With poll in mind, Congress keen to pass women’s quota bill

August 7th, 2008 - 7:29 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Sonia Gandhi

New Delhi, Aug 7 (IANS) With an eye to the general elections, the ruling Congress party is making a last-ditch effort to push the Women’s Reservation Bill, proposing a new formula to satisfy the demand for a ‘quota within quota’ for the Other Backward Classes (OBCs). According to party sources, the parliamentary standing committee on personnel, public grievances, law and justice, headed by senior Congress MP E.M. Sudarshana Natchiappan, which is studying the bill, has proposed that the issue of OBC quota could be left to the states.

The bill seeks to reserve 33 percent seats for women in parliament and legislative assemblies.

“(Congress president) Sonia Gandhi has asked the party leaders to evolve a consensus on the bill so that it can be passed by this government,” a Congress leader told IANS.

Still confused over how the government’s insistence on the contentious India-US civil nuclear deal would reflect in the electoral politics, Congress leaders say they need more populist measures to consolidate the party’s support base.

“Besides, the party has to overcome the anti-incumbency factor at a time inflation and the price-rise continue to trouble the common man,” added the leader.

Under a new formula, the parliamentary committee has proposed an amendment in the constitution to give the states the power to decide on quota for the backward classes.

The legislation has been pending for long as some political parties, including a few in the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), have opposed its present form and demanded a quota for OBC women in the reserved seats.

The committee, which has sought an extension of two months as it expires its term this week, is scheduled to meet Monday to finalise the draft of its recommendations.

It has asked Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari to give it an extension as its members wanted more time to look into the new proposal.

The Congress hopes the parties opposing the bill and demanding OBC quota would agree to the proposal. “As there is no census of the OBCs, the states will be in a better position to decide the level of quota for them,” said the Congress leader.

According to some members of the committee, who did not want to be identified, while a majority of the parties prefer the bill in the present form, four parties - Rashtriya Janata Dal, PMK, Samajwadi Party (allies of the UPA) and Janata Dal-United (JD-U) - oppose it.

The Congress’s latest ally Samajwadi Party has publicly announced it would oppose the bill in its present form.

The AIADMK and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) wanted a separate quota for OBC women in parliament. But the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Left parties, which recently withdrew their legislative support to the government over the nuclear deal, have assured their backing for it.

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