Another red herring? Doubts persist around women’s reservation bill

Tabling this bill in the special session of Parliament would suggest PM Narendra Modi and the BJP are feeling the heat and yielding to 'pressure'

Representative image of women gathered together in a demonstration of solidarity with victims of abuse (photo: Getty Images)
Representative image of women gathered together in a demonstration of solidarity with victims of abuse (photo: Getty Images)

AJ Prabal

Is the BJP serious about the women’s reservation bill?

Doubts about the government’s intent surfaced hours after Prahlad Patel, Minister of State for Food Processing Industries, congratulated the Prime Minister for clearing the women’s reservation bill.

The minister’s post on X was quickly deleted, raising questions on whether he had jumped the gun. But by then the ‘news’ had spread like wildfire.

There are many reasons to doubt the ‘news’, although backing out now will prove to be much more embarrassing and damaging for the BJP and the PM.

The initial doubt was caused by observers asking if Prahlad Patel could afford to jump the gun when all the other ministers remained tight-lipped about what was discussed in the cabinet meeting. Could he have posted something ‘inadvertently’ or ‘by accident’ on something as important as this and risk stealing the PM’s thunder? Or, what appears to be a lot more probable, was he in fact asked to put out the post and then delete it?

Why would the PM or the cabinet ask him to do that, though?

The question arises because of two reasons.

One, there has emerged a broad consensus over the women’s reservation bill over the years. From the Deve Gowda-led United Front government in 1996 to the UPA government in 2010, similar bills were introduced but eluded consensus. However, hours before the post by Prahlad Patel, key Opposition leaders like Mallikarjun Kharge of the Indian National Congress and Supriya Sule from the Nationalist Congress Party, among others, had urged the government to pass the women’s reservation bill and had declared their support for it.

The support for the bill has been building up for a while.

After the Congress Working Committee in its meeting in Hyderabad urged the government to pass the bill, INC leader Sonia Gandhi wrote a letter to the prime minister, pledging her party’s bipartisan support.

A similar letter was written by Rahul Gandhi in 2018 as well.

There was, therefore, no need for the government to resort to a cloak-and-dagger thriller to announce the move. It could have been done so in Parliament on Monday, 18 September, itself.

But this government and this prime minister take pride in saying that they do not work 'under pressure'. So, if the government does yield to ‘pressure’ and gets the bill passed, it would mean that the government is indeed feeling the heat and has fallen back on the bill to crawl out of a hole it has dug for itself.

This is also reinforced by ‘sources’ within the government briefing the media anonymously that the women’s reservation will not come into force in time for the 2024 general election; it will have to wait for the delimitation of constituencies due in 2026.

Clearly, the government wants to cash in on the announcement without having to toil for its implementation. This too has strengthened doubts that this may be another red herring, that the government could spring something entirely different on Parliament in the remaining days of the special session.

To add to the embarrassment of the BJP, old tweets from BJP leaders and especially its IT cell chief Amit Malviya surfaced within no time, in which they had mocked the idea of a women’s reservation bill and ridiculed Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi for backing it.

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