By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent
NEW DELHI: The Congress-led governmentâ€™s attempt to create history on March 8, 2010 by securing passage of Womenâ€™s Reservation Bill through the Parliament on International Womenâ€™s Day has failed. The controversial bill reserves 33 percent of legislative seats in the Parliament. Ironically, though the bill has support of the Congress and from ranks of opposition, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Left bloc, it is fiercely opposed by Samajwadi Party (SP), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Bahuajan Samaj Party (BSP).
Being celebrated across the world for almost 100 years, the global theme highlighted by United Nations for International Womenâ€™s Day this year was â€œEqual rights, Equal opportunities: Progress for all.â€ In India, the attempt made to reserve 33 percent of seats for women in the Parliament did not succeed on March 8. Rather, the dismal picture presented of the ruckus created in the Parliament, leading to repeated adjournments of both the Houses, raised questions on politicians playing a greater part in distorting legislative procedures than in contributing to actually creating history. Soon after the bill was tabled in the Upper House (Rajya Sabha) by Law Minister Veerappa Moily, around a dozen members opposing it attacked the Chairperson, Vice President Hamid Ansari. They even threw tore the bill into pieces and threw around the paper, pen stands and microphone. The legislators opposing the bill shouted down the supporters to prevent a debate on the bill.
Justifying their opposition, the SP and RJD announced withdrawal of their support to the Congress-led coalition government. Demanding a quota within the reservation-quota for women, RJD chief Lalu Prasad said: â€œWe are not opposing the bill per se. We want, and the nation wants, that the reservation should be given to backward women who donâ€™t have resources. The real India should be empowered. Give them 50 percent reservation. We will not oppose that.â€ Taking the same stand, SP leader Mulayam Singh said that the bill should provide quota for minorities, Dalits and backward classes. Claiming that bill was a â€œconspiracyâ€ against interests of Muslims and Dalits, SP chief said: â€œThe interests of minorities and Dalits are being undermined. The reservation should be for Muslims.â€
BSP leader Mayawati also opposes the bill without their being a â€œquota-within-quotaâ€ for women belonging to backward castes and the minority community. Incidentally, rifts are reported within the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) too, with one of its key allies Trinamool Congress led by Railway Minister Mamata Bannerjee demanding reservation for minorities and backward classes in the bill.
While the BJP pledged its support to bill, it expressed reservations on voting for it without a debate on the same. Ravi Shankar Prasad, BJP legislator in Rajya Sabha said: â€œWe want this bill to be passed with proper debate and it is the responsibility of the government to ensure this eventuality in the house. Let us try to trust the managerial ability of this government which is coming in to question with every passing hour.â€
Meanwhile, as Womenâ€™s Day passed by with the government having failed to â€œcreate history,â€ Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said: â€œItâ€™s wastage of the day (International Womenâ€™s Day). The Womenâ€™s Reservation Bill is a subject where the only question is when and not if. It is an idea whose time has come.â€ Criticizing the billâ€™s opponent, he said: â€œThe thinking of a handful of people has been exposed…. This mentality brings shame on Indian democracy.â€
In general, the Indian Muslim leaders and organizations are keen on a reservation bill for increasing minoritiesâ€™ representation in the Parliament. The womenâ€™s bill, without any reference to Muslim women, carries little importance for them. They are opposed to it, fearing that it would further marginalize Muslimsâ€™ representation in the Parliament.
All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) represented by Maulana Badruddin Ajmal in the Lok Sabha has opposed the bill, describing it as â€œsimply unacceptable for minorities especially Muslims.â€ â€œThe bill is actually an anti-minority bill in guise of empowerment of women,â€ he said. AIDUF claims that prominent political houses aim to use the bill to let women members of their families enter the Parliament. The bill thus is a game plan of a section of political elite to make a weak woman weaker and a strong one stronger, AIDUF said. With there being a â€œnegligible minority representationâ€ in the Parliament, the bill will lead to â€œno representationâ€ for the minorities. Without any quota for Muslim and Dalit women, the bill is a â€œmockery at all minorities and Dalits and against the interest of Indian nationhood,â€ AIUDF stated. â€œIf religion based reservation is unacceptable for majority when it comes to political empowerment of minorities, how can a gender-based reservation be viewed as rational,â€ AIUDF questioned.
Since 1996, the Womenâ€™s Reservation Bill has been introduced and re-introduced several times in the Parliament to have only faced strong opposition. With their political base emerging from the support of minorities and backward classes, SP, RJD and BSP are determined to fiercely oppose it. Describing the bill as â€œpolitical dacoity,â€ which â€œwonâ€™t be tolerated,â€ Lalu Prasad told media persons in presence of Mulayam Singh: â€œWe will use our democratic rights fully whatever the consequences. They (the government) can get us thrown out.â€