Congress' efforts to stall triple talaq bill in Rajya Sabha gives away its incoherent narrative on key issue

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By Debobrat Ghose

The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2017, or the triple talaq Bill as it is popularly known, failed to get passed in Rajya Sabha on Wedneday as the House got adjourned for the day amid huge uproar that erupted shortly after the bill was tabled.

The fate of the Bill that seeks to criminalise instant divorce by Muslim husbands remained uncertain as the government virtually rejected the Opposition's overwhelming demand to refer it to a Select Committee for detailed consideration and to rectify ‘lacunae’ in the controversial legislation.

A view of the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday. PTI

However, the fact that the Opposition united in its efforts to stall the Bill despite the Supreme Court verdict terming talaq-e-biddat (instant triple talaq) unconstitutional, and Lok Sabha passing the Bill, it came off rather as a desperate measure to oppose the ruling party for the sake of it.

Right from the beginning of the day, it was apparent that the primary objective of the Opposition parties led by the Congress, was to stall the proceedings of the House. The Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha, PJ Kurien was compelled to adjourn the House four times, first at 11.18 am until noon, and finally at around 3.45 pm, until 11 am on Thursday. At several times, Kurien issued warnings to Opposition leaders to “be disciplined and let the House proceedings progress”.

“Unless you follow order in the House, I’ll adjourn. Let the Leader of House (Arun Jaitley) speak,” he told members of the Congress and other parties who resorted to chaos during Jaitley's speech.

By interrupting the passage of the key legislation, the Congress and other Opposition parties were perhaps posing as a sympathiser of Muslims and the cause of Muslim women, while opposing the BJP at the same time to gain political mileage.

Despite having its reservations on the ‘criminality clause' in the Bill, the Congress party let the Bill get passed in Lok Sabha on 28 December. As the party took up a non-aggressive stance in Lok Sabha, choosing to vote in favour of the draft bill, it seemed that the Congress wanted to get rid of the stigma it had borne in the Shah Bano case.

In the Lok Sabha, while Congress members did not vote for the amendments moved by other members, the All India Trinamool Congress did not even participate in the debate.

However, on Wednesday, right from the beginning Congress along with other Opposition parties including, AITMC and Samajwadi Party was in an aggressive mode and avoided any kind of discussion on the Bill. The party emphasized that it supported the triple talaq Bill, but wanted it to go through a legislative scrutiny by referring it to the Select Committee.

The Parliamentary Committee of the BJP met before Wednesday's session and had urged all Rajya Sabha members to cooperate in the passage the Bill. However, the ruling party's efforts to establish consensus did not fructify.

The next step that Congress adopted was to introduce a motion for bringing an amendment in the Bill during the post-lunch session. Amidst war of words, Congress leader Anand Sharma announced that he wanted to give notice to move an amendment under Rule 70(2)(a) to ‘The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2017’ as passed by the Lok Sabha and tabled in Rajya Sabha for consideration and passing.

He also came up with a list of 17 members from the Congress and a few more parties, other than the BJP, who would be part of the Select Committee, which should scrutinise the bill for further amendments.

“The Select Committee report be presented to the House in the first week of Budget Session for further consideration and passing,” Sharma said.

However, Jaitley took a strong objection to this and retorted, “Sir (Dy Chairman), since 1954 such kind of incidence has never happened. This is happening for the first time breaking Parliamentary conduct.”

Objecting strongly to the way Sharma moved the motion, Jaitley said a motion couldn’t be given suddenly in the House without prior notice and without consultation with the ruling party (government).

The way Congress took a U-turn and stalled the bill in Rajya Sabha, only goes on to reflected on the incoherence in its approach on the key issue.

Government’s justification

The ruling party cited the Supreme Court's order on triple talaq to clarify why it wanted a legislation at the earliest, without any hurdles.

Referring to Supreme Court’s order, Jaitley said the apex court termed triple talaq as ‘unconstitutional’ on 22 August 2017. “Using extraordinary power, a two-judge bench suspended this practice for six months and asked us to come up with an appropriate legislation. Legislators must act with a sense of responsibility and urgency. This one political party (Congress) supported this Bill in Lok Sabha and is creating ruckus here in a bid to stall it.”

Later outside the Parliament, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, “Even after Supreme Court’s verdict, triple talaq is continuing to take place. Even on Tuesday, a case has come before us in Uttar Pradesh and that is why we want the Bill to be a legislation to protect Muslim women. Congress is not ready to have a discussion on the Bill and has adopted a negative attitude to stall the Bill.”

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