By Sushil Kutty
For the misogynist, waking up on Ganesh Chaturthi morning was disappointing. Overnight the Modi Cabinet had, during the course of an unscheduled meeting, cleared the Women’s Reservation Bill, which had been lying dormant for years much to the giddy happiness of male chauvinists, who deep down in their hearts saw women’s empowerment as a dangerous piece of legislation with diminishing returns for the male folk.
Remember how Rahul Gandhi was ridiculed after his first one-on-one interview in 2014 with an uppity journalist for answering several questions with the stock “women’s empowerment” as the key to India’s development. Today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, true to his nature and style, said he was the “Chosen One” to make 33 percent reservation for women a reality after Prime Minister HD Devegowda and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee failed to do so for want of numbers. Prime Minister Modi called the Bill “Naari Shakti Vandhan Adhiniyam”.
Speaking as if “India that is Bharat” had been waiting for Narendra Damodardas Modi for a “1000 years” to come and fulfill “Indian aspirations” that will be remembered and cherished for the next 1000 years, the Prime Minister once again gave short-shrift to the sacred concept of collective decision-making of the Union cabinet.
The special session in the New Parliament on September 19 started with a ruckus over the “Naari Shakti Vandhan Adhiniyam”. Earlier, on September 18, Congress MP Sonia Gandhi had asked the Modi government to take up the 33 percent women’s reservation issue in the special session itself. The Narendra Modi government had been closely guarding the agenda of the special session, allowing fake news surrounding the special session to proliferate.
In fact, most of the ‘14’ anchors blacklisted anchors had taken advantage of the speculation surrounding the special session to help the Modi administration confuse and confound citizens. They had been going to town spreading the word that the special session was called to implement “One Nation, One Election” and when that did not register, let fly with “India that is Bharat”.
Then, of course, talk of women’s reservation. And the Modi government’s hand was forced. Otherwise, there was no reason for the cabinet ratification of the Bill, which for all purposes was a forgotten piece of legislation despite being a BJP poll promise both in 2014 and 2019. The unscheduled cabinet meeting was proof that the Bill was an afterthought. The Modi government’s amnesia is well documented and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s poll promises are best left forgotten.
So, we have a women’s reservation bill ready for reckoning. Still, it will take its own time – till “after delimitation”, which would happen only by 2029. By then, the New Parliament will have welcomed its second Lok Sabha. But women have gotten used to waiting for this Godot for 27 years in the hallowed halls of the Old Parliament, now renamed by PM Modi as “Savindhan Sadan”.
If passed anytime in the near future, 33 percent seats will be reserved for women in Parliament and in the legislative assemblies. But for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to do the honours, he must get a third term in 2024 or else it would be an INDIA Prime Minister who will be doing the welcoming. Chances that the BJP-led NDA might lose in 2024 is not far-fetched and then Prime Minister Modi’s whisperatorial pauses will be a thing of the past.
That said, Prime Minister Narendra Modi does have a favourable corner in his heart for women. Their woes resonate in many of his women-friendly actions and legislations. The criminalization of triple-talaq was widely welcomed and on September 19, the Prime Minister spoke of his government’s actions that have benefited the “trans-people”. Earlier, sitting Lok Sabha MP for the longest time, Maneka Gandhi, mentioned the ‘beti padhao, beti bachao’ initiative.
But of all the women-friendly actions and initiatives, women’s reservation would be the most transformative – a path-breaking legislation that is waiting to fructify. On September 19, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of “Indian aspirations” a number of times, forgetting “Bharat”, and how after “1000 years of ghulami”, the time has come to fulfill “Indian aspirations”.
The Women’s Reservation Bill is a major move. But the INDIA grouping isn’t unduly bothered by Modi getting to eat the cake and keeping it, too. The benefits of reservation for women in Parliament and legislative assemblies are many and varied. But there are political parties which have reservations about women entering Parliament, parties which want “quota within the quota” – caste and community quotas in the 33% quota.
Women candidates contesting general elections have increased from 45 in the second Lok Sabha of 1957 to 726 in 2019. But their actual representation in the House hasn’t increased proportionately – only from 22 MPs in 1951 to 78 MPs in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Prime Minister Narendra Modi says he is the “Chosen One”, the lone hero of the Special Session. (IPA Service)