The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Women escape dodgy union of bills

New Delhi, Oct. 13: The Left and the BJP today scuppered a government proposal to combine in a single bill two thorny issues — redrawing of constituencies and seat reservation for women — that might have sunk both.

An all-party meeting pressured the Centre into keeping apart delimitation from the women’s bill, which is now expected to be tabled in the winter session of Parliament.

Tagging women’s reservation with the lengthy delimitation process might have delayed its tabling. On the other hand, the delimitation could get stalled by the disputes that are certain to make the quota’s implementation a long-drawn process after tabling.

The meeting asked the government to hold the 2009 Lok Sabha polls on the basis of redrawn constituencies. The delimitation is likely to reserve 12 more seats, six each for the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.

There is clandestine but strong opposition within the government to the delimitation process because many leaders fear losing chunks of their strongholds in the redrawn constituencies.

On the other hand, the proposal to reserve a third of Parliament and Assembly seats for women has prompted moves to tinker with it to safeguard the male-dominated political parties’ interests.

The modifications mooted by the government include increasing seats by a third, introduction of dual-membership seats (with one male and one female representative), and rotating the reservation from one set of seats to another at every election. Agreeing to increase seats, however, would make the current delimitation meaningless.

“By and large, the consensus of the meeting was that the Delimitation Commission’s work should continue and be completed on time and the women’s reservation bill should be de-linked from the current delimitation exercise,” defence minister Pranab Mukherjee said after a two-hour meeting.

The Left parties, supporters of both delimitation and the women’s bill, want the latter tabled in its original form in the winter session. With their stand enjoying Sonia Gandhi’s support, the government had little option but to come around.

The Prime Minister, too, has declared he hopes the bill would be tabled in the winter session.

The BJP says that instead of reserving seats, parties should be forced to set aside a third of their tickets for women. But it is prepared to go along with the bill for the time being.

After tabling the bill in the original form, the Centre is likely to try for a consensus on how to implement it. It’s likely to be an uphill task.

At today’s meeting, the Samajwadi Party, Janata Dal (United) and the Telugu Desam Party repeated their demand for a “(caste) quota within (women’s) quota”. The Rashtriya Janata Dal, which skipped the meeting, also favours this view.

The only party to strike a discordant note on delimitation was the Trinamul Congress, whose leader Mamata Banerjee fears a setback in her Calcutta South constituency. Party leader Dinesh Trivedi questioned the authenticity of the 2001 census, the basis for the delimitation.

“In Bengal, the democratic process has been totally subverted,” he said.

Among Union ministers who attended the meeting were Shivraj Patil, Sharad Pawar, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, H.R. Bhardwaj, T.R. Baalu, Oscar Fernandes and Shibu Soren. The others included Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley (BJP), Sharad Yadav (Dal-U), Sitaram Yechury (CPM), Sudhakar Reddy (CPI), K. Yerran Naidu (TDP) and Mehbooba Mufti (People’s Democratic Party).

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