| Manmohan Singh with Atal Bihari Vajpayee at a meeting to discuss the women’s bill in New Delhi on Wednesday. (Reuters)
New Delhi, Aug. 24: Two days after the ruling coalition failed to find a consensus on the women’s reservation bill, the BJP-led Opposition alliance has walked the extra mile to agree on a watered-down version mooted by the Election Commission.
But though Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, according to BJP sources, is inclined to accept the formula, it’s unlikely that Sonia Gandhi or the Left would.
The poll panel has proposed that all political parties earmark 33 per cent of their tickets for women candidates during any Lok Sabha or Assembly election ' on pain of derecognition. This formula can become law through a simple amendment of the Representation of People’s Act, done through a voice vote.
The problem with the proposal, the Left argues, is that it reserves tickets rather than seats for women, and thus hands parties a “handle” to sabotage the real intention behind the bill. “The Left fears that most parties would give the weak or losing seats to women,” a source said. The United Progressive Alliance chairperson, too, reportedly shares this apprehension.
Sonia is believed to be in favour of the amended bill, already drafted by the government, which proposed to raise the number of Lok Sabha seats from 543 to 830. This kills two birds with one stone, setting aside 277 (a third of 830) seats for women while leaving 553 to the general category (read men) ' 10 more than now. The plan, when mooted early this month, received support only from the BJP with the Congress staying non-committal and the Left complaining about the elaborate delimitation process this would entail.
Union home minister Shivraj Patil, too, backed the amended bill when National Democratic Alliance leaders met him and the Prime Minister today.
The BJP, represented by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani, Jaswant Singh, Sushma Swaraj and V.K. Malhotra, said it would have liked the bill to be brought in its original or amended form; but a “consensus solution”, such as the poll panel formula, would do as well.
In its original form, the bill reserves for women a third of all seats in the Lok Sabha and the Assemblies. But it has repeatedly been thwarted by parties that want quotas within the quota ' for minority women or those from the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes.
It is this demand from several allies ' the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the PMK ' that blocked a consensus at Monday’s ruling coalition meeting. Even a section within the BJP, led by Uma Bharti, wants sub-quotas.
These considerations have nudged the BJP towards the poll panel formula, Swaraj said.
She told the meeting that though she had earlier been against the commission’s proposal, she has revised her stand in the “present circumstances” because “at least we move one step forward towards reservation”.
The Prime Minister, BJP sources claimed, also went along with this, saying: “We should move on the EC’s formula.”