With the government set to table the women's reservation bill in the Lok Sabha soon, political parties across the board — those in favour and those opposed — have begun grappling with a new challenge: how to maximise electoral advantage for themselves from their stand.
The Congress wants the Lok Sabha to pass the bill in this session itself, provided there is time after urgent financial business is dealt with, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal indicated. Though the bill will be tabled before the March 16 recess, actual consideration may happen only in May, after the Finance Bill is home and dry, he suggested.
The government also wants time to allow protest against the bill to play itself out.
On Wednesday, the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Janata Dal (United) led by their party chiefs prevented any transaction of business in the Lok Sabha.
Mulayam Singh, Lalu Prasad and Sharad Yadav rushed repeatedly into the well of the House; at one point, Mr. Yadav stood close to the Speaker, gesticulating wildly. The continued suspension of seven Rajya Sabha MPs was the excuse for this behaviour. After repeated adjournments, the Speaker decided to call it a day at 2 p.m.
By demanding a quota within the 33 per cent quota for backward caste and Muslim women, these three parties are hoping to consolidate the backward castes already with them and halt the perceived slow march of the Muslims back to the Congress.
“They are once again working on the MY formula,” a Bharatiya Janata Party leader said, referring to the Yadav-Muslim combine that had helped the SP and RJD get power in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Anxious about how credit for the historic legislation would be apportioned, the BJP has now started questioning the floor tactics adopted by the Congress in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday. “We support the bill, we want a debate, but it was not proper to take out the protestors with the help of marshals. The dignity of the House must be maintained,” said Gopinath Munde. Asked how this would be possible if some made up their mind physically to prevent a vote, his answer was that it was for the government to find a way to manage this.
While the BJP cannot be seen to be backing out from the bill now – both Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley have made the party's commitment clear – the party indicated it would not go along with “maar pitai” (manhandling and beating) of MPs as witnessed in the Rajya Sabha. Mr. Jaitley suggested “tiring out” the opposition to the bill. On its part, the Congress says that if the BJP insists on asking the UPA to do something the Vajpayee government itself couldn't do during its tenure, the bill may well get bogged down in protests again.
BJP leaders also made fun of the claim by Congress president Sonia Gandhi that passage of the bill was a fulfilment of Rajiv Gandhi's dream. Mr. Jaitley said the bill was first introduced in 1996 when Gandhi was no longer alive, and well before Ms. Gandhi joined politics.
As for the Left and some of the smaller parties, they remain fully committed to the bill and its enactment. “Our support is unambiguous and the bill must be brought before the Lok Sabha without any delay. We will cooperate with the government. As for strategy, the Congress, which was seen to be clueless in the Rajya Sabha, has to work on it,” said CPI(M) member Brinda Karat.