Calling himself ?chosen one?, PM Modi introduces Women?s Reservation Bill, debate in both Houses heats up

The Women’s Reservation Bill that seeks to provide 33 per cent quota for women in Lok Sabha and state assemblies was introduced in the Lok Sabha Tuesday in the ongoing special session of Parliament.

Calling September 19 a ‘historic day,’ Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the Opposition to unanimously pass the Bill, termed as ‘Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam‘ (Women’s Reservation Bill), that has been hanging for nearly three decades.

Calling himself ‘the chosen one for empowering and strengthening women,’ Prime Minister Modi urged the five-day special session of Parliament, that met in the new building on Tuesday, to pass the Bill.

‘On this historic occasion in the new Parliament building, as the first proceeding of the House, the beginning of all the Parliamentarians opening gateways for women power is being done with this crucial decision,’ Prime Minister Modi said in Lok Sabha.

PM Modi announced that his government is ‘bringing an important constitutional amendment bill,’ taking forward ‘our resolve of women-led development.’

Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam will further empower our democracy,’ said PM Modi. ‘There have been many debates in the past regarding women’s reservation… and I appeal to lawmakers to support the bill,’ the Prime Minister said.

‘We want more and more women to join the development process of the country,’ the PM added, before Union Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal presented the bill to lawmakers.

Women account for almost half of the country’s 950 million registered voters but make for only 15% of parliament and about 10% of state legislatures.

Union law minister Arjun Ram Meghwal tabled the Bill in the inaugural sitting of the Lok Sabha in the new Parliament building. He emphasized that the government is ‘taking a step towards women’s empowerment’ by proposing the new Bill to reserve one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies.

Meghwal further explained that once the Bill is passed, the number of seats for women in the Lok Sabha will increase to 181.

The bill, once approved, will see the number of women MPs in Lok Sabha go up to 181 from the current 82, Meghwal said.

Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury credited his party for the women’s quota bill.

‘Former Congress governments under Rajiv Gandhi, PV Narasimha Rao, and Manmohan Singh had consistently tried to pass the bill to provide reservation for women,’ he said.

Chowdhury also claimed that the Women’s Reservation Bill, which was passed in the Rajya Sabha during the Congress regime under Manmohan Singh, was still pending.

However, Union Home Minister Amit Shah countered the claim by stating that the bill had already lapsed.

Congress vs BJP in Rajya Sabha over women’s reservation bill remarks

Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge said political parties have a habit of choosing ‘weak’ women and will not choose those who are educated and can fight, which was countered by Finance Minister Nimala Sitharaman.

Rajya Sabha’s Leader of Opposition Kharge on Tuesday said the women’s reservation bill was already passed in 2010, this after the Centre tabled the legislation seeking 33 per cent reservation for women in Lok Sabha and legislative assemblies.

‘They don’t give us credit but I want to bring to their notice that the Women Reservation Bill was already passed in 2010 but it was stopped,’ Kharge said during his speech in the Rajya Sabha at the new Parliament building.

Sitharaman hit back at Kharge, saying, ‘We respect the leader of the opposition but to make a sweeping statement that all parties choose women who are not effective is absolutely unacceptable. We all have been empowered by our party, PM. President Droupadi Murmu is an empowered woman.’

Responding to Sitharaman, Kharge said, ‘Women from backward, ST don’t get such opportunities which they are getting, this is what we are saying.’

Congress and Opposition vs BJP in Lok Sabha, Sonia Gandhi speaks

The discussion on the Women’s Reservation Bill saw a face-off between the BJP and the Congress in the Lok Sabha today as well.

While former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi demanded a reservation for Other Backward Classes and immediate implementation of the bill, BJP MP Nishikant Dubey accused the party of saying new things for political angles and claimed that it had ‘never spoken about an OBC quota in the context of the reservation for women legislators.’

As the first speaker from the Opposition on the bill, Mrs Gandhi said her party supports the legislation, but demanded a reservation for Other Backward Classes within the 33% quota for women.

She also said that speaking on the bill was ‘an emotional moment for her as her husband Rajiv Gandhi had introduced reservation in local bodies.’

Speaking in Hindi, the former Congress chief said, ‘On behalf of the Indian National Congress, I stand here in support of the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam. From smoke-filled kitchens to flood-lit stadiums, the Indian woman’s journey has been a long one. But she has finally reached her destination.”

After Congress leader Sonia Gandhi concluded her speech on Women’s Reservation Bill,2023, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said, ‘I want to tell Adhir (Ranjan Chowdhury) ji, that only women don’t have to care for women’s welfare. It is the tradition of this country that brothers look after the women. Everyone has the right to speak for women’s welfare.’

TMC leader Kakoli Ghosh Dostidar entered the debate saying, ‘Inspite of BJP ruling in 16 states, there are no women CMs there; Bengal is the only state with a woman CM”.

West Bengal is the only state in the country which has a female chief minister. We are actually delighted to witness the realisation of our leader Mamata Banerjee’s vision where women’s rightful entitlements are being recognised,’ she asserted.

Our party and our leader Mamata Banerjee has been raising this demand (for women’s reservation in Parliament) for over 20 years. Even without the bill, she has sent more that 33 per cent women to the Parliament,’ the TMC leader added.

Highlights of the Women’s Reservation Bill

The bill will bring in reservation for women after delimitation following Census exercise; rotation of the reserved seats only after subsequent delimitation.

The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023, was listed for introduction in the Lower House through a supplementary list of business. The reservation will come into effect after a delimitation exercise is undertaken and will continue for 15 years.

