In Devil's Advocate this week, Karan Thapar speaks to Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily and tries to find answer to the question: are reservations the best way of increasing the number of women MPs and how committed is the government to the women's reservation bill?
Karan Thapar: Whilst every right thinking person would accept that the government has to increase the number of women MPs in the parliament, why does the government think that the best way of doing so is by reserving 33 percent of the seats in the Lok Sabha?
Veerappa Moily: It may not be the ideal way but it is inevitable. You know the statistics?--
Karan Thapar: --But if it is not the ideal way, then should you not find a better way cause there are other ways that you could consider. For example, you could have chosen to amend the Representation of the Peoples Act to require parties, by law, to field a minimum of 33 percent candidates. Why did you not choose that instead?
Veerappa Moily: Of course there are two-three ways to deal with things. Number one -- voluntary --South Africa has done it. They are giving 45 percent reservation. Absolutely voluntary. Then the mandated reservation -that is what you have said --the amendment of the peoples representation act. Last one is the constitutional amendment to reserve. But the first, we have seen in the last 62 years, the world record and the Asian record, we have the least representation of women.
Karan Thapar: But, if you had gone through the party quota route, which is something that Sweden has done, Iceland has done, Netherlands has done and Norway has done, you could have achieved their level of 41, 43 and 47 percent. Why did you not do that? Reservations, by definition, are controversial. This wouldn't have been as effective but it wouldn't have been controversial.
Veerappa Moily: But ultimately, that is also reservation. Whether it is mandated or voluntary.
Karan Thapar: It's a different sort of reservation. It is not the reservation of parliamentary seats, it is the requirement that parties field certain number of women candidates. That wouldn't have been controversial. You would have achieved the same end without the controversy.
Veerappa Moily: You know, the very fact that we could not march ahead with this and we could not provide 600 million population of this country, mainly women, cannot be kept out of the mainstream. And we have experimented everything of this in 62 years.
Karan Thapar: Look then, minister, at the problems that are occurring. To begin with, the 33 percent legislation that you are legislating come on top of 22.5 [percent] for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and although there is a small overlap between the two, you are still going to end up with 48.5 percent seats in the Lok Sabha reserved one way or the another. In a democracy, is such a high level of reservation of Lok Sabha seats acceptable?
Veerappa Moily: No, you are talking on a flat consideration. Women reservations cut across Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.--
Karan Thapar: --I have taken that into account--
Veerappa Moily: --No. That can't be done.--
Karan Thapar: --I have taken into account that one cuts across the other to end up with 48.5 percent seats reserved.
Veerappa Moily: This will not be an offensive that it cuts across caste, community, creed, anything.
Karan Thapar: I'll tell you why it would be offensive. If you look specifically at the case of non-Scheduled Caste and non-Scheduled Tribe men, which is 78 percent of the male population, they can only now contest for 51.5 percent of the seats. From their point of view, it is grossly unfair.
Veerappa Moily: Yeah, men have to yield to the women.
Karan Thapar: But, by incurring unfairness?
Veerappa Moily: No. Where is the fairness? Is it not unfair, all these 62 years, to deny and make the women represented only 11.2 percent.
Karan Thapar: But minister, you may be correcting one wrong and incurring another one. Is it right to correct one wrong and incur a second wrong.
Veerappa Moily: No, I don't think. It is very fair to provide the representation of the fair sex. --
Karan Thapar: Except minister, if 78 percent of the male population in India can now only contest for just over 50 percent of the seats, precisely 51.5, that is going to be perceived as unfair.
Veerappa Moily: Why don't you look at it from the women's point of view?
Karan Thapar: But the point I am making is that there are other ways of doing it. If you had gone down the party quota route, you wouldn't have incurred this problem. You would still have had more women MPs.
Veerappa Moily: You know -- unless you go in for this kind of a constitutional amendment, all the party quotas and other things --ultimately, it will not take place.
Karan Thapar: How do you know? You haven't tried it. How do you know it won't click?
