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Congress to hold back triple talaq bill in RS & insist on amendments

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Party leaders dismiss Arun Jaitley’s charge of double standards, say Congress is demanding the same changes it asked for in the Lok Sabha.

New Delhi: The standoff between the Narendra Modi government and the opposition over the triple talaq bill is likely to continue as the winter session of Parliament draws to a close. While desisting from openly opposing the bill, the Congress will hold it back in the Rajya Sabha and insist on amendments, party insiders told ThePrint.

Sources indicated that the Congress will continue to demand that the bill be referred to a select committee of the Rajya Sabha Thursday as well.

The party will also strongly counter the BJP by emphasising that it is not against the ‘reform’ centric bill per se, but wants a ‘stronger law’ that ‘empowers women’ comprehensively, through clear provisions for maintenance among other points, sources said. The Congress will also reject the BJP’s charge that it has changed its stance from the Lok Sabha to the Rajya Sabha, arguing that it had asked for the bill to be referred to a standing committee, and for amendments in the Lok Sabha as well.

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley Wednesday slammed the Congress, accusing it of ‘double standards’ by supporting it in the Lok Sabha, and then opposing it in the Rajya Sabha.

The Lok Sabha had passed the bill, officially titled The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, last week. However, in the Rajya Sabha, Leader of the Opposition and senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad moved a motion to push for amendments in the bill, and demanded it be sent to a select committee for detailed discussion. While the Modi government enjoys majority support in the Lok Sabha, the numbers are not favourable to it in the Rajya Sabha, where it has been cornered now by the opposition.

Congress insiders argue that the bill is a political ploy engineered by the BJP to trap the Congress in a difficult situation. If it opposes the bill, the party will be seen as anti-women, while if it supports it, the Congress will antagonise Muslim men. After considerable discussion, the party is learnt to have agreed to support the apex court order, but insist on a strong law which ‘truly’ empowers women and is legally very sound, sources said.

Sibal & Co. rebut Jaitley

Senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal said the party’s position was consistent in both Houses of Parliament.

“This is a baseless charge. In the Lok Sabha, the Congress asked for amendments and that the bill be referred to the standing committee, which the BJP did not agree to. In the Rajya Sabha, we have again asked for the same amendments and that it be referred to a select committee,” Sibal told ThePrint.

Sibal also questioned the motive of the BJP behind bringing in the bill, and said it was politically driven rather than by a desire for social reform.

“When the Supreme Court has already declared triple talaq unconstitutional, why did the government bring in a bill for criminalisation? Why would they do so unless their intention is political? Also, why just criminalise for Muslim men? Why should husbands from across religions who abandon wives not face criminal charges in that case?” he asked.

He also added that the BJP’s argument that the bill has to be brought in within six months is incorrect, as the court injunction can persist until legislation is brought in.

Sushmita Dev, president of the All India Mahila Congress, termed the bill as mere tokenism.

“We are not against social reform for any segment of society. But the Congress does not believe in tokenism like the BJP is doing in the name of Muslim women,” Dev said.

“We asked for amendments in both Houses of Parliament, so that a legally sound law is brought in. Seven or eight parties have supported our amendments in the Rajya Sabha. The BJP has brought in a shoddily-drafted law it wants to use as an instrument of politics, not an instrument of law.

“Also, if the BJP has suddenly become so progressive, why is it not banning polygamy and halala as well – both also demands made by Shah Bano?” Dev asked.

Khurshid Ahmed Saiyed, chairman of the Congress’s minority department, said a law of this nature requires thorough discussion with all stakeholders and even religious heads to ensure its effective implementation. He said there was a lot of lack of clarity regarding the various provisions of the bill, and it was essential to look at these closely before making it a law.

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