Women’s Bill: Congress scores a political knockout
The controversial yet historic Women’s Reservation Bill, ensuring 33% reservation to women in Parliament and state legislative bodies, was passed in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday after two days of high drama that saw suspension of seven members who violently disrupted proceedings.
The Bill, pushed by the government despite the threat of withdrawal of support by Samajwadi Party and RJD, was passed by a two-third majority, a day after it was moved in the House for consideration but could not be taken up because of unruly scenes.
Of the votes polled, 186 were in favour of the bill and only one was against.
The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill could get through with “unequivocal” support from the BJP and the Left in the Upper House where the ruling UPA coalition is in minority. The 245-member House has an effective strength of 233.
UPA ally Trinamool Congress, with two members in the Upper House, did not participate in the voting.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley described the measure as “momentous and historic”.
BSP, having 12 members, walked out of the House saying the bill did not contain amendments suggested by it.
Lok Sabha also witnessed unruly scenes created by SP, RJD and JD(U) who forced four adjournments.
14 years after the first attempt was made in the Lok Sabha and repeated failures subsequently, the Constitution amendment bill was adopted in the mandatory division with 186 members voting for it and one voting against.
In the 245-member House with an effective strength of 233, the bill required the backing of at least 155 members and the UPA had the clear support of 165 in the run up to the event.
The bill seeks to reserve for women 181 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha and 1,370 out of a total of 4,109 seats in the 28 State Assemblies.
Ruling UPA constituent Trinamool Congress, which has two members, kept away from voting, while 15-member BSP, which has opposed the bill in its present form, walked out before voting.
JD(U), whose present Sharad Yadav is a staunch opponent of the Bill, appears to have backed the Bill fully with most of its 7 members voting for it in response to the call by one of its senior leaders and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
After frenzied opposition and repeated disruptions, the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday evening finally debated the historic women’s reservation bill in the run up to a vote on the legislation.
Amongst those who spoke were Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Arun Jaitley, Communist Party of India-Marxist’s (CPI-M) Brinda Karat, Bahujan Samaj Party’s (BSP) Satish Mishra and Jayanthi Natarajan of Congress.
Opening the debate was Jaitley, who said his party “unequivocally” supported the women’s bill but added that the privilege of supporting it had been diluted by “some of the most shameful incidents in India’s parliamentary history”.
The leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, who spoke after the constitution amendment bill was put to vote by Chairman Hamid Ansari, said he had a feeling of being a party to history in the making when he came to the house.
Karat, a vocal supporter of the bill, said women’s reservation in parliament and state legislatures would change the “culture of the country because women today are still caught in a culture prison. In the name of tradition, stereotypes are imposed and we have to fight these every day”.
These stereotypes will also be broken by the bill, said Karat, who believes the entry of a larger number of women in legislatures would make for “more sensitive politics”.
“The women’s reservation bill will ensure that women of Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe, Other Backward Classes, poor women and Muslim women would benefit from it,” Karat said, addressing concerns that the bill would benefit only some sections.
Congress leader and spokesperson Jayanti Natarajan also refuted critics demanding a special quota for Dalit women, saying Dalits and tribals would continue to get reservation under the bill.
A triumphant Natarajan said no other party “had the courage to deliver the promise (of reservation for women) to the people of India”. She said Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had not lagged behind in supporting measures for women’s empowerment.
However, Bahujan Samaj Party’s Satish Mishra said his party would not be able to support the proposed legislation in the current form. He wanted the prime minister to reserve 50 percent of all seats in legislatures for women in line with their population ratio.
Shivanand Tiwari of the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) created a minor stir in the house by speaking in favour of the bill, which has been opposed vocally by a section of his colleagues led by party president Sharad Yadav.
The AIADMK’s V. Maitreyan pointed out that the bill was a great tribute to the Indian housewife who he said had proved to be better financial managers of the household “than all the finance ministers of India”.