Veerappa Moily: You know very well. It's not abruptly we thought about it. Right from the days of Rajiv Gandhi--thereafter 1996, the first constitutional amendment bill was introduced and it was given to the parliamentary standing committee, with Gita Mukherjee, and she gave a report and thereafter it's the fourth bill that has been introduced.
Karan Thapar: But, it's the same content that's carrying on. In fact, the truth is your cabinet colleague, Dr M S Gill, when he was Chief Election Commissioner, way back in 1998 had suggested the alternative that I am today discussing with you. And it has been supported by him outside the cabinet. Unfortunately, he didn't support it inside the cabinet.
Veerappa Moily: You know that Parliament has a standing committee. Four times these things have gone in, deliberated by the parliamentary standing committee, national debate went on, ultimately I am here to discuss what has emerged as a national consensus, what has emerged in the parliament as a consensus. Today I cannot bulldoze all that exercise, made all that 15 years, and say this should be the procedure. You understand my limitations.
Karan Thapar: I understand your limitations but remember how you began this interview. You began by saying that the reservations are not ideal. So, what are we doing through constitutional amendment? We are changing the structure of parliament, the very temple of our democracy in a way that you yourself concede, is not ideal.
Veerappa Moily: I don't think you can take it out of context. What I said -- voluntary reservation is the ideal thing, which has not happened all this 62 years.
Karan Thapar: Let me tell you another problem that you are incurring by these reservations. Not only would it look unfair to 78 percent male population of India who cannot contest only 51.5 percent of the seats, but more importantly, look at the way these reservations have been implemented because each seat will only be reserved for one out of three elections. You are reducing the incentive for the successful women MP to nurture that seat and by implication, you are also reducing the incentive for the MPs she is going to displace.
Veerappa Moily: I am not going into the wisdom of the Parliamentary standing committee all these 15 years. Ultimately, in their wisdom, they found that is the best method. Best solution.
Karan Thapar: I am pointing to you that this is not wisdom. This is close to folly. You know and I know that at the very heart of parliamentary democracy is the link between the MP and his or her constituency. Now, after this bill is passed, in the case of 66 percent Lok Sabha MPs, that link would be either weakened or fractured. Is that acceptable?
Veerappa Moily: This constitutional amendment is not standalone thing. We are going to have another law, ordinary law, parliamentary law, to provide the determination of seats and also to provide, the rotation system.
Karan Thapar: Quite right. But the rotation system would accentuate the problem I am talking about. The second rotation comes into being, each candidate in these seats would be reserved for one election at a time and therefore she won't have the incentive to nurture the constituency, and worse still, the 33 percent that get displaced next time may not also have an incentive. That's what I am saying. 66 percent of the Lok Sabha, at any one time, will not have the same incentive to nurture the constituency.
Veerappa Moily: But you should understand, in a parliamentary democracy, it is the privilege of the people to elect, not the privilege of the person to get elected. You should understand that.
Karan Thapar: I accept that but you are creating a situation where the incentive of the MP to nurture the constituency; to serve the constituency is reduced because the MP has a good idea of believing 'I am not going to win. Why bother'. That's human nature.
Veerappa Moily: I think it is far fetched. We have experimented it in local boards under the 73rd and 74th Constitution [amendment]. Such rotation is allowed and is working very well. And millions and millions of [women] representatives at the grassroots level, this has proved success, why not here?
Karan Thapar: If you are so happy with this bill as you are saying to me, and that you have considered it effectively and given it all due rational analysis that it requires then how do you explain the fact that on Thursday, Pranab Mukherjee, speaking as leader of the house on the floor of Lok Sabha, said that the government is now open to considering changes and even talked of the possibility of amending the bill and sending it back to the Rajya Sabha for reconsideration.
Veerappa Moily: I don't think he has gone to that extent.
Karan Thapar: Can I quote to you what he said? Let me quote to you what he said. On the 11th of March he says, "It can be considered if it can narrow down divergences and bring about convergences." And then he adds, "If there would be an amendment, the other house would also have to take it into account."
