The BJP will look to push through the legislation of its choice, chief among them being the controversial triple talaq Bill.
The Modi government’s swift acceptance of an Opposition-sponsored no-confidence motion on the opening day of the last monsoon session of the current Lok Sabha is not just part of its floor strategy to ensure the cooperation of those on the other side of the aisle. More importantly, it demonstrates its determination to set the stage for general elections slated for May 2019 by placing its agenda front and centre before the nation — at a moment of its choosing.
By accepting the Opposition’s demand without argument, it hopes that this session of Parliament will run smoothly — as it did to everyone’s surprise on Wednesday — and provide it with the space to say its piece before the nation, unedited, while pushing through the legislation of its choice, chief among them being the controversial triple talaq Bill.
For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), keeping the Bill centre stage is part of its efforts to polarise the polity, help portray Opposition parties, particularly the Congress (that wants amendments in the Bill), as anti-women and appeasers of fundamentalist Muslims.
On July 14, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing a rally in eastern Uttar Pradesh’s Azamgarh, referred to a statement Congress President Rahul Gandhi was alleged to have made but which has been denied repeatedly by that party — that the Congress is a party of Muslims: “I want to ask the Congress,” he thundered, “are you a party of only Muslim men or also of Muslim women?” He then went on to accuse the Opposition of blocking the passage of the triple talaq Bill in Parliament.
A day before Parliament commenced, Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad wrote to Mr Gandhi: “As part of the new deal, we should approve, in Parliament, the Women’s Reservation Bill, the law prohibiting triple talaq and imposing penal consequence on those who violate the law, and prohibiting nikah halala.” This came as a challenge to the Congress, as Mr. Gandhi had written to Mr. Modi earlier in the week asking him to get the Women’s Reservation Bill — that has been hanging fire for 22 years — passed.
The triple talaq Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha in December 2017, but it failed to secure the approval of the Rajya Sabha because Parliament barely functioned in the Budget Session after the Budget was passed. Besides, a majority of opposition parties had made it clear that they wanted the Bill to go to a Select Committee of Parliament for scrutiny before it is brought to the House.
On Wednesday, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan surprised the Opposition by admitting the no-confidence motion with alacrity, months after she had turned down a similar motion moved in the Budget Session. At the time, she had said that she could not see the 50 MPs — the mandatory number needed to move such a motion — as the House was not in order.
So what has changed between the two sessions? After all, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government had the numbers to defeat the motion in the Lok Sabha even in the Budget Session. Conversations with senior ministers and leaders on Wednesday soon made clear the reasons for the change of heart.
The most important reason cited was the government’s desire to pass the triple talaq Bill — or at least have the debate on it play out on television screens, newspaper articles and social media. This could only happen if Parliament functions, and for that, they said, it was important to concede some ground to the Opposition by admitting the no-confidence motion.
By doing so at the outset, it would look gracious and not appear that it had been admitted under pressure. Ministerial sources added it would also provide the government with an effective platform to explain why it had pulled out support from the People’s Democratic Alliance-led government in Jammu and Kashmir (an issue that the BJP hopes it can play in the rest of the country as a national security issue), talk of its achievements in the last four years, with a view to reaching voters of the BJP-ruled states — Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh — that are to go to the polls later this year, as well as target the Opposition’s “minority-centric politics”, particularly that of the Congress.
The government believes the discussion in Parliament, that will be nationally televised, will help its message — unmediated by the traditional and social media — reach people across the country. It would give Prime Minister Modi another stage from which to address the people directly, as he is expected to intervene in the discussion. BJP President Amit Shah, it is learnt, also urged the government to face the no-confidence motion, as it should not look as though the government had something to hide.
For the opposition parties that have collectively brought a vote of no-confidence, the key issues it will bring up to place the government in the dock will be the demand for the grant of special status to Andhra Pradesh, the spate of lynchings, atrocities against women and Dalits, and the dilution of a law intended to protect the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
The battle is joined.
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