If the first few days of the session passed without the Houses transacting any business because of BJP’s protests over imposition of President’s rule in UP, the UF parties tried to turn the tables by demanding that December 6 be declared a Black Day. In the din it occurred to no one that the UF has done nothing to punish those guilty of Ayodhya or even to fulfill its own CMP promise of referring the dispute to the Supreme Court under Article 138(2). If the parliament erupted in anger at the surrender at Singapore and put Gowda on a tight spot, Finance Minister P.Chidambaram did not encounter much resistance when he hastened to introduce the bill on insurance regulatory authority — despite the countrywide protest by the insurance employees — in line with the commitment his colleague in commerce ministry had made at WTO meet to start dialogue on an agreement on financial services from April 1997.
The floor management under this strange government is getting curiouser and curiouser what with the parties supporting from outside, both Congress(I) and CPI(M), throwing jabs at the government while taking care not to deliver any punch that might really hurt. At critical moments however, the hidden rightwing solidarity comes to the fore to the rescue of the government and sets the limits in the friendly bouts. Thus it was Manmohan Singh whose intervention, at variance with his own party colleagues, which defused the crisis on WTO.
But biggest disappointment of the winter session of the parliament was the decision to defer the women’s reservation bill. Most of the male members of the right and centrist parties were clearly unwilling to vacate one third of the seats for women. But the main obstructionist role was played by JD members and other champions of socalled social justice. The JD had this promise in its manifesto, the issue figured in the CMP, it is the UF government which brought in the bill but then the government developed cold feet. The duplicity of other parties was also no less than this. Vajpayee had a tough time convincing BJP members of parliament in favour women’s reservation which surprisingly was the much-trumpeted point of the BJP manifesto. Though Congress too has officially supported the bill, Manmohan Singh’s services were required to convince the rebellious male members on the need to adopt a politically-correct public posture on this sensitive issue.
The issue was initially sought to be pegged in a Select Committee. But the Select Committee, with Gita Mukherjee as the Chairperson, transacted swift business, and sorted out thorny issues like reservation for women under SC and ST reserved category, and in States and Union Territories with less than three parliament seats etc. On the contentious issue of reservation for backward caste women, the committee recommended in the affirmative that this can be done at an appropriate time so that this doesn’t come in the way of reservation for women at present. Since there is no provision for reservation for BCs at present in elected bodies, this is a larger issue and cannot be taken up within the bounds of reservation for women. Nevertheless the socalled crusaders of social justice stuck to their inflexible position and held the issue of women’s empowerment hostage to their suddenly conjured up demand of reservation for BCs. It is not clear how their cause is going to be served by blocking the women’s reservation bill.
Even after major parties making a public commitment and taking official position in favour of the bill which means they are duty bound to issue whips to their members to vote for the bill, and even after discussions in the parliament and the Select Committee, and even after knowing pretty well that there is going to be no consensus, if Deve Gowda government has not put the bill to vote then this only means that it has succumbed to the other covert consensus among all parties, barring the left, against the bill. Despite a fervent appeal from the self-appointed patron saint of the ‘social justice’ camp, VP Singh, to support the bill, the JD president Laloo Yadav declared that the bill should be opposed ‘tooth and nail’ and Deve Gowda failed to convince his own party MPs who were most vocal in opposing the bill and in pitting Mandal against gender. These MPs however didn’t make any protest when the proposed bill on agricultural labourers was not introduced in the winter session.
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