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Women Reservation Bill: After 27 Years, Modi Govt Approves Women's Quota Bill

In a significant step towards promoting women's empowerment, the PM Modi-led government plans to present a constitutional amendment bill in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday. This bill aims to allocate one-third of the seats in both the Parliament and state legislatures throughout the nation for women.

This decision, championed by the PM and endorsed during a Union Cabinet meeting on Monday evening, is geared towards ensuring the successful passage of the bill during the special session in both Houses of Parliament. This marks the commencement of a lengthy procedure, requiring substantial backing in both Houses amounting to two-thirds support, as well as ratification by half of the state assemblies. Additionally, the bill will include a provision for a sub-quota for SC/STs , proportionate to their current representation.

While the government has not officially confirmed this decision, insiders suggest that the anticipated reservation may be implemented by 2029. This timeline is contingent upon the redrawing of constituencies as part of the delimitation process, which is expected to commence following the decennial census in 2026.

The bill was initially introduced in 1996 and had even received approval from the Rajya Sabha in March 2010. However, it lapsed when the Lok Sabha did not pass it at that time.

Government insiders expressed confidence in the bill's prospects within Parliament this time, as well as in securing the essential backing from states. They emphasised the importance of the Congress party's cooperation and highlighted the support from states aligned with the BJP, its coalition partners, and even parties outside the NDA that have previously endorsed the measure.

The PM himself seemed unwavering in his conviction when he proclaimed that the upcoming special session would be "historic." During his "farewell speech" in the old Parliament, he provided a clear indication of the ongoing efforts by mentioning "inclusiveness" as a defining characteristic of Indian parliamentary democracy. He also acknowledged the significant contributions of women lawmakers, including two Speakers.

The moment news about the decision emerged, the Congress declared its backing for the bill. The bill is scheduled for discussion in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday, and the government aims to achieve its approval in the Rajya Sabha on Friday, which marks the concluding day of the special session.

The decision represents the realisation of a long-standing demand from women's organisations and political parties for substantial affirmative action to bolster women's representation in legislative bodies. The desire of political parties to implement a quota system was hindered by politicians who were apprehensive about relinquishing their seats to women once the quota was enacted.

Some individuals claiming to represent OBCs and Muslims threw a wrench in the works by contending that the "women's quota" might predominantly benefit upper-caste women.

Government's Assurance on Enacting Women's Quota Legislation Grows Stronger

After several decades of anticipation, the Congress-led UPA introduced a Constitution amendment bill to the Rajya Sabha in December 2010, aiming to reserve one-third of legislative seats for women. With full support from the BJP and the Left, it enjoyed sufficient backing in the Upper House. However, the bill faced strong opposition from the Samajwadi Party and RJD, who vehemently demanded that a significant portion of the women's quota seats be exclusively reserved for individuals from OBC and minority communities. Consequently, the government had to postpone the passage of the bill.

While the legislation had been approved by the Rajya Sabha in March 2010, the resistance put up by the SP, RJD, and the JD(U), which was then a part of the BJP-led NDA, along with their allegations that the women's quota was part of an upper-caste conspiracy to reclaim political dominance, prompted the Manmohan Singh government to reconsider its stance. This hesitancy ultimately led to the bill lapsing after the dissolution of the Lok Sabha in 2014.

The Modi government exhibits strong confidence in overcoming the obstacles this time around. Firstly, the BJP possesses a majority on its own, enabling it to comfortably surpass the two-thirds threshold with the support of its allies, unaffiliated parties like BJD and YSRCP, and even opponents such as Congress, BRS, and others.

These parties appear unwilling to abandon their stance in favour of women's quota, even if they suspect that the BJP's political motivations primarily drive this initiative and its timing.

In response to growing indications of the BJP's intent, Congress's statements and social media posts from its members have focused on their assertion of being the "first mover" rather than opposing the women's quota itself.

Furthermore, as the momentum leading up to this initiative unfolded, with President Droupadi Murmu offering robust support for the women's quota and the RSS urging Sangh-influenced organisations to address gender imbalance across all domains, the opposition from SP and RJD remains steadfast. However, the BJP's substantial numerical advantage equips it to navigate this challenge successfully. In contrast, the standing of SP and RJD has diminished.

Even JD(U), which has seemingly softened its stance, must contend with the indications of women emerging as a distinct and influential electoral category.

Most notably, this time, the impetus for the initiative has emanated from the Prime Minister himself, indicating his unwavering commitment to transforming the women's quota into a tangible reality. "This is Modi's guarantee," asserted a senior member of the Cabinet, with hints of celebratory plans being made for the aftermath of Friday.

Indeed, the substantial advancement of women's reservation has been discussed as a viable possibility ever since Modi revealed his vision for the new Parliament building—a spacious structure capable of accommodating the forthcoming additions resulting from the delimitation process.

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