an alliance partner of the Congress. She joined the group in favour of sub-quotas, emphasising the need to accommodate Muslim women. Her MPs had stayed away from voting on this Bill in the Rajya Sabha.

The sub-quota group got a further boost from Dara Singh Chauhan of the Bahujan Samaj Party, who insisted on a quota for Dalit women over and above the existing reservation for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. The existing Bill provides for one-third of the existing SC and ST quota to be reserved for women of the same categories, but the BSP has decided to enlarge the demand for reserved SC seats.

That sub-quotas cannot be a way forward to reach the elusive consensus was clear when Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj made it plain that the BJP would oppose any form of sub-quotas. She said that while the BJP would support the Bill in its present form, she did not want use of marshals to throw dissenting MPs out during a vote as that would be a “stain on this historic legislation.”

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