Women’s Reservation Bill: What happened when Rajya Sabha passed the Bill in 2010

The bill was passed in Rajya Sabha on March 9, 2010 by two-thirds majority

Rajya Sabha (File) Rajya Sabha

It was a euphoric moment for women MPs, cutting across party lines when the women's reservation bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha on March 9, 2010. The then Congress President Sonia Gandhi, BJP leader Sushma Swaraj and CPI(M)'s Brinda Karat had posed for the cameras, holding hands and with broad smiles on their faces, when they stepped out of Parliament following the passage of the bill.

Prior to that moment of euphoria, which became the defining image of the women's reservation bill getting passed in the Rajya Sabha after hanging fire for 14 years, scenes of intense drama which bordered on violence, were witnessed in the upper house. Tempers ran high, MPs clashed verbally and also got physical.

The Constitution amendment bill seeking to reserve 33 per cent of the seats in the Lok Sabha and the state Assemblies was passed by the Rajya Sabha on March 9, 2010, after two days of discussion, by over two-thirds majority. The BJP and the Left had supported the bill. The JD(U), which had earlier opposed the bill, came around to back it in 2010, with Nitish Kumar breaking ranks with Sharad Yadav. But the proceedings were marred by ugly scenes of MPs belonging to parties opposed to the bill trying to cause disruptions and even attempting to attack the then Vice President and Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari. MPs had climbed onto Ansari's table, his microphone was pulled out and a copy of the bill was torn up, and the pieces thrown at him.

When the bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha during the first term of the United Progressive Alliance government, the then Union Minister Renuka Chowdhury had pushed away a Samajwadi Party member when he tried to snatch the bill from then Law Minister H.R. Bhardwaj as he presented the proposed legislation before the house. Bhardwaj had taken a seat between two women ministers, and some women MPs had formed a wall around him.

In the face of opposition from parties such as the SP and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, which demanded that the bill should provide for quota within quota for women belonging to the backward classes, the UPA failed to bring the bill in the Lok Sabha.

It was on September 12, 1996, that a bill seeking to reserve 33 per cent of the seats in the legislative houses was first tabled in Parliament. Since then, numerous attempts were made to pass it in Parliament, but in vain.

During its nine-and-a-half years regime, the Narendra Modi government was challenged often on when it plans to table the women's reservation bill in Parliament since it has the required numbers. The NDA government has in the past cited opposition from regional parties such as the SP and the RJD to explain the delay.

As another attempt is made to pass the bill in Parliament, it could be an idea whose time has finally come.

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