Amid Reports on Cabinet Clearing Women's Reservation Bill, Minister Praises Modi, Then Deletes Post

Minister Prahlad Patel, in his now deleted post on X, had written that the "only the Modi government had the moral courage to fulfil the demand" for the reservation. 

New Delhi: After first announcing that the cabinet had today cleared the Women’s Reservation Bill granting 33% reservation for women in parliament and state legislative assemblies, a Union minister deleted his post on X (formerly Twitter) without explanation.

An initial post by Union minister Prahlad Singh Patel at 10:38 pm had credited the Modi government and Prime Minister narendra Modi for this “historic” move.

“Only the Modi government had the moral courage to fulfil the demand” for women’s reservation, Patel, who is minister of State for Food Processing Industries and Jal Shakti.

His tweet came after at least two TV channels quoted “sources” as saying the cabinet had cleared the bill in its special sitting today. Unlike usual meetings of the cabinet, the government today chose to say nothing officially about what had been decided.

The women’s reservation Bill – officially known as the Constitution (One Hundred and Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2008 – was introduced in the Rajya Sabha by the Manmohan Singh government and passed by the upper house in 2010. However, due to fierce opposition from a few political parties who were part of the United Progressive Alliance, the Bill was never pursued in the Lok Sabha. The Modi government too failed to move the Bill in the lower house though it enjoyed an overwhelming majority there and knew it would also have the backing of the Congress and other major opposition parties.

It is not clear if Patel’s decision to delete his tweet was because he was pulled up by the BJP’s leadership for jumping the gun or because the government itself has not yet taken a firm decision on the question.

Earlier tonight, NDTV and Republic TV had reported that the cabinet had cleared the bill.

There is also speculation that the cabinet may clear a Bill for reservation for Other Backward Classes and also push the ‘One Nation One Election’ legislation in this special five-day session of the parliament.

While Patel’s tweet sought to single out the BJP and the Modi government for credit, several political parties had demanded that the women’s reservation Bill be passed in the special session.

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh tweeted that his party welcomed the decision but was awaiting the details of the Bill. Ramesh additionally decried the veil of secrecy surrounding it.

“This could have very well been discussed in the all-party meeting before the Special Session, and consensus could have been built instead of operating under a veil of secrecy,” he wrote.

As of 2022, women comprised 14.94% and 14.05% of MPs in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha respectively. Among states, only 10 –  Chhattisgarh (14.44%), West Bengal (13.7%), Jharkhand (12.35%), Rajasthan (12%), Uttar Pradesh (11.66%), Delhi (11.43%), Uttarakhand (11.43%), Punjab (11.11%), Bihar (10.7%), Haryana (10%) – had the women’s share of MLAs in double digits. Mizoram and Nagaland had no women MLAs while the rest of the rear was held up by Karnataka (3.14%), Puducherry (3.33%), Assam (4.76%). The last assembly in the now dissolved state of Jammu and Kashmir had only 2.3% women MLAs.

The bill’s journey began on September 12, 1996, when it was introduced in the Lok Sabha by the United Front government of H.D. Deve Gowda. The bill called for reserving 33% of the seats in the Lok Sabha and all state legislative assemblies for women. As per the draft, the seats were to be reserved for women on a rotation basis and would be determined by draw of lots, in such a way that a seat would be reserved only once in three consecutive general elections. It said reservation of seats for women would cease to exist 15 years after the commencement of the amendment Act.

The bill, however, failed to get the approval of the house then and was instead referred to a joint parliamentary committee. The committee submitted its report to the Lok Sabha two months later.

In 1998, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who headed the the first National Democratic Alliance government, reintroduced the Bill in the Lok Sabha. After Vajpayee’s law minister, M. Thambidurai introduced it in the house, a Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) MP snatched it from the speaker and tore it into bits.

Thereafter, the Bill lapsed and was reintroduced – in 1999, in 2002 and 2003.

In 2008, the Manmohan Singh government introduced the bill in the Rajya Sabha. Two years later on March 9, 2010, a huge political barrier was overcome when it was passed by the house in spite of high drama and scuffles between members. The BJP, the Left and some other parties came together with the ruling Congress to help pass it in the upper house.

Since then, it has remained in cold storage.

In 2018, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi offered Modi his party’s unconditional support for passage of the Bill in the Lok Sabha.

But the government did not respond.