Sushma Swaraj usually a calm politician was so upset that she spontaneously blurted out “I will shave my head, if a foreigner Sonia becomes Prime Minister of India”. Luckily Sonia for reasons well thought of saved this embarrassment to Sushma by intelligently and strategically well thought out plan by thrusting Manmohan Singh (though a loyalist to the core of Gandhi family, but on merit of his own), as prime Minister, in 2004 notwithstanding the protest from her scores of Gandhi family small time loyalists).
Switch on to March2010, when you saw an amazingly friendly happy close embrace by Sonia and Sushma in the precincts of parliament. What had happened in the interim for such close bonhomie?
Though introduced by Dev Gowda for first time on September 12, 1996 in the Lok Sabha, no concrete action was taken by various governments to effectuate legislation on Women Reservation Bill in parliament and State Legislatures.
Everyone expected the legislation to be passed immediately. In fact Prime Minister Gujral promised his earliest priority in passing this Bill but nothing concrete happened. When U.P.A. government came to power in 2004 it also announced with flourish that the Act will be its first priority. But instead one had total silence on Women Reservation Bill in President’s speech on the opening day of Parliament of session. This was an open and clear notice to the women activists that the Bill which had been so proudly projected as a commitment to gender equality, has been quietly buried, and is not likely to be revived in conceivable future.
But then circumstances of steep price rise, political compulsions of polls in Karnataka and other impending polls made the then government to be a little wise and made the government to decide to refer the bill to Parliamentary Standing Committee. Though some innocents amongst women group were hoping that the Bill will now become an Act of Legislature, but nothing happened till 2010.
The Women's Reservation Bill or The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008, is a lapsed bill in the Parliament of India which proposed to amend the Constitution of India to reserve 33% of all seats in the Lower house of Parliament of India, the Lok Sabha, and in all state legislative assemblies for women. The Rajya Sabha passed the bill on 9 March 2010. It was this event that made Sushma / Sonia embrace so emotionally. However, the Lok Sabha never voted on the bill. The bill lapsed after the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014.
Every time from 1998 to 2014 when ever parliament met women representatives had been assured in all solemnity by each major political party that it hopes to pass the Bill in that very session. This was in reality a tongue in the cheek operation.
That is why one feels that women should support the alternative of double-member constituencies which will meet both the requirement of ensuring one-third quota for women and, at the same time, will not disturb the present male seats. Thus Lok Sabha membership can be easily increased to 750 with a provision that one woman candidate will mandatorily be elected from those double-member constituencies and, depending upon the votes received, it may be that even both elected candidate could be women. This law has been laid down by the Supreme Court decades back in former President V.V.Giri’s case. The same principle will apply in the case of elections to the state legislatures.
Mr. Shivraj Patil, the Union Home Minister, is on record admitting that space is not a problem if parliament decides to increase the seats.
The alternative of double member constituency can be done, by amending Article 81(2) of the Constitution by increasing the present strength which can be easily done if political parties are genuine in their commitment to the Bill.
I know delimitation commission has already marked the constituencies on the basis of single member seats. But I do not think it is necessary to redraw the constituencies to make it double. By a rule of thumb the top one third of constituencies having maximum voters in each state could be declared double member – if legislators are sincerely genuine they could even submit an agreed list.
At present of course fresh process has again to be initiated in parliament, because the previous Reservation Bill had already lapsed with the dissolution of previous Lok Sabha in 2014, when ever fresh parliamentary elections had taken place.
The present election propaganda in U.P. Elections by all parties makes one weep and wonder at what kind of nation we are building up – criminals openly projecting their muscular clout, all parties making wild allegations or name calling.
But what a change? – not one party with the exception of Socialist Party (India) including the secular, or the so called secular have included this item of Reservation for women in its election manifestoes – can such male chauvinism be allowed to exist in our country.
With 2019 Parliamentary elections coming, is it not time for women leadership in both Congress and B.J.P. through Sonia and Sushma Swaraj to again now jointly clench their fists and warn all the parties that they will no longer tolerate injustice and neglect to continue. They may legitimately continue their differences on other subjects in the light of their own respective programme. But let them give a rallying cry against to the male chauvinists like given by Spanish freedom fighters in 1936 Civil War “No Passeran” – “you shall not pass” i.e. continuing this injustice by not passing the Women Reservation Bill, otherwise the joint fight will continue and openly. They should in all genuineness request Mamta and Mayawati to clasp their hands along with them so as to constitute impregnable fort on the sole issue of Women Reservation Bill though each ones will continue its programme on other issues as its party policy dictates.
Let me recall that Dr. Lohia had clearly opined that reservation for women was an instrument of social engineering – he could never have suggested splitting the strength of women quota by further splitting them in sub quotas.
Time is extremely short – only a clenched fists jointly by these four women political leaders will see through the Women Reservation Bill.