From promise of 33% seats in Parliament to abolishing triple talaq, India's politicians have always used women's issues for gains

The Congress on Thursday announced that it would abolish the ban on the triple talaq should it come to power after the 2019 Lok Sabha election. The announcement in itself may be harmful to women, but this is not the first time that gender issues have been appropriated for the political ambitions of India's parties.

No sooner had the party's women's wing chief made the pronouncement at the Congress minority convention in New Delhi, than the BJP reacted to it in a press conference.  Accusing the Congress of following the policy of appeasement, the BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra was quoted by The Tribune as having said that neither "Muslim women nor the people of this country will forgive Rahul Gandhi for this kind of perverted mentality." The BJP's concern for women, however, does not spill over into support for the Supreme Court directive of allowing women into the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala, where women of reproductive age had been banned for a long time.

The Lok Sabha, on 27 December, 2018, passed the triple talaq bill, officially known as the  the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2018, with 245 votes in favour and 11 against it. The Congress staged a walkout, along with the AIADMK.

From promise of 33% seats in Parliament to abolishing triple talaq, Indias politicians have always used womens issues for gains

Representational image. PTI

Does this, however, mean that the Congress is willing to be recognised as a distinctly anti-women party? Of course not. In a masterstroke of an effort to keep all sides happy, Dev said while announcing the move on Thursday, "I promise you people that the Congress government will come in 2019 and we will scrap this law."

In the same breath she added, "But it is also certain that whatever law is brought for women's empowerment, by whichever government, the Congress will support it."

The Congress has long since alleged that the BJP is only looking to further its anti-Muslim agenda and aims to please its core right-wing vote bank in abolishing the triple . In the back and forth that emerged while the bill made its way through the apex court and the two Houses of the Parliament, both parties have accused each other in using the bill to assuage their own vote banks.  Many BJP-ruled states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh were scheduled to go for polls in 2018, when the BJP aimed to pass the bill.

If the BJP has utilised the triple talaq to its own end, then the Congress can boast of a similar devotion to the Women's Reservation Bill. On 29 January, party chief Rahul Gandhi promised in Kochi that the Bill will be passed in Parliament if his party is voted to power, PTI reported. This bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2010, lapsed after the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014 and for five years, has failed to become an act. If ever passed in its entirety, it would provide 33 percent reservation to women in Parliament and state legislatures.

But the long wait of the bill was no reason for Rahul not to be chipper about his plans to include more women politics. Indeed, when it comes to women's reservation, the possibilities of vacuous promises are endless and therefore forever amenable to be appropriated by political leaders. Rahul is not the only one. Odisha chief minister and Biju Janata Dal president Naveen Patnaik who enjoys a steady support from women voters in his state, made a fresh attempt to push for 33 percent reservation late in 2018 by writing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about it. National Congress Party president Sharad Pawar, in turn, wrote to Naveen, promising support to the bill should it ever return to the Parliament.

The field had thus been prepared for the BJP to jump in. "It's a drama all together," The Asian Age reported the saffron party's Odisha vice-president Sameer Mohanty as having said. In criticising the move, the BJP did point out, however, that the BJD's cabinet itself does not have 33 percent women, so the party is not in the best position to demand a similar dimension in a state legislature or Parliament. Odisha, which was the first state to have a woman chief minister in Nandini Satpathy, now has just one cabinet minister: Snehangini Chhuria, in charge of handlooms and textiles.

In 2015, Telangana Rashtra Samithi supremo K Chandrasekhar Rao had written to Modi, pushing for the bill as well. But by this year, the issue had developed into such a stalemate that an MP of the same party, Kalvakuntla Kavitha tweeted, "If the women's reservation bill could be passed in Parliament with the same speed as was the bill on 10 percent quota for economically weaker sections in general category, India would have been truly progressive."

On Friday itself, BJP leader Arun Jaitley wrote a long Facebook post on how the incident of successive nikah halalas being forced on a woman in Bareilly had shocked him. On the back of questions as to why the BJP government did not include the issue of the nikah halala in the triple  bill rides the tacit understanding that gender issues will forever be appropriated by political parties when the time is right, and discarded thereafter.

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Updated Date: Feb 08, 2019 19:16:24 IST

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