The BJP’s political propaganda over the passage of the women’s reservation bill has prompted the Congress to question the Sangh Parivar’s attitude towards women and highlight the long wait for implementation inherent in the new legislation.
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge on Saturday recalled how the stalwarts of the freedom struggle had stressed gender equality and wondered if anyone in the RSS hierarchy ever worked for women’s empowerment.
“Gandhi dreamt of an India where men and women enjoyed equal rights. Did any of the RSS leaders talk of gender equality? Did Guru Golwalkar say this?” Kharge said at a meeting of Congress workers in Jaipur.
“Sarojini Naidu was appointed Congress president in 1925. Has any woman ever reached the top of the RSS hierarchy in the last 100 years? They can’t give space to women in their organisation and they are pretending to be working for women’s empowerment!”
Kharge cited how the Congress had given India its first woman cabinet minister (Rajkumari Amrit Kaur in 1947), first woman chief minister (Sucheta Kripalani in 1963), first woman governor (Sarojini Naidu in 1947), first woman President (Pratibha Patil in 2007), first woman Prime Minister (Indira Gandhi in 1966) and first woman Lok Sabha Speaker (Meira Kumar in 2009), apart from the longest-serving party president in Sonia Gandhi.
He underlined that current President Droupadi Murmu, a woman, had not been invited to the inauguration of the new Parliament in May this year.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi being garlanded during an interaction with women on the Women’s Reservation Bill in Varanasi on Saturday. PTI picture
“The BJP believes in hollow symbolism. They didn’t invite Murmu to the inauguration of the new Parliament because she is from the Scheduled Tribes. They would have washed the stone with Ganga water had she touched it. The SC-ST are treated as untouchables,” he said.
“Murmu was not invited even when the ceremony to shift from the old to the new (Parliament) building was held. BJP leaders were invited, film actors and actresses were invited. Why was Murmu not invited? I ask the SC-ST people, isn’t that an insult?”
Kharge added: “The BJP is using women for electoral gimmicks. Everything is an election stunt for them. The women’s reservation will not be implemented before 2029. The Prime Minister lies.”
While the BJP is invoking the women’s reservation bill to project Modi as a champion of gender equality and women’s empowerment, Opposition leaders have highlighted the Prime Minister’s silence on the protests by women wrestlers against alleged sexual exploitation by a BJP parliamentarian and on the rape-and-murder cases in Unnao and Hathras.
The Congress has been delving into RSS history because the organisation is believed to uphold the Manusmriti, which airs regressive views on women. Its second chief, M.S. Golwalkar, had declared Manu the “first and greatest lawgiver of the world”.
Current RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat keeps creating controversies with his views on women. In June 2013, he said that husbands and wives are bound by a contract under which the husband is obliged to keep her as long she pleases him.
He also said that rapes happened in urban India and not the villages, appearing to imply that women stepping out of home and wearing Western dresses might be the reason.
Rahul Gandhi, who addressed the meeting with Kharge, said: “Seats can be reserved for women today, but the BJP doesn’t want it. They want it after 10 years.”
He also demanded a sub-quota for OBC women and reiterated his demand for the immediate conduct of a caste census.
Rahul said the special session of Parliament this week had been called to change the name of the country but the government had backed out sensing the public mood.
“Both ‘India’ and ‘Bharat’ are in the Constitution. There was never a quarrel over the two names. They tried to create a rift but the people were not ready to accept that. Then they brought the women’s bill,” he said.
Rahul asked Congress workers to reach out to the people and tell them (a) why the Modi government is not conducting a caste census; (b) how the government has rained benefits on Adani; and (c) how Congress governments have been implementing welfare schemesand providing gas cylinders for Rs 500.