After hanging for 27 long years in coalition uncertainty, as the Women’s Reservation Bill is all set to be introduced by the Narendra Modi government in the ongoing special session of Parliament, a loud credit war has broken out between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the main opposition Congress.
BJP sources suggest that the Congress has “never been serious” about the bill and only paid “lip service”. They cited how the Congress and its allies scuttled the bill when Atal Bihari Vajpayee presented it. The late Prime Minister brought it as many as six times. Remember, Vajpayee did not have the brute majority that Narendra Modi enjoys today. BJP sources further cite how the Congress, which had requisite numbers back in 2010 during UPA 2, failed to pass the bill in the Lok Sabha due to stiff objections from parties from the Hindi heartland like Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal—both were been part of the UPA in different times. However, the BJP favoured the bill in the upper house, where it sailed through.
“Today while it is attempting to steal credit and spread its false narrative, the Congress has seemingly forgotten that its own alliance members were once those that blackmailed it into withdrawing its support to the bill when it was introduced by the BJP,” said Bharatiya Janata Party’s Amit Malviya while speaking to News18.
Interestingly, while entering Parliament on Tuesday morning, when reporters asked Sonia Gandhi about the bill, she replied, “What about it? It’s ours. Apna hai.” Thus the Congress sought to appropriate what many political thinkers consider as the BJP’s well-thought-out political strategy ahead of assembly polls in a host of states including Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh, and next year’s Lok Sabha election where women will play a decisive part. Women’s share among voters over the past few years has risen to a whopping 48%, almost matching their male counterparts and making them a sought-after slice of the voting pie.
But the BJP is quick to remind of at least three instances of physical disruptions objecting to previous efforts to pass the bill.
Disruption 1: In 1998, then union law minister M Thambi Durai was about to introduce the bill when RJD member Surendra Prakash Yadav snatched it from his hand. Accompanied by colleague Ajit Kumar Mehta, he then dashed to the Speaker’s table to pick up more copies in an attempt to destroy them.
Disruption 2: Opposition (then in power) Rajya Sabha members created a ruckus when the bill was tabled in the upper house. Subhash Yadav (RJD), Sabir Ali (LJP), Veerpal Singh Yadav, Nand Kishore Yadav, Amir Alam Khan and Kamal Akhtar (all SP), and Ejaz Ali (unattached), created a commotion in the house when the bill was brought in the Rajya Sabha and was, therefore, suspended.
Disruption 3: In 2010, SP member Abu Asim Azmi and his party colleagues tried to snatch the bill’s copy from then-law minister Hansraj Bhardwaj.
However, faced with these straight charges from the BJP, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh hit back. “In a season of election jumlas, this one is the biggest of them all! A huge betrayal of the hopes of crores of Indian women and girls,” he said.
As the bill was being tabled by union law minister Arjun Ram Meghwal in the Lok Sabha, Congress’s leader of the house further tried to claim credit. “The Women’s Reservation Bill passed in the Rajya Sabha during the time of Dr. Manmohan Singh is still alive. It has also been demanded in our CWC meeting that the women’s reservation bill be passed. Former Congress President Smt. Sonia Gandhi had also written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the Women’s Reservation Bill. We reiterate our demand for passing the Women’s Reservation Bill,” he said.
But BJP sources were quick to remind how many within the Congress have successively stalled the bill over the years. They cited CK Jaffer Sharief and Shakeel Ahmad as examples, claiming they “supported disruptions”. In fact, pointing to a 2010 interview by CNN-News18 of then UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, BJP sources indicated how she accepted that there were members in her own party because of whom it was unable to get the requisite numbers to pass the bill.
But beyond the war of words on who can claim victory, the bill is likely very soon going to be legislation with parties across the political spectrum including the Congress, AAP, BSP, and BRS extending their support. Almost every government since 1996 has tried to push the bill through Parliament but failed. BJP sources claim they not only have the numbers but also the political will to give the women of India their due.