Leap into the past
In 1996 when the Deve Gowda government tried to introduce the Bill through its law minister Ramakant Khalap in Parliament, the Bill looked all set to change the image of a politician seeped in systematic corruption so grandly manifested in the JMM bribery scandal, hawala scandal and chara ghotala. Today as the decade-and-a-half-old Bill clears the first stumbling block and gets a Rajya Sabha OK, Geeta Koda, the wife of the latest poster-boy of corruption, Madhu Koda who incidentally hails from the same land as once ruled by Lalu Yadav, represents her husband's seat in Jharkhand Legislative Assembly while her husband spends time in jail.
In these intervening years, right up to the passage of the 108th Constitution Amendment Bill which reserves 33 per cent quota for women in Parliament and state legislature, the tentacles of corruption has spread deep into the family and given sanctity to political dynasty and lineage. The Indian political system need not devise a special quota for women's reservation in Parliament and legislatures. Gita Koda has proved that it takes a political will, oiled and greased by money power, and the support of an indulgent vote bank to scale the seats of power. She has also proved that when it comes to running for elections, gender bias does not count.
The Gita Koda episode flies in the face of a recent United Nations report which suggested a 4 per cent rise in the GDP growth if women were to become more representative in the workforce as they are in the US. Clearly, what the US stands to gain through increased women participation India makes a mockery of it, all thanks to Gita and her growing ilk, perpetuating dynasty in the Indian political system.
The Bill passed the hands of several law ministers in successive governments and tested the will of political parties without much success for 14 years before Rajya Sabha Marshals cancelled out any attempt to cast it into the dustbin of history. And yet the Upper House created history of sorts as the Bill was passed Tuesday with certain nay-sayers choosing to abstain themselves at the time of voting.
This Bill is a test case for our system that peddles 'inclusiveness' in the garb of pursuing an agenda mutually exclusive from development, an agenda that does not mirror the concerns of the public at large. The Bill got passed, setting aside traditional opposition to it in favour of a quota within quota.
Now, this is where the worry sets in. Imagine a piece of legislation drafted 15 years ago that would only get implemented in 2014 - 18 years after it was first introduced in Parliament. Bearing the factory stamp of 'Made in 1996' as it gets passed in Rajya Sabha in 2010, it already looks past its expiry date.
Any bill that translates into law must carry the potency of seeing through a time period of 30-40 years. It should promise to be forward-looking. This Bill begins well past half-way. The results of Panchayati Raj are pouring in now in contrast to their trickle of a presence way back in 1996. And they do not hold much promise for women in a system chained by men in a static state of mental menopause.
Even in a state like Bihar which now boasts of 50 per cent reservation for women under Panchayati Raj, an elected woman sarpanch or a pradhan remains just a rubber stamp. It's the men (father, son or a husband) in command of her home and hearth who seem to exercise the same authority in her political life that has come about more out of circumstances doctored by the family (read: men) rather than her own free will. She remains where she belongs to. Her empire stretches not beyond the periphery of her kitchen.
Let's take a hypothetical study of a woman MP who outshines her predecessors in development work for her constituency. As the next election draws to a close she will, but, have to retire into oblivion since a male MP will have to get elected from the same constituency for the next two terms. The rotation system will put a cap on a woman's will to succeed in politics and also arrest her political growth, much like hunting for rabbits and being eaten by wolves.
And where is the guarantee the male MP would nurture the constituency if it has to be passed down to somebody else outside his family? He will keep alive stakes in the constituency only so long as his immediate family is bequeathed the political baton. While the Bill promises to spawn more political dynasties than ever before, it may just prove to be a death-knell for development. It's the voter who will feel cheated.
The opposition to the current format of the Bill from parties given to parochial chauvinism for once does not sound hollow. Their call for a quota within 33 per cent quota, though sounds more anti-women and anti-reservation shrill, for which they only have to blame their media managers, is quite practical and has more roots and grass than is made out against them by the media or those who can't contain their excitement over the passage of the Bill as though India has just bombed an ISI-financed terrorist camp in PoK. While reserved seats will also, in turn, elect the women MPs from scheduled castes and scheduled tribe category, women from the OBC category, put to same degree of gender bias as their SCST counterparts, will have to make do with a voice muffled by the Bill, ironically enacted to uplift the status of women in general.
The proponents of minority representation in the Bill, too, do not seem to be off the mark. Women belonging to minority communities also have to fight other taboos associated with community traditions to be speaking on behalf of the womenfolk of their fold. The Sachar Committee, anyway, has painted a far-from-rosy picture of the state of minorities in India. The report advocates job opportunities and reservation for the very poor amongst them to ensure a level-playing field for all.
The Bill, passed by Rajya Sabha, however, fails to take note of the contours of change that have taken place in the past 14 years. By stonewalling valid suggestions of other parties the government of the day fails to recognize the forthcoming challenges the Bill, incidentally, will not be able to meet up.
Actually the Bill should have read as 108th Constitution Amendment Bill (1996-2010). So that a new Bill could have been drafted taking into account the legitimate concerns of those opposing the current Bill. But the government, run by the sleight of hand of a woman parliamentarian, decided to go for the kill and tom-tom a Bill visibly stunted and deformed. The Government takes pride in accomplishing a 15-year-old pending project and taking a great leap into the past. Instead of working on an effective and intelligent piece of law making from grounds of reason, vision and practicality.
More about Prabhat ShungluPrabhat has been a journalist for the last 19 years. Began his career as a cub reporter with The Statesman before moving on to The Pioneer and The Times of India. Was a member of the core team of reporters that helped launch 24-hour news channel Aaj Tak. Extensively reported from war zones of Kargil, Afghanistan and Iraq. Covered national and Assembly elections in J&K, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh. And disasters like Gujarat earthquake. Headed the North India bureau of Star News. Currently, Editor-Special Assignments with IBN7.
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