Is the Samajwadi Party Changing Its Stance on Women’s Reservations?

At a recent rally, Dimple Yadav suggested that women’s reservations in government jobs was part of the Samajwadi Party’s plans.

Dimple Yadav at a Samajwadi Party rally is Wazirganj, Uttar Pradesh. Credit: Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta

Dimple Yadav at a Samajwadi Party rally is Wazirganj, Uttar Pradesh. Credit: Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta

Wazirganj, Uttar Pradesh: “If we are elected again, we will ensure that there is at least 33% reservation for women in government jobs,” announced Dimple Yadav, MP from Kannauj and UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav’s wife at an election rally in Wazirganj, Gonda on February 25.

While the Samajwadi Party has not talked about this promise in its manifesto (which has a separate section on women’s empowerment), the SP leader’s announcement, if implemented, will mark a significant departure from her party’s existing posturing on women’s reservations.

Given the fact that the SP, under the leadership of Mulayam Singh Yadav, has been one of the foremost opponents of the women’s reservation Bill, which allows for 33% reservation for women in parliament and state assemblies for a period of 15 years, Dimple’s promise not only indicates a shift in position of the party under Akhilesh but also shows a generational change in the way SP has looked at the issue of women’s reservations.

To a question on SP’s historical opposition to the Bill, Dimple told The Wire, “We do not oppose the women’s reservation Bill. Right now we also want that the SP should be in a position to give at least 33% reservation to women in its election ticket distribution. If we start from here, we can have even 50% women members in parliament.”

She also said that while the SP is talking about such issues which matter greatly to people, the BJP is only spreading hate and peddling lies in its poll campaign.

Yeh humein sikha rahe hai K se Kasab hota hai. Humne toh K se kabutar eeikha tha. Aur Akhilesh toh K se Computer kaha rahe hai (The BJP is teaching us that K stands for Kasab; we had learnt K is for a pigeon; and Akhilesh is saying K stands for a computer).”

Whether support for the Bill is the stated party position or just Dimple’s view is uncertain, but her statement may definitely spark a debate between the old guards and the new captains of the SP’s ship.

The SP, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Janata Dal (United) have always opposed the Bill in the Lok Sabha. It was only last year that JD(U) changed its position and supported the Bill.

Mulayam has courted controversy many times for his statements on the Bill. He has said that only elite, urban women will benefit from the Bill. He has also expressed fear that the bill would ruin political lives of many established politicians.

In one of his statements which was specially singled out for its sexism, he had said, “…bade ghar ki ladkiya aur mahilayen ko fayda milega… humari gaon ki gareeb mahilayon ko nahin… akarshak nahi hoti…bas itna kahunga… jyada nahi… (The women reservation Bill in its present form would only benefit rich and urban women… our poor and rural women are not attractive… will not say beyond this).”

With Akhilesh at the helm, SP’s position on the issue looks set to change, making the passage of the Bill easier. However, despite reduced opposition and a full majority of the BJP, which has been a supporter in the Lok Sabha, the Narendra Modi government has failed to table the Bill in the last three years he has been in power.

The BJP, which had uncritically supported the Bill during the UPA regime, wants to review the current Bill. This has invited much criticisms from women’s groups, which see the BJP’s lack of political will as the reason for its flip-flop on the issue.