New Delhi: A heated and contentious debate unfolded in Parliament on Tuesday as the proposed Women's Reservation Bill, cleared by the Cabinet, sparked a fierce exchange of words between Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge and Union Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. The Bill, which seeks to provide 33% reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and state Assemblies, has been a subject of controversy and debate for years.
Kharge, the Leader of the Congress in Rajya Sabha, took the floor and expressed his apprehensions regarding the Bill. He argued that the reservation might be manipulated by political parties to select uneducated and voiceless women, who may not be adequately equipped for the responsibilities of legislating. Kharge specifically pointed out that the literacy rate among women from Scheduled Castes is lower, leading to the selection of women, who are perceived as weaker candidates. He passionately exclaimed, "They never choose those who are educated and can fight."
His comments were met with protests from the treasury benches, but Kharge continued, emphasising that the issue was about providing one-third reservation for women and not just a "half ticket." He claimed to have insights into how political parties tend to select candidates from Backward Class and Scheduled Caste communities.
Sitharaman's counter argument
Nirmala Sitharaman, a prominent BJP parliamentarian, strongly objected to Kharge's assertions. She argued that sweeping statements like the one made by Kharge were unacceptable. Sitharaman cited examples within her own party, highlighting the empowerment of women in leadership roles. She specifically mentioned President Droupadi Murmu as an empowered woman and challenged the notion that all parties choose ineffective women candidates.
Sitharaman rejected the differentiation between women candidates based on their backgrounds, exclaiming, "Who is the President? I am.......... the Opposition leader; I cannot insult people like this... Cannot draw differentiation between women."
Kharge, undeterred, continued to defend his position. He stressed that women from Backward Classes and Scheduled Castes often lack the opportunities available to others. He maintained that his remarks were intended to highlight the systemic issues related to the selection of candidates.
Parliamentary Chairman's Intervention
In response to the escalating confrontation, Rajya Sabha Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar requested both leaders to submit written statements by the end of the day, allowing for a more structured and formalised discussion of their viewpoints.
Beyond the Congress and BJP, Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) also voiced its objections to the Women's Reservation Bill. Delhi Minister Atishi labelled the Bill as a political manoeuvre aimed at deceiving women ahead of the 2024 elections. She accused the BJP of lacking genuine concern for the well-being and welfare of women, referring to the Bill as the "Mahila Bewakoof Banao" (Make Women Foolish) Bill.
The Bill and Its Background
The Women's Reservation Bill, which offers 33% reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and state Assemblies, has been in the works for years. It is set to take effect following a delimitation exercise and will remain in force for 15 years. Additionally, seats reserved for women will be rotated after each delimitation exercise.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the Bill during his opening speech in the new Parliament. He subtly took a swipe at the Congress, alluding to the lengthy history of discussions surrounding women's reservations and expressed pride in the progress made.
Historic Shift to New Parliament Building
In a significant historical moment, Parliament transitioned to its new building on Delhi's Central Vista. This transition marks the end of an era, as the old British-era building, where the Constituent Assembly convened to frame the Constitution, will now be known as "Samvidhan Sadan."
The debate over the Women's Reservation Bill has stirred emotions and political divisions within Parliament. While proponents argue that the Bill is a crucial step toward gender equality in politics, critics, including leaders from different political parties, have expressed concerns about its implementation and the potential for manipulation. As the Bill awaits further deliberation, it remains a topic of intense discussion and scrutiny in the political landscape.