[Reader-list] Question regarding women's reservation bill

Rahul Asthana rahul_capri at yahoo.com
Thu Mar 11 17:26:28 IST 2010

Thanks for this article Kshmendra .
I find it perplexing that something of this stature, which has the potential to disturb democracy in a major way finds  so little coverage in the media. I can only hope this bill does not get passed in its current form.


From: Kshmendra Kaul <kshmendra2005 at yahoo.com>
To: Rakesh Iyer <rakesh.rnbdj at gmail.com>; Rahul Asthana <rahul_capri at yahoo.com>
Cc: Sarai Reader List <reader-list at sarai.net>
Sent: Thu, March 11, 2010 5:02:32 AM
Subject: Re: [Reader-list] Question regarding women's reservation bill

Dear Rahul / Rakesh
To supplement the comments already made by the two of you, Madhu Kishwar's article (reproduced below) might be of interest.  
She lists what she sees as shortcomings in the Bill and talks about an Alternative Model (proposed by her organisation 'Manushi') and it's merits.
"Women's Reservation Bill: Well intentioned but highly flawed"
9 Mar 2010
By Madhu Purnima Kishwar
Even though I firmly believe that special measures are indeed required to enhance the participation of women in our legislatures, I have been a steadfast critic of the women’s reservation bill in its present form because it is ill conceived and seriously flawed. It’s main shortcoming is that it provides a mechanical entry of women members to fill one-third of vacancies in Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabhas by reserving one third constituencies for women candidates. These will be rotated with every election. 

It is ill conceived because: The rotation system will automatically result in two-thirds of incumbent members –one third women and one third men — being forcibly unseated in every general election. The remaining one-third will be left in limbo until the last moment, not knowing if their constituency will form part of the one-third randomly reserved seats. This will require them to scramble at short notice to find another seat from which to contest. Such compulsory unseating violates the very basic principles of democratic representation. It jeopardises the possibility of sensible planning to contest and nurture a political constituency for both male and female candidates. 

Even though there will be no legal bar on women standing from general constituencies, it is highly unlikely that many women will obtain party tickets to run for office outside the reserved constituencies. This same pattern is evident with SCs and STs who have been permanently ghettoised to fixed reserved constituencies. 

It will make it harder for women to build their long-term credibility as effective representatives, since they will not be able to contest twice from the same constituency once it is de-reserved. There will be no incentive for a woman politician to nurse her constituency since it will be reserved only once in 15 years. They will thus will be deprived of a strong political base and will forever be regarded as ‘one time’ players. 

Reservation through territorial constituencies will restrict the choice of voters who would have no option but to elect women only, violating the basic principles of democratic representation. This is likely to lead to greater resentment against women, undermining the very objective of the Bill. 

Those men who get pushed out of their constituencies or who see their allies sidelined will either sabotage female contenders in revenge, or spend much of their political capital helping their own female relatives in cornering these reserved seats. Such proxies would be expected to keep the seat ‘safe’ for the men until the next election, when they would again try to reclaim their seats. This will further strengthen the culture feminine space being dominated by the” biwi beti” brigade. 

Women will be ghettoised to ‘women only’ constituencies leading to the zenana dabba mindset. Leadership acquired in such a manner will be seen as unnatural, artificial and foisted. 

Given these serious infirmities, Manushi proposed an alternative model, which addresses many of the flaws listed above. The important provisions of the proposed Alternative Bill are as follows: 

Through an amendment of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, it should be mandatory for every recognised political party to nominate women candidates for election in one-third of the constituencies. This enables each party to choose where it wishes to nominate women candidates, duly taking local political and social factors into account. 

To prevent a party from nominating women candidates only in states or constituencies where the party’s chances of winning election are weak, and to ensure an even spread of women candidates, the unit for consideration (the unit in which at least one out of the three party candidates shall be a woman) for the Lok Sabha shall be a state or Union Territory; for the assembly, the unit shall be a cluster of three contiguous Lok Sabha constituencies. 

In the event of any recognised party failing to nominate one-third women candidates, for the shortfall of every single woman candidate, two male candidates of the party shall lose the party symbol and affiliation and all the recognition-related advantages. 

The advantages of this model are: 

Parties can nurture women candidates where they can offer a good fight rather than in pre-fixed lottery based constituencies, where they may or may not have viable women candidates. Thus there is flexibility and promotion of natural leadership. 

