On 29 January 2018, Ram Nath Kovind, the president of India, delivered an annual address to both houses of Parliament, highlighting the government’s achievements in the previous year. Keeping with parliamentary convention, the Rajya Sabha discussed the speech, and on 5 February, a member of the house moved a motion of thanks to the president for his address. Subsequently, other parliamentarians put forth amendments to the motion, stating the failures of the government that did not find mention in the president’s address. Among these amendments, was one by TK Rangarajan, a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), asking for the motion of thanks to include a statement expressing regret “that there is no mention in the Address about the Government’s failure to pass Women Reservation Bill.”
Rangarajan’s amendment referred to The Constitution (One Hundred and Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2008, better known as the women’s reservation bill, which seeks to reserve 33 percent of all Lok Sabha and state legislative assembly seats for women. The bill also states that one-third of the seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes candidates will go to women. The Rajya Sabha passed the bill on 9 March 2010, but it never came into effect as the lower house of the parliament did not approve the reservation. Eight years later, Rangarajan’s amendment was put to vote in the Rajya Sabha, and defeated—86 members of the house were opposed to expressing regret about the government’s failure to pass the bill and 57 members were in favour of the same.
While the vote reflected the house’s reluctance to regard the non-passage of the bill as a failure, it contradicted other moves political parties have made with respect to the reservation. A number of the parties that were against the amendment have professed their support to the bill—this includes the Bharatiya Janata Party which has had a majority in the Lok Sabha for the past five years, but not tabled the bill in the house even once. As for many of those that voted in favour of the amendment, including the Congress, their commitment to increase the representation of women is not borne out in their choice of candidates for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
In April 2019, both the national parties released their manifestos for the 2019 general elections, in which they promise to reserve 33 percent seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state assemblies—an assurance both had made before the 2014 elections as well. Yet, their allotment of tickets to women for the 2019 election does not reflect this commitment. As on 21 April, the BJP had announced 432 candidates, out of which only 52, or around 12 percent, were women. Similarly, the Congress had only given 13.1 percent of its tickets to women—55 out of 419.
While political parties might project support for the women’s reservation bill during the election season, their stances have always been fickle and their actions seldom promote political representation of women. “Unless mandated to do so, it doesn’t seem like parties will end up fielding more women candidates on their own,” Tara Krishnaswamy, the founder of Shakti, a collective that lobbies for the bill, said.