Date :05-Nov-2023

Modi the man
By Vijay Phanshikar :
“Had the honour of meeting our dynamic women MPs who are absolutely thrilled at the passage of the Nari Shakti Vandan Abhiyan. It is gladdening to see the torch-bearers of change come together to celebrate the very legislation they have championed. With the passage of the Nari Shakti Vandan Abhiyan, India stands at the cusp of a brighter, more inclusive future with our Nari Shakti being at the core of this transformation.” - PM Narendra Modi on X (formerly Twitter)

PRIME Minister Mr Narendra Modi could not conceal his sense of deep satisfaction and clear joy upon meeting the jubilant women Members of Parliament following the passage of legislation ensuring reservation for women in parliament and other elective forums in the country. He had all the time been one of the strongest votaries of such a legislation and worked hard to ensure that the entire membership of Parliament across the wide spectrum of ideologies came together to pass the Women’s Quota Bill so poetically named Nari Shakti Vandan Abhiyan.
The passage of the Bill really marked a historic moment for the country’s parliamentary history. As he pressed for its passage, Mr. Narendra Modi had hailed the contribution women made in India’s parliamentary experience, stating, in effect, that since the first Lok Sabha, about 7,500 Members of Parliament had contributed in the parliamentary democracy, of which 600 were women. But as Parliament zeroed in on the passage of the Nari Shakti Vandan Abhiyan, those who thought deeply about the subject realised that the country’s polity had travelled a good distance -- to have now as many as 78 women Members of Parliament in the Lok Sabha, the highest number so far. And among those numbers, as many as 40 belong to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). To make a proper statement of assertion of his faith and trust in women’s ability to enrich parliamentary experience, Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi had included as many as eleven women in his Council of Ministers, again the highest number so far. As the country is just about six months away from the next Lok Sabha elections, it may be a good time to take a look at how women Members of Parliament (MPs) have fared in the last fourand-a-half years of parliamentary exposure.
With women members forming nearly 15 per cent of membership of the Lok Sabha, it was only natural for the country to notice what the women did on the floor of the Lok Sabha -- besides bringing certain glamour to the place. Of course, Parliament is a place of serious business of law-making for the larger interest of the country, every member works hard to extract the best benefit of his or her presence in the House -- asking questions, seeking explanations, raising issues, taking sides, launching blistering attack on the people on the other side of the political or ideological divide. In the 17th Lok Sabha that began its sittings after the elections in 2019, women MPs were watched with much interest. For, whatever they would do would represent the level of women’s empowerment in the parliamentary system and democratic polity. Research over a long time had often suggested that there was a clear disparity between the performance of men and women Members of Parliament not just in India but also across the world. In numbers also, the Indian women fared less brightly as did their counterparts in other parts of the world. If India’s Lok Sabha has presently 15 per cent women among its membership, in the United States the number is about 28 per cent and England about 34 per cent. By that standard, India has to go a long way to equal up sensibly with the world averages. Yet, the picture has become brighter in the past few years, one must insist. A closer look at the performance of women MPs in the Lok Sabha, one realises that a lot depended upon what scope different political parties gave women among their respective memberships.
On this count, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party appears to have established a clear lead over all other parties. This was visible in the attendance in the House, the numbers of questions asked by women MPs, and their participation in debates and pushing Private Member Bills, for example. On most counts, as the statistics reveal, the BJP’s women MPs fared much better than their counterparts in other parties. In the 15th Lok Sabha, there were 64 women Members of Parliament, with the BJP having 14 women members (about 12 per cent of the total of BJP members). The Congress party had 25 women MPs (again about 12 per cent of the party’s total membership in the House). In the 16th Lok Sabha, the numbers tilted more in the BJP’s favour -- among the total of 68 women MPs, with the BJP having 32 women on its benches (about 11 per cent) and the Congress party had only four women members (about 8 per cent of its total numbers). Data reveals that women members asked markedly fewer questions -- 135 -- than men MPs -- 250. In the 16th Lok Sabha, things changed for the better and women members’ performance was on par (218) with that of men MPs (219) points of active engagement in the proceedings. Data also reveals that the median number of questions raised by women members from the Bharatiya Janata Party (which was the leading Opposition party in the 15th Lok Sabha) was 355, while the median number of questions asked by the leading ruling party Congress in the 15th Lok Sabha was only 58. This indicates clearly the kind of active functioning the BJP parliamentary party had within its folds.
That impression has substance. For, even when the BJP became a leading party in the ruling combine, its members, and especially women members, kept raising issues that even cornered their own party’s Government, so to say. For example, women MPs from BJP in the 16th Lok Sabha raised a substantial number of questions -- 346 -- to their own Government. This trend continued even in the current -- 17th -- Lok Sabha with women MPs from the BJP asking critical questions of ministries in their own Government, often encouraged by Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Mod (as part of the BJP’s parliamentary culture).
Their focus is mainly on healthcare, public welfare schemes such as Jan Dhan Yojana, education, small and medium enterprises, defence, external affairs, agriculture ...! The overall experience of women in Parliament has been encouraging on most counts, with the BJP leading on all the fronts. With the next Lok Sabha elections now just a few months away, the issue of the quantity and quality of performance of all MPs will come in stark stare. And in that scrutiny, women MPs will haveareason to feel great about themselves.