New Delhi, Sept 21: The Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed the women's reservation bill with near-unanimous backing, setting it on course to be cleared by the Rajya Sabha possibly by Thursday evening.
It was the first time that the women's quota bill, the Constitution (128th Amendment) Bill in Parliament's terminology, had been put to vote in the Lok Sabha and it glided past the 2/3rds bar with a massive 454-2 leap, with only both members of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, who had demanded a quota for Muslim and OBC women within the larger quota, voting against the affirmative action measure, which has been decades in the waiting.
The landslide support came in spite of the opposition failing to secure acceptance of its demands - that it should be implemented immediately rather than by 2029 as the government has proposed, quota for OBCs and Muslims within the general quota, and for clubbing a caste-wise headcount with the decennial census. This showed that the bill is likely to cruise through the RS as well on Thursday, bringing the prospect of enactment of a law reserving one-third seats in Parliament and legislatures tantalisingly close.
Government sources stressed that once the bill was passed by Parliament and got the President's assent, it would automatically apply to all state assemblies without having to secure ratification by them.
Criticism fails to turn into opposition
Parliament has the prerogative to decide the number of seats in state assemblies, which have no role to play in this regard," a senior government functionary said.
PM Narendra Modi, who vigorously pushed for the long-delayed legislation, was jubiliant. "Delighted at the passage of the Constitution Amendment Bill 2023 in Lok Sabha with such phenomenal support. I thank MPs across party lines who voted in support of this bill," he posted on social media site X.
"The Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam is a historic legislation which will further boost women's empowerment and will enable even greater participation of women in our political process," he tweeted.
Given the bill's troubled history - it was brought to Parliament five times only to be cast aside in view of resistance which would often take an aggressive turn - its smooth passage came as an anti-climax to many and a pleasant surprise for legions of women activists.
The opposition parties, which unanimously saw the bill as a move timed to coincide with the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls, refused to give the government a free pass. Congress and others pressed for immediate rollout. Congress also reversed itself on the issue of "quota within quota". It had refused to concede the demand of OBC parties in 2010, leading to the demise of the bill after it was passed by the Rajya Sabha.
Congress also demanded tagging a caste census with the decennial enumeration exercise, in a marked pivot towards the "social justice" platform.
But the criticism did not translate into opposition, something that appeared to be testimony to the PM's sense of timing as well as the influence that women have begun to wield in many parts.
It was home minister Amit Shah who parried the opposition's insistence on immediate rollout by saying that for anything to be considered, the bill had to go through first. "Yesterday was Shri Ganesh Chaturthi, so let the bill have an auspicious beginning," he said.
A few amendments moved by the government relating to the numbering of the Constitution amendment bill were also cleared by the House. When the proposed legislation goes to the Rajya Sabha for consideration, it will be called the Constitution (106th Amendment) Bill, officials said.