The President’s address to the joint sitting of Parliament last week highlighted the agenda that the second Modi Government has set out for itself. Among other things, it did well to commit the government to win ‘sabka vishwas.’ Fears of a majoritarian government in some sections need to be quashed by a genuine effort to earn the trust of the minorities. Of course, it will take both sides to reach out to each other instead of dwelling in separate silos and suspecting each other’s motives. Of this we see no evidence thus far, especially when the representatives of the largest minority community continue to be publicly hostile to the regime.
The aggressive manner in which Assaduddin Owaisi, the AIMIM MP from Hyderabad, conducts himself hardly leaves any scope for reconciliation. As an articulate member of the large Muslim community, Owaisi should try and sound reasonable so that the distrust between the two communities is not amplified further. For instance, on Friday when the government introduced the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019, also known as the triple talaq Bill, he ought to have suggested a via media to narrow the differences between the official position and his own. Instead, railing against the government for its alleged anti-Muslim agenda does not help anyone, and it certainly does not create trust between the two communities. On its part, the government should sit down yet again with the representatives of the minority community and iron out differences, to allay fears stemming from the proposed talaq Bill.
That the government has the mandate of the apex court to abolish the obscurantist, anti-women practice of instant divorce ought not to become an excuse for the Bill to be rammed down the gullet of the community. In this context, the role of the main Opposition party is obscured in total confusion. It wants not to be seen appeasing the obscurantist elements in the Muslim community and yet is reluctant to support the Bill, arguing against one or the other clause. It is complete idiocy to suggest that the Bill is unacceptable because it is pointed at one community.
Shashi Tharoor, the Congress MP, ought to be able to establish as to which other community in India practices triple talaq. There may well be several anti-women practices in the Hindu religion which despite the modernisation of relevant laws continue to be tolerated informally by the Hindu samaj, but a cruel practice of triple talaq, which has the sanction of the maulvis and mullahs, does not find a parallel in the majority community.
Truth to be told, the Congress is caught in a quandary. It wants to humour the obscurantist elements among Muslims who, unfortunately, seem to lead the community, and yet it is loath to be seen as indulging in minority appeasement. Hence, its insistence on pushing the talaq Bill on the back burner again by sending it to a select committee for supposed minute examination.
However, all available evidence suggests that the Modi-2.0 may not be willing to go the Modi-1.0 way when the Bill had to be relegated to the background following its failure in the Rajya Sabha. The government believes that this time it would be able to get the requisite numbers even in the Rajya Sabha. Meanwhile, it was amusing to witness Owaisi embarrassing the Congress Party by pointedly referring to the anti-women attitude of the ruling party on the entry of women into the Sabarimala temple despite the go-ahead from the apex court.
Notably, Tharoor, the MP from Thiruvananthapuram, the virtual epicenter of the Sabarimala agitation, had to eat humble pie and instead of supporting the apex court had maintained an ambivalent attitude. The Congress President Rahul Gandhi too had to resile on his promise to support the entry of women, in view of the strong sentiment at the ground level against the entry of women in the iconic temple. Owaisi was right in arguing that gender equality cannot be only for Muslim women, a point that left the likes of Tharoor speechless. As for the ruling party, it has had no compunction in putting religion above man-made laws.
Remember Ayodhya? In short, no issue, not even of the grotesque practice of triple talaq, is without its pros and cons. It is the duty of the government to move forward by considering the balance of pragmatic wisdom in each case. In the case of triple talaq it is right to want to abolish this barbaric practice.