The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Fresh shot to save women quota

New Delhi, Feb. 25: The Centre is likely to work on a consensus for 33 per cent party-wise reservation for women in elections.

With new parliamentary affairs minister Sushma Swaraj keen on pushing the Bill before International Women’s Day on March 8, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has convened an all-party meeting on March 3 to build consensus on the reservation Bill in its present form.

A consensus, however, still appears a remote possibility with differences persisting even in mainstream parties such as the Congress and the BJP. The Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal are opposing the Bill.

The BJP’s backward caste leaders like Uma Bharti want a separate quota within the 33 per cent for women of Other Backward Classes. Muslim leaders want a sub-quota for minorities.

If Vajpayee’s March 3 meetings fails to break the ice, indications are the Centre may consider the Election Commission proposal of making it mandatory for parties to give 33 per cent seats to women by amending the Representation of People’s Act.

Swaraj last night hosted a dinner for women MPs, which was attended by Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Rajya Sabha vice-chairperson Najma Heptullah, among others.

The minister said she urged the women MPs to explore the likelihood of a consensus on the commission’s suggestion, if not on the reservation Bill. “At least an issue lying in the morass will move forward,” she said.

The Centre, Swaraj said, was apprehensive of the passage of the Bill despite having the numbers with support from the NDA, the Congress and the Left because a constitutional amendment required two-thirds of the House to be present and voting.

According to Swaraj, the Election Commission’s suggestion would not ensure 33 per cent seats in Parliament for women, but it would at least increase the number of women representatives in elected bodies.

On consensus over the Bill in her party, Swaraj said once the BJP took a stand on the women’s reservation Bill and issued a whip, all its members would fall in line. Certain political quarters expressed the fear that party-wise reservation may not work because often dicey seats are handed to women candidates.

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