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Monday, March 8, 2010

Women’s quota Bill restricts democracy

Last Friday, Congress MP Manish Tiwari introduced a laudable Private Member’s Bill in the Lok Sabha seeking to free Parliament from the tyranny of the party whip. The Bill, which is yet to be debated, proposes to amend the 10th Schedule of the Constitution and make it possible for MPs to exercise free choice in all matters except confidence motions, money Bills and adjournment motions. Most important, the proposed amendment enables MPs to apply their minds and exercise independent judgement in the crucial area of law-making.


Unless I am very mistaken, it is unlikely that this Bill will endear Tiwari to the leadership of the political parties. An unintended consequence of the anti-defection legislation was the transformation of the backbench MP into either voting fodder by the Treasury or a disruptive mob by the Opposition. Whereas the sentiments of backbenchers are crucial to the calculations of party leaders in Westminster, these count for little in India and facilitate a peculiarly autocratic democracy. The draconian nature of anti-defection legislation has marred the vibrancy of Parliament and jeopardised internal democracy within the major political parties.


The fear of MPs sleep-walking their way to national disaster is not an academic one. The next week is certain to be dominated by the Government’s attempt to rush the Women’s Reservation Bill through both Houses of Parliament. The proposed Constitution Amendment reserving one-third of parliamentary and State Assembly seats for women is assured of overwhelming parliamentary endorsement with the Congress, BJP and CPI(M) having issued three-line whips to their MPs. The only opposition is likely to be from three caste-based parties which want a sub-quota for women OBCs. They, however, don’t have the requisite numbers to make any difference and may, at best, fall back on disruption.


Both the supporters and opponents of the Women’s Reservation Bill agree that it is a landmark, perhaps as significant as the introduction of communal electorates by the Government of India Act of 1909 and the Poona Pact of 1932 that reserved seats in the legislature for the “depressed classes”. The proposal, first mooted by the short-lived HD Deve Gowda Government in 1996, has gone through a parliamentary committee and, after 14 years, is ready to be made into law and put into effect with the next general election.


The Women’s Reservation Bill is calculated to change the basic character of representation to the highest law-making bodies in the land. It is a Bill aimed at restricting free choice to meet the imperatives of equity and social engineering. The issue is not so much the right of women to secure adequate representation in Parliament and the State Assemblies — such an unfettered right has been in existence since the Constitution came into being in 1950. Nor is the Bill aimed at making it obligatory for registered political parties to nominate enough women to contest elections. The legislation is centred on compulsion.


In the next general election, it will be compulsory for the voters of selected constituencies (chosen, presumably, by lottery) to select their MP or MLA from a slate of women candidates. In short, a citizen of India will be barred from contesting a particular seat on grounds of gender. Considering that there is already a caste/community-based restriction on individuals from contesting in Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes seats, this legislation will impose an additional restriction on the principle of free choice, the basis of democratic governance. Since the laws of the land are made by Parliament and the State Assemblies, it naturally follows that all enacted legislation will in future suffer from an in-built distortion arising from flawed representation.
It is important to distinguish women’s reservation in the law-making bodies from the existing quotas in municipalities and panchayats. The organs of local Government don’t make laws; they raise local taxes, undertake limited welfare projects, and frame rules and guidelines relating to buildings, roads and sewage disposal. Nor should women’s reservation in the legislatures be equated with affirmative action in educational institutions and the bureaucracy. These are measures aimed at enhancing the quantum of opportunities for livelihood. And the bureaucracy implements and enforces Government programmes; it doesn’t make laws.


In making restricted choice an overriding principle of membership to law-making bodies, the women’s reservation legislation is hitting at the essence of democracy.


There is, undeniably, a strong case for increasing the representation of women to the legislatures. Political parties, even those who have piously issued three-line whips to their MPs, have been insufficiently attentive to the fact that not enough women are given winnable seats. If they had a better track record, they would have had the moral authority to resist compulsion. Yet, the question remains: Must iniquities always be rectified by radical social engineering that has baneful side effects? Or is it necessary to be fanatically committed to the fundamental principles governing democracy?


These are questions that Parliament has to address and in a spirit of openness. These are questions that civil society needs to think about. Unfortunately, parliamentary discussion is certain to be hamstrung by the three-line whip and an oppressive climate of political correctness that has gripped the media. And the pace of legislation is calculated to rule out any meaningful debate in civil society.


