Rahul Gandhi wrote to PM in June 2018 on women’s reservation bill

The historic bill stalled since 1996 was finally passed after Rahul Gandhi's 2018 letter and his collection of 3.2 million signatures in support of it

Congress leader and MP Rahul Gandhi, who wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June 2018 in support of the women’s reservation bill with 3.2 million supporting signatures (photo: AICC)
Congress leader and MP Rahul Gandhi, who wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June 2018 in support of the women’s reservation bill with 3.2 million supporting signatures (photo: AICC)

A.J. Prabal

Anonymous sources within the government told the media on Monday evening, 18 September, that reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and the state assemblies will not be enforced in the 2024 general election — even if the bill is passed in the special session.

It will have to await the delimitation of constituencies due in 2026 and tricky details like which constituencies to reserve for women and on what basis, etc, will have to be worked out, apparently.

Even then, and notwithstanding the desperation of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the prime minister to look for a ‘master stroke’ to deal with the waning enthusiasm of people for them, it will be a historic occasion if the bill, stalled since 1996, is indeed passed.

The case for reservation for women is stronger than ever, after all.

From just 15 women in the 389-member Constituent Assembly which drafted the Indian Constitution, the current Lok Sabha has the highest number of women since Independence, true.

The 78 women MPs, however, still constitute only 14 per cent of the total strength of the House.

In the first Lok Sabha elected in 1952, the number of women made up around 4.5 per cent of the House. Yet, it was actually higher than the number of women in the House of Commons in the United Kingdom and the House of Representatives in the United States, where women made up then just 3 and 2 per cent, respectively.

Since then, however, the number of women in the House of Commons has gone up to make up 34 per cent of the House, while in the US House of Representatives they now make up 28 per cent. India has clearly lagged behind, with just about 14 per cent women in the current Lok Sabha.

In the 2019 general election, for the first time, more women voters (67.2 per cent) cast their votes than men (67 per cent). The number of women candidates contesting was also the highest at 726 and the number of women who won was also the highest at 78. However, they constituted just 14.36 per cent of the Lok Sabha.

Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao had introduced the constitutional amendment bills for one-third reservation for women in panchayats and nagarpalikas in April 1993. Both bills passed and became law. Now there are more than 15 lakh elected women representatives in panchayats and nagarpalikas, said to constitute around 40 per cent of the total.

The Manmohan Singh-led UPA government got the women’s reservation bill for a third (33%) of the seats in state legislative assemblies and the Parliament passed in the Rajya Sabha in 2010.

It lapsed because the Lok Sabha had not voted on it yet, and the 2014 Lok Sabha under Narendra Modi never saw the bill either.

Rahul Gandhi wrote to the prime minister for this bill to be taken up again in 2018. The Congress had collected 3.2 million signatures in support of it. Yet the bill was not taken up by the Lok Sabha of 2019—until now.

The Congress Working Committee adopted a resolution on this over the last weekend again, in expectation of the discussion on the women's reservation bill finally. No wonder Sonia Gandhi claimed it as the Congress's own.

And yet... there is a strong feeling that while the BJP has been paying lip-service to women’s reservation, it has in fact been stonewalling on the topic of enacting a women's reservation bill for the past nine years.

The proof is that does not seem to have done anything to build a consensus or revealed any plans to implement the bill, even as it has been in overdrive on issues like ‘one nation, one election’.

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