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Crocodile tears or genuine concerns by opposition?
Opposition parties want to bring the Women's Reservation Bill back on the parliamentary agenda.
Opposition parties want to bring the Women's Reservation Bill back on the parliamentary agenda. It is difficult to endorse that they are any serious about this issue. But one thing can be said with certainty that they want to use the contentious issue of 33% reservation as a stick to beat the saffron party in the run-up to the general elections.
The Bill was introduced in 1996 by the then Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda but since then despite several attempts, neither the UPA nor the NDA could pass this Bill. That is because the male chauvinism of several old time North Indian leaders such as Lalu Prasad Yadav, late Mulayam Singh Yadav and Sharad Yadav had strongly opposed it. They even made some sexist remarks against women, which had seen the Parliament being pushed into turmoil. Sharad Yadav used words like "Bal Kati Mahilayen."
After a long struggle, the Bill was passed in Rajya Sabha in 2010. Interestingly, Sharad Yadav supported the bill under compulsion since he was part of Nitish Kumar's team when he was in alliance with BJP. But in his heart of hearts Sharad was opposed to it.
Though it was passed in Rajya Sabha, the UPA did not show the courage to push the Bill in Lok Sabha because of the opposition from the Yadav troika — Sharad, the Samajwadi Party's (SP) Mulayam Singh Yadav, and Lalu Prasad of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) — who demanded "quota within quota" for Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and minorities in the Bill. Their argument was the reservation would only help the rich and famous and not the poorer and weaker sections of the society.
Lalu Prasad Yadav even dubbed the Bill a "political blunder." He alleged that it was a conspiracy hatched by both BJP and Congress parties to suppress the representation of women belonging to the OBC, ST/SC and Muslim communities.
The Centre does not have guts to implement the Ranganath Mishra Commission and Sachar panel reports, and hence the passage of the Women's Reservation Bill was merely a "diversionary tactic," he held at that time. He even criticised Nitish Kumar for joining hands with the Congress and the BJP to push the Bill, claiming that the latter had "dual standards" on the Bill, as Nitish Kumar had, as a member of Joint Parliamentary Committee, given a note of dissent on the Bill in 1997 itself.
Mulayam was harbouring Prime Ministerial ambitions during this time. He maintained that the Bill was not a solution to anything that concerned women and said that he would, instead, support the quota for women in jobs and education so that they can stand on their own feet. Even the BSP was opposed to this bill.
The irony is that if the major parties like the Congress and the BJP had wanted, the bill could have been passed as they had the support of CPI, CPM, DMK, AIDMK, JDU, NCP and many other parties. But lack of strong will was evident as they buckled under the pressure of the troika of Mulayam Yadav, Lalu Prasad and Sharad Yadav.
Those who were opposed to the Bill also behaved as if passing it was the end of the world. Though the Constitution provides scope to make amendments if required, they were in no mood to cooperate because fundamentally they were not in favour of reservation for women. The UPA government which closed all doors of the Parliament, disconnected power, had cut off live telecast and amidst fisticuffs and pandemonium passed the Andhra Pradesh State Reorganisation Act 2014, did not take such a bulldozing step in regard to the Women's Reservation Bill despite having massive numbers in Lok Sabha. Apparently, no party wanted to find a permanent solution to it and wants to use it as a poll issue.
The Prime Minister Narendra Modi before entering the Parliament House in 2014 promised to get the Bill passed. The opposition now alleges that eight years are over and yet Modi has not taken any step to introduce it in the Lok Sabha. On the other hand, Modi claims that India has moved from women development to women-led development.
Well, this political slugfest will continue and will become more and more vociferous as the date for general elections approaches. The anti-BJP parties which are in trouble facing ED cases are joining hands to take on the BJP.
But one thing which any of the political parties – BJP to BRS, Congress to CPI and CPM, RJD, SP, DMK and TMC – needs to answer is whether they are incapable of giving tickets to 33% women which could include SCs and STs. Do they need a Bill to be passed for this? Who is stopping them from doing so? Why can't they set an example?
The BRS Jagruti led by K Kavitha held a dharna wherein all parties including RJD and SP which are opposed to the Bill joined the dharna but did not clarify whether they are willing to extend support to pass the Bill that has already been passed by Rajya Sabha. In the last eight years, none of them had put in any effort to hold meetings or organise round-table conferences and iron out an acceptable solution. They want the BJP to introduce it in this session fine, but will they all meet and pass a resolution saying that they would discuss and pass the bill without creating hurdles or raking up the past objections?
Certainly not? The motive is clear. Use the issue as a political weapon to counter BJP. I don't intend to defend the BJP. If it were in opposition, I am sure they, too, would do the same. If all the parties which participated in the Friday's Delhi dharna at Jantar Mantar can come together and in one voice say that they are in favour of passing the Bill as it exists now, I am sure, the ruling BJP would have no option but to introduce it in Lok Sabha. If it still refuses, the opposition would certainly be in a strong position to take on the BJP on this issue. But if they use such platforms for merely lashing out at BJP with no concrete proposals, it would naturally turn into a political fight without any result.
First and foremost, all these political parties across the country need to answer why they do not allow even women Sarpanches to work independently. Why do MLAs insist that the women sarpanches should follow their instructions and take up works decided by them only? Is it not male chauvinism of the highest order? Is it not insulting women?
All shed crocodile tears, supporting and giving lectures on women empowerment but at ground level, they look down upon
women and we see several reports of women sarpanches or municipal chairpersons being mentally and sexually harassed. Are the state governments having at least 10% women ministers in cabinet? Even if there are some women minsters, they are given portfolios like women and child welfare etc., not major departments. What does this indicate? Lack of confidence in their abilities? Well, the leaders need to answer. Giving long lectures on women empowerment makes no sense unless they set their house in order.