I do not wish to enter the debate on the efficacy of reservation of women in Parliament. I do not wish to do so for the simple reason that I think it is a good idea. In this post I wish to focus on the story of how the Rajya Sabha passed the Bill. This so for the reason that in many ways today encapsulated the best and worst of parliamentary democracy.
To start from the beginning, let’s mark out the central characters:
1. The Congress, the BJP, the Left and their allies who all supported of the Bill. The BJP had however said that they would refuse to vote for the Bill if the Congress tried to pass it without a discussion. The Bill had no hope of passing without BJP support as a 2/3rd majority is required to amend India’s Constitution (which is what the Bill does).
2. The RJD, the SP, BSP, the JD(U) and some other parties who opposed the Bill with varying degrees of vehemence and violence.
3. India’s Vice-President and Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, Mr. Hamid Ansari, the deputy-Chairman, and the marshalls and other officers of the House.
The chain of events really begins from last evening when some MPs tried to get on to the Chairman’s platform, tore off a copy of the sheets he was holding, and created a ruckus in the House when the Bill was to be debated.
This morning started by the Chairman decisively suspending 7 MP’s involved in the previous day’s ruckus for the rest of the budget session of Parliament. Having categorically shown his authority, he re-convened the House at 2.00 pm. At 2.00 pm, some people still descended to the ‘well’ of the House in front of the Chairman and tried to create a ruckus.
This usually results in the Speaker or the Chairman adjourning the House since the business of the House cannot be conducted amid such chaos. Today however, all other MPs remained in their seats silently, and patiently, just waiting for the dissenters to quieten. The Chairman also remained in his seat, quiet for most of the time. After around 15-20 minutes, the 5-7 dissenting MPs were escorted out by the marshalls, who also formed a chain around the well of the House to prevent further disruption.
Gradually, the din abated, and the leader of the opposition spoke. A number of MPs spoke for short intervals, giving their support to the Bill, for many varied, but equally tenable reasons. Finally, the Law Minister, Veerappa Moily closed the debate, and while doing so, fittingly thanked the Chairman of the House for being strong-willed and fearless, and seeing the Bill through to its end.
Whatever one’s opinion on the Bill, the day saw MPs being suspended for the type of misbehaviour which has so far been unprecedented in our Parliament. It also saw marshalls being called in to restore order. It witnessed also strong and patient behaviour by an overwhelming majority of our usually squabbling politicians, and also most importantly, it saw strong and decisive behaviour by the Vice-President and Chairman, who seemed firmly in control of his House.