After many twists and turns, the Women’s Reservation Bill was passed on Tuesday in the Rajya Sabha. Its merits (or demerits) are now beside the point, but the cleavages and fractures both in the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and the Indian polity at large are now wide open.
Until the act of its passage, the Congress party, the moving force behind the Bill in the current Parliament, too, was in two minds over the Bill. The inept floor management on Monday and the lack of will to discipline members of Parliament (MPs) who misbehaved with vice-president Hamid Ansari in the Rajya Sabha on Monday clearly pointed to that. On Monday evening Congress leaders told journalists that they could not suspend dissenting MPs as that would be undemocratic.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
All of this vanished on Tuesday when Congress president Sonia Gandhi cracked the whip and pushed for a vote on the Bill. It was a risky move that paid off in the end.
Why is there such opposition to the Bill? It comes from two sources. Here it is apt to say that the ghost of late prime minister V.P. Singh has haunted the Bill for long. Today “social engineering” is a fact of life. But it is also something that has blighted India. Every reform, economic, social and political, is viewed through its prism. The Women’s Reservation Bill was no exception.
The opposition is primarily from caste-based regional parties of north India. These parties have gained electorally from caste divisions in Indian society.
Today they want to exploit every opportunity to further their political interests. It was this hunt for caste votes that lay behind their opposition to the Bill.
The other source of opposition, silent and hidden, comes from men in almost all parties who see the Bill as marring their political future.
So is this a story of the triumph of one woman’s will against a large majority that did not, and does not, favour reservation for women in Parliament? Or does it say something else: that one person can dictate, and get, what she wants even in the face of immense opposition?
Whatever the reality may be, there can be little doubt that 33% reservation for women in Parliament will surely change the political landscape in India.
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