Government smart to list Triple Talaq Bill for last day of Monsoon Session; move could ensure legislation's passage

It was a smart move by the Narendra Modi government — both in terms of strategy and politics — to include the Triple Talaq Bill in the revised list of business in the Rajya Sabha for Friday, the last day of the Monsoon Session of Parliament. It puts the Congress and its allies in the Opposition, which had been opposing a few proposed provisions of the bill — officially called the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2017 — in a challenging situation.

Amendments yielding to Opposition demands

First, before adding the bill to the day's agenda for "consideration and passage", Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a Cabinet meeting and cleared three amendments to the proposed legislation. By doing so, the government sent a message to all concerned that it had been open to constructive suggestions and had yielded to the Opposition's demand for three changes to improve the bill.

The Lok Sabha passed the amendments in the last Winter Session. It now stipulates that only the wife or a blood relative can file an FIR against the husband who pronounces triple talaq. This addresses the concern that a neighbor, activist, or anyone with an ulterior motive can file a criminal complaint against the man.

Although triple talaq continues to be a non-bailable offence in the bill and the police cannot grant the husband relief, a magistrate can grant bail after hearing the wife and listing conditions such as compensation for the woman. The magistrate alone can decide on the quantum of compensation. The woman can seek custody of the children and also seek subsistence allowance for herself and the children.

Protests could harm Opposition's public image

Second, under the circumstances, if the Congress, Left Front, Samajwadi Party, Trinamool Congress, Rashtriya Janata Dal and others continue to oppose the bill and attempt to stall its passage, it would not bode well for them in terms of public perception. This is a progressive legislation on the plight of Muslim women in India, and enacting a law to make triple talaq illegal — the Supreme Court has already declared the practice unconstitutional — with a supportive legal framework would be a step forward to empower Muslim women.

Since the Supreme Court pronounced its verdict, these parties in the Opposition have not been against the bill entirely, but have been using a number of pretexts to stall its passage, like claiming that some of its provisions are draconian. By yielding some ground to the Opposition, the Modi government is forcing the Congress and its allies to review their position.

 Government smart to list Triple Talaq Bill for last day of Monsoon Session; move could ensure legislations passage

Representational image. Getty Images

Third, the Opposition's standard clamour to stall the passage of the bill has been to have the Standing Committee or Select Committee scrutinise and review the bill. This is no longer valid in the public eye. Sections of Muslim women have already been quite vocal about it and mobilising public opinion against those opposing the legislation. The bill has been pending in the Rajya Sabha since December 2017.

Fourth, the government strategically chose to table the contentious bill on the last day of the Monsoon Session. It passed the no-confidence motion with flying colors in the Lok Sabha on 20 July, and the prime minister's concluding address set the tone for the 2019 parliamentary elections.

During this session of parliament, the Centre also got all six ordinances in the list of business passed as legislative bills as well as a few other important bills. The Rajya Sabha passed the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, overturning the Supreme Court verdict on SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act; the Lok Sabha granted constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes. The Parliament also held useful debates on the National Register of Citizens in Assam, during which the government set the public discourse largely in its favor.

Before listing the Triple Talaq Bill for debate on the last day of the Parliament session, the National Democratic Alliance also got the Rajya Sabha deputy chairman of its choice, with former journalist Harivansh Narayan Singh winning the election by wide 125-105 margin. The government kept the proposed legislation as a surprise element for the last day as it had anticipated that the Opposition would create disruptions in the House over it.

Fifth and most important is the political message of listing the bill for passage in the Rajya Sabha. This is an election year with four key state assembly elections — in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh and Mizoram — lined up for the next three months, followed by the Lok Sabha elections in 2019. Modi has already taken the public discourse on triple talaq beyond the domain of parliamentary debates.

On 14 July, at a public rally in Uttar Pradesh's Azamgarh, he had mentioned reading reports on Rahul Gandhi apparently saying "Congress is a Muslim party" and that it had not surprised him, as former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said Muslims had the first right to natural resources. He had also asked why the Congress was a party for Muslim men alone and ignored the women of the community. The onus is now on the Congress to counter that narrative set by the prime minister and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

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Updated Date: Aug 10, 2018 12:39:21 IST