Opposition wants Bill to be delinked from delimitation and a quota within quota for OBCs; Home Minister promises to rectify shortcomings.
Twenty-seven years after the women’s reservation Bill was first introduced in Parliament, the Lok Sabha on September 20 passed a Bill with near unanimity to amend the Constitution and provide one-third reservation to women in the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies.
he Bill will now be taken by the Rajya Sabha for passage in the remaining two days of the Special Session of Parliament, and might require approval from half of the States.
Calling it a “historic legislation” that will enable greater participation of women in the political process, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to X (formerly, Twitter) to thank the Lok Sabha members.
“I thank MPs across Party lines who voted in support of this Bill,” Mr. Modi said in a post on X.
Only two nays
With 454 members of the Lok Sabha supporting the Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty Eighth) Bill 2023, the constitutional requirement of “two-third majority of the members present and voting” was easily met.
Only two members, the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen’s Asaduddin Owaisi and Syed Imtiyaz Jaleel, had opposed the Bill.
The voting process, during which Mr. Modi was present, took nearly two hours as members voted manually, using paper slips.
Battle for credit
The eight-hour long debate witnessed members from the Treasury and Opposition benches, led by the Congress, engage in a battle over who should get credit for the landmark Bill and on the question of having a separate quota for women belonging to other backward classes (OBCs).
Home Minister Amit Shah assured the House that the government would rectify any shortcomings in the future. “You support the Bill and reservation will be guaranteed,” Mr. Shah told Opposition members.
‘Quota within quota’
The Congress made a U-turn from its own 2010 position, with its leader Sonia Gandhi, who was the first speaker in the debate, leading the demand for a separate quota within quota for OBCs after a conducting a caste census. She also insisted that there was no need to delay implementation of the Bill by linking it to a delimitation exercise that is frozen till 2026.
“It is the demand of the Congress to implement the Bill immediately… But along with that, provision should be made for reservation for SC, ST and OBC women,” she said.
BJP’s OBC credentials
Strongly countering the demand for a separate quota for OBCs, the Home Minister asserted that the BJP not only had the highest number of OBC lawmakers across the political spectrum, but also a Prime Minister from the same community, referring to Mr. Modi.
Giving a detailed break-up, Mr. Shah said that 85 BJP MPs, 29% of its total, were OBCs, adding that as many as 29 Ministers were also from backward communities.
‘Avoiding political reservation’
The Home Minister also explained that the decision to implement reservation after delimitation is to ensure that a quasi-judicial body like the Delimitation Commission can decide, after public consultation, which seats to reserve.
“Should we do it?” Mr. Shah asked, pointing out that if Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Wayanad seat or AIMIM leader Mr. Owaisi’s Hyderabad seat got reserved, then the government would be charged with making a “political reservation”.
Long voting process
Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal claimed that it was against the provisions of the Constitution to provide reservation immediately, noting that someone may challenge it in a court of law. “We will not allow the Bill to get stuck in some technicality,” he said.
As many as 60 members took part in the Lok Sabha debate that went on for nearly eight hours; 27 of them were women MPs. The voting process, however, took a long time; electronic voting was not possible as some political parties have not yet informed the Lok Sabha secretariat about the division number or the specific seats that they will be allotting to individual members.