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Giving the agents of change their due
The NDA has the required numbers in Lok Sabha to pass the women’s reservation Bill. In Rajya Sabha, it will get Opposition support. Why the delay, then?
When over 6,000 women sarpanchas from across the country gather at Gujarat's Gandhinagar to attend a national conference on Women's International Day on March 8, it will be interesting to listen these grassroots leaders sharing their achievements and challenges of the post which came through reservations in local Government bodies since early 2010.
The event, which will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is being touted as a first-of-its kind where such a large number of women sarpanchas are congregating. There is no denying the fact that credit for giving women reservations in the panchayati system goes to former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, though the idea was mooted by his predecessor Rajiv Gandhi. The latter had also vigorously pushed for an early passage of 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and State Assemblies, for which a Bill had been moved. The attempt failed, however.
Now, at the women sarpanchas conference, in his home State Gujarat, Modi must seize the opportunity to announce his party's seriousness to introduce the Bill in Parliament in the coming sessions, given that most of his party leaders and allies are backing the proposed legislation. In fact, last month, on February 11, to be precise, his senior Cabinet Minister M Venkaiah Naidu had, at the National Women's Parliamentrian (NWP) meet in Amravati (Andhra Pradesh) said that the Bill was on the mind of the Prime Minister.
Almost all the participants including Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, and Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, Speaker of Bangladesh’s Parliament, at the NWP were unanimous that the women empowerment was possible only through reservations.
Though there have been allegations that in the garb of women sarpanchas at the helm, it is the male members who govern the system. But slowly, the system does help women to recognise their power. The participants echoed unanimously in favour of the Bill.
Dismayed at the way the Bill was being ignored, Mahajan also made it amply clear that it should be given with respect and not come as a favour. Professor Maitree Wickramasinghe, wife of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, stressed the need for women to know their own worth and stand by their rights. Social activists Ela Bhatt wanted women to be ‘change agents’ to bring peace.
The Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister said that since its inception, his Telugu Desam Party had been striving for women empowerment. It was his party founder NT Rama Rao, who introduced the Right to Property for women, 33 per cent reservation in education and employment and quota for women in local bodies, he recalled. But a mere Bill would not be sufficient. What is needed is political will and administrative skill. Political parties should show conviction in this regard, Chandrababu Naidu added.
Dimple Yadav, Samajwadi Party leader and daughter-in-law of Mulayam Singh Yadav, under whose leadership the party had been opposing the Bill tooth and nail till date, too has indicated that no longer can her party ignore rising aspiration of 50 per cent of the population of the country.
Dimple Yadav is quoted as saying that the Samajwadi Party does not oppose the women's reservation Bill. If we start from here, we can have even 50 per cent women members in Parliament, she said.
In another good news, it was only last year that the JD(U) changed its position and supported the Bill. Last September, the party said that it should be passed without any ifs and buts. And, after it is passed, the party will think about a ‘quota within quota’ for backward classes.
These welcome changes in stance of the opponents of the Bill apart, the BJP-led NDA is itself in a majority to pass the legislation in the Lok Sabha. In this context , Venkaiah Naidu's explanation that the Bill could see the light of the day only after the BJP gets a majority in the Rajya Sabha, does not hold ground.
Women activists like Ranjana Kumari from Centre for Social Research feel that the present BJP Government at the Centre has the required number of parliamentarians to pass the Bill. In addition, the Congress has always been supportive of the Bill, so it would be easy to overcome resistance, if there is any, to the proposed legislation.
(The writer is Special Correspondent, The Pioneer)
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