Women's Reservation Bill: Rahul Gandhi, Naveen Patnaik double efforts for passage of legislation, may run into roadblocks

Congress president Rahul Gandhi, and Odisha chief minister and BJD chief Naveen Patnaik have attempted to corner the BJP-led Central government over the issue of the Women's Reservation Bill by upping the ante with their efforts to get one-third (33 percent) reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and state legislative Assemblies.

Last week, Rahul wrote to the Congress-led state governments directing them to pass a resolution for the reservation. "In order to reaffirm our support for the passage of the Bill, it would be expedient for the state assembly to pass a resolution calling for the reservation of one-third of the seats in the Lok Sabha and legislative Assemblies for women, in the next session," Rahul said in the letter written to Congress and its allied chief ministers.

File photo of Congress president Rahul Gandhi. Twitter@INCIndia

File photo of Congress president Rahul Gandhi. Twitter@INCIndia

"The lack of adequate representation of women in our polity undermines our democracy and perpetuates existing systemic injustices. Women in institutions of local self-governance have not only been effective leaders, but also challenged traditional gender roles that curtailed their participation in public life," said Gandhi in his 6 December letter.

In Odisha, the BJD formed delegations of senior party leaders earlier this month. The delegations will attempt to make a major push for the reservation by meeting the representatives of seven national and 15 regional parties across the country.

The Constitution Amendment Bill for reservation for women was passed in the Rajya Sabha in March 2010, but lapsed after the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014. In his letter, Rahul pointed out that India ranks 148 out of 193 countries in terms of the percentage of women in Parliament, and added that the situation was "even worse in state assemblies".

He also said that the resolution should be passed in the next session of the assemblies, and mentioned that similar motions had been passed by Andhra Pradesh and Odisha assemblies.

However, despite the push from the Congress and BJD, most of the issues with the bill remain unresolved even eight years later. According to a report by The Indian Express, the Samajwadi Party and the RJD had strongly opposed the bill in 2010. The report said, "Both parties said they opposed the legislation unless it made provisions for adequate representation of women from Dalit and other backward communities. At the time, BJD had supported the bill as worded."

Some BJD leaders are of the opinion that the party's "principle of equidistance" from all other parties might also be an obstacle in garnering support for the cause, the Indian Express report said. An MLA was quoted as saying, "Naveen Patnaik did not attend HD Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in as Karnataka chief minister, which was attended by many opposition party leaders. The BJD walked out of Parliament before the crucial no-confidence motion against the NDA in the Monsoon Session of Parliament."

On the other hand, the Congress has been questioned over its support for the bill ever since the party president wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the issue in July 2018. Ahead of the Monsoon Assembly in Parliament this year, Rahul had asked Modi to "walk the talk" by ensuring the passage of the bill.

Along with a letter to Modi, he had tweeted, "Our prime minister says he's a crusader for women's empowerment? Time for him to rise above party politics, walk-his-talk and have the Women's Reservation Bill passed by Parliament. The Congress offers him its unconditional support."

However, the BJP had accused the Congress of having "double standards" because of the party's alliance with the Samajwadi Party and RJD. BJP leader and Union minister Prakash Javadekar said, "It is Congress which is sitting with those opposed to the bill. It is Congress which is in alliance with those who had opposed the Women's Reservation Bill. So will now Congress come out of the alliance or will it get the letters of support from those parties?”

According to a report by Hindustan Times, in the Telangana Assembly elections that concluded on 7 December, Congress had given 11 tickets to women out of the 100 tickets the party issued in the state. The ruling TRS, led by caretaker chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao had offered only four seats, as opposed to the six it had given to women in 2014. The report quoted Congress' Khushbu Sundar, as saying that her party was the first to introduce the bill in Parliament.

A report by Down to Earth paints a bleak picture. Concluding that it will take 55 years to have one-third of the Parliament represented by women, the report says, "To put it in perspective, in 56 years, India’s Lok Sabha has not been able to double its tally of elected women representatives. In 1962, Lok Sabha had 6 percent women member of parliaments. In 2014, it was just 11 percent."

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Dec 10, 2018 15:14:11 IST

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