Triple talaq ordinance: BJP's decision means Congress-led Opposition could face Muslim community's ire
The fact that triple talaq has either been banned or has been regulated in 22 Islamic countries is only helping the ruling BJP to make its arguments more convincing.
The Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi government on Wednesday gave nod to an ordinance to ban triple talaq. This means that in the next few days, after receiving presidential assent and issuance of the notification, it will become the law of the land but will have to be ratified by both Houses of Parliament in the Winter Session.
The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017, popularly called as the Triple Talaq bill was passed by Lok Sabha but has been pending in Rajya Sabha since January this year due to opposition from Congress and its allies. The bill also couldn’t be taken up in this year’s budget and Monsoon session.
The criminalisation of talaaq-e-biddat or triple talaq has a significant amount of political connotations apart from social ones as many BJP-ruled states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh are going for polls later this year besides Telangana and Mizoram which are not BJP-ruled. The Lok Sabha polls are also due in the first half of next year.
Although Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad made it amply clear that the proposed law was about “gender justice and gender equity” among Muslim women, the underlying political message was unmissable. While talking about the need for an ordinance, Prasad kept on repeating how the Congress has consistently plotted to stall the bill in Rajya Sabha. He even mentioned about his and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar’s meetings with Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad and his deputy in Congress party in Rajya Sabha, Anand Sharma. In a clear reference to Sonia Gandhi, Prasad said that despite "a distinguished woman" being at the helm of the Congress until recently, the bill to prevent suppression of Muslim women couldn’t get the party's support because of vote bank considerations. The minister's appeal to women leaders of the Opposition like Sonia Gandhi, Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee to come forward and support the bill in Rajya Sabha, where it will now be tabled in the Winter Session, also has a political implication apart from gender considerations.
The Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party and Trinamool Congress collectively have 67 MPs in the Upper House and heavily bank on the Muslim community to win elections.
It appears that womenfolk in the Muslim community are largely in favour of the triple talaq bill but most men in the community, as also the religious leaders of the community, are stridently opposed to the bill, particularly because of the penal provisions in the bill. The Congress’ objections to the bill, which have proved to be stalling or delaying tactic, are same as that of All India Muslim Personal Board (AIMPLB) and other community leaders.
Senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal had represented Muslim AIMPLB in Supreme Court, an organisation which supports the continuance of triple talaq. The BJP used Sibal’s contention in the Supreme Court as an electoral issue against Congress in the Gujarat elections which the saffron entity won.
The triple talaq bill has put the Congress, Samajwadi Party, BSP, TMC, Rashtriya Janata Dal and such other like-minded parties in a catch-22 situation. If they support the ordinance and its prospective passage in the Parliament they might end up antagonising the maulanas and the menfolk in the community and if they oppose it they might end up pushing the womenfolk in the community to support Narendra Modi and the BJP.
At a public rally in Azamgarh in July this year, Modi had said, "The real face of these parties was revealed by their approach on triple talaq… On one side, the Centre is making efforts to ease and improve the lives of women and on the other hand, these parties are working to put the lives of women, especially Muslim women, in danger…Crores of Muslim women had always demanded that triple talaq should be banned, as it is also banned in Islamic countries. I read in the newspaper that the Congress president had said that the Congress is a party of Muslims…But I want to ask the Congress whether it is a party of Muslim men alone."
The BJP has built a smart public narrative around this issue. The fact that triple talaq has either been banned or has been regulated in 22 Islamic countries is only helping the ruling BJP to make its arguments more convincing.
The Modi government claims that there was “compelling necessity” and a great deal of “urgency” to bring an ordinance because the practice of triple talaq continues even after Supreme Court in August 2017 declared triple talaq as illegal. Since January 2017 till the current month, 430 triple talaq cases have been reported, 229 before the Supreme Court verdict and 201 after that.
The government has made three crucial amendments in the original bill – first, the offence will be cognisable only when a complaint is filed by the wife, a relative by blood or by marriage; second, it was compoundable at the instance of wife on appropriate terms and conditions; third, magistrate will have powers to give bail after hearing the wife because this was a private dispute between husband and wife.
Although the Congress is not convinced by the amendments, as it stands today, in the politics of triple talaq, the BJP has placed itself in an advantageous position.
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