Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Women's Reservation Bill: Drama or Sincere

The Women's Reservation Bill is something that has been debated on and off for over a decade now, and no Government has been able to bring in this law due to the immense controversy over this issue. The BJP was unable to do so, and this Congress / UPA Government has not been able to do so. Each time, this is because of the blocking by the various OBC groups who are suspicious of the motivations behind bringing such a bill. They believe that the splintering of the electorate along caste lines is going to be moved back by such a law if it does not also have relevant reservations for OBC's and Muslims. In addition, the belief is that upper caste women will capture a large chunk of the seats under such a Bill.
I am ambivalent of most reservations since I believe that the proper strategy of bringing about change is to make more facilities, education, etc. available rather than reserve some of them for somebody who does not have the skill set needed for the seat / job for which the reservations is sought. The only exception that I can think of is the case of politics where I have not been able to understand the type of talent required (if any is required); and hence maybe reserving electoral seats for women may be permissible - anyhow, in a lot of cases, winning or losing depends on the party rather than the individual.
But the issue in this case is that the leading lights of this coalition, Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi, the left parties (including Brinda Karat), as well as the main opposition, the BJP, all support such a Bill in public. Together, they are far more than the numbers required to pass such a bill, but no one is willing to take on the caste based political parties - they can be very strident in their opposition, and can easily threaten when necessary. So, the Government played a gambit by bringing the Bill in the Rajya Sabha when the Lok Sabha had already been progued, and when it was assured that the Bill would not get anywhere closer to becoming a law, but even that has brought out the opposition:

The women's reservation bill has triggered an OBC consolidation across party lines, threatening to strain political tie-ups and raising the prospect of realignment. The protests against the introduction of the bill in the Rajya Sabha, which saw RJD members joining hands with arch-rivals JD(U) and SP, extended outside Parliament with members of the OBC dominated outfits holding a meeting to scale up the resistance.
While the legislation has provided an impetus to normalization of ties between Yadav satraps Mulayam Singh and Lalu Prasad, it is proving to be the catalyst for the coming together of the Mandal forces more than a decade after they splintered, moving in separate ways. The resentment against the bill has the potential to introduce tension among allies such as Congress and RJD on the one hand and BJP and JD(U) on the other, besides becoming a point of discord between SP and Left.

One can be sure that neither the Left nor the Congress will move ahead with this Bill, given the vehement opposition - further, the Congress is no longer the leading party in many states, and it needs to maintain good relations with many of these parties, and it may be easier to let the Bill die a death rather than risk rupturing ties.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 2:21 AM