If parties are sincere about the women’s reservation bill, why hasn’t there been a minimal debate about its flaws and possibilities?
The Congress manifesto commits the party to “the enactment of the Women’s Reservation Bill to reserve 33 per cent of all seats in Parliament and state legislative assemblies for women”. Other parties are sure to have similar, perhaps even more time-bound, pledges.
Those of us who thought that once the bill had in fact cleared one House of Parliament on the watch of the 15th Lok Sabha (in the Rajya Sabha, March 2010) and that the 2014 general election would make good on the promise of electing women to at least one-third of the seats in the 16th did, of course, know we were hanging on to the flimsiest of hopes. But now, amidst an all-round consensus that women’s voter participation has deepened and an almost all-party support for the bill, could the quota finally be a reality?
If so, there has been precious little articulation by incumbent and aspiring MPs and MLAs on how such a quota would be incorporated into the parliamentary framework. The bill has been hanging fire for almost 20 years and the fact that there has been practically no nuancing of its text to address simple concerns (by supporters of the bill too) that it may rupture the constituent-representative relationship at the heart of parliamentary democracy, has led to strong suspicions that there may be a method here. That a poorly drafted bill — it sees a rotation of constituencies reserved for women candidates — itself may be a stalling technique.
All we have by way of public debate is an old proposal to work around the constituency obstacle by having two-member constituencies. In the early years of the Republic — till the Two-Member Constituencies Abolition Act was passed in 1961 and double-member constituencies bifurcated into a reserved and general category seat — in such seats, constituents elected one general category candidate and one from the reserved category. That is, every voter would cast two votes.
There are arguments for and against the idea, mostly against. On the plus side, it would ensure that at least one-third of elected MPs (or MLAs) are women while limiting the adverse repercussions of the lottery on those who aspire to stand from a particular constituency. This would be to the advantage of women candidates too, giving them a chance to establish themselves on their continued…