Assuming that the Women's Reservation Bill gets signed into law, how will it work on the ground? If women gain control of a third of the seats in the Lok Sabha and the legislative Assemblies, what will be its effect on their male counterparts? How will rotation of seats work in practice? Who decides which seats will go to women? And what happens to pocket-borough constituencies such as Amethi, Rae Bareli and Chindwara?
First, the key features of the Bill: One-third of all seats in the Lok Sabha and the Assemblies (including Delhi) will be reserved for women. In the case of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, the reservation will work as a quota within quota — a third of the seats currently reserved for the two categories will be sub-reserved for SC/ST women. Reservation of seats for women will be in rotation and will cease 15 years after the commencement of the Act. Seat allocation will be done in a manner determined by Parliament through enactment of a law.
Now the implications of the legislation. Since a third of the seats will be reserved during each general election, each seat in the Lok Saha and each seat in each of the Assemblies will have one reserved term and two free terms in the course of three elections. In a 15-year time limit, this will translate as each seat getting reserved for women just once — provided, of course, that governments complete their terms and elections are held once every five years. If there are six instead of three elections in this period, each seat will get reserved twice. After 15 years, each seat will have been reserved at least once, the idea being that women representatives should have reach and spread across the country.
Though on the face of it, the bill is a concession to women, in practice men will have it better. This is why: Women elected under the quota will have to move constantly, whereas men can have two continuous terms. To be sure, a woman elected by reservation in the first election can regain the seat in the next election through the general category. Women choosing to contest from the general category can have two terms, much like their male counterparts. However, whether or not an MP from the general category gets a second term will depend upon his or her own winnability and allotment of ticket by the MP's political party.
Once the bill becomes an Act of Parliament, MPs will no longer be able to claim attachment to one single constituency. Rahul Gandhi, for instance, will no longer be the MP from Amethi — at least once in three general elections, he will have to yield the seat to a woman MP. Ditto for Kamal Nath and his political backyard Chindwara. Sonia Gandhi will face a different kind of dilemma. She would be able to retain Rae Bareli for more than two consecutive terms, only if she agrees to contest under the quota.
Could the bill have introduced a sub-quota within the women's quota for OBCs and minorities as demanded by some of the parties? Political opposition to the idea aside, constitutional experts say that for this to happen, the Constitution would have to be first amended to provide an OBC-Minority quota within the general category of electors, both in the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabhas. If, for instance, a third of all seats in the Lok Sabha are reserved for OBCs, OBC women can form a sub-quota within this reservation. In the case of minorities, matters are further complicated by the lack of constitutional sanction for communal reservation.
There is another catch: OBC men do not want a quota for themselves because currently they are an imposing contingent in the Lok Sabha and the Assemblies. A quota will in fact reduce their numbers!