Opposition Questions Delimitation and Census Clauses Tied to Women’s Reservation Bill

Several opposition leaders said that since the Bill ties the reservation to the census and delimitations processes, it will not be implemented in the next general election and described the move as a poll gimmick.

New Delhi: Opposition parties on Tuesday, September 19, questioned the Union government about the delimitation clause tied to the Women’s Reservation Bill to reserve 33% of all seats in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies for women.

On Tuesday, the second day of the ongoing special session of parliament, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his first address in the new parliament, announced his government’s decision to bring in the “historic” legislation that has been pending for 27 years.

The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023 was tabled in the Lok Sabha after it was introduced by Union law minister Arjun Ram Meghwal.

The Bill, named Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam, states that one-third of seats will be reserved in the legislative assembly of the National Capital Territory of Delhi by amending Article 239AA, one-third of seats will be reserved for women in the Lok Sabha by amending Article 330 of the Indian Constitution, and one-third seats reserved in state legislative assemblies by amending Article 332. 

Crucially, however, the Bill states that the “provisions relating to the reservation of seats for women … shall come into effect after an exercise of delimitation is undertaken for this purpose after the relevant figures for the first census taken after [the Bill is passed] have been published.”

The last population census was conducted in 2011. The 2021 census was initially delayed due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic but the Modi government has yet to announce when the exercise may commence.

Opposition parties welcomed the move to bring in the legislation but described the delimitation clause, which effectively means that it will not be implemented in the next general elections, as a poll gimmick.

Congress MP Jairam Ramesh in a statement on X (formerly Twitter) said that the Bill was the biggest “election jumla” and a “huge betrayal of the hopes of crores of Indian women and girls.”

Questioning the delimitation after the census exercise built into the Bill, Ramesh said that this is “nothing but EVM–EVent Management.”

“Will the Census and delimitation be done before the 2024 elections? Basically the Bill gets the headlines today with a very vague promise of its implementation date.”

Delhi minister Atishi said that while the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supports the Bill in principle, the BJP government is attempting to “fool women”.

“AAP supports the Women’s Reservation Bill in principle but the Bill which was tabled today wasn’t Women’s Reservation Bill, it is a Bill to fool women. According to this, women’s reservations will not come in the 2024 elections. First, there will be a population census, then delimitation then on the basis of that which seats are to be reserved. This implies this Bill will not be implemented in the next 4-5 years. So the purpose of this Bill is to fool women,” the Press Trust of India quoted her as saying.

Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi said that the Bill implies that though the BJP government has been in power for over nine years, women will be kept waiting till 2029 for reservations.

“A single party majority for over 9.5 years, part of their manifesto commitment, could have rolled out in 2024 but unfortunately this isn’t the case,” she tweeted.

“So effectively – we will open the door for the women but will ask them to queue up to wait till 2029, to enter & fill the seats they have rightly deserved since we became a republic!”

‘Provide justice to women’: Vinesh Phogat 

Vinesh Phogat, the champion wrestler who spearheaded a protest against BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh – the former chief of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), who is accused of sexual harassment – said that on one hand, “the government is bringing a Bill to give respect to women and on the other hand it is protecting a person like Brij Bhushan accused of sexual exploitation of female wrestlers”.

“Two days ago, a fake video was uploaded on social media in the name of a female wrestler of the country to defame her. Where is the government sleeping? Will the government be able to provide justice to that female wrestler? The government is not only saving a person like Brij Bhushan but is also promoting people with similar mentality. After the bill comes, I hope that the 181 women MPs who will sit in the Parliament will fight for the respect of women and stand with women,” she said, according to a Hindi BBC report.

(L-R) Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik at Jantar Mantar. Photo: Twitter/@RakeshTikaitBKU

Demand for sub-quotas 

Several opposition parties have also questioned the absence of sub-quotas in the legislation for women from OBC and Muslim communities.

AIMIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi said that in the 17 Lok Sabha elections conducted in India so far, over 8,000 MPs have been elected – but only 520 have been Muslims.

“There is a deficit of 50%. In the 520 only a handful are Muslim women. So who are you giving representation? Those who don’t have representation should be given representation. The biggest flaw in this Bill is that there is no quota for OBC women and Muslim women,” he told ANI.

The sub-quota within the seats meant to be set aside for women was first vociferously articulated as a demand in 1996, when the United Front government discussed the case for women’s reservation in state and central legislatures.

During the Mandal years, votaries of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) mostly, but also Dalit and tribal communities, felt that the stratification around the gender question was a deliberate attempt to chip away at movements to pitch caste and ‘backwardness’ as the tentpole for marginalisation and underrepresentation.

By advancing reservations for women before reserving seats for OBCs, they argued, the goal was to ensure that women from forward castes and well-off communities would benefit. The reservations for women should have sub-quotas that account for social backwardness, they said.

In 1997, Janata Dal (United) [JD(U)]’s Sharad Yadav used the term par-kati mahilaen (short-haired women) in parliament to ask how short-haired or urban women would be able to represent “our women”, implying women from rural areas.

Mayawati extends support, SP to oppose

Bahujan Samaj Party president Mayawati said that her party will support any Bill that allows reservation for women in Parliament and other legislatures, even if the demand for sub-quotas for SC, ST and OBC communities is not met.

The Samajwadi Party, meanwhile, stuck to its earlier position of opposing the Bill.

Speaking to PTI, Juhie Singh said that the party respects women and supports their rights. 

“However, if reservation is being given, they (Centre) should make sure that Dalit, Adivasi and backward women get representation.”

The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the JD(U) and the Samajwadi Party have been some of the most vocal opponents of the Bill.

RJD leader Manoj Jha said that if the idea behind the Bill is to ensure the widest representation of women, “it cannot be without according/reaching out to women from SCs, STs and OBCs”. He described the Modi government’s move as a “post dated promise from a government without any credibility whatsoever”.

However, the JD(U) changed its stance and in 2016 pledged its support to the Bill.