Monday, March 8, 2010


Probably for the first time in recent history we had the rare situation where the Congress, the BJP and the Leftists were all the same side of an issue. The Women's Reservation Bill had been in the making for 14 years. Tabled thrice prior to this, it was always put back in cold storage. But this time was different. This time the only person that counts in the Congress, Madam Sonia Gandhi had thrown her weight behind the bill. The BJP led in the Lok Sabha by Sushma Swaraj had thrown its weight behind the bill unconditionally as had the Left front which had always supported the bill. Tabled on the Centennial International Women's Day at a time when the President and the Speaker of the Lok Sabha were women, it would have sent a significant message out to everybody how serious we are about empowering Indian women. Considering women in general make the headlines in India as victims of abuse, rape or discrimination this would have signaled a significant attempt at correcting some of the wrongs done to our womenfolk. I'm not saying this Bill alone is enough. And since a debate on its merits and demerits never happened we are not privy to its finer details but the idea of more women in parliament and that too in place of the clowns we have there already cant be all that bad.
What was really appalling was how the dissenters chose to voice their opposition to the Bill. All norms of Parliamentary etiquette and public decency were disregarded by the opponents of the Bill especially so by those members of the RJD, SP and JDU who attacked the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. This is of course a result of consistently voting in people with criminal backgrounds. Whatever else it does, a passed Women's Reservation Bill will ensure that this sort of scene happens less often in parliament. But even more importantly today's events have amply demonstrated how low Indian democracy has sunk. In spite of comfortably having the required numbers, Parliament today could not pass the bill because it was held hostage by about 15% of the MPs. We dont need a better indicator of how powerful the so-called backward classes have become. Their opposition to the bill arises because they want to ensure a quota within a quota for backward communities and Muslims. If this is how irresponsibly they use their current strength one can imagine what will happen if their demands were acceded to. Besides the current Lok Sabha has not given a mandate for a quota within a quota but it does overwhelmingly give one for the Women's Reservation Bill. It truly is a failure of Indian democracy if this oppourtunity is lost.

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