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Boost for women empowerment, says PM Congress never made OBC PM, BJP did: Shah

Clearing the decks for a landmark legislation on 33% reservation for women in Lok Sabha and state Assemblies, the Lower House Wednesday passed the women’s reservation Bill – the Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023 – with near unanimity: 454 votes in favour and two from the AIMIM against it.

Wrapping up a discussion on the Bill, Union Home Minister Shah, assured the Lower House of a “transparent process” to identify seats to be reserved for women.

He said “the empowerment of women is not a political issue, it is a matter of principle” for “my party and my leader Narendra Modi Ji”.

Responding to apprehensions of delay in the Bill’s implementation, Shah urged the House to make a start – “Shri Ganesh toh kijiye” – and said the next government will conduct the census and the delimitation exercise soon after the next Lok Sabha elections and set in motion the process to make reservation for women in Lok Sabha and state Assemblies a reality.

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He also took a swipe at the Congress over its demand for an OBC quota provision, saying “Your party never made an OBC the Prime Minister. The BJP has made an OBC the Prime Minister”.

He said Parliamentarians are currently elected in three categories – General, Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe – and the Bill has incorporated a quota for each of them.

Smriti Irani and (Express photo by Renuka Puri)

After the passage of the Bill, Prime Minister Modi, in a post on X, said, “Delighted at the passage of The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023 in the Lok Sabha with such phenomenal support. I thank MPs across Party lines who voted in support of this Bill. The Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam is a historic legislation which will further boost women empowerment and will enable even greater participation of women in our political process.”

Describing the Bill, which will be taken to Rajya Sabha Thursday for its clearance, as a “good start”, Shah said “anything incomplete” could be addressed in the future. “Agar kuchh adhoora hai to kal sudhaar lenge (if something is incomplete, we can improve it later). Please support it today.”

He said the “delimitation process” to decide which constituency is to be reserved for women will be “transparent” and it will be done by a Delimitation Commission.

“Who will decide which seats will be reserved? If Wayanad (Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Lok Sabha constituency) or (AIMIM MP Asaduddin) Owaisi Ji’s Hyderabad get reserved, you all will complain,” he said, explaining the need for the delimitation process before implementation of the women’s quota.

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“The Delimitation Commission is an important part of our system. It is quasi-judicial. It is headed by a retired Supreme Court judge, there is a representative of the Election Commission and a member of each political party… Going to constituencies and talking to people, the Delimitation Commission will decide in a transparent manner which seats are to be reserved.”

women MPs in Parliament (Express photo by Renuka Puri)

Hitting back at the Opposition which criticised the government for using the women’s Bill as a political tool on the eve of elections, he said: “Women’s security, respect and equal participation have been the life force of the government since Prime Minister Modi took oath of office.”

In Premium | Before women’s quota, first Census, then delimitation

In a veiled reference to Rahul Gandhi’s remark that there are only three OBC Secretaries in the Government of India, Shah said, “Some people think Secretaries run the country, I think the government does. This government run by the BJP has 85 OBC MPs… 29% of the total number of party MPs. Of the party’s 1318 legislators across India, 365, who constitute 27 %, are OBC MLAs. Around 40% of the 163 BJP MLCs are OBCs… Your party never made an OBC the Prime Minister. The BJP has made an OBC the Prime Minister.”

During the debate, ruling party speakers slammed the Opposition, saying their government in the past brought Bills without the intention to get it cleared and pushed them as “lollipops or tokens”.

The ruling party MPs also said that the provisions of the Constitution regarding census and delimitation had to be included in the Bill to follow the Constitution.

“The Prime Minister has repeatedly said ‘yahi samay hai, sahi samay hai’ (this is the time, this is the right time), and this Bill has been brought at the right time. What bothers the Opposition is that it is now brought by Prime Minister Modi and the BJP,” Nishikant Dubey, who initiated the debate from the ruling party side, said.

Targeting the Congress which tried to bring the Bill during UPA rule, Dubey said it developed cold feet and had “excuses” like consensus and quota-within-quota.

Both Dubey and Union Minister Smriti Irani targeted the Opposition over the demand for immediate implementation of the Bill, saying the government was just following the Constitutional process.

Reading out provisions of the Constitution regarding census and delimitation to drive home the point that it was necessary to include these in the Bill, Irani asked: “Is it the wish of Opposition leaders that the Constitutional process is not followed? Should we not abide by the Constitution? Is that the position taken by the Opposition parties?”

Also Read | Census, delimitation process not required for women’s quota Bill, should be implemented now: Rahul Gandhi

Irani, who described the Bill as Goddess Laxmi taking a Constitutional form, said the BJP, right from its Jana Sangh days, stood for constitutionally-guaranteed reservation for women.

woman MP (Express photo by Renuka Puri)

Taking on the Congress which maintained that the Bill was its agenda, Irani said: “Success has many fathers and failure has none. So when the Bill was introduced yesterday, some people started saying that it was their Bill… But I am glad that someone here has clarified that even the 73rd and the 75th Constitutional amendments (related to Panchayati Raj and Rent Tribunals), which were said to have been brought by a certain political family, were also by P V Narasimha Rao.”

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“This government guarantees reservation for 15 years. Congress proposed a reservation for only 10 years. They wanted to snatch the rights of women after 10 years. Article 82 of the Constitution talks about delimitation after the census in 2026. Is it the position of the Opposition leaders that we should not abide by the Constitution?” Irani said.

She also hit out at Opposition parties demanding reservation for minorities, saying they do not know that reservation based on religion is “prohibited” by the Constitution.

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“Those who are arguing this perhaps do not know that reservation on the basis of religion is prohibited in the Constitution. The nation supports this Bill. If the Opposition does not become a roadblock to this, we will be grateful,” she said.

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