New Delhi: The ruling Congress party members met on Wednesday to resolve a political standoff over a contentious women’s quota Bill after two of its allies quit and left the government less elbow room to pass economic legislation.
Already under fire over issues such as food inflation and a proposed hike in fuel prices, India’s coalition government has been hit by turmoil trying to push through legislation reserving a third of parliamentary seats for women.
The Bill angered two of Congress’ partners — the regional Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) — which withdrew their support. On Wednesday they began mobilizing support for a possible parliamentary vote against the government.
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While the Congress-led coalition still has a majority, the standoff may prove a distraction for a government trying to push through key economic legislation, including the 2010-11 Budget.
“We are talking to everyone, everything is fine and we are not worried,” senior Congress leader Veerappa Moily said.
The two parties which quit backed the government from outside but their support gave the Congress the room to push through policy decisions in Parliament to maintain high growth.
Samajwadi said it might consider bringing a “no-trust” vote against the government.
“We do not have the numbers now, but we are in touch with other political parties and if the situation changes we may consider it,” Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh Yadav told Reuters.
The women’s quota Bill, which has wide support among parties including the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was passed on Tuesday after a raucous day in the Rajya Sabha. It still needs the approval of the Lok Sabha.
Critics say the legislation is being pushed through at the expense of other disenfranchised minorities such as Muslims and will only benefit women already in privileged classes.
The women’s quota Bill has also left a major government ally disaffected.
The Trinamool Congress party, one of the government’s most influential allies, abstained from voting on Tuesday to protest against Congress’ handling of the Bill and said it would do the same in the lower House.
The party has not spoken of breaking away from the coalition.
On Wednesday, a handful of Samajwadi and RJD lawmakers forced the Lok Sabha to shut for the day with noisy protests against the Bill.
Given the trouble still expected over the Bill, Congress members said it is unlikely to be introduced in the Lok Sabha, where the priority now is to get the 2010-11 Budget ratified. The Budget Session breaks for a month next week.
Signalling its intentions to corner the government, the BJP said on Wednesday it may seek a discussion and a parliamentary vote on the Budget once the House reconvenes next month.
“There are several issues over which the government has failed,” Gopinath Munde, the party’s deputy chief in Lok Sabha, told Reuters.
Technically, a defeat in such a vote would mean the government would have to resign.
The women’s quota Bill, which was first introduced in 1996, is intended to speed up women’s empowerment in a country where women lag far behind on many social and health indicators.