Memorandum on Double-Member Seats Proposal

31 August, 2003  
IN a letter written to the prime minister on August 20, 11 organisations of women have opposed the alternative proposal of double-member constituencies in place of the reservation bill for women. This proposal, they charged, is "insulting to women" and amounts to "rank discrimination against women." The letter was released to the press by Brinda Karat, general secretary of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA). The text of the letter follows.
"We write to you in connection with the alternative proposal of double-member constituencies in place of women's reservation bill mentioned by you both in the parliament debate on the no-confidence motion as well as in your independence day address to the nation. We would like to inform you that no a single women's organisation, that has been involved for at least the last decade in the struggle to increase women's representation in decision making bodies, supports the double-member constituency proposal as an alternative to the one third reservation of seats provided for in the present women's reservation bill. On the contrary, this proposal is insulting to women.
"From what we understand from the statements made by the leaders of the ruling party, all the 180 seats to be reserved for women will be converted into double-member constituencies. Thus no women elected on such a reserved seat will have the right to represent her constituency independently; she will have to do so along with another member. However, all the other unreserved seats will be single-member. This is rank discrimination against women. Instead of addressing the discrimination against women in the political sphere, this proposal will add another dimension to it.
"The proposal will create two classes within MPs --- one class who will have the privilege of representing their constituencies independently, and the underclass who will not have the right to do so. Since only women reserved seats will be double-member, more women will be denied of the right to independently represent their constituencies than men.
"If 180 seats are made double-member, then the number of men will increase while women will get only 25 per cent as opposed to the present bill that gives women 33 per cent.
"When there will be two members from the same constituency, there are bound to be differences in the approach of how to deal with the problems of constituents, including expenditures of the MP funds. This will adversely affect the interests of the constituents.
"As is well known in the general elections in 1952 and 1957, approximately one fifth of the seats, which had been reserved for scheduled caste and scheduled tribes, were made into double-member constituencies. The arguments advanced to make SC and ST seats double-member then were perhaps not very dissimilar from those being advanced today to make only women reserved seats as double-member. In both cases, existing monopolies felt threatened. In any case, for a variety of reasons, in 1961 through an act of parliament all double-member constituencies were abolished. Today, no government would dare to declare any SC or ST seat double-member. To resurrect this form of representation that has through experience been found to be flawed, and then to apply it to women, is harmful both for women and for democratic process and institutions.
"The double-member constituency will also give an advantage to the party that may be dominant in the seat, in that the party will get two members in place of one. This will be particularly unfair to regional parties. It has been shown through various studies of voting patterns that in most cases in double-member constituencies, voters cast their vote for the same symbol in both cases. Thus in a closely fought national election, one particular party or alliance may get undue advantage if those seats are declared double-member where they have more influence. Thus the double-member constituency may become a useful method to create majorities and form governments.
"All the above objections are equally valid for the state assemblies, perhaps even more so since the assembly constituencies are smaller in size and therefore the problems will be all the more acute.
"The double-member constituency can be acceptable only if all seats in parliament and state assemblies are declared to be double-member. In that case there will be no discrimination, nor will there be two classes of MPs, and nor will any one party get the advantage of getting two members elected in place of one.
"It is for all these reasons that we strongly oppose the proposal of double-member constituencies.
"We once again appeal to you to place women's reservation bill for vote in this session of parliament. We would like to remind you that this bill has been through the process of approval by a select committee of parliament. It has the required number of votes in support to ensure its passage, proved of course that the ruling party itself votes for its own bill."
AIDWA, Centre for Women's Development Studies, GOS, Joint Women's Programme, Muslim Women's Front, National Federation of Indian Women, Young Women's Christian Association, FORCES, JAFW, Mahila Dakshta Samiti and All India Women's Congress. (INN)