“Women’s Reservation: An idea whose time has come”

The idea of women’s reservation is not new, it dates back to the 1980’s when former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi first envisioned and campaigned for women’s reservation in Parliament and state assemblies. This vision was later realised in 1993 when he achieved 33% quota for women in Panchayats and municipal bodies through constitutional amendment bills.
Recalling the late leader’s vision, Congress President Smt. Sonia Gandhi recently wrote to PM Modi, reminding him that the bills were “thwarted” by the opposition in 1989, but were passed by both the Houses of Parliament in 1993. In her recent letter to PM Modi, she has urged the state to clear the “Women’s Reservation Bill”. The Bill, which mandates a third of seats in Parliament and state legislatures for women, was successfully cleared in the Rajya Sabha in 2010, under the Congress-led UPA government. Smt. Gandhi also lamented the fact that despite these major wins, since 2010, the bill has “has languished in the Lok Sabha for one reason or another”.

Owing to the strenuous efforts of the Congress party, more than 10 lakh women are being elected to the panchayats and municipal bodies every 5 years. This grand proposal has often been construed as one of the most powerful laws towards empowering women. Advocating for the bill, many politicians, activists, and NGOs have long suggested that stronger representation of women at various levels of lawmaking would have a positive trickle-down effect. This will allow for the creation of better policies and laws to help women at all levels fight abuse, discrimination, and inequality.
Voicing the party’s unwavering support to the vision of adequate representation of women, Congress Vice-President Shri Rahul Gandhi reiterated, “The Congress party has and will continue to support the Women’s Reservation Bill.”

After blocking the bill in 2013, the Modi government which rode to power promising a clear passage for the bill once in power, have since kept it in a state of limbo. Over the years there have been numerous protests and different kinds of appeals by activists, NGO’s and other public institutions alike. However, they have all been in vain.
In its 2014 election manifesto, BJP had “committed” itself to the women’s reservation bill, but did little to back it. Repeated public dissent by many of its senior MPs has become a subject of regular embarrassment for the BJP. The original dissenter amongst these is Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Shri Yogi Adityanath. In an interview to the Hindu, Adityanath said he rejected the Bill with or without a sub-quota. “This Bill will drown the Indian political system if it goes through.” He added, “If men develop feminine traits, they become gods, but if women develop masculine traits they become demons…Western ideas of women’s liberation should be properly analysed in the Indian context.”

Recent statements came from Mr. Venkaiah Naidu, “Once we (BJP) get a majority in Rajya Sabha, we will get the bill passed.” However, as things stand now, BJP’s promises look like nothing, but gimmicks and their vocal support for the legislation mere symbolism.

The Women’s Reservation Bill till now has been a victim of Mr.
Modi’s studied silence and the patriarchal power that plagues the BJP party. The lack of political will for the delay should point towards Mr. Modi’s real intentions.

The distance between the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha is hardly 5 minutes. However, given BJP’s doublespeak, the women’s
reservation bill has not been able to traverse this distance for over 7 years.