BJP's potential 'naysayers' after meeting LK Advani on Thursday: They don't look very excited about the Bill!
The women's quota Bill, meant to reserve 33 per cent seats in Lok Sabha and State Assemblies on a rotational basis for the next 15 years, has run into rough weather in the Lok Sabha. Suddenly, all parties which supported the Bill in the Rajya Sabha, are facing rebellion in their ranks with MPs openly threatening to defy party whips.
[I oppose the Bill because it restricts freedom of choice, the cornerstone of democracy, and is essentially meant to mobilise votes and not empower women. See my earlier blogpost, An assault on freedom of choice, explaining why I oppose this Bill.
The RJD and SP, as also BSP, were expected to toughen their stand as they have larger numbers in the Lok Sabha. Mamata Banerjee could go with the naysayers as she remains unpredictable.
But what has come as a shock to the BJP, which has been stoutly defending the Bill and enabled its passage in Rajya Sabha, is discontent among its MPs who feel the party erred in going with the Congress.
Their objections are three-fold:
1. The Congress will walk away with all credit and BJP will get none. Congress statements, the triumphalism of its leaders and media coverage praising the Congress and its president alone bear out this point.
2. The proposed rotational system will have an unsettling impact on MPs who have been nursing their constituencies for long. They will be asked to stand aside. The provisions of the Bill and analyses of its fallout bear out this contention.
3. Caste equations, settled over several elections, will be upset by the sudden introduction of this law. What it means is women candidates are untested in caste-driven constituencies in the Hindi belt. Understandably, MPs from Bihar, UP and Madhya Pradesh are most worried.
The rebels are mocking at their Rajya Sabha colleagues, saying they backed the Bill because they wouldn't be affected by the proposed quota.
Sushma Swaraj has denied any rifts within the party over the Bill. But there's no way she could have admitted it either.
Meanwhile, there's cross-Opposition consensus that marshals won't be allowed inside the Lok Sabha when the Bill is introduced, discussed, debated, voted (if at all it reaches the last stage).
As a principle, I disagree with the BJP taking this position. Forcible disruption of House proceedings cannot be allowed under any circumstances. Having faced similar disruptions when it occupied Treasury Benches, the BJP should have disassociated itself from the 'no marshal' demand. But then, I am not a politician!
Second, I sense the Congress working on a different calculus altogether. I don't put it past the Congress to announce a series of lollies for Muslims (the AG asking the Supreme Court to hasten hearing of Andhra Pradesh Government's appeal against HC quashing its Muslim quota is a useful indicator) and even agree to 'consider' Muslim and OBC quotas within the women's quota at the last minute. That would leave the BJP (and Shiv Sena and possibly Akali Dal) in splendid isolation while everybody else would gang up and back the amendment to the Bill which would go through without the BJP's support.
Of course, the amended Bill would then go back to the Rajya Sabha for a fresh vote. The BJP would then have the choice of either voting for communal/caste quotas or voting against the Bill. Since it is unlikely to do the former, the Bill would fall.
That's a win-win situation for Congress and all 'secular' parties, including Left. The BJP would then be painted as the villain of the piece and everybody else, especially Congress, would claim to be champions of what the Prime Minister calls "women's emancipation" and Muslim/OBC empowerment.