"If there would be an amendment" he is talking about amending the bill.
Veerappa Moily: I think it has been misconstrued. His statement is quite clear. I was present when he gave that statement. You also know that the parliament is supreme. It is not one minister or another person dictating to the parliament. Ultimately, we will have to take the parliament into confidence. Ultimately, it is the supreme right of the parliament whether to amend at any -- it can be amended either this house or that. That is the paramount right of the parliament. I am not dictating to the parliament how you should do it.
Karan Thapar: Absolutely. But minister, when you talk about the changes disguised under supreme right of the parliament to amend, what you are conceding is that what was passed by the Rajya Sabha is not sacrosanct. It can be amended if the majority chooses or if the government decides if it doesn't want to incur in Lok Sabha --
Veerappa Moily: It is parliamentary democracy. How can I say something contrary to the democracy? Ultimately, after all, each house is powerful, absolutely, on its own right. That is the sovereign right of the parliament and at the same time, you should understand, ours is the largest parliamentary democracy. But because of keeping the women out, we have not become, in fact, an inclusive democracy. That is the greatest deficit that we are suffering today. We need to correct it. How you are going to correct it is for the parliament to decide.
Karan Thapar: The important thing is -- how you are going to correct it? The second you begin telling me that there can be amendments, it's the power and supremacy of the parliament, then why did you rush it through the Rajya Sabha? Why did you force it on Tuesday? Why did you not have these consultations in advance?
Veerappa Moily: I am very sorry to say. The consultations have gone in more than 25 years. Particularly after 15 years, after 1966, and national debates and symposiums are being held. --
Karan Thapar: --Then why is Pranab Mukherjee talking about the need for more concentration? Either they have been sufficient or they haven't been sufficient.
Veerappa Moily: We are saying that we have hurried up in the Rajya Sabha is not correct. It is only after the convergence of the views and it is only after evolving the national debate on this, the bill has been formed and it is approved by the parliamentary standing committee. It is accepted by everybody.--
Karan Thapar: --Minister, I have to interrupt you because you are saying to me that only after convergence of views that the bill was presented? That's not true because Pranab Mukherjee's words are --" We will consider whether it is possible to narrow down divergences and bring about convergences." --
Veerappa Moily: --You are reading between the lines which is not fair.
Karan Thapar: I am not reading between the lines. I am reading the lines.
Veerappa Moily: I know that is the view of everybody. Nobody can say no. But the question is -- we will have to take everybody on board. That's why, in the Lok Sabha, we want to reduce the friction and friction can be reduced in so many ways. This is not the only way.
Karan Thapar: Minister. If reducing friction is necessary and taking everyone on board is essential then why did you not do it before the Rajya Sabha? Why afterwards? Surely, you should have had your all party meeting, which you have now agreed to, before the Rajya Sabha. Surely, this message that the bill can be amended to reduce divergence should have been given before the Rajya Sabha not after. Why are you doing it the wrong way round?
Veerappa Moily: Please don't forget. The Rajya Sabha passed this bill with an overwhelming majority and is also likely to be passed by an overwhelming majority. You can't say that it is bulldozed. -
Karan Thapar: --But you are now talking about sending it back to the Rajya Sabha if there are amendments. So the overwhelming majority will be rubbished--
Veerappa Moily: In the result of the deliberation and a consultation, wherein all the political parties are involved, anything can happen. That is what he said. That doesn't mean that it is the decision of the government to send it back. No. This is not the decision, as on today, of the parliament, to send it back.
Karan Thapar: Absolutely. But you are holding upon the possibility that that could happen.
Veerappa Moily: No. The Congress party, the UPA government is totally committed to this bill, in the form it was passed by the Rajya Sabha, and, at the same time, we are not shutting down the process of parliamentary democracy for consultation, discussion, any stage, that doesn't mean, a minority, a few people cannot bulldoze the bill.
