India’s Lok Sabha overwhelmingly passes women reservation bill albeit fierce debate
The ruling BJP of prime minister Narendra Modi and the opposition Indian National Congress engaged in a heated debate before the voting in which the bill got the backing of 454 MPs.
Women supporters of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in the northern city of Ranchi celebrate the introduction of the women’s reservation bill in a special session of the Indian parliament on Wednesday, September 20, 2023. (ANI Photo)
THE Indian parliament remained witness to a historic moment on Wednesday (20) when the bill (Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam) providing 33 per cent reservation to women in the federal and state legislative assemblies was passed in the Lok Sabha or Lower House of the parliament after a fierce debate that lasted for four hours.
This is the first time that the bill was introduced and passed in the lower chamber.
Law minister Arjun Ram Meghwal introduced the bill.
The bill was passed through voice vote in the special session that has been convened in the new parliament building that was inaugurated by prime minister Narendra Modi in May. The bill received the support of 454 parliamentarians while two opposed it. Asaduddin Owaisi, one of India’s most prominent Muslim MPs, opposed the bill saying it was flawed in terms of women’s representation.
The bill will now be presented in the Rajya Sabha or Upper House of the parliament on Thursday (21). The 2008 bill drafted by the previous government led by the Indian National Congress could pass the test in the Rajya Sabha but was not introduced in the Lok Sabha after it faced obstacles, thanks to parties demanding quota for women from Other Backward Classes as well.
Women’s political representation in India remains poor. According to data, while women parliamentarians constitute less than 15 per cent of the Lok Sabha, their representation is even less than 10 per cent in many state assemblies.
While both of India’s major parties, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress, which has ruled the country for most part post Independence, have supported the women’s reservation bill, Wednesday saw leaders from both sides engaging in heated debates before the voting on the bill.
Congress parliamentarian Rahul Gandhi told the Lower House that he felt that reservation for OBCs should have been included in the bill.
He also said that he was surprised by the government’s idea of having a new census and a new delimitation to implement the bill.
The implementation of the quota will be delayed by quite a few years if brought after the census and delimitation even though Indian home minister Amit Shah said the procedures will kick off after the general elections of 2024.
Shah also responded to Gandhi’s OBC reservation claim saying that 29 per cent of the BJP’s parliamentarians are from that community. He also accused the Congress of not picking a OBC face as the prime minister, he added.
The BJP has often accused the Congress of practising dynastic politics, choosing prime ministers from its own family.
Earlier in the day, senior Congress parliamentarian Sonia Gandhi asked how many years the country would have to wait more for the bill to come into effect.
“The Congress demands that this Bill be implemented immediately but there should be a caste census and the women of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, OBC must be given reservation too. The government should take all necessary steps for this,” the former Congress president said.
Indian women and child development minister Smriti Irani accused the opposition of misleading the nation on the bill by seeking reservation for backward classes.
Shah also slammed the opposition parties saying they lacked the will to push through the bill and played politics over it. He said it was the fifth attempt to bring the bill, starting from the time of former prime minister HD Deve Gowda (1996-97) to Manmohan Singh (2004-14) and asked why still it failed to get the support.