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Madam Speaker takes the Chair
Focus back on women’s quota bill
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, June 3
It was women’s day in the Parliament today. As Meira Kumar made history by becoming the first woman Speaker of the Lok Sabha, focus shifted back on women issues. Soon after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee and Leader of the Opposition LK Advani escorted the new Speaker to her Chair, CPM’s Basudeb Acharia raised the issue of women’s quota bill in his welcome speech for Meira Kumar.

Still addressing the Chair as “Sir” (the House repeatedly reminded Acharia of the changed scenario; he finally came to “Madam Speaker”), the veteran communist, while pledging cooperation, said, “With you around, we hope the bill promising 33 per cent reservation to women in the Parliament and state assemblies will see the light of day.”

As Meira smiled reassuringly at the House, voices favouring women’s quota grew stronger, with TMC’s Mamata Banerjee reminding the Chair of her duty towards “Ma, Mati and Manush” (Mother, Earth and Man) and DMK’s TR Baalu quoting poet Subramaniam Bharti’s ode to the woman, while asking for the revival of the bill.

Muslim League’s E Ahmad went a step further on the line by describing Meira as “Mother of the House”; she was earlier called guardian of Lok Sabha by stalwarts like BJD’s Arjan Charan Sethi, who compared her to UK’s first woman Speaker Betty Bothroyd, and CPI’s Gurudas Dasgupta, who patted the UPA for “opening a new chapter in true sense of the word”.

The best compliments for Meira, however, came from the PM, who termed her diplomatic experience, 25 years in Parliament, stint in social justice ministry, and Jagjivan Ram’s inheritance, as assets that would see her through the responsibility. Meira she herself described the duty as “onerous”, hailing the day as “unprecedented” in a powerful acceptance speech she later made in Hindi.

Other leaders, led by Pranab and Advani (he didn’t forget to mention how Meira’s constituency was surprised that she abandoned her role as a minister) assured full cooperation to the Speaker for smooth functioning of the House, with Pranab hoping to inspire a tradition of discussions rather than obstructions in Lok Sabha.

Not all leaders were sugar and honey; there some like JDU’s Sharad Yadav, who made reactive remarks clarifying to the Chair that their support to it was subject to “constructive debates.” “Agar nirgun behas hui to jhanjhat ho sakta hai (if there is negative intent and debate, there could be trouble),” warned Sharad, inviting equally another reactive remarks from RJD’s Lalu Yadav, who said he was doubtful that the promise of cooperation which the House had made to the Chair would be kept.

Interestingly, both the socialists, along with SP’s Mulayam Singh, steered clear of remarks on the women’s quota bill that found a resonance in Meira’s speech, where she mentioned with pride the presence of 58 women MPs in LS for the first time. Indicating her support for the controversial bill, the Speaker said, “I hope unanimity will be achieved on all issues concerning women empowerment.”

She reiterated her commitment later in her first interaction with the media: “The Bill is with Rajya Sabha. Since it is a constitutional amendment bill, we need unanimity on it. I will work towards that.”

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