NEW DELHI: International Women’s Day (March 8) gave an opportunity to women MPs to revive their demand for the passage in Parliament of the Women’s Reservation Bill reserving 33 per cent of the seats for women in all legislatures.
Drawing speaker Sumitra Mahajan into the discussion in the Lok Sabha, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said, speaking more like a woman parliamentarian than the head of a political party, “We can expect in you a strong ally” so that the government can take up “our legitimate demand”.
Parliamentary affairs minister Venkaiah Naidu, responding from the treasury benches, said the government would try to forge a consensus on the issue.
“Our government is working towards evolving consensus… Hope we succeed at the earliest,” he said.
During the 10 years of UPA rule, the Bill, overcoming the opposition of Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh, RJD’s Lalu Prasad and JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav, was passed in the Rajya Sabha but got stuck in the Lok Sabha.
That was exactly what happened when it was first introduced during Deve Gowda’s prime ministerial tenure in 1996.
The bill had been fine-tuned by a standing committee of Parliament headed by the late CPI leader Geeta Mukherjee.
On Tuesday, Sonia Gandhi goaded the government to bring the bill again, fulfilling its pledge of maximum governance. She said maximum governance did not just mean economic progress but also meant having no double standards on women’s rights.
When an opposition MP wanted a concrete assurance from the government, Venkaiah Naidu hit back, “They (the erstwhile Congress government) could not evolve a consensus in 10 years”.
He said the government was taking various steps, including the Beti Bacho, Beti Padhao campaign, to bring the girl child within the fold of education and save her from the scourge of female foeticide, and emphasised the need to provide jobs to women after education.
In the Rajya Sabha, cutting across party lines, MPs made a passionate plea for early passage of the legislation. To mark Women's Day, the upper house decided to allow all women law-makers who had given notices to raise Zero Hour mentions a chance to speak.
Congress members took credit for getting the bill passed in the Rajya Sabha and sought to know what the present government was doing to make its absolute majority in the Lok Sabha count.
Minority affairs minister Najma Heptulla said, "I hope this year the Bill will be passed. I feel the time has come for men too to speak about women's empowerment."