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Indian Government Fails to Build Political Consensus on Women's Reservation Bill

In India, the Congress-led government has failed to build a political consensus around a landmark bill that proposes to reserve one-third of seats in parliament and state assemblies for women. This could prompt the government to go slow in pressing ahead with the proposed legislation.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's efforts to convince political allies to support the Women's Reservation Bill did not bear fruit at an all-party meeting, as parties opposed to the legislation refused to come on board.

The bill is intended to speed up women's empowerment by setting aside one third of federal and state legislative seats in the country for women.

It was passed by the Upper House of parliament last month with the help of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and Communist Party, and must now be passed by the lower house. But faced with opposition from some of its own allies, the government is trying to seek a consensus.

Parties opposed to the legislation have refused to back down from their demand that the bill should be amended to include quotas for women from disadvantaged sections.

Lalu Prasad Yadav heads the Rashtriya Janata Dal, one of the parties that have vowed to stall the bill.

Yadav says they are not opposed to reservations for women, but Muslim women and those from lower classes should get a share of seats.

Those opposing the bill account for less than 30 lawmakers in the 545-member House. But the government is reluctant to annoy these parties because it has a thin parliamentary majority, and counts on their support to pass crucial legislation such as the federal budget that is due to be voted on.

Amid growing fears that the Women's Bill will be put on the backburner, its supporters are hoping it will come up for a vote when parliament or Lok Sabha reconvenes later this month. Brinda Karat is a leader of the Communist Party of India, Marxist.

"I hope that the government will stay the course and will ensure sufficient political will to see it through the Lok Sabha," said Karat.

But political analysts say if the deadlock over the Women's Reservation Bill cannot be broken, the proposed legislation may be put in cold storage.