No need to hurry

Womens Reservation

Jihad has different meanings. Islamist terrorists have one. Leaders of other backward classes (OBC) in India have another. The latter have used the word, jihad, to raise the standard of revolt against the government headed by prime minister Manmohan Singh. His Congress party had the Rajya Sabha endorse the controversial Women’s Reservation Bill.

The OBC, a caste grouping between the upper castes and the lowest caste, fear that the 33 per cent reservations in the two houses of parliament and state legislatures would benefit primarily the elite and the affluent (today 68 per cent of woman MPs are crorepatis) and leave their womenfolk still more backward.

Many male MPs of different parties are also having second thoughts. The bill when enacted will curtail 181 seats of men from 545-member Lok Sabha. It is laid down that after every general election — the tenure is five years — reservations for women will rotate to embrace new constituencies. The process, covering the entire country, will end after 15 years when the reservation period ends.

The three OBC leaders who are leading the agitation are: Mulayam Singh Yadav from UP, Lalu Prasad Yadav from Bihar and Sharad Yadav, president of the JD(U). They have threatened not to allow the government function if their castes were not accommodated. Their apprehension is somewhat exaggerated. Yet they have a point when they argue that reservations may come to work against the women from their castes and the minorities.

The remedy they suggest is, however, worse than the disease. They demand a quota within quota, 10 per cent for the OBC and five per cent for Muslims. This proposal may evoke a feeling of separation in the country which easily gets divided on caste or creed.
There is no doubt that the legislation fulfils the call by parliamentary democracy to have gender equality. The question which needs to be asked is: Was it necessary to take such a step when the country was plagued by numerous problems, from Maoists’ violence, rising prices to dismal poverty? True, the bill has been languishing for 14 years. But no span of time is long enough when the alternative is a cleavage in society and tension in the country.

India has not yet developed into a polity where the differences over caste or religion have been even allayed, much less settled. Indeed, it is tough for a liberal or a democrat to ignore what the modern world achieved long ago. Yet a nation has to define its own priorities. I do not think that the bill should have been on top of the agenda when the consensus was lacking.

Set priorities

Prosperity and pluralism may make one day the exploitation in the name of caste and creed irrelevant. Till such time, the leaders have to resist the temptation to hit headlines because the gain of a few may spell ruin to the millions. The credit which is given rightly to Congress president Sonia Gandhi may look small in the face of dangers that the nation would be exposed.

Unfortunately, all the three OBC leaders, driven to the wall on the mathematics of numbers in parliament, have played the card of caste. They are trying to reignite the fire that was quenched some 20 years ago by implementing the Mandal commission report and giving reservations to OBC. Still the country remained on the boil till the report was implemented. A similar situation can take place if the women’s bill is sought to be passed.
A better suggestion is that political parties should be legally bound to allocate 33 per cent seats to women in parliament and state legislatures. I am told that all parties except the Left are agreeable to the proposal. Why the communists are against it is not understandable but their dialectical materialism goes on a different tangent. Another suggestion Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has given is that the 33 per cent seats can be converted into dual constituencies so as to accommodate women.

There is no option to conciliation. The Congress which has in the Lok Sabha 208 seats, 65 short of a majority, cannot afford to alienate the Yadavs because their support is crucial to the government’s viability. The Congress has, perforce, assured parliament that all the parties would be consulted before proceeding further on the bill.

The demolition of the Babri masjid was the fallout of the Mandal agitation. BJP leader Atal Behari Vajpayee admitted after the demolition that if the Mandal had not taken place, “we would not have picked up kamandal.” The nation is still paying for the sins committed at that time. Must we add to our miseries?

Meanwhile, it is welcome to see the nemesis catching up with Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. This is also a slap in the face of leading industrialists, who gathered at Ahmedabad some weeks ago, to announce that the next prime minister of India should be Modi. The corporate sector should realise that the people elect a ruling party which in turn appoints the prime minister.

The families of the victims of the pogrom that Modi government unleashed have been waiting for the last eight years to see that those whose hands are soaked with blood do not go unpunished.

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