Congress Parliamentary Party chairperson Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday said that her party supports the women’s reservation bill but demanded a reservation for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes within the 33% quota.

The bill which was introduced in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday does have sub-quota for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes within the seats already reserved for the two communities. However, there is no such provision for the Other Backward Classes.

On Wednesday, the former Congress chief was the first speaker in the Lok Sabha when the House took up the bill for debate. In her speech, she also said that a caste census must be conducted immediately.

The reservation for women in Lok Sabha and state Assemblies will be effective only after a census is conducted and also a delimitation exercise or the redrawing of boundaries to the constituencies. The decennial census has been indefinitely delayed since 2021.

In her speech, Gandhi sought the immediate implementation of the bill. “Indian women have been waiting for their political responsibilities for the last 13 years,” she added. “Now they are being asked to wait for a few more years. How many years? Is this behaviour with Indian women appropriate?”

Gandhi said speaking on the subject was an emotional matter for her as her husband Rajiv Gandhi had first brought in a constitutional amendment to decide women’s representation in local bodies.

“It was defeated in Rajya Sabha by seven votes,” she added. “Later, the Congress government, under the leadership of PM PV Narasimha Rao, passed it in Rajya Sabha. As a result, we have 15 lakh elected women leaders across the country through local bodies. Rajiv Gandhi’s dream is only partially complete. It will complete with the passing of this bill.”

Bharatiya Janata Party MP Nishikant Dubey accused the Congress of politicising the bill. “This [bill] is not yours...It is BJP’s bill,” he said.

Several other parties that had opposed the women’s reservation bill since it was introduced have also raised concerns that it does not account for the representation of women from marginalised communities.

The Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Bahujan Samaj Party have reiterated their demand for sub-quotas for the Other Backward Classes and minorities.

Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav said in a tweet, “Women’s reservation should be a balance of gender justice and social justice. In this, reservation for backward, Dalit, minority, tribal women should be clear in definite percentage form.”

Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Manoj K Jha said his party welcomes the idea of widest possible representation but will also push for a quota within quota.

Congress General Secretary Jairam Ramesh described the bill as an “election jumla” and “huge betrayal of hopes of women”.