Sunday, March 14, 2010

Increase women representation, don’t create quotas

Karan Thapar has succinctly put the problems of Women Reservation Bill (WRB) in its current form, in an article here.

First, as a principle, reservations cause offence because they amount to discrimination. India accepts that the scheduled castes and tribes (SC/ST), given their special history, deserve reservations. No such consensus exists for women.

Second, on top of 22.5 per cent for SC/ST, 33 per cent for women (although some of it would overlap) would push up total reservations in the Lok Sabha to around 48 per cent. It means non-SC/ST men (78 per cent of the male population) can only contest 52 per cent of the Lok Sabha seats! Is this acceptable in a democracy?

Third, the way these 33 per cent seats are to be reserved will undermine the key relationship in a parliamentary democracy between an MP and his/her constituency. This is because they are reserved for only one out of a set of three elections. Clearly, therefore, the winning women MPs will have limited incentive to nurture their constituencies. Indeed, this could also apply to the MPs they replace. That’s possibly 66 per cent of the Lok Sabha!

The solution is disarmingly simple as several people have mentioned and Thapar also outlines below.  It is just that the political parties are used to making simple issues into complex beasts, and then indulge in name calling each other trying to fool people that they are doing it all in people’s interests.  Maybe there is a political mindset in India that every problem has to be solved by creating a quota of some kind in favour of the people who demand their rights.

But perhaps the best way is to emulate Tony Blair. In 1997 he increased the number of women candidates fielded by the Labour party, ensuring that over 100 were elected. In our case the Representation of People’s Act could be amended, requiring parties to field a minimum percentage of women candidates.

To ensure political parties don’t circumvent the spirit of this requirement by choosing women for unwinnable seats — e.g. the Samajwadi Party fulfilling the law by fielding women from Tamil Nadu, where they stand no chance of winning — the amendment could say that the percentage has to be implemented state-wise.

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