Intriguingly, the Trinamool Congress members sat through the four-hour long discussion, but not one of them participated. The Bill was passed by a voice vote. No Trinamool Congress members were in the House to either support or oppose the Bill.
“It was the party’s decision (to not take part in the discussion),” Trinamool Congress Lok Sabha member Saugata Roy told Business Standard. Roy refused to elaborate. Neither were other party members forthcoming on the issue.
The Trinamool Congress is the fourth largest party in the Lok Sabha – after the BJP (currently at 276), Congress (current strength 46), and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, or AIADMK ( with 37-members).
The Trinamool Congress had won 34 seats in 2014, and currently has 33 after the passing away of its Uluberia MP Sultan Ahmed. It also has a government in West Bengal, a state with a high percentage of Muslims. Votes of the minority community are crucial to Trinamool’s electoral fortunes.
Interestingly, the Trinamool Congress had opposed the draft of the bill, but seems to have had a change of heart. The change is starker considering that the Trinamool Congress, and its chief Mamata Banerjee, have been at the forefront of criticizing the Narendra Modi government on a host of issues, including demonetisation, goods and services tax (GST) and Aadhaar.
If the government sources are to be believed, this transformation was brought about by Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who had reached out to chief ministers of seven states, including Banerjee.
But sources said a more credible explanation had to do with the party’s electoral compulsions in Bengal.
As Trinamool Congress sat through the debate on the triple talaq Bill in the Lok Sabha on Thursday afternoon, their party chief Banerjee was on a three-day tour to the Sagar Island in Bay of Bengal to oversee the preparations for the annual Gangasagar mela. Banerjee said the festival should get the same status that is accorded to the Kumbh mela.
According to sources, the Trinamool’s behaviour in the Lok Sabha on Thursday had much to do with the assessment that it shouldn’t upset the moderate Hindus which support it, but at the same time not turning away its Muslim support base by voting for the Bill.
Banerjee’s visit to the Sagar Island can also be seen in this context.
The BJP has consistently increased its vote share in Bengal in the last couple of years, and also been accusing Trinamool for its “appeasement of Muslims”.
The Trinamool is also busy preparing for the panchayat polls in the state in 2018. The state government has identified several rural centric schemes, including building of rural roads.
In the panchayat elections and later the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the Trinamool faces the twin challenge of a rising BJP and a resurgent Communist Party of India (Marxist). The Congress also presents a challenge, although a marginal one.
The Trinamool comfortably won the recently concluded bypoll to Sabong assembly constituency. However, the BJP increased its vote share in the constituency from a meagre 2.6% in 2016 to 18.08%. The CPI (M), contesting the seat for the first time since 1982, was runners up.
At the Centre, the Trinamool has charted a parliamentary strategy that is independent of the Congress. It does not want to be a lackey of a Rahul Gandhi-led Congress, and its Rajya Sabha member Derek O’Brien has said Banerjee has the best credentials to lead the United Progressive Alliance.
This strategy was in evidence during the triple talaq debate. Unlike the Congress, which supported the Bill but also criticised some of its provisions, the Trinamool members kept quiet to suggest their support to the Bill but were also careful not to voice it vociferously lest it upsets its supporters among the minority community.