A combined Opposition
on Monday embarrassed the government in the Rajya Sabha
when it forced amendments to a Constitution amendment Bill providing for setting up of a National
Commission for Backward Classes.
Initiating the Bill earlier this year, to grant statutory status to the Commission, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had argued that the panel didn’t get such a status was evidence of the “apathy” the Congress
and other parties had for the interests of the backward classes. However, Monday’s developments gave the Opposition
an opportunity to hit back.
“No ruling party whip for a constitution amendment? Thirty (NDA) MPs were reportedly missing. Intentions of BJP
MPs about helping OBCs are suspect,” Communist Party of India (Marxist) chief Sitaram Yechury tweeted after the vote.
According to sources, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought details of the BJP
members who were absent in the Upper House during the voting on the Bill.
had issued a whip to its members to be present at the time of voting. But, the BJP
and other constituents of the National
Democratic Alliance (NDA) that it leads did not issue any whip. The NDA is in minority in the Rajya Sabha.
The Lok Sabha had earlier passed the Bill, which the Rajya Sabha
had referred to a select committee. The committee had cleared the Bill without any amendments.
However, the combined Opposition
took the government by surprise when it moved amendments to the Bill. Opposition
members, like Congress’s Hussain Dalwai, said the committee didn’t take on board the amendments they had moved.
The Constitution (123rd Amendment) Bill, 2017, was passed after the Opposition
forced dropping of clause 3, which relates to the insertion of a new Article 338B to define the constitution and powers of the National
Commission for Backward Classes. The amended Bill will now have to be returned to the Lok Sabha for its fresh approval.
A constitution amendment requires to be passed by a two-thirds majority of those present and voting. When the clauses of the Bill were put to vote, Congress
members Digivijaya Singh, B K Hariprasad and Dalvai moved several amendments to clause 3.
Dalvai and others wanted an increase in the number of members of the proposed commission from three to five, with reservation for a member from a minority community and another for a woman. Another amendment sought was to protect the rights of the states by making recommendations by state legislative assemblies binding.
Social Justice Minister Thawar Chand Gehlot tried to assure the House that proposed amendments could be considered while framing the rules. However, Congress’s Digvijaya Singh pressed for the division of votes. He said the government had “jumla (slogan) politics
people” and that it could not be trusted.
The Opposition-moved amendments were passed by 74 to 52 votes. The NDA currently has 83 members in the Rajya Sabha, if JD (U)’s nine are also included. “The OBC Commission must now mandatorily include a woman-OBC and a minority-OBC member. Strange that the ruling party voted against this,” Yechury said.
The voting led to a deadlock as the amended clause needed to be passed by a two-third majority, but neither side had such numbers.
The government was unwilling to accept the amendments moved by Congress
members. Deputy Chairman P J Kurien ruled that the amendments had already been passed and there was no going back on this.
After a 10-minute adjournment to break the logjam, Clause 3 was dropped and the Bill passed by 124 to 0 votes. A related Bill, the National
Commission for Backward Classes (Repeal) Bill, was not taken up.