So, the women’s reservation bill, which was first drafted by H. D. Gowda government in 1996, finally got cleared in the Rajya Sabha on the 8th of March, 2010. Of all the pending bills, this one in particular was the most contentious as most political parties could neither accept nor reject it, owing to vote-bank politics. Finally, amidst some ugly chaos and commotion, the bill got passed on the 8th of March in the Rajya Sabha. As expected, what followed was customary celebration, wherein all media houses projected the passing of the bill as one of the landmark moments in the history of independent India.
No doubt, the celebrations are too early, as the real test is yet to come; and that is when it goes through the Lok Sabha. Going by the precedence set in the Rajya Sabha, things do not look that simple. From the very beginning the Congress, along with the BJP and the Left , have been in support of the bill; whereas most other political parties have been opposing the bill in its current form. But then, it is also important to understand the contents of the bill that’s making so many political parties oppose the same. It is not just the Rashtriya Samajwadi Party (RJD) or the Samjwadi Party (SP) which has been most visible, the parties representing the backward and the oppressed classes have also been opposing the bill in its current form. In fact, the bill proposes to provide reservation to women at all levels of the legislature, starting from the Lok Sabha to the state to the local legislatures. It proposes to reserve one-third of the total number of seats for women in the central, state and local governments. The political parties who have been backing the bill argue that this bill is going to pave way for gender equality, would fight abuse and discrimination and would work for the overall cause of women who have been historically deprived in India. On the face of it, the arguments sound benevolent and profound as there is no doubt in the fact that women in our society have been pushed to the margins on all socioeconomic counts!
Then what is the opposition’s problem? Lalu Prasad Yadav’s contention has been that such blanket reservation would only invite the elite to exploit the reservation – the poor and marginalized would remain unrepresented. According to him, the reservation is justified only when there is a reservation within the reservation for Dalits, backward classes, Muslims and other religious minorities. Similarly, Mulayam Singh’s argument is that as such 22.5% of the seats in the Parliament are booked for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Now, with another 33.3 % reserved for women, more than 50% of the seats would come under the reserved category! It is not fair for the other stakeholders of the economy to have less than 50% representation left for them. As I said earlier, from a logical standpoint, both these arguments have definite merits, and their opposition to the bill in its current form does make adequate sense, though at the same time, their actions in the Rajya Sabha do not make any sense.
As a matter of fact, it is not just about this bill in particular, but I am not in favour of reservation of any kind. As I strongly feel that a reservation necessarily incubates incompetence. It is not that I am against women’s participation in active politics or their engagement in public offices, but I feel that it should be only and only based on merit. If by means of merit, they have been doing so well in other walks of life, why do we need a reservation here? Reservation would not guarantee that able candidates fill the seats up. On the contrary, what we might see post reservation is blatant compromise at all possible levels. There is no guarantee that proxy and incapable candidates would not be put in the Parliament as people’s representatives, wherein the real control would lie somewhere else. And it is nothing new that I am stating. This is something that is prevalent today, even without any reservation. Imagine the scale of such operation post reservation then.
So, if the government wants to get meaningful and competent representation of women in the Parliament, then they should invest in educating and empowering them at the grassroots level. As such, with women comprising of 30%-40% of any class of Arts, Management and Commerce, the day is not far where the woman would find a place for herself in mainstream politics, making the bill completely redundant!
But if the government still wants the bill to pass, then provisions should necessarily be made for Dalits, Muslims and Scheduled Castes and Scheduled tribes as just like women, they have been historically the most marginalized section of the Indian society.
- 11 March 2010 |
- Dr. Arindam on Indian Politics