Women’s Reservation Bills: History is made, may have fallout

The Rajya Sabha missed the deadline of International Women’s Day in passing the Women’s Reservation Bill, as the 108th Constitution Amendment Bill has come to be known, but was able to pass the proposed legislation – although amid considerable acrimony – with the required two-thirds majority a day later on March 9. The first clear hurdle in the life of this bill has thus been passed, although this has taken 14 long years. This might well be something of an international record. It is noteworthy, however, that Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress, which is part of the ruling United Progressive Alliance, abstained on the vote instead of lending the measure support, as might have been expected. Mayawati’s BSP nominally extends support to the government in spite of its mismatched political chemistry with the Congress, but it did not take part in the voting in the Rajya Sabha. These are signs that can give no comfort to the UPA. Predicated on calculations that allowed the bill to gather the support of the BJP and the Left, the principal Opposition groups in the House, the 108th Amendment should clear the Lok Sabha when it comes up in that House, provided some contrary hidden dynamics do not come into play. The earliest that the bill could go to the Lok Sabha is next week, unless the UPA parties, and the BJP and the Left, want the matter deferred until after the Finance Bill is out of the way so as not to rock the boat before the passage of the Union Budget. Seen in a broad perspective, the Women’s Reservation Bill clearing the Upper House is a historic occasion. Its progress has, of course, been rocky all the way, given the nature of the social and political constituencies that are likely to lose their equilibrium with its passage. Nevertheless, the political class might have been expected to register a sense of achievement, given the landmark nature of the proposed legislation. But this is not the case. Plainly, there is no sense of jubilation among MPs of any description, other than women. This underscores the depths of the gender divide that exists on our political canvas. The only stalwart figure who cannot contain her happiness is Congress president Sonia Gandhi. But for her single-minded endeavor, it is unlikely that the bill would have secured the endorsement of even the ruling Congress. It is no small pity that an important piece of socio-political legislation such as this should leave the political class as a whole cold. More than that, it is not unlikely that the decision of the Congress to bring the Women’s Reservation Bill, especially at this stage, will feed anti-Congress sentiments in Parliament. Coming after murmurs cutting  across   party lines on the question of food inflation,  and the Budget proposal to increase the excise duty on diesel that is likely to exacerbate the price situation, the 108th Constitution Amendment might have set in motion impulses that could produce unpredictable results. With the withdrawal of support by the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal in the wake of the introduction of the measure, the ruling coalition has been made vulnerable as it now has a majority of only three in the Lok Sabha. This arithmetic can change further if the BSP casts a negative vote against the Women’s Reserva-tion Bill when it comes up in the Lok Sabha, instead of doing what it did in the Upper House. If this mood is transferred to motions in the Lok Sabha that test the viability of the government, the politics of possibilities could be said to be truly open.

Courtesy: Deccan Chronicle

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