The Triple Talaq Bill has created the first major dissension within the BJP led National Democratic Alliance with the Telugu Desam Party splitting ranks to join the entire Opposition in the Rajya Sabha in the demand it be sent to a select committee for further consideration.
In a major shift the TDP that has been very supportive of the BJP since the alliance came to power in Andhra Pradesh, wants the Bill to be referred to a select committee as per the resolution moved by Congress MP Anand Sharma. The entire Opposition, including conventional political rivals like the two Tamil parties DMK and AIADMK, the Left and the Trinamool Congress, the Samajwadi Party and the BahujanSamaj Party, came together behind the resolution.
This was stoutly resisted by the BJP Ministers, with Finance Minister ArunJaitley fortifying the arguments of Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in insisting that the Bill cannot be so referred.
The treasury and opposition benches crossed swords as soon as the Bill came up for discussion with PJ Kurien in the Chair doing a valiant job of keeping some semblance of harmony in the House.
After a day of several adjournments on the violence against Dalits in Maharashtra, the Rajya Sabha met late afternoon to take up the Triple Talaq Bill. Anand Sharma moved the resolution to send the Bill to a select committee comprising members of all the political Opposition parties as well. The Opposition MPs clarified through the ruckus that followed Sharma’s resolution that they were not against the Bill, but totally in support of a thorough parliamentary scrutiny to ensure a piece of legislation mired in justice.
The treasury benches led by Jaitley and Prasad resisted, with the entire Opposition then insisting that either the Chair should recognise their majority in the House and accept the resolution, or move for a division and voting. Finally, the House was adjourned for the day with no decision taken.
The story of the day thus was the shift in the TDP stance, with Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu using the Triple Talaq Bill to signal his independence. Naidu who has been working closely with the BJP surprised all political parties when he made it apparent yesterday that the party will support the Opposition resolution. This comes after the Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha with the support of all NDA allies.
There was some uncertainty about the AIADMK with BJP members maintaining in Parliament earlier that the party MPs would shift support to the treasury benches. This clearly did not happen with a consolidated Opposition standing together and speaking in one voice. The charge by the Ministers that the opposition parties, and more specifically the Congress party, was against Muslim women was dismissed by all members who managed to get in a few words amidst the din that was constant. They pointed out that they were supportive of the Bill but needed to iron out the unjust clauses if any; that it was normal for a legislation to be subjected to such scrutiny; that they would not allow the government to rush through faulty legislation. Many MPs also countered the government argument by saying that if the BJP was so concerned, it should bring in the Womens Reservation Bill and ensure gender justice.
There was no response to this from across the floor.
The faceoff between the two sides also led to interesting points on the rules governing the House. For instance at one point Anand Sharma said that it “is our collective constitutional duty” to ensure that the Bill went through parliamentary scrutiny adding, “Parliament cannot be a rubber stamp of the government.”
Samajwadi’s Naresh Agarwal pointed out that there were two Houses of Parliament, so that if one makes a mistake the other can correct it.
It is clear that neither side was in a mood to budge, with the pressure on the government by the Opposition relentless. The Opposition still has an edge in the Upper House, more so now as all political parties have come together on the issue. And now with the support of the Telugu Desam Party the numbers game will be decisive with the treasury benches without the tally now to push the Bill through the Rajya Sabha.