Women’s bill: Government calls all-party meet

The fate of the landmark women’s quota bill on Thursday appeared uncertain as the government, yielding to the bitter critics – the Yadav troika, offered all-party consultations while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) tried to stem growing internal opposition to the proposed legislation.

The BJP, a staunch supporter of the bill that seeks to reserve a third of legislative seats in India for women, appeared a divided house with some MPs opposing the quota and threatening to vote even against the party’s whip. The bill was cleared by the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.

The bill briefly stalled proceedings in the Lok Sabha for the fourth day Thursday. But peace returned and normal business was conducted after Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee met the Yadav chieftains in Parliament House and assured them that they would be consulted before the legislation was tabled in the Lok Sabha.

The three Yadav leaders – Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Lalu Prasad, Janata Dal-United’s Sharad Yadav and Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav – halted their protests over the bill after Mukherjee’s assurance.

Mukherjee later told the house that a “sort of assurance was sought on the progress of the Constitution Amendment Bill (Women’s Reservation Bill) before bringing it to the Lok Sabha”.

“The government will complete the process of consultations with all concerned,” the Leader of the House said.

“I think this assurance would assuage the feelings of all members and the business would be conducted smoothly.” After his statement, the house peacefully began a debate on the budget for fiscal 2010-11.

Mukherjee said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh “has pointed out that we will consult you (to arrive at a consensus) and narrow down the differences before the bill is brought in the Lok Sabha”. With folded hands, he requested the protesting leaders to allow the house to function.

The assurance from the Leader of the House came after initial protests over the bill led to two adjournments.

In the morning, the Lok Sabha witnessed a clamour on the issue before Speaker Meira Kumar allowed the Yadavs to make brief observations on the bill.

Lalu Prasad described the bill as an onion that will “bring tears to MPs once they peel it off”.

“The constitution is being amended and therefore everyone’s opinion should be taken into account,” the RJD chief said. Mulayam Singh and Sharad Yadav also made similar demands.

The bill has angered the parties with a mass base mainly in the Hindi heartland of north India. They are demanding a quota within the quota for Dalit and Muslim women.

The bill was cleared by the Rajya Sabha Tuesday and is awaiting a green signal from the Lok Sabha before it becomes a law. However, that may not be so soon as parliament is taking a three-week-long recess beginning Wednesday, and will resume April 12.

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