WRB: The logic behind the seemingly illogical demands

The Women’s Reservation Bill and the controversy surrounding it have invited many comments and counter-proposals. Some observers, for instance, have supported the proposal for amending the R.P.Act to force the political parties to nominate a certain number of women candidates in the elections, failing which they would lose their recognition. Critics of this proposal are concerned that this may not guarantee 33% seats in Parliament and state assemblies for women. The proponents of ‘Let the parties reserve tickets for women’ suggest that we could, while amending the R.P.Act for the purpose, require the parties not to field candidates from the same constituencies from which they were fielded last time, in order to not restrict women candidates to losing seats. They also suggest that the parties may be required to ensure that 38 per cent of their candidates are women, so that at least 33 per cent get elected. Interesting as these proposals are, they miss the logic behind the demand for 33%.

Proponents of 33% quota for women defend their demand on the ground that women have been deprived of sufficient representation for several decades, and therefore, the demand for 33% seats for women, is justified. The alternative proposals ask them to hope and experiment, instead of looking for guarantees, whereas the proponents of 33% see merit only in guaranteed representation. Alternative proposal-makers don’t understand the obsession with 33 per cent. They may well be correct. But so have been many events in our history. Why did the British and the Indian nationalists choose August 15, 1947 as the Independence Day? Indeed, there is an interpretation that had we accepted Independence in 1948, we could have avoided the Partition riots. Take another instance. Our Constitution guarantees many rights, which could well have been left to chance and circumstances. But based on historical experience, our Constitution-makers and subsequently the Judiciary which expanded these rights, believed they were basic rights, and could not be left to the mercies of the state and non-State actors. Or take the question of 22% quota for SC/STs in education, jobs and representative bodies, fixed at the time of founding the Republic. The figure could well have been attacked as an irrational obsession. But we needed to arrive at some figure, based on the collective understanding of the extent of discrimination they suffered historically, and the nature of compensatory regime required to uplift them. Again, this could not have been left to chance, or hope that parties would field more SC/ST candidates out of benevolence.

The understanding of the proponents of undiluted 33% quota is also flawed. They assail the demand for sub-quota within 33% because they suggest that the compulsions of competitive politics will do justice to those who demand sub-quota. They may well be correct in their understanding of the political reality. But the proponents of sub-quota also demand guarantees, like the proponents of 33%. Well, an aspiration for guarantee can be denied on the ground that it could expressly violate the provisions of the Constitution. The answer is to reach a consensus on the required amendments, rather than fail to notice the force behind the rising aspirations among the hitherto excluded sections for representation through guaranteed quota.

Join the discussion

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Dear VV, there are good reasons to oppose the Bill, and I think the most powerful case against it has been made by PB Mehta (see here and here. few question the need for greater representation for women in politics, but assuming that all counter-proposals are motivated by a desire to scuttle reform is unwarranted (i am not suggesting that you made this assumption, but some people in this debate do).

    an internal party reservation with a rider that women should only be given tickets in a constituency which that party has won at least once in the last 3 elections, to my mind, takes care of most worries that Mehta has. At the same time, it will be genuine reform, for women will not be assigned unwinnable seat. And it will retain some flexibility and discretion with the party – not something we must be fearful of. The argument is not on numbers – whether it is 33% or 38%, they remain arbitrary numbers. The question is one of mechanism, and the values underlying these mechanisms. All we need is a simple proportionality analysis, where we examine each proposal on the basis of the degree to which it achieves its stated objective (political empowerment of women) and the degree to which it harms our other values (liberty, democracy, choice). The proposal that achieves the objective to the greatest degree while harming our values least must win. The current Bill, I am afraid, is not a proportionate proposal.

  • Dear Tarunabh,
    I am not in principle against the sentiments expressed by PBM and you. The alternative proposals do interest me, and I don't question the motives of their makers. Personally, given an option, I would suggest we could experiment with one or the other of the alternative proposals. But we need to understand why the political class,by and large, rejected the alternative proposals in the first place, and what explains their stand on the sub-quota. That was the purpose of my post.