Sensing that the Congress could try and reap a bountiful political harvest from the Women's Reservation Bill, the Bharatiya Janata Party on Saturday tried to claim credit in advance for “ensuring” the passage of the Constitution amendment, which will be placed before the Rajya Sabha for consideration and passing on Monday.
At the same time, opposition to the Bill has begun to show signs of crumbling as differences have erupted in the Janata Dal (United) camp over saying ‘yes' or ‘no' to the Bill.
Following a core committee meeting on the subject called by the main opposition party here on Saturday, BJP president Nitin Gadkari issued a statement that the United Progressive Alliance lacked a majority in the Rajya Sabha, and that it was the BJP which would ensure that all its members were present and voted in favour of the Bill.
Mr. Gadkari also recalled that it was the BJP which proposed this at its 1995 National Council meeting and that the National Democratic Alliance government had tried to pass the Bill.
It appears that party managers have also tried to sow seeds of discord in the only NDA partner, the JD(U), which is not supporting the Bill.
Bihar Chief Minister and JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar has issued a statement in Patna signalling that he is not opposed to the Bill, but would prefer a quota for backward caste women within the women's quota, while party president Sharad Yadav has said there was no question of his party supporting the Bill in its current form and that the JD(U) had always supported the idea of a quota within the quota.
What happens in the JD(U) camp on Monday remains to be seen, but the party has not yet issued any whip to its MPs. Some party leaders have blamed Mr. Kumar for trying to break party unity on a cue from the BJP, the coalition partner in Bihar.
“Nitish Kumar wants to keep his government safe and maintain good relations with the BJP…why did he write a note of dissent to the first parliamentary committee chaired by Geeta Mukherjee on this subject? Does he disown that dissent note or is his change of stance opportunistic?” a senior JD(U) leader told The Hindu.
The JD(U) turmoil is nevertheless being seen by pro-Bill parties as the first sign of the crumbling opposition to the Bill.
“There is a clear two-thirds majority for the Bill in the Rajya Sabha. It must be passed, even if that has to happen without a debate,” said Communist Party of India (Marxist) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat, adding that a small minority should not be allowed to create disorder and prevent the passage of the Bill, which has been pending for 15 years.
As for the consensus building — which some parties like the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Samajwadi Party are talking about — BJP leader Arun Jaitley pointed out that it requires a time limit. “Patience has run out after 15 years,” he said.