The Narendra Modi government on Thursday ensured the passage of the triple talaq bill in the Lok Sabha. Its bigger win was managing the numbers in the Rajya Sabha to get the amendments to the right to information law passed amid opposition protests. The government also extended the duration of the ongoing Parliament session, earlier scheduled to end on Friday, until August 7.
Thursday’s was a rare occasion in the Rajya Sabha in the last six years that the government defeated an opposition resolution. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance hopes to cross the majority mark by mid –next year, but Thursday’s victory gave a peep into its strategy in the House until then.
However, ensuring the passage of the triple talaq bill, when the Rajya Sabha takes it up next week, remains a concern for the government. Its ally Janata Dal (United), along with much of the opposition as well as some of the fence sitter regional parties that supported it on the RTI bill in the Rajya Sabha, opposed the triple talaq bill in the Lok Sabha.
As the Rajya Sabha rejected the opposition motion to send the RTI amendment bill to a House select committee for further scrutiny by 117 to 75 votes, opposition alleged “intimidation” tactics by treasury benches to influence voting.
Ministers and BJP members instructed NDA MPs and those of like-minded regional parties to vote against the motion. CPI (M)’s E Karim and Congress MPs protested when C M Ramesh, who had recently quit the TDP to join the BJP, tried to dictate voting behaviour of some members of his former party and later collected vote slips signed by members. Only officials are authorised to collect slips.
Deputy Chairman Harivansh asked Ramesh to go back to his seat. Congress members Viplove Thakur and Trinamool’s Dola Sen tried to snatch the vote slips from hands of Ramesh. Other opposition members rushed into the Well shouting slogans against treasury MPs “strong arm tactics”.
Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said the House has witnessed a sample of how "303 seats are won", a reference to BJP’s tally in the recent Lok Sabha elections.
“In Parliament, ministers intimidate opposition leaders. This is our charge. Ruling party members get signatures from members who do not understand the process. You want to convert Parliament into a government department," Azad said.
As treasury benches protested, Azad said: "You are destroying democracy. We don't have any faith on you, so we walkout." Later, the Rajya Sabha passed the RTI bill with a voice vote. The opposition said the effort was to kill RTI by making it toothless.
The initial support of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and Telangana Rashtra Samiti for sending the RTI bill to a House panel, along with six other bills, had the opposition upbeat. Midway into the debate on the bill, BJD and TRS speakers indicated a shift in their stance.
Trinamool Congress’ Derek O’Brien suggested phone calls have been made to the respective leaderships, while Congress’ Jairam Ramesh appealed to these parties to stand up for their convictions since the bill was against the federal spirit as it gives the Centre the power to appoint state information commissioners.
The amended bill gives the Centre the powers to decide salary and service terms of the statutory body head and its members. Jairam Ramesh of the Congress said the erstwhile Planning Commission would ask question of then Gujarat chief minister about the poor human development indies of his state. He said when the Gujarat CM took revenge when he became the PM in 2014 by doing away with the Planning Commission.
Similarly, the Congress MP said, the government is taking revenge on the RTI law for five specific cases. These include the RTI queries on the PM’s educational qualifications. Other instances are the PM’s claims that his government identified 4 crore bogus ration cards when an RTI revealed the number was 2.3 crore; disclosures on how the Reserve Bank of India board had rejected government claims of demonetisation objectives and former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan having sent a list of NPA defaulters to the PMO in 2015.
In the Lok Sabha, the government asserted that the country needed a triple talaq law as hundreds of cases of instant divorce have come to the fore despite Supreme Court striking down the practice. Opposition said the proposed law, particularly its penal provisions, was draconian. A move by the Opposition to stall the bill at the time of its consideration was rejected by a division vote of 303 for and 82 against.