In private, many MPs are deeply disturbed by the Bill but they are helpless in the face of instructions from above. The absence of honest debate will facilitate this undemocratic legislation and pave the way for many unanticipated distortions in the political process.


Parliament has an inalienable right to pass any legislation, including crazy ones. There may be some redemption if MPs are at least allowed the liberty of a conscience vote. If only Tiwari’s Bill was law…

Sunday Pioneer, March 7, 2010

17 comments:

Talking Skull said...

This is the most shitty legislation that we could ever have. If I were a MP (male) in my area, knowing that my seat will be under quota in the next election, I will have ZERO inclination to develop my constituency. Secondly, rather than getting genuine, capable women into the parliament, given the maturity of Indian electorate, we are likely to see PROXY MPs like wifes, daughters etc. in the parliament... It feels that I have left India.... This country is slowly heading towards oblivion...

Anonymous said...

Pardon me Swapanda for being off topic. You are not a hindu fanatic tilting at windmills. Hence looking forward to your writeup on the following.

I am appalled at the dubious credentials of certain clout wielding hindus who have absolutely no sense of proportion. One rajasekaran alias nithyananda cloaked in ochre enforcing celibacy on guileless , has been raping & sodomising flesh & blood people.Looting their money & land. Where is the outrage among hindutvavadis ? Hussain's scribblings pale before the magnitude of crimes of hindu faux godmen, peddlers of enlightenment. I am sick of hindu fanatics detecting alleged Christian conspiracy where none exist.Every crime is given a communal/ caste colour.

And there are lot more HINDU charlatans abusing words like Enlightenment , tantric instant moksha only to peddle hedonism.

This is such a serious issue very much including puttaparthi baba.

j k said...

Reservation in any form is dangerous, 33% is way too much. They might have to rethink their strategies. There should be better bills like exams for MP's and MLA's before election, which i m sure will help a long way in filtering the unwarranted candidates.

Anonymous said...

Whose "brilliant" idea was it to table the women reservation bill in this session? IMO the only purpose of it was to divert the focus from govt's all round failures from prices to pakistan, and of course the "international woman's day" was also here. Despite it's failures, UPA-2 enjoyed a majority like no other in recent times. Anyway, the "genius" got the UPA from a comfortable majority to a teeth's skin one.

Anonymous said...

If any of the parties are serious about representation of women in Parliament, they can explore possibilities of doing so without affecting the present status quo.

Just have two reps from each constituency, one M and one F (or non-M, to accommodate Gs). This will of course double the numbers in Parliament - but if we could accommodate double the numbers of seats, without giving additional resources, in schools, colleges, IITs, IIMs etc, by adopting staggered timings and the shift system, the same can be done in Parliament - every session in two parts, half the members attending first shift and the other half second shift! Conduct the same business twice with two different speakers. So every bill to pass through 4 sessions, 2 in LS and 2 in RS.

One more rule to be adopted: The two representatives from any constituency must not be related to each other within 3 degrees of connection - either directly or through marriages.

Every voter gets to vote for 2 persons - one M, one non-M.

Mechanisms for deciding which MP goes into first shift / second shift can be worked out - but the two reps from a constituency must be in different shifts, so every constituency gets represented in both shifts. Perhaps, the MP with the higher number of votes may be allowed to pick his/her shift, and the other automatically gets assigned to the other shift. In the rare cases of equal votes, mutually agreement may decide the matter.

In the above idea, the money may become the main issue. My suggestion is that the two members representing each constituency may share the salary / perks equally.

But then, our MPs have proven their capability to vote themselves higher salary, higher perks etc. So no problem!! May be, they will actually get down to some work instead of creating ruckus Only!

At least a new set of objections can be discussed instead of the same old tired arguments again and again!

Shashank Singh Deo said...

Mr. Dasgupta, a question.I recall my Civics classes in school way back, wherein our constitution says there should be no discrimination on the basis of gender, caste, creed or religion. But there is discrimination in all these points everywhere. isnt this unconstitutional? Why is there no opposition on these points? As long as there is reservation, the discrimination will never die down, at least I can never accept to forget these discriminations when I see that all around me.

