Are the political parties, more so ruling BJP, serious about Women’s Reservation Bill getting implemented on ground? Will the male dominated polity agree so easily to loosen their grip on the system? Is the Bill merely an electoral issue in the current context?
These questions area bound to crop up from the manner in which the entire issue has been handled, firstly by the Narendra Modi government and secondly the kid-gloves approach adopted by the opposition. Hurriedly convening a special session of Parliament to introduce this Bill at almost the fag-end of this government and opposition parties demand for OBC reservation, are clear pointers to the direction in which the political minds, in the treasury and opposition benches, are working.
It has become compulsive for the political parties to score brownie points as headed towards the poll season. The phenomena become intense if it happens to be the Lok Sabha polls on the threshold. And that is what is on full public display most of the time brazenly, in-turn taking the 50 per cent strong women population of the country far-granted. At least this is the impression generated presently.
The seriousness of the issue has been degenerated from the manner in which the Bill has been conceived providing a tall-order spanning over a decade or even more before the women could get this well-deserved right. Adding to it has been the opposition’s demand of reservation within the reservation that means including OBC category as well.
The government (read ruling BJP) seemed to have its plans clearly cut behind drawing a long time-table before actual reservation could be provided to women. And they have made no bones about. The idea seems to be to only milch the issue for electoral gains.
None other than the powerful Home Minister Mr Amit Shah declared in the Lok Sabha, while speaking on the Bill, that the “Women’s Reservation Bill will be implemented only after 2029.” This he conveyed quoting the spirit of the 128th Constitutional Amendment Bill, 2023 providing for one-third of seats for women in Lok Sabha and State Assemblies. The Bill, drafted in such a manner, provides that the reservation would only come into effect after delimitation of constituencies based on figures from the first census that is conducted after the enactment of this Act.
There was never a doubt that unlike the failed attempts in the past the Bill will certainly be passed this time. Well, the exigencies of electoral process compelled the political parties to be seen as swimming with the spirit of the Bill than portrayed as anti-women by opposing it. Elections in India force political parties to enact all kinds of theatrics as the issue, despite the Bill being passed, has virtually been rendered into a stage-show.
If the Home Minister, quoting from the spirit of the Bill, has given a flexible dateline for the law to see the light of the day “only after 2029”, thereby leaving it open-ended. When will the mission be actually accomplished?
Mr Shah was more emphatic by stating: “A narrative is being set on social media that the Bill should not be supported as it is linked to delimitation and the Act will not be implemented in the coming election. Some say the Bill does not have OBC or Muslim reservation. Will the reservation be implemented early, if you do not support the Bill? Then too it will be implemented only after 2029. Support the Bill….. Make a start at least.” He almost present a fate accomplice before the opposition parties as well as the prospective beneficiaries of this law.
The spirit behind the ruling dispensation’s contention seems to be to create an issue for the coming elections and build a narrative over it. What kind of a narrative? Vote us back to power if you want women’s reservation or else it will run the risk if someone else, more precisely the I.N.D.I.A conglomerate comes to power. That precisely seemed to be the plan behind piloting the Bill in the five-day special session of Parliament.
Attaching the reservation issue to delimitation of constituencies in itself smacks of delaying tactics. Yes, the beginning in all earnestness should have been made by drafting a Bill free from all such encumbrances with provisions to affect changes after the delimitation process, which is a long-drawn exercise, is completed.
Articles 81-82 and 170 of the Constitution of India pertain to constitution of the House of People and readjustment of seats after every census. These Articles have specific provisos that clearly state that readjustment of seats would be done after the results of the First Census post 2026 have been published. The Constitution 128th Amendment Bill as passed by the Parliament has not amended provisos to the aforesaid Articles, legal eagle and Congress MP, Mr Manish Tiwari said in a ‘X’ post.
He further averred, “Clause 334A (1) does not and cannot override the specific provisos in Articles 81-82 and 170 wherein the year 2026 was inserted vide the 84th Constitution Amendment Act with effect from 21-02-2002. In other words the first census post 2026 can only form the basis of Parliamentary and Legislative reorganization. Until the government plans to push it beyond 2026 if the census that is due is held in 2023, 2024, 2025, or even 2026, it cannot be the basis of readjustment of seats.”
This is clear from this constitutional scheme of things that the women will have to wait for the next census that would then be held anywhere between 2031- 35 for getting benefits of this reservation. There is nothing to believe that the government was unaware of all this and it was clear when the Home Minister himself set a date of “sometimes after 2029”.
The opposition by raising the OBC component demand though if not added to this delay but has certainly helped the government in converting the Women’s Reservation issue into a game of football. They should have squarely focused on doing away with the delimitation clause and straightway implementing the reservation quota if not from 2024 Lok Sabha election but sometime after that. May be the next round of assembly elections thereafter.
It is just re-enactment of the past drama of raising the women reservation bogey to garner their votes. With the ruling BJP on slippery ground, though the Narendra Modi magic in some ways still finds traction, and the fact that women along with youth have been his main support base, the ruling party has tried to find a way to keep women’s support intact as the unemployment issue has raised ire of the youth against Mr Modi.
The likelihood of merely passage of Women’s Reservation Bill without a roadmap for its immediate implementation, giving electoral benefits to BJP, is remote. What proverbial rabbit will now Mr Modi pull out of his hat will be keenly observed.