Parliament appears set to create history as the Rajya Sabha takes up the Women's Reservation Bill tomorrow with Congress, BJP and Left parties joining hands in favour of the measure and divisions emerging among the opponents.
Passage of the Bill, hanging fire for 13 years for want of consensus in the Rajya Sabha, where it is scheduled for consideration tomorrow, is almost a certainty given the
formidable strength of its backers -- Congress, BJP and the Left parties and a number of other smaller parties like TDP, DMK, AIADMK, Akali Dal and National Conference.
The Upper House has an effective strength of 233 and the voice of the opponents has been dented with Bihar chief minister and JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar springing a surprise by suddenly turning a champion of the bill.
The opponents to the measure now number less than 26 in the House as the JD(U) remained sharply divided following Kumar's statement.
A constitution amendment needs a special majority in voting needing the support of 155 in the House. The bill has clear support of at least over 165 MPs now.
Law and justice minister M Veerappa Moily would be moving for consideration 'The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill', which is also known as Women's Reservation Bill to coincide with the International Women's Day tomorrow. The Bill seeks to provide 33% reservation for women in Lok Sabha and state assemblies.
The opponents to the measure have declared "war" against the legislation. SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, RJD chief Lalu Prasad and JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav have stuck to their opposition to the bill in its present form and demanded quota within quota for backward and Muslim women.
In the Rajya Sabha, Congress has 71 members, BJP 45, CPI(M) 15, AIADMK 7, NCP 6, CPI 5, DMK 4, BJD 4, Telugu Desam and Trinamool Congress 2 each and Forward Block 1. All these parties are known supporters of the legislation which takes the number to 162.
Akali Dal, which has 3 members in the Rajya Sabha, has already announced its support.
On the eve of the consideration of the bill, government sought to reach out to its opponents, appealing to all to support the long-pending measure unanimously and assuring them of talks on "other ideas".
"It is desire, hope and appeal to all that we should support this important measure unanimously in the present form. Law is not a static thing and it is a dynamic one. If there are any ideas, we can talk later," parliamentary affairs minister PK Bansal told PTI.
The Congress and BJP have issued a three-line whip to their members for backing the bill. CPI leader D Raja said he has asked party members to be present in the House and likewise other Left leaders have done so.
Like parliamentary affairs minister, Raja also felt that there would be no problem in the passage of the bill "if one goes by the numbers".
Raja said, besides, there have been a number of parties like DMK, AIADMK, TDP and BJD supporting the measure.
Replying to a question where it would be a "red letter" day in Parliament as the legislation would change the complexion of Lok Sabha, he hoped it would be a "historic and momentous decision" and he does not see any problem.
However, the numbers are stacked against the opponents of the bill which is seen as an attempt by the Congress to break the Opposition unity over issues of price rise and fuel price hike.
Though the strength of the Rajya Sabha is 245, its effective strength now is 233 as there are 12 vacancies, including that of six nominated members.
Attempts to take up the Bill in the last about 13 years have been scuttled, sometimes at the introduction stage itself by its vocal opponents who have been demanding a quota for the Backward classes within the 33%quota.
When the bill was introduced for the first time, it was snatched from the hands of the then prime minister I K Gujral in 1997 and torn to pieces by members his Janata Dal heading the United Front.
Subsequently, the incident was repeated when the then law minister Ram Jethamalani sought to table the bill during the NDA government's tenure.
Champions of the Women's Reservation Bill appeared to have won the first round ahead of the Bill being taken up in Rajya Sabha on Monday with its opponents in disarray and the JD(U), a known critic, sharply divided.
This became clear with the Congress and the BJP seeking to take credit for the long-delayed measure even ahead of its passage.