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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 39 September 23, 2023

“Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam” Mother of All Jumlas!? | Sukla Sen

Saturday 23 September 2023, by Sukla Sen


Unfolding of A Crime Thriller

"It’s on August 11th, the monsoon session of the Indian Parliament had ended. The most significant development, arguably, being the return of Rahul Gandhi — by far the most visible face and audible voice of the anti-regime forces — getting his lost (or cheated?) membership restored with the help of the Supreme Court — his last hope.

The other claimant for the top slot is the eventual discussion on the continuing mayhem in Manipur which sort of forced the Prime Minister to finally open his mouth — just open — on the issue, but not before a last-minute walkout by the Opposition during his concluding reply to the debate on the floor of the Lok Sabha.

"Just twenty days thereafter, on August 31st, the Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister, all of a sudden, made the surprise (unilateral) announcement of a five-day "special session"

 of the parliament from September 18 to 22nd [1]. But for a (briefest) reference to "Amrit Kaal", no word — just no word — on the agenda, very much in the style of an unfolding crime thriller, so to speak.

The nail-biting silence would, however, be finally broken only on September 13th [2] — almost a fortnight after the original announcement. The listed items include, inter alia, a discussion on "parliamentary journey of 75 years starting from Samvidhan Sabha — achievements, experiences, memories and learnings" and the Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill, 2023 — meant to nullify a Supreme Court directive on this issue and, additionally, to demote the post of the CEC, on the way to turning the institution into a de jure government department.

"It’d, however, be too naive not to expect some further surprise during the session, more likely near the very end.

"In anticipation, the Congress Working Committee has passed a resolution (during its September 16-17 session in Hyderabad) demanding the passing of the (still live) Women’s Reservation Bill — already passed by the upper house on March 9 2010 [3].

"Before that, on September 6, Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party — the most major constituent of the opposition INDIA alliance, wrote to the Prime Minister listing out the issues that her party wants to be discussed [4]."

That’s an extract, lightly edited, from a forwarding note to a mail posted by this author on September 18 morning (at 10:01:33) [5].

The same evening, the PTI reported:

"The Union Cabinet met here on Monday evening after the first sitting of the special session of Parliament, amid speculation that it may clear some important legislative proposals.

"There was no word on what transpired in the meeting which lasted for over 90 minutes."

Sometime thereafter, Minister of State Prahlad Singh Patel posted on social media platform X that the Cabinet has approved the women’s reservation bill but deleted the post in less than an hour with no formal announcement on cabinet decisions till then [7].
Anyway, the cloak of not-too-effective secrecy would, eventually, be lifted and the hide-and-seek game end with the tabling of the Bill next day afternoon in the Lok Sabha by Union law minister Arjun Ram Meghwal, minutes before the PM’s speech [8]. In his speech, the Prime Minister claimed that for the "work of ensuring rights of women and putting their power to use and for many such noble works, God has chosen me." [9] He would also not forget to sanctimoniously ask for "consensus". Undeterred by the deliberate attempt to shun any prior consultation on the Bill with other stakeholders like plague.

To cut a long story short, the Lok Sabha would discuss and pass the Bill — 454-2 [10] — very next day and the Rajya Sabha — in a similar fast forward mode unanimously — the following day. The same evening both houses of the Parliament "adjourned sine die, a day ahead of schedule, after passing the landmark women’s reservation Bill." [11]

Significantly, none of the other Bills that had figured in the relevant lists circulated were taken up, indicating that it was all only a part of an elaborate ruse.

Main Contents of the Bill

Main contents of the BIll, appear to be as under.

* One-third of seats shall be reserved for women in Legislative Assemblies, including in Delhi
* One-third of seats shall be reserved for women in the House of People (Lok Sabha)
* One-third of seats earmarked for SCs and STs will be reserved for women in Lok Sabha and Assemblies
* Quota will come into being only after an exercise of delimitation after the relevant figures of the first Census taken after the new quota law comes into effect.
This Bill [13] broadly parallels its immediate (2008-2010) predecessor [14] but for two significant departures. One, the title has undergone a very radical and, arguably, silly (or sinister?) transformation. Two, the implementation of this Bill even afterenactment would have to wait for census and, then, delimitation. Two very big and even tricky "If"s. On the previous occasion, there was no such conditionality attached.

