Why is the passage of Women's Reservation Bill a perfect political opportunity for Modi regime
New Delhi, Sep 22: The times they are a-changin' for India, definitely. Once considered a taboo topic, now several political parties are coming out in the open to support the fast passage of the Women's Reservation Bill in Parliament, obviously to portray themselves as pro-women and get electoral gain in the process.
The controversial bill was first conceived more than 20 years ago on September 12, 1996. The bill pushes for a 33 per cent reservation of seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies. The United Front government led by former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda had first tried to pass it in the Lok Sabha in 1996.
Since then, whenever various governments at the Centre tried to introduce the bill in Parliament, it has left the entire political class polarised. Over the years, the Congress (during the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre, the bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha on March 9, 2010, and has since been waiting to be cleared in the Lok Sabha), the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Left parties and others like the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) have come out in support of the early passage of the bill, however, leaders like Samajwadi Party (SP) supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad Yadav have always taken an "anti-women stand" by vehemently opposing it.
Now, as soon as the Congress got wind of the fact that the Narendra Modi government is planning to introduce the bill in the upcoming Winter session of Parliament, party president Sonia Gandhi decided to write to the Prime Minister a letter urging for the expeditious passage of the Women's Reservation Bill.
The Congress president in her letter to the PM asked the BJP to "take advantage of its majority in the Lok Sabha to now get the Women's Reservation Bill passed in the Lower House as well."
The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has 336 seats in the 543-seat Lok Sabha (with BJP alone having 282 seats). Moreover, since the Congress (the grand old party has 45 seats in the Lok Sabha) already supports the bill, its passage in the Lower House of Parliament looks pretty smooth.
In the same letter, Gandhi did not stop from giving credit to the Congress for passing the bill in the Upper House of Parliament earlier.
Smt. Sonia Gandhi writes to the Prime Minister for expeditious passage of Women Reservation Bill in LS as UPA passed in RS. Copy of letter- pic.twitter.com/Fz5mMwioH4— Randeep S Surjewala (@rssurjewala) September 21, 2017
So, if the Modi regime decides to table the bill in the Lok Sabha soon, the focus would be who would get the ultimate credit for its clearance. Thus, Gandhi's letter to Modi was not all about concern over the passage of the long-pending bill, but is also a reminder to the PM as well as to his party and the nation the amount of work the previous Congress government did to encourage women to actively join politics and be a part of various decision-making bodies.
Suspecting that the Congress might take away credit from the Modi regime over the bill, the BJP decided to attack Gandhi. BJP leaders claimed that Gandhi was doing politics over the matter and said the UPA government did not introduce the bill in the Lok Sabha as it could not overcome opposition from within its own ranks.
"Rather than writing to the Prime Minister, Sonia Gandhi ought to have written or spoken to her alliance partners like Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav to find out why did they block the Women's Reservation Bill when the UPA was in power," BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao was quoted as saying by PTI.
The reason behind planning to introduce the bill during the Winter session of Parliament by the BJP is its plans to boost its prospects ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
A strong view within the BJP is that if its government succeeds in getting this constitutional amendment bill passed in Parliament, then it can upend conventional political faultlines.
Reservation for women in local bodies already exists and have brought about positive changes, a BJP leader told PTI. After the bill was first introduced by the United Front government in 1996, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government tabled it a few times too.
However, it could never be passed in any of the two Houses on all these occasions. The prospects of its passage brightened when the UPA government tabled it in the Rajya Sabha in 2010 and managed to get it passed in the Upper House.
However, reluctance from some of its allies and opposition from backward caste members of Parliament (MPs) from many parties meant that the Lok Sabha never took it up and it lapsed with the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014.
Now, as the Modi sarkar enjoys a clear majority in Parliament, the dream of many activists and politicians, who have long been fighting to provide 33 per cent reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies, looks pretty real.
The Modi government by ensuring the passage of the bill, considered to be a major women empowerment move, would also help its own political cause. After the landmark verdict of the Supreme Court banning the instant Triple Talaq (the PM himself stood against the age-old Muslim practice publicly), the passage of the Women's Reservation Bill would definitely help cement the BJP's pro-women image.
Moreover, at a time when the BJP-led government at the Centre has been facing relentless criticism over demonetisation, hasty implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), low Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth, rise in Hindutva politics and attack on minorities, to name a few, the passage of the controversial bill is likely to provide a perfect platform for Modi and his teammates to revive their political fortunes.