Govt calls Rahul Gandhi's push for Women's Bill a gimmick

Min: Cong sitting with parties who don’t want quota

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Govt calls Rahul Gandhi's push for Women's Bill a gimmick
Rahul Gandhi

Congress president Rahul Gandhi asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday to ensure the passage of the long-pending Women's Reservation Bill, prompting the government to call the move a political gimmick.

Senior BJP leader and Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said Rahul's letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi showed the double standard of Congress because it was in alliance with those who opposed the proposed legislation.

"Will Congress break its alliance or ensure letters of support from them? BJP has always supported the Bill. It's Congress that is sitting with those opposed to it," he said.

Rahul said the Bill should be passed during Parliament's Monsoon Session that starts on Wednesday. He offered his party's unconditional support to the Bill that promises to guarantee 33 per cent reservation to women in the Lok Sabha and state Assemblies.

Rahul's letter also comes two days after Modi said that Rahul was siding with Muslim men but not with Muslim women. He accused the Opposition of being a hurdle to the passage of a Bill to abolish instant triple talaq.

The Women's Reservation Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha in 2010, but it has lapsed in the Lok Sabha since then. The idea is to ensure a stronger women's voice at the top that will lead to policies and laws to help fight abuse, discrimination and inequality.

The Bill, when passed, could also be a big vote-winner for the government as women account for 43% of the electorate. Modi has already backed India's most empowering legislation for women.

Rahul said the time to have the Bill passed was now so that women can participate "more meaningfully" in coming elections. Women have only 11 per cent representation in both Houses of Parliament, placing the country at the 149th spot in the world.

"On the issue of empowering our women, let us stand together, rise above party politics and send India a message that we believe the time for change has come," Rahul wrote to the PM.

The then HD Deve Gowda government first introduced the Bill in Parliament in 1996. Since then, there has been high drama — marked by frayed tempers and war of words, and, sometimes, scuffles and snatching of papers from presiding officers and ministers, in Parliament — whenever governments attempted its passage.

Outside, there have been protests, rallies, demonstrations and hunger strikes by several women groups. But, despite promises, parties have failed to build consensus. Many male politicians believe that the reservation would mean their bastion is gone.

Being a Constitution Amendment Bill, it requires a special majority for its passage in each House i.e., a majority of the total membership of a House and by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members of that House present and voting.

Since 1996, the Bill has lapsed each time the House was dissolved and was later reintroduced by the government of the day. In 2010, the then UPA government adopted it in the Rajya Sabha to keep it alive on the legislative agenda as Bills introduced and passed by the Upper House do not lapse.

A section of male politicians feels the issue needs further consultations. Congress' two allies — SP and RJD — are strenuously opposed to the Bill in its current form. They demand quota within quota for minorities and other backward communities (OBCs).

The Bill says the proposed two-thirds reservation will also apply to seats already reserved for scheduled caste (SC) and scheduled tribe (ST) candidates. But BSP wants a separate and additional quota for SC and ST women, not disturbing the existing quota reserved for these categories.

In March, Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu said the Bill should be accorded top priority, and urged political parties to refrain from politicising the pending legislation.

In January, Rahul said the would will be passed if his party came to power in 2019. Rahul's mother and then Congress president Sonia Gandhi also wrote to Modi in September last year, urging him to use the BJP's majority in the Lok Sabha and ensure the passage of the Bill.

The 16th Lok Sabha's tenure has entered its fifth and final year. The coming 18-day Session that will end on August 10 is likely to be as or more disrupted.

It will be followed by the Winter Session before the country chooses its next government in April/May.

If elections are held as per the schedule, the Budget Session will be curtailed, anyway. If elections are advanced, the coming Session will be the last full one.

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