‘Election Jumla’, ‘Bill to fool women’: Opposition slams caveats in the Women’s Reservation Bill

The Bill outlines that seat reservations for women in Lok Sabha and state Assemblies will take effect after census and delimitation exercise.

BySumit Jha

Published Sep 19, 2023 | 9:27 PM Updated Sep 19, 2023 | 9:27 PM

Lok Sabha speakers in India since independence

Within minutes of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA)-led Union government introducing the Women’s Reservation Bill in Parliament on Tuesday, 19 September, the Opposition questioned the caveats linked to the new legislation.

The Bill outlines that the provisions regarding seat reservations for women in the Lok Sabha, state Assemblies, and the Delhi Assembly will only take effect after a delimitation exercise is conducted. And that will be based on the numbers thrown up by the decadal census — which is not likely to be conducted anytime soon.

In effect, even when the Bill is passed, no such reservation of 33 percent will be made for women in the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

Also Read: Women’s Reservation Bill is Modi’s big campaign plank for 2024

‘Election Jumla’

The Congress party, calling the Bill a “colossal betrayal” that shatters the hopes of millions of Indian women and girls, tweeted, “The Women’s Reservation Bill is in limbo, tied to the next Census, and the critical delimitation process hinges on the next Census. The Modi government has not yet conducted the 2021 Decadal Census.”

It further asked, “When will this vital Census finally happen?” It added, “Today, the Bill grabs headlines with nothing but a vague promise for implementation. Another jumla from the master of empty promises.”

In a post on X, Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said that this is a “huge betrayal of the hopes of crores of Indian women and girls”, noting that the Union government has stated that the reservation will be effective only after a Census and delimitation exercise is conducted, post-enactment of the Bill.

Ramesh tweeted, “In a season of election jumlas, this one is the biggest of them all! A huge betrayal of the hopes of crores of Indian women and girls.”

“As we had pointed out earlier, Modi government has not yet conducted the 2021 Decadal Census making India the only country in G20 that has failed to carry out the Census. Now it says that the reservation for women will come into effect only following the first decadal Census conducted AFTER the Women’s Reservation Bill has become an Act. When will this Census take place?” Ramesh asked.

Also Read: With caveats, Modi government introduces Women’s Reservation Bill

In another tweet, Ramesh said that if the prime minister had any real intention to prioritise women empowerment, the women’s reservation bill would have been implemented immediately without the ifs and buts and all other conditions.

“For him and the BJP, this is only an election jumla that delivers nothing concrete,” he said.

Congress leader and MP P Chidambaram also called the move an “election jumla” (false promise). He took to X to write, “The Women’s Reservation Bill introduced today in the Lok Sabha is a typical example of BJP’s deceptive politics. The Bill should be called by the name ‘Nari Shakti Mockery Adhiniyam (Bill)’. The Bill mocks the women of India and asks them to wait for the next Census.

He added, “The Government must have ‘reasoned’ that the women of India have been waiting since 9-3-2010 and hence they can be asked to wait indefinitely. It is not a Bill (Adhiniyam), it is an election jumla.”

Former law minister and senior Congress leader M Veerappa Moily also slammed the Union government, saying that bringing the Bill at the last minute, the BJP thinks that they can get some political advantage.

“It has a social aspect, social justice to be given to 50 percent of the population of the country. That kind of commitment is not demonstrated by the NDA and the BJP government,” he said.

“We could not get that type of cooperation from BJP (in 2010), they were not that willing even though we called them for a meeting to gather the momentum of consensus but we could not obtain it and that is why we could not get it passed in the Lok Sabha,” said Moily, who was the law minister when the Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha.

“When the election is approaching, it is absolutely political. They don’t have a legitimate interest in women as a class but they are only politically interested to gain power,” he alleged.

Also Read: Timeline: Chequered journey of the Women’s Reservation Bill 

‘Betrayal of the women’s movement’

Congress MP Manish Tewari said that the Bill introduced by the government is a “betrayal of the women’s movement”.

“Clause 334A says that the reservation will come into effect post the first census that is conducted after the Constitution amendment is passed and then, the delimitation exercise will follow that. So, essentially, it means that before 2029, there is going to be no women’s reservation,” he said.

“If the government was serious about it, the government should have brought women’s reservation now,” Tewari said.

Congress’s social media department head Supriya Shrinate said, “Modi ji did not spare even the women of this country with his jumlas. Their (BJP) dubious intentions have became clear in the Women’s Reservation Bill.”

“If you really wanted to ensure women’s participation, you would have brought the Bill passed in the Rajya Sabha in 2010 to the Lok Sabha. This jumla for half of the population is not right,” Shrinate said.

The government, on Tuesday, introduced a Constitutional Amendment Bill to reserve one-third of the seats in the Lok Sabha and state Assemblies for women.

Making it the first Bill to be introduced in the new Parliament building, the government said that it will enable greater participation of women in policy-making at the state and national levels, and help achieve the goal of making India a developed country by 2047.

