The BJP is beginning to get its way in Parliament unhindered by the seeming lack of numbers in the Rajya Sabha. This was not so in the last Parliament, though even then the party had a majority of its own in the Lok Sabha. The BJP numbers in the current Lok Sabha are much higher, but it still does not have a clear majority in the Rajya Sabha. Yet, the overwhelming success in the Lok Sabha poll seems to be helping it increase its strength in the RS by subterfuge. Members are being made to resign their seats and then contest the resulting bye-polls on its symbol and come back to complete the rest of their terms in the RS. The latest to jump ship is Sanjay Singh, the erstwhile Amethi Raja who was sent to the Rajya Sabha by the Congress Party from Assam. Now, it is the BJP which has a comfortable majority in Assam and would have no problem re-electing Singh for him to finish the remainder of his term, albeit on the BJP benches. Ditto for Neeraj Shekhar, the Samajwadi Party member who resigned a few days earlier to join the BJP.
He too is set to come back to the RS on the BJP symbol from UP. Weeks earlier four TDP MPs had switched to the BJP without their needing to resign their seats under the anti-defection law. In sum, the ruling party is steadily shoring up its numbers to gather a majority in the Upper House as well. But the passage of the controversial Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019, in the Rajya Sabha still needed the support of non-BJP, non-NDA members. And the government seemed to have no difficulty managing it. Successful management of Parliament in Modi-2.0 in the very first session of Parliament after the polls spotlights the complete disarray in the Opposition. This was not the first time that the Opposition groups were persuaded to either vote with the government or to abstain or remain neutral. Earlier, the House had passed the controversial Right To Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019, without difficulty. On Tuesday, when the Talaq Bill was voted, 23 Opposition members chose to skip the House. Among these were four from the Congress, six of SP, four of BSP, two each of NCP and TDP, one each from DMK, CPM and TMC.
Members of the JD(U), a component of the NDA, AIADMK and TRS too absented from the House at the time of the division on the Talaq Bill. In other words, despite the Opposition formally commanding a majority in the RS, the ruling party got the controversial Bill through, with 99 in favour and 84 against. The Lok Sabha had already endorsed it with an overwhelming majority. The Opposition motion for sending it to a select committee was rejected 100-84. The most controversial provision was to criminalize triple talaq, a cognizable offence attracting up to three years’ imprisonment and fine. Pleadings that the divorced woman with children would be rendered destitute should her husband be packed off to jail fell on deaf years. This was the thrust of the critics who demanded in vain to delete the impugned clause.
There was no disputing the need to modernize the customary Muslim divorce law, such an anti-woman practice finds no place even in the avowedly Islamic countries. The government was fortified in its resolve to ban instant talaq following a directive from the highest court in the land nearly two years ago. However, the temptation to humiliate and isolate the largest minority must be eschewed. Besides, it is hoped the criminalizing of talaq would not be misused to harass Muslim men locked in genuinely bad marriages. Gloating over the passage of the talaq Bill should be a strict no-no.
An avoidable tragedy
The suicide by the pioneering founder of the iconic Café Coffee Day chain, V G Siddhartha, is bound to rattle the business world. His death is a personal tragedy for his family and friends and we join in offering condolences. But it also highlights the somewhat unprofessional manner in which ambitious entrepreneurs manage to draw upon public finances to expand business without any reference to the bottom-line. Frankly, the manner in which huge bank loans were disbursed on extraneous considerations under the ten-year UPA regime was nothing short of a scandal. In some ways, even the coffee chain had become a vanity project for its founder, who took it international, in the hope of selling the business to a multinational at a hefty profit.
The revelations of tax evasion and over-leveraged debts could be a strain on the mental peace of anyone. Tragically, Siddhartha could not take the pressure. It is not clear how the Income Tax authorities caused him to take the extreme step, but going by a press statement by the department it is clear they had their reasons to seek explanations for a huge tax evasion. Hard to figure out the trigger point which pushed him to give it all up. Hopefully, both the lending institutions and the entrepreneurial class would draw the right lessons from the tragic suicide and henceforth try to balance ambition with ability and market prospects.
- S Sadanand