The proposed women’s reservation bill, which has been cleared by the cabinet, triggered a huge war of words between Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge and Union minister Nirmala Sitharaman today. Speaking in the new parliament, Mr Kharge alleged that the reservation will only be manipulated by political parties to choose uneducated voiceless women who are unequipped for the task. Ms Sitharaman, one of the most vocal parliamentarians of the BJP, vehemently objected. Mr Kharge, she said, is making “sweeping statements”.
“Literacy rate of women from Scheduled Castes is less and that is why political parties have a habit of choosing weak women. They never choose those who are educated and can fight,” said Mr Kharge, who is also the Leader of the Congress in Rajya Sabha.
When the treasury benches started protest, Mr Kharge shouted, “What half ticket? We are talking about one-third ticket… Sit down and be quiet… I have an idea how backward, Scheduled Caste people are chosen by parties”.
“We respect the leader of the Opposition but to make a sweeping statement that all parties choose women who are not effective is absolutely unacceptable. We all have been empowered by our party, by our Prime Minister. President Droupadi Murmu is an empowered woman. Every MP of our party is an empowered woman,” said Nirmala Sitharaman.
Such sweeping statements, she added, might apply to Congress even though it had women presidents. “But I object to him making a sweeping generalisation of all parties,” she added.
“Women who are from backward classes. Scheduled Castes, do not have the opportunities which she had,” shot back Mr Kharge.
Undaunted, Ms Sitharaman shouted, “Who is the President? I am Opposition leader cannot insult people like this… Cannot draw differentiation between women”.
Earlier, the two leaders had clashed over the Goods and Services Tax, with Mr Kharge alleging that the states are not receiving their share of revenue and there was a “weakening” of federalism . Ms Sitharaman had roundly objected, insisting not a single rupee is owed to any state.
Both leaders have been asked to give their statements in writing by the end of the day by Rajya Sabha chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar.
Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party has also objected to the women’s reservation bill, which has been pending for years. Delhi minister Atishi called it a bill to fool women ahead of the 2024 elections.
The BJP, she said, is not interested in the well-being and welfare of women. “A closer reading of the provisions of the bill shows that it is ‘Mahila Bewakoof Banao’ bill,” she said.
The bill offers women 33 reservation in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies. The reservation will come into effect after a delimitation exercise is undertaken and will continue for 15 years. Seats reserved for women will be rotated after each delimitation exercise.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the bill in his opening speech in the new Parliament. In a swipe at the Congress without naming the party, he said, “Parliament has tried (to pass the bill) in the past too… there have been discussions around women’s reservations for years. Can say with pride we have scripted history”.
In a historic shift, the Indian parliament shifted to the new building on Delhi’s Central Vista today, marking the end of an era. The old British-era building, where the Constituent Assembly met to frame the Constitution, will be known as “Samvidhan Sadan”.