After dithering and developing cold feet on Monday, the ruling Congress' strategy became clear on Tuesday: a vote on the Women's Reservation Bill at all costs, debate if possible and use marshals to handle the wilful disrupters as a last resort, if necessary.
And this is exactly what yielded the desired result in the Rajya Sabha where the Bill was adopted by a more than two/thirds majority of those present and voting comfortably meeting the requirement of a constitutional amendment.
It was also clear that the three major political groups – the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left – were committed to the Bill and certainly did not want to be seen backing out. Among other considerations was the most important factor that any wavering could cost them politically.
A number of meetings and behind-the-scenes confabulations throughout Tuesday ended with a final strategy meeting of the Congress floor managers. Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee earlier conferred with leaders of parties supporting the Bill. The strategy was firmed up after a vote-at-all-costs signal from party president Sonia Gandhi and a go-ahead from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Monday's insistence on a debate by the BJP and the Left were seen to be part of the plan to ensure that their contribution to the passing of legislation is duly acknowledged. Neither group wanted the Congress to run away with all the credit for this.
The day began with the three Yadav leaders – Mulayam Singh, Lalu Prasad and Sharad – meeting Dr. Singh at his residence. They came out reiterating their known stance. They were not against women's reservation but wanted the Bill to be amended to include a sub-quota within the overall reservation to ensure representation of backward caste women.
After the House convened, Mr. Mukherjee called a meeting of leaders of the parties supporting the Bill. After this, the Congress floor managers met with Mr. Mukherjee. It seems it was at this meeting and after getting the political green signal from Prime Minister and Ms. Gandhi that the strategy was firmed up, which was later seen in action in the Rajya Sabha.
As Ms. Gandhi later told reporters – for her it was a question of fulfilling Rajiv Gandhi's dream and with the Left parties and the BJP supporting the move, it could be taken up. She also gave credit to “Indian women” who were able to achieve this “with the help of men.”
Sushma on ‘Sonia's firmness'
The comments from the main Opposition party were equally gracious. Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj said this historic occasion was made possible by “Sonia's firmness, our commitment and the unswerving support of the Left parties.” She added legislation was a “debt the political system owed to the women of this country” and “there should not be race or competition for political credit” as no party alone could have done it.
Brinda Karat of the CPI(M) was of the view that this would usher in “sensitive” politics and change and break the centuries-old “stereotyping of women.” She was also of the view that representation of backward caste women, Dalit and scheduled tribe women and Muslim women would improve through this legislation.
Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley made it clear that not only was his party in favour of the Bill, it also supported wholeheartedly the idea of rotation of seats for a period of 15 years over three Lok Sabha elections. This with a similar pattern in State Assemblies would mean that in a decade-and-half, every Assembly and parliamentary constituency would have been represented by a woman, creating a whole new army of women political workers and leaders.