(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government resurrected a long-pending bill to reserve a third of lawmakers’ seats for women, an important constituency for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party heading into next year’s national elections.
The Women’s Reservation Bill, which seeks to ensure reservation for women at the federal and state levels to improve representation of half of the country’s population, was presented to the lower house of parliament on Tuesday during a special session.
The bill and other measures like it have been kicking around since 1996, only to stall at different points in the legislative process. It will require approval of two-third members of both the houses of parliament and ratification by half of the state assemblies, which may not be difficult as the BJP and its allies rule majority of the provinces.
The law may not come into force before 2024 elections as it needs redrawing of constituencies based on fresh census, which may take years to conduct. It will be valid for 15 years once implemented.
Opposition parties and critics of the government said the move is an empty promise and won’t be implemented soon.
“Modi will get all the applause and will not have to do anything for the long foreseeable future,” said Yogendra Yadav, an activist and a political analyst. When you tie the reservation with the census, you have postponed it by five years at least, he said.
India had a female prime minister for more than a decade and its current president is the second woman to hold that office. But representation in parliament is the lowest in the Group of 20 economies, at 15%.
Since coming to power in 2014, Modi positioned himself as a champion of women, subsidizing cooking gas and making instant divorce by Muslim men illegal. The latest effort to reach out to female voters may help him counter opposition parties who have formed an alliance to fight against him in 2024 elections.
“More women voted for the BJP in 2019, as well as in recent state elections. So through the passage of this bill, Modi will hope to keep that voter base tied to his party,” said GlobalData.TSLombard Chief India Economist Shumita Deveshwar. “The bill has long been in the works, but Modi will get the credit for finally pushing it through parliament.”
Women cast more votes than men in the 2019 national elections, which the BJP swept. At the time, about 46% of women voted for the BJP-led alliance compared with 44% of men, according to India Today-Axis exit surveys, and two other studies show more women seem to have voted for the BJP than men in all four states the party won in 2022.
“It will not be a magic wand to resolve all other issues related to women,” Indu Agnihotri, a former director of the Centre for Women’s Development Studies in New Delhi. “It is meant and seen as one more measure to open up more debates and scope for interventions on behalf of women to bring some sensitivity.”
--With assistance from Ragini Saxena and Shruti Mahajan.
(Updates with details and analysts’ comments)
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