Sonia Gandhi reaches out to Modi on women's bill

Writes to PM offering Cong support; cites BJP's strength in LS

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Sonia Gandhi reaches out to Modi on women's bill
Congress president Sonia Gandhi


Congress president Sonia Gandhi has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to use the BJP's majority in the Lok Sabha and ensure the passage of the long-pending Women's Reservation Bill. The Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha in 2010 during the Congress-led UPA's rule, but it has not been tabled in the Lower House since then.

The legislation guarantees 33 per cent reservation to women in the Lok Sabha and state Assemblies, ensuring a stronger women's voice at the top that is expected to lead to policies and laws to help fight abuse, discrimination and inequality.

Sonia wrote the letter on Wednesday evening, amid a buzz within the Congress that she might end her 19-year tenure as party president by October 31 in favour of her son Rahul Gandhi.

"I am writing to request you to take advantage of your majority in the Lok Sabha to now get the Women's Reservation Bill Passed in the Lower House as well," she said in the letter, adding that the Bill has languished in the Lok Sabha for one reason or another.

The Bill, when passed, will empower women socially, politically and economically. It could also be a big vote-winner for the government as women account for 43% of the electorate.

Sonia also recalled that the Congress and its late leader Rajiv Gandhi had first mooted quota provisions for women in panchayats and municipal bodies through Constitutional amendments.

Women have only 11 per cent representation in both Houses of Parliament, placing the country at the 149th spot in the world, according to the latest statistics available with the United Nations.

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.

While Sonia took credit for the passage of the Bill in the Upper House and her women colleagues came out rejoicing the prospect of its becoming a law, her party's male members at the Congress headquarters murmured that the issue needs further consultations, and might further fracture the Opposition's unity at a time when Rahul is expected to take over the Congress.

The party's two most dependable allies — the SP and the 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 the BSP wants a separate and additional quota for SC and ST women, not disturbing the existing quota reserved for these categories.

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