In an electrifying session, both Houses of India’s new Parliament convened for the first time to discuss the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam, or the Women’s Reservation Bill. Introduced in the Lok Sabha by Union Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal, the bill proposes to guarantee one-third, or 33%, of seats for women representatives in the lower House of Parliament and state assemblies. This reservation will be in effect for 15 years, with the option for an extension by the Parliament.
The implementation of this bill will occur once the delimitation process based on the next decadal census is completed.
Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party, is set to lead her party’s debate on the bill in the Lok Sabha, underscoring the significance of this legislative proposal.
The Constitution (128th Amendment) Bill, 2023, seeks to introduce three new articles and one new clause. The new provisions include reserving one-third of seats for women from scheduled castes (SC) in Parliament and state assemblies, reserving one-third of total seats to be filled by direct elections for women, and reserving seats for women in the Delhi legislative assembly.
However, the discussion on this landmark bill quickly escalated into a heated exchange between the Opposition and the Centre. Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasized the importance of increasing women’s participation in policymaking, declaring September 19th as an ‘immortal’ day due to the bill’s introduction.
In contrast, the Opposition, led by the Congress party, accused the BJP government of offering empty promises and labeled the bill as mere political rhetoric. They argued that the bill was a ‘jumla’ (a political slogan) and a ‘huge betrayal’ of Indian women. In response, the BJP claimed that the Congress had never been sincere about providing reservation for women in Parliament and state assemblies, aside from token gestures.
Tensions further flared when Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, made remarks about political parties not giving tickets to women from weaker sections and criticized Prime Minister Modi for weakening the federal structure of governance. These comments prompted a sharp reaction from Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who stressed the need to avoid insulting individuals and advocated for reservations for all women, regardless of background.
As the debate rages on, the Women’s Reservation Bill remains at the forefront of India’s legislative agenda, symbolizing the ongoing struggle for gender equality and representation in the country’s political landscape.