Now that the historic 108th amendment to the Constitution of India, guaranteeing 33% of seats for women in the lower house of Parliament and the Assemblies, has been passed by the Rajya Sabha, the beginning of the end of male domination of Indian politics, with all its attendant biases, prejudices and weaknesses, is just one step away.
At least, in theory.
Yet, while the landmark nature of the move—a rare confluence of right, left and centrist political formations—is something to salute in the short term, a big question mark hangs over its medium to long term impact. And we are not talking the usual cliche of the reservation being misused by political families, etc.
A huge question hangs over the “house of the people”.
In the Lok Sabha, out of the 543 seats that need to be warmed by the representatives of the people, 122 are already reserved for the scheduled castes and tribes (SC/STs). Now a further 181 will be reserved for women. So, a nation of a billion plus people will have exactly 282 seats open for the general category. Ditto in the state assemblies, where out of the 4,109 seats, 1,167 are reserved for SC/STs and 1,370 for women, leaving 2,942 for the general category.
Doubtless, the women’s quota will alter the established power matrix, doubtless it will bring a “soft touch” to the legislative process, doubless it will give one-half of the population a voice, doubtless it will bring more germane development issues to the table, etc, but in the medium to long term, could such a small number of seats in the general category have a deleterious impact on our democracy?
Will the size of the Lok Sabha and the assemblies need to be increased to give adequate representation to general category candidates who are not women or SC/STs? Or is this just a fashionable way of airing the same bias and prejudice that held up the women’s bill for 14 years?