In a landmark development on the path towards gender equality in Indian politics, the Union cabinet, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has given its approval to a constitution amendment bill.
This critical step sets the stage for reintroducing the historic Women's Reservation Bill during the ongoing special session of Parliament.
Historical Attempts and Ongoing Stagnation
Inception by Rajiv Gandhi (1989)
The inception of the Women's Reservation Bill can be traced back to 1989 when the then-Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, introduced the Constitution Amendment Bill. This bill aimed to reserve one-third of seats for women in local bodies, a groundbreaking idea at the time. While it secured approval in the Lok Sabha, it encountered resistance and roadblocks in the Rajya Sabha, marking the bill's initial setback.
Reserving Local Body Seats (1992-1993)
The 1990s witnessed a notable advancement in the cause of women's representation in local governance. Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao introduced Constitution Amendment Bills 72 and 73 in 1992 and 1993, respectively. These bills successfully secured the reservation of 33% of seats and chairperson posts for women in rural and urban local bodies. This historic move resulted in a significant increase in women representatives at the grassroots level, totaling nearly 15 lakh nationwide.
The Challenge of Reserving Parliamentary Seats
However, the challenge of reserving parliamentary seats for women remained unresolved. In 1996, during the tenure of Prime Minister Deve Gowda, the 81st Constitution Amendment Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha, to reserve parliamentary seats for women. Despite the bill's introduction, it faced stiff resistance and ultimately lapsed with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha.
Vajpayee Government's Efforts (1998-2003)
The subsequent years saw multiple attempts under the leadership of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's NDA government to pass the Women's Reservation Bill in the 12th Lok Sabha in 1998. Unfortunately, these efforts, along with reintroductions in 1999, 2002, and 2003, failed to garner the necessary support and continued to face roadblocks.
A Milestone Under UPA Government (2004-2010)
The turning point arrived during Manmohan Singh's tenure as the Prime Minister, leading the UPA government-1. In 2004, the Women's Reservation Bill was incorporated into the Common Minimum Programme. On May 6, 2008, it was tabled in the Rajya Sabha once again, with the aim of preventing further lapses. Five out of the seven recommendations made by the 1996 Geeta Mukherjee Committee were incorporated into this revised version of the Bill. Subsequently, on February 2010, the Union Cabinet approved the bill, and it triumphantly passed in the Rajya Sabha on March 9, 2010, with an overwhelming vote of 186-1.
Stalled Progress and Lapsed Bill (2014)
However, despite its successful passage in the Rajya Sabha, the Women's Reservation Bill encountered a substantial roadblock. It remained dormant due to its non-consideration in the Lok Sabha and subsequently lapsed in 2014 with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha. It's worth noting that bills introduced and passed in the Rajya Sabha do not lapse, keeping the Women's Reservation Bill very much active but unfulfilled.
Modi Cabinet's Approval (2023)
In a momentous development that reignites hope for gender equality in Indian politics, the Union cabinet, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has granted its approval for a constitution amendment bill. This momentous decision paves the way for the re-introduction of the Women's Reservation Bill during the ongoing special session of Parliament.
Reimagining the Bill
What makes this recent development even more significant is the possibility that the new bill may not mirror the 2010 version entirely. Reports suggest that it could potentially expand the scope of reservations beyond the Lok Sabha and state assemblies, signifying a potentially transformative change. Additionally, the 2010 version of the bill did not include a provision for 'quota within quota,' a significant demand of several regional parties.
Implications for Gender Equality in Politics
The Women's Reservation Bill has always been a monumental stride toward achieving gender parity in Indian politics. With the recent approval of the constitution amendment bill, there is newfound optimism for progress in women's representation within India's political landscape. The bill's long history, marked by multiple attempts and setbacks, underscores the substantial challenges that come with bringing about significant political change. As the Women's Reservation Bill enters a new phase of consideration and reimagining, it continues to symbolize India's ongoing battle for gender equality in the political sphere.