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The Women's Lottery Bill

By Sharad Joshi
March 15, 2010 16:07 IST
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Economist, agriculturist and farmer leader Sharad Joshi, was the lone member of Rajya Sabha who voted against the woman's reservation bill on March 9. He explains his reservations against the bill.

The concept of political empowerment of women did not start in 1991with Rajeev Gandhi or with Deve Gowda in 1993.

It was my organisations -- the Shetkari Sanghatana and the Shetkari Mahila Aghadi which proposed 100 percent women panels in the panchayat raj elections in Maharashtra as early as 1986.

This frightened the then ruling Congress government in Maharashtra under the leadership of Shankarrao Chavan to such an extent that they did not dare hold panchayat elections for three years until 1989.

It was at that time that the concept of 33 percent reservation for women in panchayat raj institutions was introduced in Maharashtra.

It is this concept which is now being applied at all India level and at the Centre.

Unfortunately, the drafters of the bill have been carried away by their enthusiasm and not done the necessary analysis of the long-term consequences of this piece of legislation.

Nobody will object to the concept of having a fair proportion of women in any legislative bodies.

The question is: Is reservation the best way of getting them in?

My party, the Swatantra Bharat Paksha and myself hold the view that it would have been much better idea to hand over the entire panchayat raj to women before partial reservations are introduced at the Centre and the state levels.

I honestly feel:

· that the selection of the reserved constituencies by lottery-cum-rotation is highly dangerous for the democracy in this country and,

· that the government as also the members of this House should accept to have a one more look at this bill.


Let us have a close look at this lottery-cum-rotation contraption.

1. At the very first, if we draw the reserved constituencies we might face a situation where there is no particularly enthusiastic woman candidate in that particular area.

2. On the other hand, there might have been a male aspirant nursing that constituency for some time. This can cause unnecessary bitterness about the women's movement and provide an opportunity for the established leaders to push the candidates of their family members who might not have shown any interest, till then, in political activities.

3. In the lottery computations system, a large proportion of voters may not get a chance to vote for any woman candidate at all in the whole lifetime.

4. Women who get elected to the legislative bodies may have very little interest left in nursing their constituency as they know that they will not have a second chance to contest from the same constituency.

5. Even the male candidates who get elected from the non-reserved constituencies would work under the full knowledge that the chances that they would get to contest from the same constituencies again are only 50-50.

Conclusion: The level of nursing of all the constituencies will go down.

6. Further, simple arithmetic will show that a legislature with women's reservation bill will not have more than 33 percent experienced repeaters coming for a second term.

This kind of drafting comes out of lack of imagination and absence of real concern for women's interests.

That is the reason why the bill remained pending for 13 years.

This could have been avoided and the bill could have been passed much earlier if only the drafters had followed an alternative system to the lottery-cum-rotation system.

We have, nevertheless, serious doubts about any system of reservation being an instrument of ensuring social justice to any community. It is our conviction that reservation is particularly inappropriate to correct gender injustice.

The actual experience in most states has confirmed our apprehensions. Reservation of seats for women has resulted in the womenfolk of the established leaders parading as representatives of women with no change in the position of the common woman and no improvement in performance and no reduction in corruption. India has already experienced a rule by women from the creamy layer of this society dominating the political scene even without any system of reservation.

In fact, this reservation has given rise to resentment amongst those who normally sympathise with the women's cause. Reservations for women are being pushed by women in the creamy layer consisting of professional politicians and activists of funded non-government organisations. Men who have hazy ideas about the women's question and are afraid of being branded as 'male chauvinist pigs' tow the lines taken by self-professed and self-serving champions of women.

We, however, appreciate that reservations is, at present, a fashionable word and perhaps it is too late in the day to argue against it.

The alternative solution can be provided by constitution of new multiple-seat constituencies where each constituency will club together three of the existing constituencies. This constituency will become multiple-seat constituency where every voter would have three votes out of which one has to be exercised in favour of a woman candidate for valid voting.

If a woman candidate gets the highest number of votes amongst all the candidates contesting, she should be considered as getting elected on the general seat and the women's reservation seat will go to the woman candidate who gets the highest number of votes from amongst the remaining women candidates.

This system would ensure that every voter gets the possibility of voting for women in each of the election that will be held. Further, it will not affect adversely the quality of deliberations in the legislature or the quality of servicing of the constituencies.

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Sharad Joshi