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Women’s bill: Trust men to be men

New Delhi, Nov. 23: Ten years have changed the face of India but not the men who play politics.

The jinxed women’s reservation bill is back in the familiar danger zone, hours after a breakthrough seemed imminent and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh struck an optimistic note.

Lalu Prasad, along with his MPs, met Pranab Mukherjee and demanded that the government convene an all-party meeting to gauge the mood before tabling the bill.

Sources in the railway minister’s party said Lalu Prasad told Mukherjee that the bill should have a separate quota for women from Other Backward Classes and minorities. If these “conditions” were not fulfilled, the RJD would oppose the introduction of the bill.

Lalu Prasad did not get any commitment from Mukherjee but government sources conceded that a big question mark has been put on the bill, 10 years after it made the first of a series of ill-fated appearances aimed at reserving 33 per cent of the constituencies for women.

The sources said the government was not in favour of calling another all-party meeting because the two earlier ones were “unproductive”.

The grim outlook was in sharp contrast to the mood last night after a meeting where Sonia Gandhi and Left leaders insisted that the bill be tabled and referred to a standing committee.

A senior Congress minister then quoted Lalu Prasad as saying: “I don’t want to be singled out as the person who stalls the bill. My support is with all of you.”

Sources said that once Lalu Prasad’s reported statement started doing the rounds, his MPs and MLAs from Bihar piled pressure on him to oppose the bill in its present form.

“It will be suicidal for us,” an MP said. The RJD, Lalu Prasad’s party, fears that its already dented base would suffer further if the women’s bill is passed.

Lalu Prasad’s main adversary, the Janata Dal (United), has pitched for a separate slot for the OBCs in the women’s bill. So have his other competitors such as the Samajwadi Party.

The Samajwadi Party has declared it would marshal all its resources to stall the bill’s introduction. The party’s chief whip in the Lok Sabha, Mohan Singh, said: “In its present form, this bill will only help the stylish women, wearing lipstick and hanging around the big netas, not those from the oppressed classes.”

Ironically, the Samajwadi swipe came on a day the Prime Minister spoke of how there were more women in India in positions of elective authority than in the rest of the world put together and how he hoped that “this shining example will encourage our Parliament to follow suit”.

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