March 1, 2010 2:24:57 am
The Union cabinet on Thursday cleared the Womens Reservation Bill,which seeks to provide 33 per cent reservations to women in Parliament and state assemblies. The bill,which has already been introduced in the Rajya Sabha,was referred to the parliamentary standing committee on law and justice,and personnel. The committee had given its report in December last year and recommended passage of the bill in its present form. The committee also suggested that the issue should not be left to the discretion of political parties.
On Thursday,a delegation of women MPs called on President Pratibha Patil to suggest that the bill should be taken up for consideration in Parliament on March 8 to mark the 150th year of the International Womens Day. It has been pending for more than a decade due to lack of consensus on its present form as some hostile party chieftains,namely Mulayam Singh Yadav,Lalu Yadav and Sharad Yadav oppose the bill.
The bill raises two very serious issues.
First,there is reason enough for these leaders to oppose this bill. It is not necessarily because they are backward looking or conservative politicians,as they are often portrayed as being. The hullabaloo over 58 women being elected as MPs in the 15th Lok Sabha aside,a time-series caste breakup of women parliamentarians demonstrates why these backward class leaders are concerned. The group of women MPs has been dominated by women from upper castes whose share never has dropped below the 50 per cent mark. The women MPs from SC and ST communities seem to be at the 25 per cent mark,approximately,which is close to the quota of seats fixed for those communities. The under-representation is of women MPs from the Other Backward Classes. This group has never crossed the 20 per cent mark,and certainly the silent revolution shows no impact on women from the backward classes.
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Second,the bill in its current form has the potential to produce a destabilising effect. It states that one-third of the seats would be reserved,and rotated in every general election. This rotation shall be determined by draw of lots,in such a manner that a seat shall be reserved only once in a block of three general elections. This rotation and reservation policy has severe constraints. For one,as women would be contesting against women alone in such reserved constituencies,it is unlikely that they will have the same acceptability among the political class. There are chances that they would be considered temporary small fry in politics. The rotation could lead to ineffective political participation.
Besides,this rotation would result in two-thirds of incumbents being compulsorily unseated in every general election. As legislators will not have the incentive to seek re-election from the same constituency,they would be unaccountable to their electorates. Also,the arrangement of drawing lots will inevitably create last-minute confusion.
The problem with this bill is its inadequacy in addressing the core issue: the scanty presence of women in political parties. Perhaps a lot could be achieved by enacting a law that pushes parties to nominate women candidates for election in one-third of the constituencies. There is enough evidence to argue that the success rate of women candidates in Lok Sabha elections since 1952 has been uniformly higher than that of their male counterparts. So political strategists need to stop worrying and start the process of nominating women,as one candidate in three,from whichever constituency they choose,in order to usher in a new era of political representation.
The writer is with Lokniti,Centre for the Study of Developing Societies,Delhi
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