Karan Thapar: Let me put this to you. If you are committed to consultations, if you are committed to all party meets, in which case, what's the purpose of the consultation if you are not prepared to amend the bill after the consultation. Are you going through a farce with Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Yadav? Are you simply appeasing them knowing that you are not going to change anything?
Veerappa Moily: No. See, in a parliamentary democracy, a majority cannot bulldoze the minority. At the same time, the minority cannot take undue advantage of bulldozing the majority opinion. This is the basic principle.
Karan Thapar: Are you open to the amendment if that is what is necessary?
Veerappa Moily: I am not saying open. Please do not just take out like this. In a consultation process, even if one man is dissenting, the idea is to talk to him. Just because we are talking to some people; just because we are talking to one or two individuals, that doesn't mean that one or two or few people's opinion should prevail over the majority opinion passed by the Rajya Sabha and the majority national consensus which has been arrived after a due consultation, after a due process of debate all over the country all these 15 years.
Karan Thapar: In which case, minister, what is the purpose of the consultation? Are you going through a mockery? Are you making a farce? Will Mulayam Singh Yadav end up more angry?
Veerappa Moily: By opening up consultation and discussion at each stage, even at the last passage of bill, that doesn't show the weakness. That shows democratic responses from the UPA. --
Karan Thapar: What's the purpose of discussion if you are not ready to change your mind?
Veerappa Moily: You must understand, there are certain issues and concerns which are raised by them. They feel strongly. That has to be done. We want a smooth sail of the bill.
Karan Thapar: So. You are going to here them --but that's all. After hearing, you have decided you are not going to implement anything they say.
Veerappa Moily: I don't want to preempt anything. The question is: Discussions? Yes. After all, marriage is also a bundle of compromises.
Karan Thapar: This is very interesting. A bundle of compromise. Even a marriage is a bundle of compromises. You today face a dilemma. If you end up amending this and going back to the Rajya Sabha, you would unravel what Sonia Gandhi said 'triumph' on Tuesday night. On the other hand, if you push the bill through, exactly as it is, without changes, you will end up losing the support of the Samajwadi Party, the RJD, possibly the BSP and maybe even Mamata Banerjee. One way or another, you have two difficult choices and you cannot escape.
Veerappa Moily: I don't think there is such a difficult process. At the same time, our Congress president, Soniaji, the UPA, the Congress and also the rest of the parties like BJP and many other political parties and other independents, they are totally committed to this bill in the present form-
Karan Thapar: -- Actually they are not. You know that something close to 70 percent of BJP MPs according to the Indian Express, who knows what is the figure for the Congress but is probably may be as big, have serious disagreements with separate parts of this bill. Some are opposed to it completely; some are opposed to it in parts. You know that there is pressure in your party; there is pressure in the BJP apart from the fact that your allies are putting pressure both inside and outside the government. So, I come back to you -- If you amend, you lose the 'triumph' Sonia Gandhi claimed on Tuesday. If you don't amend, you may end up converting your majority into minority. You are caught between the two.
Veerappa Moily: No, we are not caught. We are very confident on the ground and I don't think any political party, which has ceded support. Another question is: Any reform, any change is some sort of a creative destruction. You should know that. Reform, in the transitional period, there would be apprehensions, the people feel that there is threat to their existence, and all those things are bound to that. --
Karan Thapar: If you are determined to go ahead, do you have a deadline when you want it passed by the Lok Sabha?
Veerappa Moily: We would like to pass it in the present session; either in the first part or the second part.
Karan Thapar: Can you guarantee that?
Veerappa Moily: Yeah. We are very confident on that.
Karan Thapar: You are guaranteeing it?
Veerappa Moily: We are very confident on the ground.
Karan Thapar: Is that a guarantee?
Veerappa Moily: I am not the house, the Lok Sabha, I am an individual.
Karan Thapar: That last sentence perhaps says it all. A pleasure talking to you minister.
Veerappa Moily: Thank you.