Divided India braces for women’s bill, Nitish now backs it

New Delhi, March 6 (IANS) India’s political class remained divided Saturday over moves to reserve 33 percent of all seats in legislatures for women even as Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar came out unexpectedly in its support, exposing fissures within the Janata Dal-United (JD-U).

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh voiced confidence over the passing of the Women’s Reservation Bill when it is introduced in the Rajya Sabha Monday, the International Women’s Day.

The Congress, which heads the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the four Left parties have come out in support of the bill.

Opposing it most vocally are the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). But the JD-U, which too was against the bill in the present form, was a house divided Saturday.

Speaking in Patna, Nitish Kumar said he wanted the bill to sail through in the Rajya Sabha and that the JD-U should not keep opposing it. But he added that this was his ‘personal view’.

A stung JD-U president Sharad Yadav reiterated his opposition to the proposed legislation, saying he would back it only when there was ‘a quota within the quota’ for the backward class women.

Speaking at a leadership summit for women here, the prime minister said:

‘We are moving towards providing one third reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and state legislatures.

‘As we approach International Women’s Day, let me once again reaffirm our government’s commitment to all-round social, economic and political empowerment of our women, whatever effort and resources the task might take.’

He pointed out that nearly 40 percent of elected representatives in the village panchayats were now women.

As it stands, Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily will move the bill in the Rajya Sabha Monday seeking to amend the constitution to reserve 33 percent of seats in parliament and state legislatures for women.

So far, 167 MPs from the ruling and opposition parties in the 245-member upper house have come out in favour of the bill, which requires the vote of 163 MPs to pass. The Congress, in a minority in the Rajya Sabha, needs the support of at least a section of the opposition.

The BJP Saturday reiterated its support for the bill. Like the Congress and Left parties, the BJP too has issued a whip asking all its MPs to be present in the house and vote for it Monday.

‘The BJP is the only political party which has provided for one-third reservation in the party organisation for women,’ party chief Nitin Gadkari said after the party’s core group meeting here.

Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy and National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah also threw its weight behind the bill.

‘It’s high time that women, who have been neglected for such a long time from holding real power, get 50 percent share in power,’ Abdullah said in Jammu.

The bill holds many unrealized promises for the political empowerment of Indian women, said Meira Kumar, the country’s first woman Lok Sabha speaker.

‘India was one of the first countries where women were given the right to vote,’ she said here. ‘The Women’s Reservation Bill holds many unrealized promises towards women’s political empowerment.’

On Saturday, the All India Milli Council, a Muslim group, also demanded a ‘quota within quota’ in the women’s bill and said it will hold a protest march Monday against the government’s move to pass the legislation in its present form.

‘If passed, the bill will amount to injustice against the women belonging to minorities and Dalits,’ it said.

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