Look for the woman, they always say. Or rather, as Mulayam Singh Yadav has almost said, look out for the women. The explosion of protest in Parliament after the president of India mentioned the bill for women’s reservation in legislative bodies as part of the new United Progressive Alliance government’s earliest tasks is impressive in its sound and fury, and mysterious as to what it signifies. Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav has painted an ominous picture for the male members of parliament with an appealing political incorrectness, threatening them with joblessness should the women’s reservation bill be passed. But the Samajwadi Party leader, supported in his opposition to the bill by Lalu Prasad, who used delightful histrionics to ridicule the lacunae in the bill, has been outdone in drama by the Janata Dal (United) leader, Sharad Yadav, who threatened suicide by poison should the bill be passed. But the diverting liveliness of these gentlemen’s performance cannot hide the fact that in open protest at least, the three are a bit lonely. Only a hidden ballot may bring out the lion in the other males too.
Apparently, the bill is unfair because, in its present form, it leaves no space for backward classes or minority community women, and is likely to be hijacked by “elite” females. It is an embarrassing argument at many levels. It suggests that the reservations that have characterized Indian politics in recent years have not had the effect hoped for; their benefits have always been hijacked by the group on top. That there is no sign of a level playing field yet is obvious from the clamouring for more quotas everywhere. It would seem that Messrs Yadav and Mr Prasad are trying to revive a trembling faith in quotas while the people of India seem to be showing more interest in development and governance as a whole. These gentlemen have rather tied themselves up in knots. They cannot begin to argue from the only sensible premise there is, that is, there should be no quotas at all. That would put them in a further soup with regard to their own politics. Women’s participation in politics should begin from local and party levels. The leaders cannot even say that; there is no political party yet that consciously tries to induct women into leadership positions within.