After opposing the demand for segregating a part of the proposed women’s reservation in public posts for Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST), Other Backward Classes (OBC) and Economically Backward Section (EWS) during the UPA era — women politicians in communist parties were opposed to the idea too — the INC is planning to demand reservation for these sections also in the private sector and reservation for OBCs in parliament and state assemblies, clearly in a bid to attract the said sections of the Indian demography towards the party turning increasingly irrelevant across the country.
The Rajya Sabha had in 2010 passed the bill to reserve one-third of all seats in the Lok Sabha and legislative assemblies for women, but the then UPA government could not take it forward due to strong opposition from Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav, RJD’s Lalu Prasad and then JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav, who had demanded this quota within women’s quota for SCs, STs, OBCs and minorities in the bill. The INC had then strongly the demand from parties otherwise favourably disposed to it.
Those days, Sharad Yadav, who was still in the Samata Party-turned-Janata Dal (United), had invited the ire of feminists across political divides for suggesting that women’s reservation without class segregation would bring in par-katis (wing-less fairies, literally) — a pejorative reference to high-society women — to legislative bodies.
Thirteen years later, the party, the vote bank of which stands depleted and electoral influence considerably eroded, is thinking of changing its stand and demanding the quota within women’s quota. At the ongoing Chintan Shivir in Udaipur, a panel on social justice and empowerment, set up by INC interim president Sonia Gandhi and led by Salman Khurshid, has proposed that the women’s reservation bill should have quota within quota. It is to be seen whether the demand will find reflection in the Udaipur declaration that the party will adopt tomorrow.
The Congress committee wants the party to take a stand and demand a caste-based census of all communities, parliamentary legislation on SC/ST sub-plan and similar legislation at the state level, reservation in the private sector for SCs/STs and OBCs, and reservation for OBCs in the parliament and assemblies. “The party should push for passage of the women’s reservation bill but there should be a quota within quota…. There should be proportionate representation for SC/ST and OBC women,” Congress leader K Raju, a member of the group, said.
Khurshid said there was no inconsistency in the party regarding quota within quota in the bill. “We moved on from that position where we had strategically felt that quota for women should come first,” he said. “Sometimes you have to push legislation strategically. We were committed to a quota for women.” He said: “The problem in quota within a quota was that we had assumed there would not be easy agreement and consensus on that, and as a result, we would lose out on reservation for women at that stage. Therefore, a conscious strategic decision was taken to get the quota (for women) first; then we will see about further segmentation.
“Now we have lost a lot of time, and politics has undergone a very, very significant change since then. We do believe that now is the right time to make it very clear where you stand. We stand for women participating in a fulsome manner…that women from all categories should be able to participate. We don’t want people to believe that there is a hidden agenda that you bring in women (in legislatures) but you bring in women-only who find it easy to get elected,” Khurshid said.
After “thoughtful consideration”, inputs from party colleagues, and from people in the social sector, the party “came to the conclusion that we should recommend to the CWC [Congress Working Committee, the party’s top decision-making body] that now the time has come to take the bull by the horns (to) make sure that we get quota within quota pushed at one go”, Khurshid said.