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Wednesday, December 9, 1998 Published at 15:42 GMT


World: South Asia

India talks up women lists

Sonia Gandhi: One of India's few women politicians

By Delhi Correspondent Daniel Lak

Indian political parties from all sides of the spectrum are meeting to discuss plans to submit legislation guaranteeing a third of all parliamentary and assembly seats in the country to women.

At present less than 10% of Indian MPs are women.

The legislation has been introduced before but failed to come to a vote because of stalling by opponents from caste-based political parties.

The repeated failure of governments to bring this bill to a vote in parliament shows how easy it is to hold the Indian political system to ransom.

There is a majority in the current parliament in favour of reserving a third of all seats for women but opponents always manage to stall the legislation with rowdiness, shouting at the Speaker and generally refusing to let parliament function.

These MPs, from parties based on north India's large population of low and backward caste Hindus and also some Muslims, are demanding their own quotas within the percentage set aside for women.

Wide support

The government might just go along with the demand this time because of the embarrassment of failing yet again to get the bill through parliament.

The BJP-led coalition government wants this women's reservations bill passed, as does the largest opposition party, Congress, and the various communist and left-wing MPs in parliament.

Leading women's groups have applied acute pressure and pointed out the importance of the bill to India's middle-class and urban voters.

Critics say women do not need reverse discrimination to get them into parliament but supporters reply that the prevailing view is female candidates cannot win elections so they are neglected by political parties.

That is stood up by the current percentage of female MPs in India.



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