Politics often obliges you to make unambiguous choices. A yes-no-maybe-both posture may not be always possible. However hard you may want to wriggle out, mumbling non-sequiturs on important matters, a clever opponent and/or the sheer force of circumstances will inevitably require you to abandon a vague and non-committal response. You have to stand up for what you consider right.
The Congress party’s dilemma is that all through its long career it has got away being all things to all men on almost all matters. Even its foreign policy, come to think of it, was a fuddy-duddy affair, engaged intensely in avoiding real choices. So was much of its economic policy. The struggle for freedom from the colonial powers might have justified its being an open tent under which everyone of every possible ideological persuasion had taken shelter in pursuit of a common objective. The popular goodwill generated by the realisation of that objective carried the party through to successive electoral victories, though some of the tallest leaders had gone their separate ways even as the Congress lost its old élan and idealism.
This was natural when the party slept with the moneybags while mouthing the panacea of socialism, sanctioned wholesale corruption by leaders and cadres alike, and generally ignored public weal for grandiose promises and schemes with niggardly benefits for the people. Inserting socialism in the preamble of the Constitution, while overturning that founding document upside down for reducing the country into a private family-owned fiefdom was probably one of the biggest systemic assaults on the democratic sensibilities of the people. Soon that black deed recoiled on the Congress.
And it was a matter of time before the family enterprise, now fully denuded of all its old sheen, was challenged by the ideologically committed and organisationally stronger parties. They vastly constricted the space and influence of the Grand Old Party. Yet, it tried to experiment with the old and convenient recipe of being all things to all men, never wanting to take a clear position, be it the Mandal reservations, the Mandir movement, or the question of the Uniform Civil Code for every citizen regardless of caste, creed, religion, etc.
It is this ingrained ambivalence in the Congress DNA that was on display in the recently concluded winter session of Parliament. On the most important legislative measure of the session, the party showed its split character. The Congress virtually slept through the passage of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill in the Lok Sabha. It did not challenge the introduction of the bill, nor did it move an amendment, content to offer vague criticism, while allowing the ruling party to push it through without much discussion. The bill seeks to criminalise the age-old practice of triple talaq or talaq-e-biddat prevalent essentially among the Indian Muslims.
But, strangely enough, the supine Congress in the Lok Sabha, bared its fangs when a couple of days later the self-same bill was presented in the Rajya Sabha. It was suggested that the lack of numbers justified the lack of articulation of its viewpoint, a suggestion, if followed, would have committed the Opposition stalwarts like A.B. Vajpayee, J.B. Kripalani, R.M. Lohia, George Fernandes, Bhupesh Gupta, Hiren Mukherjee et al to silence, since they were woefully outnumbered all through the early years of the Republic. Clearly, the Congress is unfamiliar with the way democratic polities function, with the legislature serving as a platform to showcase one’s viewpoint and hope that the people would be convinced of their validity.
However, in this case the Congress was concerned not about convincing the ordinary people, but the imam-mullah-maulvi nexus, which has a vice-like stranglehold over Muslims. It is these feudal interests with close links to the dubious funding networks who hate the idea of a progressive agenda for Muslims. Freeing half of the Muslim population from the mortal fear of instant talaq was an anathema to these overlords of the ancien regime. They have flourished by keeping their people ill-educated, ignorant and servile to an archaic religious order.
But regardless, the Congress obstructed the passage of the bill in the Rajya Sabha, raising frivolous objections about its allegedly flawed contents and called for it to be sent to a select committee. This was nothing but a charade to appease the feudal thekedars of the Muslims, who for long have kept the Muslim women subjugated as second-rate citizens with no civil rights of their own. The bill, inspired by a clear voiding of the shameful practice of triple talaq by the apex court, was a progressive measure to lawfully establish gender justice and equality in the largest minority community, numbering over 18 crore.
Various Islamic countries had long ago banned triple talaq, but it is only in secular India under the Congress dispensation that Muslim women had to contend with the indignity of their husbands rendering them vagabonds and penniless with the uttering of that dreaded word three times in a single breath. This was harking back to the barbaric times when men treated their wives as chattels, inferior beings with no rights of their own whatsoever.
But our self-avowedly secular Congress must devise excuses and half-arguments to camouflage the real anxiety to keep the maulvi-mullah axis in its corner. After all, at election-time they deliver the Muslim vote en bloc, especially when the contest is bipolar against the BJP alone. So, without mouthing the language of Asaduddin Owaisi, it sought to achieve the same end by blocking the passage of the most progressive social reform aimed at benefiting half of the Muslim population. It was specious nonsense to suggest that since triple talaq was already held illegal by the Supreme Court, there was no need for legislation.
Who in the absence of the empowering law, would provide relief to the woman thrown away from home without notice if there is no law for her to knock on the door of the police? And without the provision of rigorous punishment for the offender, what will restrain him from wilfully ejecting his wife from her marital home? If dowry and child marriage can be criminalised, if in the case of adultery and bigamy, the close relatives of the victim can lodge a complaint, what is wrong in allowing relatives of the victim of triple talaq to lodge a police complaint? And contrary to the propaganda, the bill does provide for subsistence allowance and the custody of minor children for the wife through the due process of law. Unwilling to antagonise the mosque-centric leadership of the Muslims, the critics of the bill argue that the institution of marriage being sacrosanct, it ought to be left alone for the community itself to undertake reform. Muslim sensitivities and sensibilities must get precedence over the need to break the age-old shackles on Muslim women. Such arguments were also heard back in the mid-1950s, when another government had pressed ahead with the transformative reforms of the institution of Hindu marriage and much else, besides concerning social and religious practices of the majority community. We will be told that Muslims being a minority deserve special consideration. Yes, because they vote en bloc to defeat the forces of reform and progress!
A DEADLY COCKTAIL
It is a deadly combination, this newly-elected Gujarat MLA, Jignesh Mevani, and the JNU ranter-in-chief Umar Khalid, who not long sought azaadi for Kashmir and spoke of breaking India into a thousand parts. The Mevani-Khalid cocktail is made further incendiary by the fiery mentoring of the fat cats of the well-funded NGO Sahmat. And with a little help from our janeu-dhari neta, who most of the time doesn’t know what he is doing, we do have the makings of a new destabilising force amidst us. Be warned.