regular-article-logo Wednesday, 17 April 2024

A hollow claim

Although the women’s reservation bill is a historical turning point, the BJP intends to cheat the women of our country in the name of the forthcoming census and the delimitation of constituencies

Binoy Viswam Published 08.10.23, 07:26 AM

Sourced by the Telegraph

We all know of the story of the cunning fox and the simple crane from Aesop’s tales. If that old fox could come down to the present day, it would have felt a sense of wonder looking at the Bharatiya Janata Party leaders. The scheming behind the women’s reservation bill by the BJP’s top brass would have made the fox jealous. The BJP moved with secrecy to set the ground and timing so perfectly that even the fox from the old tale might have done a sashtang pranam before the prime minister.

After a long sleep of more than nine years, Narendra Modi has suddenly become the sole champion of the women’s reservation cause. From Parliament’s chambers to the party office, the BJP rallied scores of women to sing Modi’s praise. Pertinent questions raised by knowledgeable people from multiple corners were ignored. The bill was made into an Act of Parliament. Just like the fox from the fable, the BJP is also telling the people that the soup is now ready. Crores of women who are in the crane’s place are being invited to enjoy the feast of empowerment. But the soup of reservation is kept in a shallow plate. The shallow plate in this political story is nothing but the caveats of census and delimitation. Nobody in the government, including the prime minister, knows when these hurdles will be crossed. It may take 10, 20 or 30 years. That will never bother the BJP, just like it did not bother the fox slurping every last drop of soup as the poor crane looked on.


As for the background of the women’s reservation bill, everyone knows about the pivotal role the Communist Party of India, especially Comrade Geeta Mukherjee, had played in the struggle for women’s reservation. Geetadi was a consistent fighter for women’s rights who took the passing of the women’s bill as a life mission. She was a true communist who believed that the tasks of the Indian revolution could not be fulfilled without the liberation of the women of the country. Thirty-three per cent reservation of seats in Parliament and in state legislatures for women is only the first step in that direction. Even for that first step to be accomplished, the democratic forces of the country had to wage battles for decades. The passing of this bill will become a catalyst for the future struggles of women’s organisations and other democratic forces.

The content of the women’s reservation bill was shaped by the United Front government in 1996 in which the CPI held important positions. The bill could not be passed then because of differences regarding reservations for the other backward classes. A joint parliamentary committee led by Geeta Mukherjee was formed for this purpose. Although it presented its report in record time, the move could not go forward as the bill had lapsed with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha. During the period of the A.B. Vajpayee government, there was no progress on the matter. UPA-I, in which the Left parties played a significant role, took the matter seriously and the women’s reservation bill found an important place in the Common Minimum Programme. During this government led by Manmohan Singh, the bill was introduced on May 6, 2008. After Standing Committee scrutiny, the Rajya Sabha passed the bill on March 9, 2010. From that point, due to political uncertainties, there were no serious developments on the matter.

The CPI and the Left forces have always been strongly committed to the women’s reservation bill and continued their struggle along with the progressive women’s movement in the country. The National Federation of Indian Women took this struggle to the Supreme Court in 2021 in the form of a public interest litigation. In the course of the hearings, the apex court also took a firm stand and cautioned the government of serious repercussions if the enactment of the bill is delayed further. The government counsel was defenceless and could not answer what is taking so long to enact women’s reservation after promising it in the 2014 manifesto itself. The pressure from the Supreme Court along with the unity of secular democratic forces before the 2024 elections compelled the BJP government to come forward with the legislation.

Although this is a historical turning point in the direction of women’s empowerment, the BJP is not serious about its implementation. It intends to cheat the women of our country in the name of the forthcoming census and the delimitation of constituencies. Because of these gaps, the government can delay the bill’s implementation for any period of time. This should be resisted. The democratic forces of the country have urged the government, inside and outside Parliament, to implement the women’s reservation bill without any further delay after the dissolution of the current Lok Sabha itself.

The experience with reservation for women from one-third (33%) to one-half (50%) of the total seats in panchayats and local urban bodies has shown us how reservation for women in governance could bring a positive change in the political landscape. This should be the fuel for furthering the objectives of gender-inclusive politics. As we demanded in Parliament itself, the scope of the present Act should be extended to the Rajya Sabha, the state legislative councils as well as the assemblies of all Union Territories. Reservations for OBCs and minorities in the law-making bodies are vital for a meaningful, representative democracy. The Geeta Mukherjee Committee report has also mentioned this aspect. The stage managers of the BJP, who now boast about the Act, have not applied their minds to these important considerations till this moment. Amid loud calls hailing Modi, their only concern is the capture of power in the name of nari shakti. Sharing power with women and respect for social justice do not feature on their political and ideological agenda. They should be exposed before the people for this.

In this context of deceit and contentless celebrations, the event managers of the BJP are trying to project Modi as the champion of women’s empowerment. Their propaganda measures are tuned accordingly and they propagate that Modi is a crusader for women’s rights. Contrary to the hype being built, the fact is that Modi and his party are not concerned about the fruition of the women’s reservation bill. They are not in favour, ideologically and politically, of women’s representation and empowerment.

The BJP is a male chauvinistic organisation controlled by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in which women are denied even primary membership. Their ideology is guided by the Manusmriti that preaches “women do not deserve freedom.” All of a sudden, their government has become an advocate of nari shakti and wants to crown it with women’s reservation. Electoral compulsions are overpowering ideological convictions. Otherwise, how can the BJP justify the long lapse of nine years for initiating this bill? Modi is known to play ‘masterstrokes’, as his followers call some of his blunders. He took no time before announcing demonetisation. A national lockdown was declared without considering migrant labourers and their hardships. Controversial farm laws were enacted within half an hour. If these ‘masterstrokes’ took no time, what justifies the long wait of nine years for women’s reservation despite a parliamentary majority and a consensus on the cause? Nothing but insincerity and electoral considerations. The people are tired of these lies. They are waiting for the opportunity to show the BJP its place. Just like the crane served soup to the fox in a tall and narrow jar making it impossible for it to even touch it, the people will ensure that the BJP does not come close to power.

Binoy Viswam is a member of the Rajya Sabha from the Communist Party of India

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