Like a particularly annoying stuck record, the ‘33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament’ song has begun playing again. Conducting the grating music are, of course, the Congress and the BJP following the latter’s promise to reserve 33 per cent party posts for women. Pardon us, but where have we heard that before? As we move towards the next Lok Sabha elections, be sure that we will hear much more about women’s empowerment and the political commitment to women’s reservations. But the point is that the women’s reservation issue is not only being used as a tiring flag-waving exercise, but it is also a cosmetic exercise of championing a bad idea. In other words, it is a complete waste of time.
Over the years, we have seen our political worthies chopping and changing their stands on the issue. Some wanted 50 per cent reservation, some 15 per cent and still others, more honestly, told agitating women to go home and make rotis, that being more their station in life than entering the portals of Parliament. Still others spoke of how only “shorthaired” (read: overtly ‘modern’) women wanted reservation. In the light of this, we must take the latest attempt to pull out the hoary old chestnut of reservations with a pinch of salt. But the underlining point is that women should not accept a situation where the scope of quotas is widened to include gender. If political parties were serious about empowering women, they would try and strengthen the panchayati raj system where 33 per cent reservations for women already exist. When it first began, the criticism was that many women would be mere rubber stamps for men in the area. But several women sarpanchs have asserted themselves and exercised the powers vested in them for the good of the community. Such women are bound to look ahead at greater political power first at the state level and then in Parliament.
In addition, schemes like self-help groups, micro-credit and adult education should be strengthened. Thus, educationally and economically empowered women will demand and take their own place in the political sun. These measures are far more feasible, credible and effective than reserving seats for women candidates. Women should not accept, even in theory, this kind of condescension from a political establishment. So let the BJP and Congress stop playacting and, instead, focus on creating an enabling atmosphere where women can secure political power on their own steam.