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Sonia Gandhi leads Oppn chorus: Implement immediately, extend benefit to OBCs

Backing the Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Sixth Amendment) Bill, 2023, seeking to provide 33 per cent reservation for women in Lok Sabha and state Assemblies, Opposition parties demanded Wednesday that the government implement the proposed legislation “immediately”, and conduct a caste census to extend the benefits of this law to women belonging to Other Backward Classes (OBCs).

Congress leader Sonia Gandhi said, “Congress party supports this Bill. We are happy with the passing of this Bill, but there is also a concern. I want to ask a question: Indian women have been waiting for their political responsibility for the last 13 years and now they are being asked to wait for a few more years. How many years? 2 years, 4 years, 6 years, 8 years? Is this treatment of Indian women appropriate?”

Demanding that the women’s reservation Bill be implemented, she said, “Indian National Congress demands that this Bill should be implemented immediately, but along with it, arrangements should be made for reservation of women belonging to Schedule Caste, Schedule Tribe and OBC by conducting caste census. The government must take whatever steps are necessary to make this a reality.”

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“Any further delay in implementing this bill is a grave injustice to Indian women,” she said.

“On behalf of the Indian National Congress, I demand from you, the government, that the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam (Act) 2023 should be implemented as soon as possible by removing all the obstacles in its path. Doing this is not only necessary but also possible,” she said.

Stating that this is a “very emotional moment” of her life, Sonia Gandhi said, “For the first time, the Constitutional amendment that was aimed to fix representation of women in local bodies was brought by my life partner, Rajiv Gandhi Ji, which was defeated in Rajya Sabha by 7 votes. Later, the Congress government, under the leadership of Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao, got it passed. Today, the result is that we have 15 lakh elected women leaders through local bodies across the country. Rajiv Gandhi Ji’s dream has so far been only half-fulfilled. With the passing of this Bill, it will be accomplished fully,” she said.

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Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who spoke later in the day, said, “There is one thing lacking in this Bill in my opinion. And that is OBC reservation. I think a large chunk of India’s women should have access to this reservation.”

He said it was “strange that you require a new census and delimitation to implement this Bill”.

“I think this Bill can be implemented today by giving 33% reservation to women in the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabha to India’s women. And so, I wonder if this is not designed to push the ball further to 7, 8, 9 years and then let the things play out. I know my friends like to take the attention away… one is the Adani issue. The other thing the government wants to deflect from is caste census,” he said.

He said he tried to find out how many Secretaries in the Union government were OBCs. “Of the 90 Secretaries in India, only three are OBCs. These three control only 5% of the Budget. This is an insult and a shame to the OBC community. So the question is how many Dalits, OBCs and tribals are there in this country. And this can only be done through caste census. Release the data of the caste census we did. And if you do not do it, we will do it,” he said.

Also Read | Women’s reservation: What is the road ahead, before it can be implemented

Appreciating the new Parliament building, Rahul Gandhi pointed out that the President of India, a woman and a tribal, was not visible during its inauguration.

Harsimrat Kaur Badal of the SAD supported the Bill and attacked the government for its timing and general lack of concern for women.

“In 75 years, the increase in representation of women in Parliament is just 9%. Even the speed of a bullock cart is higher. Almost 50% of Assemblies in India have never seen a woman legislator. Nobody knows when the census will take place, when delimitation will take place. Nobody knows when this reservation will come into effect. When it was part of the 2014 manifesto, why did you take nine-and-a-half years to bring it? They say the census could not happen because of the pandemic. So how have China and the UK done it? You are Vishwaguru. You can order a lockdown with the click of your finger, order demonetisation with the click of your finger, so why can’t you do it for women’s reservation,” Badal asked.

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“They are talking about women’s empowerment… whose members have cases of sexual harassment, the man who was accused of harassment by our Olympic wrestlers is sitting here. They turned the rapists of Bilkis Bano into sanskaris,” she said.

AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi opposed the Bill on the ground that it had no quota for Muslims and OBCs.

“If the justification is that it is to give representation to women, then why is it not being extended to OBC and Muslim women? Muslim women are 7% of the population but their representation in this Lok Sabha is only 0.7%. This Modi government wants reservation for savarna women. The number of Muslim women has never gone beyond four in this House. This Bill will close doors for Muslim representation in Parliament and the Assembly. This is not inclusive legislation,” Owaisi said.

He also raised the issue of poor representation of OBCs in the House. “This selective affirmation is an election stunt. The PM is an OBC, but you have only 120 OBC MPs in this House. You have 232 upper caste MPs. The government talks about Vandana. What sort of Vandana is this when Bilkis Bano rapists are released? This is a women deception Bill,” he said.

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

TMC’s Mahua Moitra said, “What this government has brought here is not a women’s reservation Bill, it is a women’s reservation rescheduling Bill. Its agenda is delay, its agenda is not reservation. The constant dithering on when there will be the next census and when there will be delimitation will mean that the reservation is indefinitely delayed. This is not a historic Bill as is being touted. It is a sham. The question of women’s reservation requires action, not the legislatively mandated procrastination.”

A M Arif of the CPM welcomed the Bill and wanted its quick implementation.

“By introducing this Bill at the fag end of the government’s tenure and deferring its implementation, the government has exposed its pseudo-hearted attempt before the women of this country. Had this government brought a Bill early in its first tenure, we would have had 33% women in the House today. This Bill has only been brought to give a reply to the Supreme Court which had asked the government for a reply on the issue due to a PIL. We demand that this be implemented in the 2024 polls,” Arif said.

Even BJP ally LJP (Ramvilas) demanded a quota for OBCs.

“(Babasaheb) Ambedkar had said if you wish to measure the progress of a society, you must look at the progress of its women. Had this Bill been passed by previous governments, we would have been in a position to accommodate fresh demands. Should there be a quota for OBCs in this? Definitely. And on this, I trust our PM who has done so much for the backward classes. On behalf of my party, I request the government to reserve seats for SC, ST and OBC in this,” Chirag Paswan said.

RSP’s N K Premchandransaid, “In 1989, first Bill to reserve 33% seats for women was brought by Rajiv Gandhi. It was passed in Lok Sabha but defeated in Rajya Sabha. In defeating the Bill, BJP was also a party. The government must explain the delay and give an assurance on when it will be implemented.”

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Arvind Sawant of Shiv Sena expressed concern over possible depletion of men’s representation below 67% in the House due to the Bill even as he demanded SC, ST and OBC quotas.

“This Bill will empower a lot of women but we have to think about this rotation clause. If a woman wins and rotation comes, what will happen? If she again contests and wins, the reservation will go over 33%. In trains, the man cannot enter a woman’s compartment, but a woman can enter the men’s compartment. This is going to happen in the future,” he said.

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B V Satyavathi of the YSRCP said, “Research shows that when women are given political power they focus on issues closely related to them. Review the clause that mentions review of reservation for only 15 years. Second is for the quota of OBCs in the quota. Prevent proxy candidates. Make sure women candidates actively participate in political activity and campaigns. Extend the reservation to Rajya Sabha.”

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