Some Opposition MPs walked out, some voted for the bill and others were absen
There is nothing Julius Caesar-like in Congressman Ghulam Nabi Azad apart from a receding hairline. But you could be sure he was mouthing, “Et tu, Brute” as many Opposition MPs voted with the government in the triple talaq bill.
Many fellow travellers in the anti-Bharatiya Janata Party, pro-minority bandwagon decided to ditch the Congress when this important piece of legislation was put to vote in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday. Given its leadership crisis, this lack of faith in the Congress party came as a double whammy.
There might not be anything Roman about Ghulam Nabi Azad, but for a large section of the opposition in the Upper House the word Janus-faced is apt. The Roman god Janus is two-faced — he looks to the past and to the future
Is there a subliminal message that some Opposition members want to transmit? That Congress with its dismal electoral record is over and for future survival it is better to toe the line of the ruling dispensation?
For two years a clutch of regional parties — all of them wearing their pro-minority heart on their sleeves — tagged along with the Congress to keep the contentious triple talaq bill at bay. These parties included Trinamool Congress (TMC), Samajwadi Party (SP), Janata Dal United (JD U), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Telugu Desam Party (TDP).
On Wednesday, they decided to do away with the proverbial fig leaf. Some walked out, some voted for the bill and others stayed away from the House to save themselves the embarrassment of making their switch public.
The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019 was passed by Rajya Sabha by 99 votes in favour and 84 against.
Let’s take a look at the numbers. Rajya Sabha’s strength is 240 plus five vacant seats. On Tuesday, only 184 members voted. Some of the leading lights of secularism missing were Congress’s Vivek Tankha, Ranjib Biswal and Mukut Mithi; Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel of NCP; SP’s Beni Prasad Verma and Tazeen Fatma (wife of misogynist Azam Khan)…this is not an exhaustive list and has, due to lack of space, left out a few liberal luminaries.
Four Congress MPs, six from SP, two from NCP and one (KD Singh) from TMC were absent. Though BSP MPs spoke against the legislation, four of them were absent. Six TRS MPs did not participate. And all 11 members of AIADMK and six JD (U) MPs spoke against the bill but walked out.
By walking out or being absent during voting the parties keep their secular credentials intact by tweaking the optics. Because they will still play their anti-Manuvad, anti-majoritarianism tune when the next round of elections come up.
But are we surprised that our political parties are showing maturity? The fear of letting loose investigative agencies can bring the most intransigent politician to sit on his hind legs. Our netas are not above a little bit of financial jiggery-pokery.
As the din of chest-thumping eases and the victory for the rights of minority women savoured, one feels a tinge of pity for the Congress. The party has been left totally bereft of any political buddies.
In social media terms Congress has been unfriended. Unless you take Trinamool. But given Mamata Banerjee’s volatile nature and unpredictability, it’ll be safe to keep her at arm’s length.
“An archaic and medieval practice has finally been confined to the dustbin of history,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted. So let us rejoice till the next time when our socially aware, gender-conscious politicians do yet another volte face. For our benefit of course.