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Women’s reservation bill doesn’t need protection from Mandal MPs this time

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New Delhi: The introduction of the women’s reservation bill on Tuesday in the Lok Sabha is in stark contrast to when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance attempted a similar exercise 15 years ago.

With an absolute majority, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the historic move to introduce 33% reservation for women in elected bodies in the new Lok Sabha chamber. Apart from a sharp exchange of words between Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and home minister Amit Shah, the proceedings were largely peaceful and ceremonial.

On May 6, 2008, it was an important day in the Rajya Sabha when the UPA tabled the 108th Constitution Amendment Bill. The government had to come up with a floor strategy to introduce the bill and protect law minister Hans Raj Bharadwaj from physical attacks by ‘social justice’ MPs who protested vehemently against the bill.

After members seized copies of the bill in an earlier effort, Bharadwaj did not sit in the front row and was surrounded by women parliamentarians. He sat between Cabinet colleagues Ambika Soni and Kumari Selja. The approach from the corridor was guarded by Cabinet colleague Renuka Chowdhury and Congress MPs Jayanthi Natarajan and Alka Balram Kshatriya. As soon as Bharadwaj rose to introduce the bill, Samajwadi Party MP Abu Asim Azmi moved to snatch the copy from his hands. A scuffle ensued as Chowdhury jumped. In the confusion, Bharadwaj introduced the bill and presiding officer PJ Kurien referred it to the standing committee and the House promptly adjourned. The passage of the bill two years later was less dramatic when Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari had to call in marshals to remove protesting SP and RJD MPs.

Efforts to introduce the bill have always witnessed protests and even misogynist comments in the House. When the bill was first introduced on September 12, 1996, by Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda, BJP MP Uma Bharati raised the issue of reservation for OBC women. Indian Union Muslim League MP E Ahamed has sought clarification on the provision for women’s reservation in the Rajya Sabha. Seeing the strong protests, Gowda was forced to call an all-party meeting.

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In 1997, JDU leader Sharad Yadav objected, saying women with short hair, an allusion to the urban educated, could not represent rural women.


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