M A I N   N E W S

Sonia calls the shots, again
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, March 9
Congress president Sonia Gandhi, whose personal intervention was responsible for the passage of Women’s Reservation Bill, had reasons to be happy with today’s developments and, for a change, the normally reticent leader did not fight shy of showing her emotions.

A visibly relaxed and smiling Sonia described the Bill as a “great step forward for the women of the country”, stating emphatically that they never thought of backtracking on the Bill despite the stiff opposition to it and the ugly scenes witnessed in Rajya Sabha yesterday.

In an informal chat with mediapersons in Parliament today, Sonia said she was always firm on this issue but admitted that people did mention the possible consequences of going ahead with the Bill which had to be taken into account. “Certain developments took place and we had to face them,” she said, while denying that the Congress was in shambles yesterday. Seeking to dismiss any problems in the UPA due to the Bill, Gandhi said, “I cannot see any issue coming in the way...I don’t see a problem”.

She was hopeful about the stability of the UPA government despite the decision of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) to withdraw support to the ruling combine to protest the passage of the Bill. “I think so. One can never tell. I am not an astrologer,” she said, stating that she wished their former partners were with them on this issue.

When asked about the reservations expressed by allies like Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerji, the Congress president pointed out that all coalition partners had supported the Bill when it was passed by the Cabinet last month. “Mamata Banerjee was quite enthusiastic. The DMK has always been for the Bill and supported the Prime Minister fully. Pawar also fully supported it. I don’t see any problems within the UPA,” she added. Although Sonia denied that it was her personal intervention which finally clinched matters, it is also a fact that after yesterday’s drama, the ruling combine was all set to abandon the Bill. However, the Congress core group met last night and then again this afternoon in the PM’s office where it was decided to take the risk and go ahead with the Bill. “Having come so far, we could not backtrack..it was the question of the government’s credibility,” said a senior UPA minister, adding that they factored in the opposition from the RJD and the SP before taking a final view.

Not wanting to appear overconfident, Sonia Gandhi refused to say when the Bill would be tabled in the Lok Sabha. On her part, the Congress president gave credit to everybody for giving the necessary push to the long-delayed bill in Parliament, “You have to go by a collective decision. There was consensus in the party and the government,” she said, adding that the Left parties and the BJP also fully supported the Bill.

The backchat

Despite the tensions between their parties over the contentious Women’s Reservation Bill, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav exchanged lighthearted banter when they met in Lok Sabha this morning. Sonia Gandhi asked him if his wife and seven daughters supported the Bill. Taking about this interaction, Sonia Gandhi recounted: “When I met him I reminded him that he has seven daughters. His wife Rabri Devi was the Chief Minister. I asked him if there was support for the Bill within his family. I told him that she would ring up his wife to see her support.” The RJD chief, she said, laughed in response.

PM goes poetic

Concluding the three-hour long discussion on the Bill, the PM, in his brief address, called it a “historic legislation” and “a giant step forward”. He went on to thank Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley and also all the parties for supporting the Bill as he described it as a “landmark legislation”. He went on to depict the Bill as “a celebration of women rights” and “regard for women in Indian culture”, as the entire House, including the Opposition, appreciated the PM’s words by thumping the desks. “Women are facing discrimination at home, there’s domestic violence, unequal access to health and education. This has to end,” Manmohan said.



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