Amid a raft of legislations passed in the Monsoon Session of Parliament, the one that missed the Rajya Sabha bus was on triple talaq. The Bill makes instant talaq in spoken, written or digital format a non-bailable offence and proposes punishment up to three years in jail. While the Bill had sailed through in the Lok Sabha with Congress support earlier, the Grand Old Party insisted on sending it to a select committee amid howls of protests over the penal clause. But the government did not appear keen on getting it vetted, partially because it would have delayed its enactment.
With the game changing in the Rajya Sabha where the NDA does not have the numbers to push any legislation through on its own, the government decided to soften the Bill, allowing a magistrate to grant bail to the accused. Also, only the victim or her relative can lodge an FIR now, firewalling the legislation from potential abuse. Yet, the Bill was blocked by the Opposition on Friday, the last day of the session, when the government tried to introduce it.
While Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad pointed fingers at UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi for stalling it, he ought to admit that the government didn’t get its timing right. Why, for instance, did it choose to bring the Bill on the last day of the session and not earlier? Surely such an important and contentious Bill could not have been passed within a short span of time without proper debate.
Was enough effort made to build a broad consensus as was done for other legislations? Sonia is understood to be insisting on sending the amended Bill, too, to the select committee, though she concedes the softening has improved it. While Prasad called it Congress hypocrisy, the latter faulted him for lack of homework. Three months ago, the government did some kite-flying on promulgating an ordinance on triple talaq. The kite is back in the air, as are the polemics. At stake is the Muslim women vote-bank the BJP hopes to carve out before the 2019 elections, hence the hurry.