At 2.50 pm on Tuesday when Rajya Sabha was seized with heated discussions on triple talaq bill, Deputy Chairman Harivansh made a brief but important announcement —Congress MP from Assam Sanjay Singh had resigned and Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu had accepted his resignation.
Singh, a former Amethi royal, is one of the strongest Congress leaders on the ground. His resignation, nine months ahead of his retirement (his term was due to end in April 2020) came hours before Congress needed his vote the most to negate the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019, moved by the government. The passage or rejection of the bill had become a prestige issue for both the ruling BJP and the Congress and each side was counting on the support of every single MP in their respective camps. Singh’s exit from Congress and the Rajya Sabha membership meant that Congress’ numbers in the House went down to 47 from 48. Singh confirmed to Firstpostthat he will join the ruling BJP on Wednesday. The BJP is sure to gain his seat from Assam in the by-election.
After an over six-hour long debate, the voting on the triple talaq bill — 99 in favour and 84 opposed it — indicate that Singh’s resignation was symptomatic of the dwindled morale and weakened muscle in opposition ranks. A determined Modi government in its fourth attempt succeeded to pass the bill, which is supposed to empower Muslim women and guard them against an instant divorce by their husbands.
The Modi government brought two ordinances and got passed the Bill thrice in the Lok Sabha (twice in previous Lok Sabha and once in the 17th Lok Sabha). The Bill, however, was rejected twice in the Rajya Sabha. The government, however, kept on patiently pursuing the bill, each time hoping that it would succeed. It was lucky in the Rajya Sabha in its third attempt.
Unlike the previous two occasions in the Rajya Sabha when a combined Opposition successfully stalled the Bill, forcing the government to backtrack, the morale in treasury benches of the Upper House seemed different on Tuesday when law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad flanked by Home Minister Amit Shah and several other ministerial colleagues sitting in second and third rows, moved the Bill at 12 pm for consideration and passage.
The ruling BJP moved strategically. It had marshalled all its troops, had opened backroom negotiations with non-NDA parties, which could potentially support it over this bill and if some parties were not inclined to support it then try and convince them to abstain from voting by walking out in the last minute after registering a vocal resistance. It had ensured that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had held a meeting with ally JD(U) and senior ministerial colleagues and reviewed its strategy.
While formulating that strategy two things were important — this time the government didn’t rush the Bill in the Rajya Sabha in the opening days, instead it went for creating a conducive atmosphere and waited for the right time to make the final move. This session would have ended on 26 July. But three days before the end of the Monsoon Session of the Parliament, BJP president Amit Shah had told his party MPs at BJP parliamentary party meetings to be prepared to attend the Parliament for 10 more working days so that several key bills could be passed. The session has now been extended to 7 August. Initially, the Opposition was not inclined to work for 10 extra days, but it went by the larger consensus for it was wary of the negative public perception it might create.
The ordinance (second) on triple talaq, if not passed by both houses of Parliament would have lapsed on 2 August. The government thus moved the Bill for passage on the second working day of the extended period.
It should be noted that last Thursday, in a deft and determined move, the Modi government broke its Rajya Sabha jinx by winning the support of Opposition parties like BJD, TRS, YSRCP and AIADMK, as well as, that of NCP and BSP by abstention. Congress patron Sonia Gandhi had put her prestige at stake while opposing the RTI (Amendment) Bill 2019. The Congress did everything within its command to stall the Bill but was completely outmanoeuvred by the treasury benches.
The passage of the RTI (Amendment) Bill, 2019, demoralised the opposition, created a schism within their ranks and gave the Modi government the required confidence to push and get the triple talaq bill passed in the Rajya Sabha. On Tuesday, the BJP went for the killing and had its way.
Since December 2017 when the Lok Sabha first passed the triple talaq bill, the legislation has gone through varied phases and amendments. But on Tuesday (30 July, 2019), all that became history. A new chapter of empowerment has begun for Indian Muslim women.
Prime Minister Modi had a personal stake in the Bill as his government had supported the rights of Muslim women in the Supreme Court. He had even made it an electoral issue. Today, he and his party have a reason to smile and cheer, his relentless fight for over a year-and-half has yielded the desired result. The ruling BJP will also be satisfied because it outwitted the Congress-led opposition for the second time in less than a week – RTI bill on 25 July and triple talaq bill on 30 July.
In his concluding response at the end of the debate, Prasad gave food for thought to Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad and the rest of Congress leaders: “Why Congress government led by Rajiv Gandhi with an overwhelming majority of over 400 MPs overturned Supreme Court judgment in Shah Bano case in 1986? It never came in a majority in nine Lok Sabha elections that have taken place since then. In 2014 it got 44 and now 52.”
Congress had no response to Prasad’s remark.