India may have missed the symbolism of passing the Women's Reservation Bill on the hundredth anniversary of International Women's' Day but the delay does not rob the Rajya Sabha's decision of its historic and global significance. There is hardly any example of such a bold and progressive measure to improve the representation of women anywhere in the world, least of all in a society plagued by pervasive gender inequality, discrimination, and violence. After developing cold feet in the face of political threats by the Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal and the disruptive tactics used by their MPs, the Congress party decided to stiffen its spine and go for broke, despite the risks involved. Credit for this resolve must be given primarily to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, whose unequivocal advocacy of the bill helped quell the misgivings within a section of its male leadership, as well as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. But the applause must also go to the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left, which put the politics of oppositionism aside to help the government pass the 108th constitutional amendment in the upper house on Tuesday. The Trinamool Congress's criticism of the suspension of seven SP and RJD MPs for their unruly behaviour on Monday demonstrates the party's duplicity and need not unduly detain the government's floor managers. Once the reality of women's reservation sinks in, few of those who have staked such strident positions against the bill can afford to remain in denial.
In all probability, equilibrium will quickly return to existing alliances and arrangements as parties turn their attention to managing the mechanics of seat allocation under the new dispensation. The United Progressive Alliance government should now move quickly to win the Lok Sabha's approval for the women's bill. Any delay will only play into the hands of the obstructionists, defeating the purpose behind moving ahead in the first place. As in the Rajya Sabha, there will be protests in the lower house, perhaps even more unruly and boisterous than before. Unlike their colleagues in the upper house, many male MPs in the Lok Sabha will stand to lose their seats to women and are likely to throw everything into what will, after all, be their last stand. Ensuring a proper floor strategy to deal with disruptions is vital so that there will be no repeat of Monday's disgraceful scenes. The members who attacked the dignity of the Rajya Sabha chairperson betrayed the trust reposed in them by the people. Suspending or expelling MPs for flagrant violation of parliamentary procedure and indulging in violence is a requirement of democracy and there is no reason for the government or Speaker to be squeamish about it.