Enhancing Women’s Representation in Indian Politics: Evaluating WOMEN’S RESERVATION BILL
As the special session of the Indian Parliament commences, there is a growing anticipation surrounding the Women’s Reservation Bill, reigniting the call for increased female representation in the country’s democratic institutions. While there is a broad consensus on the moral, legal, and empirical justifications for such reservations, implementing this policy in India’s diverse and politically complex landscape presents challenges. This article delves into India’s past experiences with women’s reservations, examines various mechanisms for delineating reserved constituencies, and discusses the potential impact of each approach. Furthermore, it explores the idea of proportional representation (PR) as an alternative approach to address the issue of gender parity in Indian politics.
Look what Sonia Gandhi said about the bill:-https://youtu.be/uijwAvHeNjk
The Women’s Reservation Bill has faced numerous setbacks since its introduction, including lapses in 1996, 1998, and 1999, as well as a 2008 Rajya Sabha passage that stalled in the Lok Sabha. In the realm of panchayat elections, India implemented the 73rd Amendment Act in 1992, mandating one-third of seats for women in direct panchayat elections.
These reserved seats rotate within constituencies, similar to the proposed 2008 Bill. An essential aspect of any reservation policy is its ability to encourage women to contest and win non-reserved seats after the reservation period. A 2008 study by the Ministry of Panchayat Raj indicated that, within a decade, 15% of women candidates won re-elections without a designated quota. The question remains whether such success could also be achieved in legislative quotas.
Delineating Reserved Seats:
The delineation of reserved constituencies involves several mechanisms, each with unique implications. The proposed reservation policy involves a rotation system, where every five years, one-third of the seats lose their reserved status while another one-third gain reserved status, based on an algorithm. The challenge lies in how these seats are distributed, particularly if this protocol results in a clustering of reserved parliamentary constituencies (PCs).
There are two main approaches: one that adheres to the rotation process without considering geographic distribution and another that follows a distribution approach similar to section 9(1)(c) of the Delimitation Act for SC/ST seats. The latter approach could be a cyclic numbering system that maintains geographical balance by designating every third constituency as reserved, followed by a shift in the next election where all second constituencies become reserved. This method achieves a 33% distribution while preserving geographic balance.
Impact of Seat Rotation:
One concern regarding the rotation of seats is that it may disincentivize candidates from adequately representing their constituents, especially if they are aware that their constituency may be reserved in the next cycle. This could lead to candidates appointing female relatives to maintain the seat, potentially undermining the purpose of reservation. This phenomenon has been observed in panchayat elections, where 43% of women Pradhans in Birbhum, West Bengal, reported “help” from their husbands. Additionally, there may be pressure to convert the fixed reservations for SC/ST seats into rotating reservations, resulting in a significant number of seats being in flux every election.
To address this issue, randomization through lottery draws has been proposed. However, random draws among all PCs/ACs within a state could still lead to geographic clustering of reserved seats. To mitigate this, zoning and subsequent random selections within zones have been suggested as an alternative approach.
To encourage experienced quota MPs to move to open seats in the next election cycle and facilitate the entry of new women into politics, a one-term-only restriction for elected women to contest in reserved seats has been proposed. This approach aligns with practices in other democracies but introduces uncertainty for legislators who do not know the reservation status of their constituency.
Proportional Representation as an Alternative:
An alternative to the reservation system is proportional representation (PR), which allocates seats based on the proportion of votes obtained by political parties. This approach encourages parties to diversify their candidate pool, including nominating more women, to appeal to a broader electorate. PR can lead to constituencies naturally reflecting their demographics and offer increased opportunities for qualified women candidates to succeed in elections.
In conclusion, India faces significant challenges in enhancing women’s representation in its political landscape. The Women’s Reservation Bill has encountered obstacles throughout its history, and the delineation of reserved seats presents complexities. While seat rotation and reservation systems are vital steps, they may have unintended consequences.
An alternative approach, such as proportional representation, could offer a more organic way to achieve gender parity in Indian politics. However, regardless of the method chosen, it is essential to recognize that reservation policies must be complemented by broader efforts to empower women’s leadership and participation in politics, fostering a more inclusive and representative democracy for India.