Few Substantive Issues

On the 20th, by far the most visible and audible member from the Opposition side, viz. Rahul Gandhi, made a fairly impactful 15-minute intervention [15], in a somewhat didactic format, in the Lok Sabha.

The sum and substance of the speech is, arguably, as under.

I. Indian Independence denotes transfer of power from the British (Crown) to the people of (democratic) India.

II. A conflict is going on between those fighting to take this process further forward and those trying to snatch power away from the hands of the people.

III. The move for women’s reservation is a big step in the direction of further devolution of power to the people.

IV. OBCs like women, constitute a (severely) deprived group.
Of the 90 Secretaries of the Government of India only 3 come from this group. They control only 5% of the total budget of 44 lakh crore.

V. So, a caste census must be carried out. The data of the census already done must be released.

(Otherwise, "we would release the data!")

VI. The bill is incomplete without the provision for reservation for the OBC women.
Must be included.

VII. There’s no reason whatsoever why the implementation of this reservation bill is yoked to the next census and, then, delimitation of constituencies.

Must be implemented immediately after passing.

Other speakers from the Opposition too, in both the Houses, broadly followed the same line, though not everyone harped on the OBC issue.
Following the unanimous passing of the Bill in the Rajya Sabha on the 21st, Rahul Gandhi, on the 22nd, would hold a brief press conference in the Congress Headquarter [16] to again raise the demands of immediate implementation of the Bill, holding of a caste census and release of the caste data already gathered under the previous UPA regime. Very remarkably, he also flatly admitted that the past stand of the Congress on the issue of reservation for the OBCs was plainly wrong. That, no doubt, marks and sort of formalises a hugely significant shift in the Congress stand that started becoming visible perhaps since the last Karnataka poll [17].
In fact, during this Special Session, while the other allies of the Congress — including the OBC parties — shed their past oppositions as regards reservations for women in State and Central legislatures, the Congress itself picked up the banner of championing the OBC cause. That’s hugely significant.


To sum up, while the issue of women’s reservations, given their rather thin presence otherwise, in the various elected bodies got foregrounded at least since 1989 [18], during the just concluded Special Session of the Parliament, it notched up a further moral and political victory. That a political party of self-proclaimed devotees of sage Manu [19], who did in no uncertain terms stand for lifelong subjugation of women by their male kin [20] — regardless of being senior or junior in terms of age — had to showcase their claimed keenness to uphold the cause of women’s empowerment, even if only to deceive, that’s not something to be casually scoffed at.
Yet, the promise of reservation held up by the Bill just passed is largely illusory. It is contingent upon the holding of the next census, already overdue and rather inexplicably held up by the current regime [21], it has to also wait for the conclusion of the next round of (highly controversial) delimitation of assembly and parliamentary constituencies — which would surely be stoutly opposed by the Southern states [22] — based on the census outcome.

In fact, the yoking of the implementation of the Bill with census and delimitation has certain sinister dimensions that have, as yet, not attracted adequate attention. The women’s right to fair representation would be used as pawns on the political chessboard by the regime, if still in place, to bulldoze (i) the census exercise that harbours the threat of demonic NRC [23], as currently designed, and (ii) the delimitation that would change the relative weights of Kerala and Tamil Nadu in particular vis-a-vis UP, MP and Bihar in the future parliaments.

All in all, the Special Session of the Parliament, which also sort of inaugurated the New Parliament Building, it’s now more than amply clear, was meant to precisely pass the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam to hold up Narendra Modi as the God’s chosen one to champion the causes of women — while actually doing precious little — and camouflage his actual track record as illustrated by e.g. the premature release of eleven convicted gang rapists in the Bilkis Bano case as a part of the celebration of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav [24], atrocities in Hathras (ref.:, and Manipur [25].

It was also meant to trigger irreparable fissures in the INDIA alliance by foregrounding an issue on which the alliance partners were divided in the past. That’s why the whole move was attempted to be wrapped in secrecy so that the alliance partners get little time to patch up.
The latter attempt has pretty much fallen flat on its face. The fate of the former would depend on the conduct of the alliance in the coming days. But, they have made a promising start.

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