Until now, there have been some surreptitious suggestions that the reservation of one-third seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the assemblies should be reduced to bring objectors on board. On Wednesday, it came into the open, with several women leaders suggesting it is perhaps time to consider other options, including pruning the percentage and increasing the number of seats by 33 per cent without disturbing existing seats.
On the face of it, the resolution adopted after three hours of deliberations --sometimes heated--maintained that the 33 per cent quota bill be brought before Parliament during the Budget session. But during the discussions, the underlying message was that if other options were offered once the bill is placed in the House, these could be looked into. "But bring the bill first" was the general — and perhaps the only common — refrain among the 40-odd women leaders who met in Parliament House Annexe.
For a moment it seemed the programme would collapse. The NCW-organised gathering was supposed to be an interaction between women's groups and MPs (both male and female) to evolve strategies for getting the bill passed. But only two MPs turned up — BJP's Sumitra Mahajan who was present right through and CPM's Brinda Karat who came, spoke and had to leave because she had to attend a funeral.
The programme was salvaged with Karat and then AICC leader Margaret Alva who underlined the need to be realistic rather than insistent. "The question is of opening the door and putting a foot in," Alva said. She put on the table various suggestions emanating from different quarters including rotation of seats, increasing their number by 33 per cent without disturbing existing seats, providing subquotas and double member seats, 33 per cent tickets to women by parties and perhaps even working for quotas in assemblies before the Lok Sabha. Karat mentioned that RJD's Lalu Yadav wanted the percentage reduced.
The reactions varied from outright rejection of these options to the need to get ‘something’ rather than 'nothing.' Ranjana Kumari of Centre for Social Research saw no reason why women's groups should reopen the issue. “It will be a wrong strategy,” she said, prompting Alva to retort, “Go and convince Lalu Yadav about 33 per cent'' But there was consensus by end of it.