Spelling out the party view at the very outset, Kharge said, “How justified is it that the government should make a law by interfering in one religion? It has to be studied. So, it should be sent to a joint select committee with a deadline of one month or 15 days,” he said, adding it would result in smooth passage of the legislation.
Party MP Sushmita Dev questioned the clause “criminalising” the “civil offence” and alleged the government’s motive behind the bill was not to empower Muslim women but to “penalise” Muslim men. “In the name of empowerment, you have given nothing but a criminal case to women,” she said.
The frontal questioning of the bill marked a major change in Congress which had backed it in the Lower House when it was first passed in December 2017 before the party sought parliamentary scrutiny in Rajya Sabha — sealing its fate.
The Congress aggression, reflected in its willingness to be seen as blocking the bill relating to Muslim community in the House where its passage was a foregone conclusion, appeared linked to its recent triumph over BJP in three assembly elections.
It appeared that December 11 results in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have removed the fears in certain party quarters that BJP could use its negative stance as part of its “Hindutva” plank to polarise the electorate.
The lack of fear of polarisation was evident when Dev argued that late PM Rajiv Gandhi’s 1986 bill gave the most “progressive right” to Muslim women in country’s history.
As a practice, Congress avoids a reference to the debate related to Shah Bano case since Rajiv government’s action became the lightning rod for “Muslim appeasement” charge and still forms part of BJP’s quiver against Congress.
A parliamentary manager told TOI there was anger in the opposition that BJP chose to first bring an ordinance and now the bill despite an overwhelming demand for parliamentary review.
“We know BJP’s intentions behind bringing the bill repeatedly in this manner but we don’t think it would have the consequences that the BJP is hoping for,” he said.