The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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It looks now as if Parliament could even be physically rearranged to accommodate more female parliamentarians. Such is the Centre’s heart-felt solicitude for women. The long, and demeaningly fruitless, history of the women’s reservation bill has taken another absurd turn. This time, the formula is even more elaborate. And it has the added advantage of not making the men feel insecure. The original bill wanted 33 per cent — that is, 181 — of the 544 Lok Sabha seats. So let there be another 181 seats, over and above the existing ones, all of which would be reserved for women. These new seats will be filled by legislators elected from 181 of the existing constituencies earmarked for double seats — one open and the other reserved for women. Thus, no new constituencies, and the men are not edged out.

This sounds like a very neat brainwave, except that the Lok Sabha then becomes an even more grossly unwieldy animal, with the number of seats going up to 725. One of the prime elements of good governance is a minimal state. This proposal will quite undo the streamlining of the political machinery being talked about, and occasionally carried out, at the Centre. Quite apart from the bureaucratic and financial burden of an inflated house, the effect of increased numbers on the discipline within Parliament fills one with prospective pity for the speaker. Moreover, in a house designed for 545 members, making room for almost 200 more people would mean major structural changes. All in all, the whole thing sounds, yet again, like one of those ways in which to ground the bill in controversial, extravagant and patently impossible possibilities. In this way, the government could keep up the appearances of activity and a “political will”, a concerted effort at achieving consensus or unanimity (although the two are not the same), but actually making it that much more difficult to get to the bottom of things and come to a decision, for or against. Such obviously quixotic schemes as this one, over which unanimity is even less imaginable, can only drag the bill towards greater contentiousness and futility.

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