CPM leader Brinda Karat and BJP leader Sushma Swaraj outside Parliament after the womens bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday. Picture by Rajesh Kumar
Calcutta, March 9: Mamata Banerjees anxiety to use the womens bill to appeal to her new-found Muslim vote bank forced her party to stay away from voting in the Rajya Sabha today.
She may have taken her cue from Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh Yadav, but ultimately her strategy on the bill was a response to Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjees recent decision to reserve 10 per cent of government jobs for the disadvantaged among backward class Muslims.
Neither Mamata nor Bhattacharjee can be unaware that the Constitution and several court rulings bar religion- based reservation. But both are equally keen to play the Muslim card in the 2011 Assembly polls. The chief minister is desperate to recover the CPMs lost ground among the Muslims and Mamata is equally keen to hold on to the new support base in the community.
Mamata may have been upset at the Congress not consulting her on the bill or giving more importance to consultations with the BJP and the Left. But that is only incidental to her main reason for complaining. Voting for the bill along with the BJP and the Left could not have given her any particular political advantage.
But now she can use her demand for sub-quota for Muslims and OBCs for her political campaign in Bengal.
According to Trinamul sources, by supporting the womens bill in its current form, Mamata would not be gaining any extra mileage as the CPM, too, has supported it.
It must be remembered that for Mamata, the only thing that matters are next years Assembly elections in the state, a Trinamul leader said. Everything that she does will be to consolidate her vote base in the state. She would exploit every opportunity to do so.
Therefore, Trinamul leaders said, by not voting for the bill, Mamata will give the impression to the Muslim electorate in Bengal that she had tried to walk the extra mile for the community but despite her efforts could not achieve what she tried for.
This would immediately draw the Muslim community closer to her as she would be seen as a crusader for their cause, a Trinamul MP said. Mamata is eager to retain the minority votes our party got in the panchayat and Lok Sabha elections and she sees her partys decision to stay away from the Rajya Sabha today as a step forward in this direction.
Trinamul leaders said Mamatas insistence on a sub-quota for Muslims in the womens bill could also effectively counter the Bhattacharjee governments quota announcement.
Besides, Mamata cannot be too bothered about striking a different note from the Congress because, despite the posturing, she knows that the Trinamul-Congress alliance in Bengal is not going to be jeopardised by her terms on the womens bill. Having made her point on this issue, she may eventually go along with the Congress during the vote in the Lok Sabha.
Trinamul leaders said her decision today was not likely to hurt her tie-up with the Congress for the Assembly polls. Mamata was aware that even if her party did not vote, it would not stop the bill from being passed in the Upper House.
In that sense, Trinamul leaders said, Mamata is the winner both ways. She gets to keep the coalition with the Congress and can hope to consolidate her base among Muslims.