Though seats are not reserved, there will be a large pool of credible and serious women candidates in the fray. A woman candidate will be contesting both against female and/or male candidates of rival parties. Therefore, the democratic choice of voters is not restricted to compulsorily electing only women candidates. 

As women members will be elected in competition with male candidates — without reserving seats — they will be seen as legitimate representatives in the eyes of the public and not just beneficiaries of charitable measures or treated as political light weights. 

Parties will be able to nominate women from BCs, minorities and other communities for elective office in areas where there is electoral advantage to them. This obviates the need for a quota within quotas — an issue that has blocked the existing bill. Those who are concerned about BC representation need not settle merely for one-third quota for BC women within the 33% women’s quota, as they are demanding now. They can field as many BC or minority women as they think appropriate. 

Unlike with the lottery system of reserved constituencies, in which women’s presence is likely to get ossified at 33% since there would be resistance to letting women contest from non-reserved constituencies, this model allows for far greater flexibility in the number and proportion of women being elected to legislatures. If women are candidates for one-third of all seats contested by each party, theoretically they could even win the vast majority of seats — all on merit. 

The democratic choice of voters is not restricted to compulsorily electing only women candidates in one third constituencies while being denied the chance to elect women in the rest of constituencies. 

There will be no need for rotation or territorial reservation. Therefore elected women can nurture their constituencies and emerge as major political figures in their own right, with an independent power base. 

By making the unit of consideration the state or Union Territory for Lok Sabha, and a cluster of three Lok Sabha constituencies for the legislative assembly, the risk of parties shunting women in weak constituencies is avoided. 

Parties will have the incentive to nominate women in all states and regions or else twice the number of male candidates of the party will lose party nomination. No serious party seeking power can afford to deliberately undermine its own chances of election on such a large scale. 

The experience of fixed quotas in a few countries where it has been tried, such as Nepal, the Philippines, and the erstwhile Soviet Union, has produced very dismal results for women’s political participation. By contrast party-based quotas in many European democracies have allowed women to acquire majority participation in their respective legislatures. 

(The author is a professor at CSDS.) 

--- On Thu, 3/11/10, Rahul Asthana <rahul_capri at yahoo.com> wrote:

>From: Rahul Asthana <rahul_capri at yahoo.com>
>Subject: Re: [Reader-list] Question regarding women's reservation bill
>To: "Rakesh Iyer" <rakesh.rnbdj at gmail.com>
>Cc: "Sarai Reader List" <reader-list at sarai.net>
>Date: Thursday, March 11, 2010, 12:14 AM
>Thanks Rakesh.
>I agree that women incumbents can contest from open seats - but,firstly, it is less likely that they would be given tickets by major parties,since they are already giving tickets to women in the reserved constituencies.Secondly,if they do, the balance may shift in the other direction with men not getting a chance to stand for election in 66% of the seats.
>To sum up, in 66% of seats, its unlikely, though not impossible for the incumbents to stand for election ; and that I think is bad for accountability in particular and democarcy in general.It has the potential to create a big mess.
>On the other hand, fixed reservation is acceptable in my opinion.
>From: Rakesh Iyer <rakesh.rnbdj at gmail.com>
>To: Rahul
> Asthana <rahul_capri at yahoo.com>
>Cc: Sarai Reader List <reader-list at sarai.net>
>Sent: Wed, March 10, 2010 1:30:47 PM
>Subject: Re: [Reader-list] Question regarding women's reservation bill
>Hi Rahul
>My response:
>1) The reservation is rotating in the sense, that within 15 years, all seats would have been reserved at least once for women. Assume that a state has 3 governments which last their full terms. In such a case, in 15 years, there would have been 3 elections for the state assembly. In such a case, one third of the assembly seats would be reserved in say the first election, but in the next election, these seats would be de-reserved, and instead one-third of the total assembly
> seats (but not these dereserved ones) would be chosen for the 2nd election. In the third election, those seats which were dereserved for both the 1st and 2nd election would be reserved. 
>2) Women can contest even from dereserved seats, so there is no case of incumbent not being able to contest from a seat once it is dereserved. She can contest again. There is no restriction on doing so. But what it means is that a man would not be able to be contest three continuous times in both Assembly and Parliamentary elections from the same seat. 
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