Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised on the floor of the House that the women’s reservation bill will be enacted at the earliest. But I hope he will go about it in a democratic manner and not try to shove the existing reservation scheme down everyone’s throat, as the Congress, under pressure from the Left parties, tried to do. The bill in its present form is a classic example of the growing gap between pious promises and actual results of government policies and legislation in India. We need a thorough debate on the proposed legislation so that some glaring infirmities in the bill can be removed before it becomes law, especially since it requires an amendment to the Constitution.
The bill provides for reservation on a rotation basis through a lottery system, which means that two-thirds of the incumbent members will be forcibly unseated in every general election and those remaining will stay in limbo till the last moment. Such compulsory unseating violates the basic principle of democratic representation and is fair neither to men nor women. It jeopardises the possibility of effective planning to contest by nurturing a political constituency for both male and female candidates.
Second, women will be ghettoised and forced to fight elections only against other women. This will deny them the legitimacy of being mainstream politicians. Third, as male legislators will be forced to surrender their seats for a term to women, those who have worked to nurture their constituencies will likely insist that the seat be given to a woman from their family. Since a seat will be reserved once in 15 years, males pushed out of their constituency are likely to field female relatives or even proxy candidates as a stop-gap arrangement and women will not get the chance to cultivate deep roots in their constituency. This is how the biwi-beti-bahu brigade came to dominate our elected bodies, even at the panchayat and zila parishad levels where this rotation system has already been imposed. Finally, the bill is completely silent about women’s representation in the Rajya Sabha and legislative councils.
It is unfortunate that the UPA government did not consider more viable, alternative proposals. The alternative bill proposed by Manushi, the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies and Lok Satta had received the endorsements of the Election Commission and several political parties. The alternative bill proposes that a law be enacted amending The Representation of the People Act, 1951, to make it mandatory for every recognised political continued…