Remark being interpreted as willingness on BJP’s part to dilute provisions
In the Rajya Sabha the Bharatiya Janata Party may have dittoed the Women's Reservation Bill as presented by the government, but it will have an open mind on possible amendments the government may propose before the measure is taken up in the Lok Sabha.
Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj was categorical on this when asked whether the party would stick to the position it adopted in the Rajya Sabha or approach the subject with an open mind, if and when an all-party meeting was called.
“We will go to the all-party meeting with an open mind,” Ms. Swaraj said, refusing to discuss hypothetical questions what the party's stand would be if there was a proposal to dilute the 33 per cent reservation to 20 or 25 per cent or if the issue of sub-quotas for backward caste women or other groups were to come up.
The “open mind” remark has already begun to be interpreted as a willingness on the part of the BJP to dilute the provisions. For, the party has in the last few years been a strong votary of increasing women's representation by making it mandatory for political parties to give at least 33 per cent ticket to women, an idea rejected by the Left and described by Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley as a non-starter for increasing women's representation.
The BJP has been very clear that it will not support any sub-quota for Muslim women as it is opposed to any religion-based reservation. On the backward caste quota, the party will take a stand as and when, and if at all, the issue comes up. Now there are no quotas for backward castes and therefore there cannot be a backward caste sub-quota for women.
Party leaders are worried that while the BJP is trying to take some credit for supporting the women's Bill in the Rajya Sabha — without its support the Bill could not have been adopted — it would invite the charge, as would the Congress, of short-changing women if it were to agree to any dilution.
On Wednesday, Ms. Swaraj and Mr. Jaitley, in a joint statement, said: “The BJP was committed to the Bill. The BJP lent a loud and clear support but also wanted the dignity of the House maintained … and it was the Opposition-dominated House that had approved the Bill despite mismanagement by the government.” .
But the party's worry now is that many of its MPs do not want it to be proactive on this subject. They have in fact charged the leaders with “helping the Congress” push the Bill through, when there was no need for the Opposition party to do so. If the issue were to be prised open once again at an all-party meeting or at a series of consultations with parties, the BJP would have to calibrate its stand, keeping its commitment to the Bill and yet not be seen to be actively pushing it as its MPs do not want that.
As of now, the party leadership is not only supporting the 33 per cent reservation Bill but is also justifying to the hilt the rotation of reserved seats. Mr. Jaitley, in fact, was one of the few speakers who lauded this aspect of the Bill, much to the annoyance of fellow BJP MPs.