The Indian Parliament is still a man’s world.
While the fate of the Women’s Reservation Bill, which proposes 33% reservation for women in Parliament, hangs in balance, a look at the history and profile of women members of Parliament, or MPs, reveals a dismal picture: Out of the 543 members in the 14th Lok Sabha, only 8.7% were women, down from 9.2% in the 13th Lok Sabha. The representation of women in the Lok Sabha has never crossed 10% (the highest was 9.2%) of the the House.
Nearly three-quarters (73.2%) of the women members in the 14th Lok Sabha were in the age group of 40-60 and 58.1% had higher education. However, it is the financial and family backgrounds of these women MPs that tell the real story.
Nearly 30% of women members in the Lok Sabha—nearly one in three—declared family assets of al least Rs1.5 crore, while 25.6% had assets between Rs50 lakh and Rs1.5 crore. Nearly 55% of them came from political families.
Some prominent names include the Congress party’s president Sonia Gandhi (the late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s wife), Congress leader Meira Kumar (daughter of former Union minister Jagjivan Ram), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member of Parliament Yashodhara Raje (daughter of former BJP vice-president Vijaya Raje Scindia) and Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti (daughter of former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed).
This means most women elected to the 14th Lok Sabha had similar profiles and came from privileged backgrounds. It is this very argument that is being used against it by the opponents of the Women’s Reservation Bill. They argue that only women with elite and influential backgrounds will end up gaining political power thanks to the quota proposed in the Bill.
However, after failing to get the Bill passed because of pressure from allies, the outgoing Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government introduced the Bill in the Rajya Sabha in May 2008—a move that prevents it from lapsing.
The Congress and the BJP, apart from the Communist Party of India (Marxist), have promised in their election manifestos that they will get the Bill passed if voted to power in the general election.
The fifth and concluding part of this series will look at coalition logic and participation of smaller parties in parliamentary debates in the 14th Lok Sabha.
Graphics by Sandeep Bhatnagar / Mint