“I am very happy,” Congress President Sonia Gandhi declared Tuesday after the Rajya Sabha passed the women’s bill to reserve a third of seats in all legislatures for women, adding the “larger picture” of women’s empowerment was worth the political risk that the ruling coalition had taken.
She hoped that “those who did not support us will understand” over time the need for the bill, which now needs to get past the Lok Sabha. She was particularly surprised about Trinamool Congress’ abstention, especially since its leader Mamata Banerjee was “enthusiastic” about supporting it when the cabinet discussed it. Gandhi, who is also chairman of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), said she was watching the parliament proceedings from her home and she felt happy the bill was passed after a lively discussion. “I am happy and relieved,” she said and added the issue had been very close to her heart, especially since it was in keeping with vision of her late husband former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
“The first step has been taken. As a natural corollary, the next step will also be taken,” she said in reference to the bill’s passage in the Lok Sabha. Regarding opposition from some UPA allies, Sonia Gandhi said she was aware of the political risks involved but the “big picture” of empowerment of women in the country was more important and worth taking the risk.
The fissures caused by the divisions over the bill, she admitted, were a political risk. “It is a huge risk but we have taken risks before. Whenever something is revolutionary, there is opposition, there are difficulties. But the larger picture (of women’s reservation) is more important.”
She said she was not disappointed that the bill did not go through in the Rajya Sabha on Monday, the International Women’s Day. “I knew it was a difficult legislation, (that) problems may come up, one wasn’t really sure,” she said.
The Congress president gave full credit to allies DMK and Nationalist Congress Party for backing the bill fully right from the beginning. She admitted that she had a personal rapport with Rashtriya Janata Dal president Lalu Prasad and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, the most vocal critics of the women’s bill. “But when it comes to political issues, personal relations do not count too much. I understand their problems, their compulsions. Of course, our party is committed. If we were not committed, we would not have taken the first step.”