Desi Aadmi said...

One more nail in the coffin for Indian culture. These women would be eager to pass following bills

a)Reservation for women in IIT's and IIM's.
b)Reservation for women in Medical Colleges
c)Reservation for women in Private Institutions.
d)Reservation for women in Top Army Jobs.
e)Reservation for women in Top corporate board rooms. This will be made easier by heiresses of badaa business families.
f)Laws to break marriages easily and extract money from men.

Do not be surprised to see your WASG's(Wifes sisters and Girlfriends) rooting for all the above.

There is a theory that feminism follows an extended period of monogamy. Monogamy is pretty much against woman's sexual impulse of mating with alpha males. So what we are seeing in India is that our women are making all the arrangements to follow the primal sexual instincts.

Thanks to this idiotic woman's empowerment you would see more and more family breakdown's and Indian female shacking up with alpha men.

If not this generation then next generation of women would surely do it.

Kannan said...

On the bright sides..33% of our future representatives wont be rapists and dacoits..(may be their husbands are..)..That is spankingly awesome development..I would anyday trade a Laloo or Paswan with a well-endowed women..May be this exercise is to project our "soft" power..ha ha..Anyway..I dont see anything getting worse than things already are with lots of women coming in..We badly need miss a steely Jayalalitha/Indira Gnadhi..
Indian men are wimps and good for nothing except bickering & mudslinging..time for women to kick some serious ass..

bjp_supporter said...

see the way the official chroniclers reported this event. it is a pity that the bjp leader in RS tried to get into that limelight.

a nice precedent has been set, with bjp having no clue about what is going to follow. when that follows, bjp will be told that they are hypocrites, because they supported one reservation and they are opposing the other reservation only because 'they are communal'. good.

Desi Aadmi said...

@Swapan,

Thanks for approving my comment.

@Kannan,

Dude..are you joking? Corruption and bigotry are not gender specific attributes.

The women of feminist groups utter the high words of equality and go home to belt their housemaids.

Anonymous said...

Dont know if our current choices of MPs are any better? (Or that if we even have a real choice).

BTW, I do like the Tewari bill, but am afraid that will turn those 543 MPs as free agents willing to sell their votes as free agents to the highest bidders. Maybe, we should allow free choice for MPs to only constitutional amendments.

Indian Nationalist said...

I have nothing against Women but Lord Buddha once said " the Holy Life would have lasted a thousand years. But now, since women have obtained it, the Holy Life will last only five hundred years".

In my opinion, Women should still take part in the activities that they are best suited for and should stay out of male roles.

Anonymous said...

It does not surprise me a bit somebody commenting about hindus here which has no relevance to the topic. Please note that the reference is about hindus not hindu religious leaders. This could be a typical Pentacoastalist, I have lived amongst them and I know their mentality. I think child abuse by Christian priests (not Christians) is far more dangerous than consensual sex by hindu religious so called sadhus. I am not justifying what they did. However, it could be another targeted effort by the media to demoralise anything associated with hinduism. It surprises me that indian media does not find any sleazy stories with christian priests or mullas as if they are sacred creatures and I know the fact that lot of Christian priests indulge in romantic encounters which is not a crime.

Desi Aadmi said...

--In my opinion, Women should still take part in the activities that they are best suited for and should stay out of male roles.--

Precisely. Men and Women are two biologically disparate creatures with different hopes and aspirations.Any attempt to achieve equality is foolish.

Anonymous said...

Desi Admi

There should be no problem for achieving equality. It is the basic right of every human being. However, what the quota does is that it takes away that basic right.

Kannan said...

@Indiannationalist @DesiAdmi
I am guessing u ppl are coming from "cowbelt"..Haryana,UP,Bihar?
Very misogynist and very telling at that.."male roles"? wtf?
Women have proved to be more intelligent and dedicated than men..in whatever they do.
Even in most difficult task of counter-insurgency..in Iraq(Lioness programme) etc demonstrates women can do a better job than men. Even in NSG there was a cadre named Laxmi(I guess that is the name)..and records she created are still said to be unbeaten..

Anonymous said...

@ Indian Nationalist and Desi Admi:

With supporters like you, enemies are a luxury the BJP can do without. Bah!

Jawahar Kiran Rao