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Disruption by a dozen
Papers torn, decorum shredded
TV footage shows an MP’s hand (centre) reaching out for Rajya Sabha chairperson Hamid Ansari’s table as the House watch-and-ward staff (flanking Ansari) try to stop the member. (PTI)

New Delhi, March 8: They numbered only 12. By day’s end, however, the disruptive dozen had prevailed over 200-odd.

By sundown, managers and strategists of the Congress-led government, which had hoped to infuse the centenary of International Women’s Day with symbolism and substance, were left wondering if it was worth staking “political stability” at the altar of a “divisive” bill.

The fate of the women’s reservation bill lay in limbo as the usual band of opponents, fewer in numbers and politically feebler today than they were when it was introduced in 1997, blocked the motion for its consideration and passage in the Rajya Sabha.

Their decibel levels and tactics, however, packed in a message that was as politically loaded, if not more, than the bill itself.

When the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party, Lok Janshakti Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party demanded in a chorus the immediate implementation of recommendations of two minority panels — the Rajinder Sachar and Ranganath Misra committees — the Congress and the Left were speechless.

When these parties asked for a separate quota for women from the backward classes, the BJP, which prides itself on “co-opting” the powerful OBCs, was stumped.

The tone for the day’s events was set from the word go when the Upper House assembled at 11 this morning.

The RJD, Samajwadi, LJP and the BSP’s clamour for the minority reports drowned out the brave attempts of women and child development minister Krishna Tirath to read out a perfunctory March 8 statement.

The House was soon adjourned for an hour.

When the House reassembled at noon, with Hamid Ansari in the Chair, 12 members from the four parties lost little time in storming the well.

They divided themselves into groups of six that laid siege to the secretary-general’s table. The official is seated below the Chair and is assisted by six reporters who note down the proceedings.

Through the din, law minister M. Veerappa Moily moved the motion for the bill’s consideration and passage, but to no effect.

Two MPs, Nand Kishore Yadav (Samajwadi) and Sabir Ali (LJP), went close to the chairman. They ripped apart copies of the bill and scattered the shreds on his table.

A third member, Kamal Akhtar, the Samajwadi’s chief whip, climbed on the secretary-general’s table, wrenched off the mike and the pen stand and threw the papers on the chairman’s desk before going on to clean out the secretary-general’s stuff as well.

Ansari, a former diplomat, recoiled in shock.

Parliamentary affairs minister Pawan Kumar Bansal and his deputies, Prithviraj Chavan and V. Narayanaswamy, looked to the BJP and the Left for help.

However, the BJP’s well-known hecklers, such as S.S. Ahluwalia and Rudranath Pani, stayed put. As did the bill’s cheerleaders from the Left, notably Brinda Karat, who was seated next to Ramgopal Yadav, a Samajwadi veteran.

(From top) Nand Kishore Yadav, Kamal Akhtar

The House was then adjourned for two hours.

Visibly chuffed by the hold-up, Samajwadi and RJD leaders Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad used the break to heighten the anti-bill atmospherics.

As a psychological war began, the government’s strategists scrambled for a resolution, clueless on what to do: ram the bill through despite the protests or put it off for a luckier day.

At half-past one, the normally empty visitors’ galleries of the Upper House were packed with the Lok Sabha’s women MPs who looked like they were spoiling for a good fight with the Mandal machos.

The security personnel had by then removed any object that looked like a potential missile from the chairman’s and the secretary-general’s tables. Pen stands, books, papers and paperweights were tucked away. Only a forlorn digital timepiece ticked away.

Health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and Akali Dal MP Naresh Gujral supervised the clean-up as home minister P. Chidambaram valiantly took Ramgopal and Satish C. Misra (BSP) aside for a chat.

Only a braveheart would have dared to cajole them to reconsider their stand and it didn’t look like Chidambaram was doing that.

Three adjournments later, the government yielded to the Yadavs.

Women’s Day went off without the bill being passed.

Sometime around noon, Brinda had gingerly asked Ramgopal to rein in Akhtar. By evening, she asked him for an “elaichi” that he carries and he obliged.

Somebody remarked that cardamoms cleared over-used throats. But today, even Brinda was silenced by the Yadavs.

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