‘Bill to fool women’

Senior Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Atishi Marlena, on Tuesday, alleged that the Women’s Reservation Bill is a “Bill to fool women” ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

Addressing a press conference, Atishi alleged that the BJP is not interested in the well-being and welfare of women. “A closer reading of the provisions of the Bill shows that it is ‘Mahila Bewakoof Banao’ Bill,” she said.

“Why have the provisions of delimitation and census been included? This means that women reservation won’t be implemented ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls,” said Atishi, a minister in the Arvind Kejriwal government in Delhi.

“We demand that the provisions of delimitation and census be done away with and the women’s reservation be implemented for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls,” she said. Earlier in the day, Atishi had said that if such a Bill comes, AAP will welcome it, but underlined that the party would have to study its specifics.

“The AAP supports women’s reservation in-principle. If such a Bill comes, we will welcome it. No Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha member of the party has got a copy of the Bill, and so its specifics and what impact it will have need to be studied,” the AAP leader said.

Atishi, who holds the portfolio of Women and Child Development, said that there is already reservation at the panchayat and municipality levels “but there has been no change in the lives of common women because of this”.

“Our request to the government will be to move beyond providing reservation just to elected representatives. We want there to be 50 percent reservation in all government jobs for women,” she said.

AAP’s Rajya Sabha member Raghav Chadha demanded immediate implementation of reservation for women.

Targeting the Union government, he posted on X, “We will bring women reservation but won’t reveal the date. As per Clause 5 of the #WomenReservationBill, the reservation will kick in only AFTER a delimitation exercise and a fresh census – post the Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty Eighth Amendment) Act, 2023.”

“Does this imply: 1. No women reservation for the 2024 Elections; 2. The nation and the women will have to wait for fresh Census and delimitation for women reservation; 3. The BILL has been framed without the WILL to execute it We demand immediate implementation of #WomenReservation without further delay,” he asked.

Also Read: Women’s Reservation Bill: K Kavitha welcomes CWC resolution

Meghwal introduces Bill in Lok Sabha

Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal introduced the Constitutional Amendment Bill, Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam, to reserve one-third of the seats in the Lok Sabha and state Assemblies for women.

Speaking on the Bill, Meghwal said that the number of women members in the 543-member Lok Sabha will rise to 181, from 82 currently, after the law comes into force.

Stating the history of the Women’s Reservation Bill, Meghwal said that the Bill was first brought in September 1996 by the Deve Gowda government to the 11th Lok Sabha. Then again in December 1998 and December 1999 in the 12th and 13th Lok Sabha, respectively, under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government

In May 2008, the Manmohan Singh government brought the Bill to the Rajya Sabha. It was then referred to the Parliament Standing Committee and, then, in March 2010, it was passed by the Rajya Sabha. Then, it was reported to the Lok Sabha and became a property of the Lok Sabha, he explained.

With the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha on 18 May 2014, this Bill lapsed, Meghwal said and added that the Congress-led government at that time deliberately did not pass the Bill.

Also Read: Old tweets of BJP leaders opposing Women’s Reservation Bill resurface 

‘Strengthen Indian democracy’

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on Tuesday, said that the purpose of the new Women’s Reservation Bill is to expand women’s participation in the Lok Sabha and Assemblies, and asserted that it would further strengthen Indian democracy, as he urged MPs of both Houses of Parliament to pass the Bill unanimously.

“The Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam will further strengthen our democracy. I congratulate mothers, sisters, and daughters of the nation for Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam. I assure all mothers, sisters, and daughters of the nation that we are committed to making this Bill into a law,” he said, amidst thumping of desks by members of both treasury and opposition benches.

Some Opposition parties, including the Congress, have been seeking a law to ensure reservation of seats for women in legislative bodies.

The Women’s Reservation Bill was given approval in the Union Cabinet meeting on Monday, said the prime minister, who also recalled how the world embraced the concept of India’s women-led development during the G20.

Observing the growing contribution of women in every sector, Modi stressed on the need for inclusion of more women in policy-making so that their contribution to the nation increases further. He urged members to open the doors of opportunities for women on this historic day.

“Taking forward the resolution of women-led development, our government is today presenting a major Constitutional Amendment Bill. The purpose of this Bill is to expand the participation of women in the Lok Sabha and Assemblies,” he said.

“I request as well as urge all colleagues in this House, as a pious auspicious beginning is being made, if this Bill becomes a law with consensus, then its power will magnify manifold. Therefore, I request both the Houses to pass the Bill with full consensus,” the prime minister said.

Modi said that for many years, there have been several debates and controversies around women’s reservation. On women’s reservation, there have been many efforts earlier also in Parliament. In 1996, the first Bill related to this was introduced, he added.

During Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure, the Women’s Reservation Bill was brought many times but numbers could not be mustered for it and the dream was left unfulfilled, Modi said.

“For that work of ensuring rights of women and putting their power to use, and for many such noble works, God has chosen me. Once again, our government has taken a step in this direction. In the Cabinet yesterday, the Women’s Reservation Bill was given approval. This date of 19 September is going to be etched in history,” he said.