The triple talaq bill has put the Congress on a sticky wicket

There are fears that the triple talaq bill could be heading the way of proposed legislation on women’s reservations. Political considerations could succeed in torpedoing legislation that is widely considered a masterstroke of the Narendra Modi government. It is natural that the Congress party should be considered the architect of the stalling tactics pertaining to the bill. Having pursued soft Hindutva in the Gujarat assembly elections, which marked a significant shift in its political moorings, it is worth questioning the Congress strategy on the issue. Its leaders need to clearly articulate their stand on the majority-minority issue following the elevation of Rahul Gandhi as party president. Having supported the government-piloted bill in the Lok Sabha, which made triple talaq a criminal offence, there is no reason why the Congress has to revisit its stand and pick holes in the bill and demand that it be referred to a select committee. The stand on the proposed legislation is a reminder that it has not shed ‘minority appeasement’ and ‘vote bank politics’ even as Muslim women fall victims to an archaic divorce practice. Additionally, what becomes apparent is that the Congress refuses to concede credit to the NDA government for having aggressively pushed the bill that provides succour to Muslim women. Even now, the Congress leadership seems to be under immense pressure from the Muslim clergy that has benefited monetarily while giving the stamp of approval to divorce cases. If it has to transform itself into a progressive party, it has to change the political discourse for the better. But, this is easier said than done. Having played the minority card in the past, it is now on a sticky wicket – caught between the clergy on the one hand and oppressed women on the other. The possible division in the Muslim vote bank stemming from the expected swing in votes of Muslim women in favour of the BJP appears to have weighed heavily on the party. Both the BJP and the Congress will have to rise above petty vote bank politics to free the women from a practice that has been buried all over the Muslim world. If triple talaq has been abandoned in over 23 countries, there is little reason why it should be prevalent in India. For instance, sati was discarded among Hindus notwithstanding the resistance from regressive elements. Child marriages among Hindus in most areas have come to an end. The Congress must use its clout with the Muslim clergy to not only end the practice of triple talaq but stop polygamy as well. While creating a conducive environment to preserve the distinct identity of Muslims and their culture, women and children should be encouraged to take up jobs across the spectrum. Education, healthcare and birth control measures should be encouraged by political formations. The Congress and other opposition parties at the centre should come forward to be part of this decisive reform measure. Muslim women should be allowed the freedom to explore their full potential rather than being tied down by archaic practices.