The new Parliament reverberated with explosive speeches from women MPs Wednesday during a heated debate on the women’s reservation bill. Ex-Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, DMK MP Kanimozhi, and the NCP’s Supriya Sule ripped into the government for failing to respect women, while Union Minister Smriti Irani replied by declaring the government had “made women count”.
Mrs Gandhi opened the seven hours put aside for discussing this bill – which proposes a 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and state legislatures, but not before the 2029 national election – with a call for a quota (within the larger quota) for women from Other Backward Classes.
In a move that raised eyebrows, the government opted for a male MP – the BJP’s Nishikant Dubey – as its first speaker on a bill about women’s political representation – a move the opposition called out. Union Home Minister Amit Shah retorted, asking if “men can’t speak on women’s issues?”
What Sonia Gandhi Said
“I stand here in support of the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam. From smoke-filled kitchens to flood-lit stadiums, the Indian woman’s journey has been a long one…” Sonia Gandhi began.
The Congress and others have slammed the BJP claiming credit for the women’s bill – a hot-button topic with the general election now months away. The opposition has pointed to a 2010 version of the bill that was tabled by the Congress-led UPA government. The bill cleared the Rajya Sabha but flopped in the Lok Sabha amid protests by the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal.
Mrs Gandhi underlined her party’s support of the bill but red-flagged provisions that make its implementation dependent on delimitation and a census, meaning it will likely not have any effect before the 2029 election.
“How many years will they (women) have to wait… two… four… eight? Is this right? Congress demands the bill be implemented immediately,” she said as she also called for “reservation for women from SC, ST and OBC communities. Delaying this would be gross injustice to women.”
What Kanimozhi Said
The DMK’s Kanimozhi was the next major woman MP to speak. In a concise and defiant speech, the Tamil Nadu leader – who was heckled as she rose to speak – demanded the government (and society) stop “saluting… worshipping” women and allow them to “walk as equals”.
“We don’t want to be called mother, sister or wife. We want to be respected as equals,” she said.
Ms Kanimozhi asked the government if it had consulted all relevant stakeholders – as she had been told it would do. “I would like to know what consensus was built… what discussions were held. This bill was brought shrouded in secrecy…”
“We have the right… this country belongs to us. Parliament belongs to us…” she thundered.
What Supriya Sule Said
The NCP MP responded to Mr Dubey’s jibe at the INDIA bloc and called out a senior Maharashtra BJP leader for telling her, “Supriya Sule… ghar jaao, khana banao. Desh koi aur chala lega (Supriya Sule… go home, cook food. Someone else will run the country.”
“This is what the BJP’s mindset is…” she said. Earlier, Ms Sule had also backed Ms Kanimozhi in her speech – when the DMK MP invoked the spirit of strong women leaders, including the late AIADMK boss and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. “… well done Kani, exactly!” she said delightedly.
What Smriti Irani Said
The union minister took a swipe at Mrs Gandhi (without naming the former Congress chief) for pointing out the UPA government had tabled the bill in 2010. “They say success has many fathers and failure none… so, when the bill came, some people called it ‘our bill’,” Smriti Irani said.
On Tuesday Mrs Gandhi had told reporters the women’s bill is “apna (ours)”.
On the opposition’s demand reservation for women becomes effective ahead of the 2024 election, Ms Irani asked if they (the opposition) “want us to flout the Constitution?” She also accused the Congress of trying to “mislead the country” by asking for “religion-based quota”.
Mrs Gandhi had asked for reservations for women MPs from OBC, SC and ST communities.
What Others Said
The Trinamool’s Kakoli Ghosh also spoke and demanded to know why the BJP had not acted against its own MP – Brij Bhushan Singh – after he was accused of sexual harassment by female wrestlers.
She slammed the “late” introduction of the women’s bill a gimmick and said it was “like pulling a rabbit from their hat” and placing it before the country.
Speaking to reporters outside Parliament, Akali Dal MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal hit out at the government over the census and delimitation clause in the bill and said women had been betrayed by a male-dominated parliament.
“Devil in the detail came across…The census was to be held in 2021 and now 2023 is about to end and it hasn’t been done yet and we don’t know when will it happen,” she said in Parliament.
Samajwadi Party MP Dimple Yadav, the daughter-in-law of party patriarch (the late) Mulayam Singh Yadav, emphasised the opposition’s demand to recognise women from minority and backward classes”