Congress president Sonia Gandhi has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to get the long-pending Women’s Reservation Bill passed in the Lok Sabha, taking advantage of the majority the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) enjoys in the House.

For some reasons, mainly male chauvinism, the Women Reservation Bill has not been passed by parliament. It was introduced in the Lok Sabha for the first time in 1996 when the then PM Deve Gowda, was in office. As in the past, the bill was marked by high drama and hit roadblocks in each of its outings in parliament before the historic measure cleared the first legislative hurdle in 2010. The bill called for reserving 33 per cent of the seats in the Lok Sabha and all state legislative assemblies for women.

As per the draft, the seats were to be reserved for women on a rotation basis and would be determined by draw of lots in such a way that a seat would be reserved only once in three consecutive general elections. The draft said reservation of seats for women would cease to exist 15 years after the commencement of the amendment Act. In fact, the 108th Constitution Amendment Bill, or what was popularly known as the Women’s Reservation Bill, completed 21 years of being in existence last week on September 12. In all these years, it managed to get only the assent of the Rajya Sabha, thus far. In the last two decades the bill has seen much drama in both houses of parliament, clearly aimed at scuttling the measure, with some members even attempting to physically attack the then Rajya Sabha chairman, Hamid Ansari, to disrupt its tabling.

Just like that, the battle for greater representation to women in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies was routinely punctuated, thanks to frayed tempers and war of words among members which, at times, got physical ever since different governments tossed around the bill passed for various reasons without success. It has lapsed every time the house was dissolved and was re-introduced by the government of the day in 1999, in 2002 and 2003. Unfortunately, however, over the years a number of male parliamentarians have opposed the passing of the bill, leaving it in its current state. Even though the Congress, the Left and the BJP were heard openly pledging support for the bill, it just couldn’t be passed in the Lok Sabha.

During Manmohan Singh government, the UPA II government, in spite of having 262 seats in the Lok Sabha, too couldn’t make it happen, citing the same excuse of being in a coalition. Fortunately, the BJP does not suffer from that handicap. The party has the strength and can pass the bill. Seeing this as an opportunity, Congress President Sonia Gandhi decided to step up and wrote to PM Modi, urging him to get the long-long-pending Women’s Reservation Bill passed in Lok Sabha. Sonia Gandhi herself has worked very hard to get the bill passed and is trying to pre-empt any such effort by BJP.

In the letter, Ms Gandhi has also assured her party’s support in passing the bill as it was a significant step in empowering women. And PM Modi seems to be determined about encouraging women, after he recently assigned a woman as Defence Minister of India – which has never happened before. Even the bold-colossal Indira Gandhi could get just foreign affairs and not full-time defence ministry. So the chances of the Bill getting passed under Modi’s watch and Gandhi support are quite thick. Yet, I would be surprised if the bill becomes an act. Male parliamentarians in all the parties do not want to share power with women. When they do not treat them with dignity at home, they believe that women should not be empowered beyond a limit. Let’s see what happens.

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