The 14 years journey of the Women’s Reservation Bill was marked by high drama and hit roadblocks in each of its outings in Parliament before the historic measure cleared the first legislative hurdle on Tuesday.
The battle for greater representation to women in Lok Sabha and State Assemblies was routinely punctuated by frayed tempers and war of words which sometimes got physical, as different governments since 1996 tried to get the Women’s Reservation Bill passed in Parliament without success.
The Bill also lapsed each time the House was dissolved and was re-introduced by the Government of the day.
The path-breaking Bill greenlighted by the Rajya Sabha after some hiccups to create legislative history was first introduced in the Lok Sabha by the Deve Gowda government on Sept 12, 1996.
Snatching of Papers from presiding officers and Ministers and scuffles became a familiar scene each time the Bill made its way to Parliament before it was aborted.
Once, Union minister Renuka Chowdhury pushed a Samajwadi member away when a Samajwadi member tried to snatch a copy of the Bill from her Ministerial colleague H. R. Bhardwaj in the UPA government’s first term when it was being introduced.
Mr. Bharadwaj also took his seat between two women ministers and was guarded by some women MPs to ward off any attack on him by some opposition members.
And the opposition to the Constitution Amendment Bill to reserve one-third of seats in the Legislatures hit a nadir on Monday when some opposition members tried to attack Vice-President and Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari and disrupted tabling of the Bill.
The opposition to the Bill had its own share of lows when JD(U) veteran Sharad Yadav, a critic of the legislation, asked in June 1997, “Do you think these women with short hair can speak for women, for our women...”
In the Bill’s previous foray on May 6, 2008, a resolute government introduced the legislation in the Rajya Sabha yet another time amid high drama and scuffles between members.
With Congress Parliamentarians providing protective cover, Law Minister H. R. Bhardwaj introduced the Bill in the midst of Samajwadi Party members trying to snatch its copies from the hands of the Minister.
Samajwadi members stormed the well soon after the House resumed at noon in an apparent attempt to stall introduction of the Bill, which they have been opposing along with JD(U).
However, the disruptions could not dissuade the government from going ahead and introducing the Bill.
As agitated SP member Abu Asim Azmi and his party colleagues tried to snatch the Bill copy from Mr. Bhardwaj, Congress members intervened and Renuka Chaudhary, then the Women and Child Development Minister, repulsed the attempts by pushing Mr. Azmi away.
Expecting trouble, Mr. Bharadwaj was seated in the middle row of the treasury benches flanked by two women ministers — Kumari Selja and Ambika Soni. On top of it, Congress women Parliamentarians Jayanti Natarajan and Alka Balram Kshatriya guarded Mr. Bharadwaj from SP members who had taken the position for the go.
Top leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Leader of Opposition Jaswant Singh, were witness to the high drama. Several Lok Sabha lawmakers were also seated in the gallery.
“Take back the Women’s Reservation Bill” was among the slogans raised by the SP members from the well of the Rajya Sabha.
After the Bill introduced by the Deve Gowda government on September 12, 1996 failed to get approval in Lok Sabha, it was referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee chaired by Geeta Mukherjee, which presented its report to the Lok Sabha on December 9, 1996.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s NDA government re-introduced the bill in the 12th Lok Sabha in 1998.
When Law minister M. Thambidurai rose to introduce the bill on July 13, 1998 RJD MP Surendra Prasad Yadav goes to the well of the House, snatches it from Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi and tear it to bits.
The NDA government re-introduced the bill in the 13th Lok Sabha in 1999.
It moved the Bill again amid pandemonium in 2002 and Left parties and the Congress gave assurances to support the bill if it is taken up.
The Bill was introduced twice in Parliament in 2003 and after an all-party meeting, BJP spokesperson Vijay Malhotra said, “We want the Bill passed in this session itself, with or without consensus“.
In May that year, at an all-party meeting, Speaker Manohar Joshi announced deferring of the Bill. Protesting MPs rush to the well of the House during Question Hour, saying they would never allow the Bill to be passed in the present form.
Just before the Lok Sabha elections in 2004, Vajpayee blamed Congress for stalling the Bill and said BJP and its allies would pass the legislation after getting a decisive mandate in 2004 elections.
In 2004, the UPA government includes it in the Common Minimum Programme, which said: “The UPA government will take the lead to introduce legislation for one-third reservations for women in Vidhan Sabhas and in the Lok Sabha.”
In 2005, BJP announced complete support for the bill.
Subsequently, it yields to the objections of Uma Bharati and several others within the party, who stress on quota within quota for women on caste basis.
In 2008, the government tabled the bill in the Rajya Sabha so that the legislation does not lapse.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice, and Personnel recommended passage of the Bill in Dec 2009.
The Bill was cleared by the Union Cabinet on February 25, 2010.