New Delhi: The Lok Sabha on Wednesday, September 20, passed the Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023, that seeks to provide 33% reservation to women in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies. Most opposition parties supported the Bill in principle but questioned the delimitation clause tied to the legislation and reiterated their demand for sub-quotas on the basis of caste.
The Bill, which has been in the works for 27 years, was passed with a 2/3rds majority – with 454 members voting in favour and two members from the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) voting against it. The debate lasted over seven and a half hours and saw over 60 MPs speaking.
It states that one-third of seats will be reserved for women in the legislative assembly of the National Capital Territory of Delhi by amending Article 239AA, in the Lok Sabha by amending Article 330, and in state legislative assemblies by amending Article 332.
Opposition members, while pledging their support to the legislation, questioned the need to tie it with the delimitation exercise, which is to be conducted after the next population census – for which there is no timeline yet.
Union home minister Amit Shah, during the debate, confirmed that the legislation will not be implemented before 2029.
“The delimitation commission includes representatives from the Election Commission of India, political parties and former Supreme Court judges among others who are linked to election procedures. If 1/3rd of seats have to be reserved, who will decide on these seats? Those who are saying why aren’t you doing it? My question is who will do it? If we do it you will call it political reservation, if Wayanad becomes a reserved constituency or if Owaisi’s Hyderabad becomes reserved. This is why the delimitation commission which conducts quasi-judicial proceedings by visiting every constituency (does this exercise) in an open and transparent manner. The only reason behind the delimitation clause is efficiency, so no sides are taken,” he said.
“Some people are saying on social media that don’t support the legislation now because it will not be implemented after the next elections due to the delimitation exercise. Some people are saying there is no OBC reservation or Muslim reservation so don’t support the Bill. I would say that if you don’t support the Bill, will the reservations come sooner? It will still come after 2029. Give your support, then there will be a guarantee and then whichever government comes will bring in any changes that may be needed. Let the process begin… There will be no delay. Soon after the elections, delimitation will be done, the census will be conducted and soon that day will come when a third of the seats are reserved for women in this house.”
Shah also sought to deny the opposition’s claim that the legislation was timed ahead of the 2024 general election as a poll gimmick.
“For some parties, women empowerment may be a political agenda and a political issue and a political tool to win elections, but for BJP and Narendra Modi, women’s empowerment is not a political issue but a question of recognition,” he said.
Opposition questions delimitation clause
Congress MP Rahul Gandhi demanded that the Bill be implemented immediately instead of waiting for delimitation.
“Pass this Bill today itself. There is no need for delimitation and census. There is no need for it. Just give 33% reservation to women and conduct a caste census. Release the caste census data that was conducted by us and if you don’t, we will,” he said.
Other members of the INDIA bloc also questioned the need to wait for the delimitation exercise.
Mahua Moitra said that within her party, the Trinamool Congress (TMC), women already constituted 37% of the MPs. The Bill should be renamed as “Women’s Rescheduling Bill.”
“When this government wanted to protect cows, and I support the move to do so, you did not wait to count the number of cows. You just went and built the cow shelters. Are we women any less that you have to wait to count the numbers and draw lines?”
“What we need is direct action. Honourable PM this is your moment to show us Modi hai toh mumkin hai. Implement the Bill immediately based on today’s voter’s list,” she said.
Demanding a timeline from the government, RSP’s N.K. Premachandran asked what was the need for a special session if the Bill was not going to be implemented any time soon.
“What prevented this government from introducing this Bill in the last nine-and-a-half years [that the BJP has been in power]? The delay has to be explained. I would also like to seek assurance over when the government is planning on implementing this Bill,” he said.
Rajiv Ranjan Singh, JDU MP said that the Bill was an election jumla for 2024. “In 2014, they misled the unemployed in this country by promising jobs to 2 crore people and promised to bring back black money and give Rs 15-20 lakh to the accounts of the poor. This time they want to mislead the women.”
OBC, Muslims and the Quota within Quota Question
The debate also saw the oppositon MPs reiterating the demand for a sub-quota based on caste.
Opening the debate for the opposition, former Congress president Sonia Gandhi – while supporting the Bill – demanded on behalf of her party that the Union government should also conduct a caste census to accommodate women from the Dalit, Adivasi, and OBC communities within the 33% quota.
“Our demand is that this Bill be enforced immediately, along with caste census to facilitate reservation for women belonging to scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and other backward classes,” she said.
The demand for a caste census and the need to make separate provisions for SC/ST and OBC women was also raised by other Congress MPs, JD(U), Samajwadi Party, RLP, and BSP, among others.
Anti-Muslim, anti-OBC: Owaisi opposes Bill
AIMIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi, while opposing the Bill, said that the legislation was anti-Muslim and anti-OBC women.
“The justification (behind this Bill) is to bring more women to parliament. Why is that justification not being extended to Muslim and OBC women?”
“The Modi government wants to increase representation for savarna women and not OBC women. 690 women have been elected till the 17th Lok Sabha – out of this, only 25 have come from the Muslim community. May I tell you, sir, that this number has never gone beyond four. When I hear that reservation cannot be given on religious grounds, you are deceiving the Muslim women,” he said.
The last statement was in reference to Union minister for women and child development Smriti Irani’s earlier statement that reservations cannot be provided on religious grounds.
“PM says I am an OBC but he doesn’t look after the OBC,” said Owaisi.
“What sort of vandana is when Bilkis Bano’s rapists are released? 63 million women have disappeared and 22 million dropped out of the workforce. This is a women’s deception Bill. This is not an inclusive Bill. It is an exclusive Bill,” he said.
Uproar over Nishikant Dubey as BJP’s lead speaker
The debate saw protests from opposition benches when BJP MP Nishikant Dubey rose to lead the debate from the treasury benches.
In March, Dubey faced criticism after he referred to Moitra and Congress MLA Dipika Pandey Singh as “nagar vadhu of Vaishali” amid the ongoing row over his MBA degree.
Dubey’s comments prompted criticism from the Congress as well as the Delhi Commission for Women chief Swati Maliwal.
However, Shah defended Dubey when he rose to speak and asked why can’t men speak for their sisters during a debate on women’s reservations.
Opposition members also protested after DMK MP Kanimozhi was heckled by the treasury benches even before she began her speech.
NCP MP Supriya Sule who was seated next to her said to Speaker Om Birla: “What is this heckling? She has not even started speaking.”
As opposition members said that this showed the “BJP’s mindset”, Sule rose from her seat.
“This is how you behave?” she said as other members said that the BJP does not “respect women.”
Later during her speech, Sule recounted her experience with a BJP leader in Maharashtra.
“Nishikant Dubey said that the INDIA bloc is on the side of people who ran women down and spoke derogatorily. I want to refer to a case that happened to me personally. I am not fighting for anyone else. There was a head of the BJP in Maharashtra. He told me personally on record on television ‘Supriya Sule ghar jaao, khana banao, desh koi aur chala lega. Hum log chalayenge. This is what the BJP’s mindset is,” she said.