Maintaining its “soft Hindutva” approach, the Congress appeared to be extra cautious while debating the triple talaq Bill in Lok Sabha on 28 December. The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights of Marriage) Bill, 2017, which criminalises the practice of ‘Talaq-e-Biddat’ or instant triple talaq, was later passed by the lower house.
Many MPs of the grand old party had given a notice objecting to the introduction of the controversial bill in the legislative list of business of the House, but none of them could voice their protest because – if sources are to be believed – “they were not given a go ahead by the party high command”.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala was tasked to articulate the stand on the issue outside the Parliament. The refrain in his statement was that the party does not oppose the Bill per se, but was seeking to strengthen it for the welfare of Muslim women.
In fact, Mallikarjun Kharge, leader of the Congress party in Lok Sabha, reiterated the same. “Send the Bill to the standing committee. All party people will be present there. Give some time, an elaborate consultation of the Bill needs to take place. All of us are supporting this Bill, but there are certain lacunae which should and can be rectified in the standing committee, we can sit together and sort out in a time bound manner,” he said.
The party, say political observers, is cautious because it does not want to give its arch rival – the BJP – any chance to accuse it of resorting to minority appeasement ahead of the Assembly elections in Karnataka next year.
“The Congress knows what it got after the Rajiv Gandhi government reversed a secular Supreme Court verdict in the Shah Bano case due to pressure from Islamic orthodoxy and passed the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986 that diluted the judgement and gave Muslim women the right to maintenance for the period of 90 days or iddat after the divorce. As a result, the BJP and other regional players were able to wean away a large section of loyal Congress voters,” the observers told Newsclick.
They say that Rahul Gandhi’s frequent temple visits during the Gujarat election campaign were part of a “well thought out plan”. “Adopting soft Hindutva is an image makeover exercise which the Congress wants to take forward in other elections as well, especially in Karnataka and other poll-bound states in 2018,” they added.
They said the Congress party does not want any clash with the government that can hurt its agenda for the 2019 general elections. “And therefore, Sushmita Dev, a young Congress MP from Silchar in Assam, was asked to join the triple talaq debate.”
She began her speech by praising the women who gathered courage to go against a “very regressive practice of instant triple talaq”. She raised the issue of maintenance for women undergoing divorce process. She said the bill criminalises triple talaq but “if the husband goes to jail, who will give the maintenance?”
“Will the govt create a corpus to provide maintenance to divorced women waiting for compensation?” she asked.