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Explainer: Why govt's move to pass triple talaq Bill won't be an easy task

The opposition, as well as a few NDA allies, have said they want the Bill sent to a joint select committee

The Wire  |  New Delhi 

Triple Talaq, Triple Talaq SC
Illustration by Binay Sinha

The government may have set out to pass the Bill with all guns blazing, but it’s not going to be an easy task in the Rajya Sabha. Not only has the opposition come together against the Bill (they want it sent to a select committee), not even all members of the Democratic Alliance think the Bill should be passed.

The Lok Sabha passed the (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2018 on December 27, 2018, even as the opposition staged a walkout. A total of 245 members voted for the Bill to be passed, and only 11 voted against it. The Bill criminalises instant

But the Upper House is a different matter. At least 116 MPs of the 263-member House have reportedly said that they will oppose the Bill in its current form.

Numbers in the Rajya Sabha

The Bharatiya Janata Party is the single-largest party in the Upper House, but it does not have a majority even with its NDA allies. In the case of the Bill, the Janata Dal (United) – an NDA member with six MPs in the house – and the AIADMK – a fence-sitter seen to be friendly towards the Modi government with 13 MPs – have both said they will not vote with the BJP.

“We feel the way this bill is being rushed, it was avoidable and we feel more consultation should have taken place,” JD(U) leader Vashishta Narayan Singh has said.

“It is the duty of the AIADMK to safeguard the welfare of minorities. AIADMK will fully oppose this bill against our Muslim brothers,” AIADMK leader M. Thambidurai said.

The objections

The opposition believes that the Bill needs to be sent to a joint select committee for proper consideration, and not be “rushed through” before the 2019 elections. According to them, the Bill targets Muslim men specifically, as men from other religions cannot face criminal prosecution for abandoning their wives.

While supporting the outlawing of instant triple talaq by the Supreme Court, opposition leaders have argued that imprisoning Muslim men pronouncing instant triple talaq will not serve any purpose.

Congress member T. Subbarami Reddy has brought in a statutory resolution which states: “That this House disapproves the (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Ordinance, 2018 (No. 7 of 2018) promulgated by the President of India on 19th September, 2018.”

Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, however, argued that the “plight of Muslim women” was of utmost important and so the Bill should be passed. “We will decide on the floor of the House when I speak there. We have already improved a lot of things. A select committee is important, but the plight of victim women is equally important. I would appeal to MPs to listen to their plight.”

What happens to the law?

The winter session of parliament ends on January 8, and the opposition has made it clear that it will not allow the Bill to be passed before that. The triple talaq ordinance the Modi government promulgated on September 20 is valid only for six months – so the Centre may choose to re-promulgate it to ensure that the law stays in place until the 2019 elections.

That decision, however, may not go down well. The Supreme Court has said in the past that re-promulgation of an ordinance is a “fraud on the constitution”.

The Modi government knows that the numbers are stacked against it in the Upper House. So could it have used this time to generate consensus around the Bill instead of rushing it through parliament? At a time when the prime minister has found himself in a corner over rising unemployment, the agrarian crisis and the controversial Rafale fighter jet deal – issues which have also cost the BJP electorally – a polarising, even if unfruitful, debate on triple talaq could be considered a useful distraction.

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First Published: Tue, January 08 2019. 13:41 IST