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BJP moves on bill hint at strategy shift on civil code



BJP celebrated the passage of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage Bill, 2017) in LS as a big political triumph, with party chief Amit Shah calling it a historic step.

While the bill looks set to run into the numbers hurdle in Rajya Sabha where BJP lacks a majority and cannot trust the regional outfits to come to its rescue on an issue that has been the bugbear for the influential Muslim clergy, the party sees the LS approval as a powerful statement of its intent to roll back the politics of “appeasement”.

“I thank all fellow parliamentarians who have supported this bill, which will bring a new era of hope and respect in the lives of Muslim women,” Shah said soon after the bill was passed. He also said that under the leadership of PM Modi, BJP was committed towards justice to women, which should not be based on caste or religion.

Opponents have attacked the legislation saying that it was part of BJP’s hidden agenda to promulgate the Uniform Civil Code (UCC). BJP has, of course, rejected the charge. While its main focus seems to be on the acceleration of growth and assuaging concerns, like those arising from farm distress, the accusation that it is working stealthily to realise the ambition of “one land , one law” can only be helpful so far as assuring the Hindutva constituency is concerned.

The party’s firm and energetic response on the bill to criminalise instant triple talaq, in fact, reflects a switch of tactics. Unlike in the past where it treated the UCC as an objective which has to be achieved in one go, the party has now decided to go about it in a modest and incremental way; or by taking – to use a business jargon – the creeping acquisition route.

t also decided to couch its endeavour in contemporary political lexicon calling the bill to punish practitioners of triple talaq as a move towards gender justice. The politically correct idiom guarantees that the legislation does not encounter the resistance it would have faced from political parties. It makes the job of activists, invariably arrayed against BJP and supportive of the Left and, as is the case increasingly now, Congress, that much more difficult.

With “triple talaq” under its belt, party can be expected to expand its focus to polygamy and the controversial practice of halala, which forbids a divorced couple from uniting unless the woman had married someone and secured a divorce from her second husband.

The predicament of “secular” opponents – how to oppose something that seeks to level the field between Hindus and Muslims by doing away with the ” special treatment” for the latter can only whet the appetite of a group that owes its prominence in no small measure to the capitulation of the Congress leadership to the Muslim clergy over the Shah Bano issue.

It was not sheer coincidence that speaking during the debate, BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi dedicated a passage of the bill to former Union minister Arif Mohammad Khan, who had quit the Rajiv Gandhi ministry over the Shah Bano case. “Today, some members are concerned about maintenance but it is ironic that it was denied by Congress in Shah Bano case,” she said.

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