April 10, 2021
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Ends And Means

Ends And Means

In many ways, the brouhaha over the Women's Reservation Bill reminded one of the MNIK controversy. No body could fault the intentions, they were indisputably laudable, but the "product" left you shaking your head in disbelief. However, because those opposed were coming down to hooliganism (Shiv Sena then, the Yadavs now) people forgot the issue at hand and everyone - well, almost - applauded the outcome*. 

The problems with the bill passed today have been articulated at length in the past. Pratap Bhanu Mehta revisited some of those in today's Express and concluded:

There were also several alternatives, from well thought out voluntary proposals, to proposals for list systems, to multi-member constituencies that might have mitigated some of the institutional concerns. The fact that they did not find political space is another sign than we do not often want to match ends and means.

But the time for all this has past. Quotas will certainly open up the political system in expected and unexpected ways, although their political effects are indeterminate. Indian democracy has improvised solutions, even if they are messy and ad hoc, and this bill is better than many other ad hoc improvisations. But while we celebrate this desirable normative leap we are about to take, we should just wonder, whether we are celebrating it because we take justice seriously, or because we don’t take it seriously enough.

Read the full piece here

While earlier there had been some who had warned of bad-timing and a possible trap, the last two days did leave one as perplexed as at the end of the MNIK controversy. If all it takes is a no-nonsense, tough attitude with the hoodlums and louts, why was that not done yesterday itself when the day seemed to have been chosen for its symbolic value? Indeed, since there has been no revision, why not the last time around itself? Now, of course we will live on hope that it has a sunset clause of 15 years - and of useful "amendments" in the Lok Sabha -  while Byzantine Delhi buzzes around about how difficult it would be to pass it in Lok Sabha and the usual set of conspiracy theories. And, of course, it is no secret that without a party whip, the voting results would have been quite different from what they were.

Meanwhile, the Congress will have other battles to fight. Getting the budget passed will be one where the break with Lalu and Mulayam will cause a problem in Rajya Sabha in particular. The Congress leaders -- particularly those who stand to lose their seats-- claim, however, that they are more worried about the Yadav duo reviving their political fortunes by playing to the OBC and Muslim galleries - exactly in those two states where the party was hoping to revive is fortunes: Bihar and UP. The party's hope, though, would be that at least 50% of the voters in these two key states would be women -- or, even, as Sonia Gandhi reminded the reporters about Lalu Prasad Yadav: “He has seven daughters. I was telling him that within his family there are seven for the bill.”

The PRS site has very useful resources:

Also See: How the world does it

* No, we are not including those who were expecting a dramatic story featuring hemlock or even Socratic debate.

Also See: The Alternative Bill by the Forum for Democratic Reforms that  had also got support from the EC in the early 2000s

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