Seats reserved for women will be rotated after each delimitation exercise, according to the bill.

The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023, seeks to introduce three new articles and one new clause in the Constitution.

1. New clause in 239AA: Seats shall be reserved for women in the Delhi Legislative Assembly, 1/3rd of the seats reserved for SCs shall be reserved for women, 1/3rd of total number of seats to be filled by direct elections shall be reserved for women through law determined by parliament

2. New Article – 330A: Reservation for women in Lok Sabha – 1/3rd of seats reserved for SCs and STs shall be reserved for women, 1/3rd of total seats to be filled by direct elections to the Lok Sabha shall be reserved for women

3. New Article – 332A: Reserved seats for women in every state Legislative Assembly, 1/3rd of seats reserved for SCs and STs shall be reserved for women, 1/3rd of total seats to be filled by direct elections to the LA shall be reserved for women

4. New article – 334A: Reservation shall come into effect after the delimitation is undertaken after the relevant figures for the first census have been published. Rotation of seats for women shall take effect after each subsequent exercise of delimitation

A bill to provide reservation for women in Parliament and assemblies were first introduced in the Lok Sabha in 1996 by the Deve Gowda-led United Front government. It failed to get the approval of the House and was referred to a joint parliamentary committee which submitted its report to the Lok Sabha in December 1996. But the Bill lapsed with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha.

In 1998, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government reintroduced the Bill in Lok Sabha. This bill also failed to get support and lapsed again. The bill was reintroduced in 1999, 2002 and 2003. Even though there was support for it within the Congress, the BJP and the Left parties, the bill failed to receive majority votes.

In 2008, the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government tabled the Bill in the Rajya Sabha, and it was passed in 2010. However, the Bill was never taken up for consideration in the Lok Sabha and lapsed with the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014.

Why is the Women’s Reservation Bill being linked to the Census and delimitation by the BJP Government?

The linking of the implementation of the Women’s Reservation Bill with delimitation, the exercise of redrawing of constituency boundaries, has prompted opposition parties to suspect the government has disparate motives in linking the two:

Trying to divide the opposition INDIA camp on both women’s reservation and population-based delimitation

Lifting the Constitutional embargo on population-based delimitation riding sympathy over women’s reservation Bill, should the BJP return to power in 2024.

‘The aim for linking the implementation with delimitation is to give women a greater number of seats,’ said a party representative.

If his argument stands, either the pending Census will have to wait till 2027 for the benefits to come in 2029, or the benefits will have to come on the basis of the 2031 census owing to the procedural complexities in passing the Bill.

Congress and other opposition parties, however, argued that the implementation would not be possible even in the 2029 election because the whole delimitation exercise takes a few years from the publication of the census data and demanded a clarification as to the delayed implementation.

Currently there is an embargo on redistributing Lok Sabha, state assembly seats based on the latest population census. 

According to Article 170 (3) of the Indian Constitution, the allotment of Lok Sabha seats to each state and the total strength of their legislative assemblies cannot be changed until the results of the first census conducted after 2026.

This was done to ensure the states that fared better in population management were not ‘punished’ with a lower share of representation in the Parliament. 

Therefore, if the pending census happens before 2026, it may not be able to serve as the basis for the reallocation of parliamentary seat share and state assembly strength. 

Population-based delimitation itself is a complex issue, which is why there exists an embargo in the first place.

The embargo on redrawing Lok Sabha boundaries, first imposed during Indira Gandhi’s rule in 1976, was reimposed in 2001 during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government.  

Congress wants Bill to be passed ‘immediately’ even as no explicit fissures seen in INDIA alliance

The Congress dubbed the Bill a ‘colossal betrayal’ that ‘shatters the hopes of millions of Indian women and girls.’
‘The Women’s Reservation Bill is in limbo, tied to the next Census, and the critical delimitation process hinges on the next Census. The Modi government has not yet conducted the 2021 Decadal Census. When will this vital Census finally happen?’ the party asked on its official social media accounts.

If one were to go by representation in terms of population, growth trends indicate northern and central Indian states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Bihar have seen massive gains, while southern and eastern states, especially Tamil Nadu and Kerala, have fared better in their population management measures.

This is why southern states are opposed to such population-based delimitation. Leaders of Tamil Nadu’s Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the CPI(M) in Kerala have both made their objections clear. 

If the Modi government thought the Bill would be able to create division among the opposition camp, no such indication was seen till Tuesday night. 

Delhi and Punjab’s ruling party, the Aam Aadmi Party’s veteran leader, Atishi Marlena, rubbished the Bill for its delayed implementation, without getting into the debates around population-linked delimitation. 

Senior TMC leader and West Bengal women and child development minister Shashi Panja says the Bill it is ‘a huge disappointment’as it turned out to be ‘just another election gimmick.’

Echoing party colleague Ghosh, Panja said the TMC was ready to wholeheartedly support the Bill, as party chief Mamata Banerjee herself has been a flagbearer of this demand since the 1990s, adding that the complexities regarding implementation, which would result in years of delay, have left them ‘disheartened. ‘

‘While delimitation in Lok Sabha and the state assembly is not the state government’s domain, our party exhibited its intent by ensuring 50% reservation for women in the three-tier panchayat system and fielding a higher number of women candidates than other parties in all elections. Currently, 35% of our Lok Sabha MPs are women. In 2019, 17 of our 42 Lok Sabha candidates (40%) were women. The state government has seven women ministers. What intent has the BJP shown?’ Panja asked.

Whether parties making up the INDIA alliance can respond to the Bill in the same tone or will there be fissures between the northern and southern units remains to be seen.