Triple talaq verdict: BJP looks set to reap electoral gains, Congress in damage-control mode

The striking down of instant triple talaq by the Supreme Court is likely to benefit the ruling BJP in the coming assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh

india Updated: Aug 22, 2017 23:52 IST
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The Supreme Court’s striking down of instant triple talaq could help the ruling BJP further consolidate its base among Muslims ahead of assembly polls in several states.(PTI file photo)

The Supreme Court judgment on Tuesday, striking down the Islamic divorce practice of instant triple talaq, comes as a shot in the arm for the BJP-led NDA government ahead of assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh in November.

The BJP is likely to celebrate the verdict as a vindication of its stand against triple talaq as a practice that violates the principles of gender justice and equality. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and many senior BJP leaders were quick to welcome the court ruling, terming it as a victory for gender justice and dignity.

While BJP leaders were at pains to explain that the SC judgement should not be linked with religion, RSS leader Indresh Kumar’s comment gave it away. It should be celebrated as “Islam-saved-from-orthodoxy day”, he said, indicating how the Sangh Parivar plans to showcase what the ruling dispensation portrays as a gender justice issue.

Another indication of how the BJP could encash it politically came from Union law minister Ravishankar Prasad who said that India of 2017 is not that of 1987, in an indirect reference to the Rajiv Gandhi government that had brought legislation to overturn the apex court ruling about alimony to divorced Muslim women in the famous Shah Bano case. “Leadership of PM Modi is not leadership of Rajiv Gandhi who will buckle under pressure,” said Prasad, virtually laying down the script for the BJP to politically encash in the forthcoming assembly elections.

The BJP’s stand on triple talaq is expected to appeal to the liberal intelligentsia within the Muslim community as also to the right-wing elements who have berated the Congress for allegedly indulging in “minority appeasement”.

In October, the NDA government had opposed the practice in court, triggering a political debate that resonated in the ensuing Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. After the Uttar Pradesh elections, BJP leaders claimed that a large number of Muslim women, who were aggrieved by triple talaq, voted for the party.

Professor Badri Nayaran of the GB Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad, said the SC verdict would “benefit” the BJP electorally: “The BJP had got its benefit in the UP elections. It’s a big issue in the Muslim community and could affect their voting pattern. The BJP will certainly gain from it.”

Opinions are, however, divided on whether the triple talaq verdict would benefit the BJP. “Not more than 8-10 per cent of Muslims vote for the BJP. I don’t see the party getting any political mileage out of it (apex court ruling).This will go down with people as a verdict of the court. Though there were talks about Muslim women voting for the BJP in UP elections because of its stand on triple talaq, our research showed no such inclination among Muslim women,” Professor Sanjay Kumar, director at the Centre for the Study of Developing Society, a Delhi-based think tank, told HT.

BJP sources were, however, confident that the NDA government’s unequivocal stand against triple talaq would go down well with Muslim women and also put the Congress on the back foot. Since the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress has been guarded in its reaction to issues concerning the minority community. Senior Congress leaders were of the view that their political rivals were successful in projecting the Congress as a pro-minority party that cost it dearly in elections. Opposition party strategists have been at their wit’s end to counter the BJP’s electoral narrative, dominated by a blend of soft Hindutva and development.

“During the Congress regime (in Gujarat), there were riots every six months. Our government talks about 6.5 crore Gujaratis. We work for everyone’s interest: appeasement for none, justice for all. We are not in the politics of appeasement,” Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani told HT on Monday. He was responding to a query whether the shadow of post-Godhra riots on Gujarat elections could finally be receding after 15 years.

In Congress-ruled Himachal Pradesh, corruption charges against chief minister Virbhadra Singh and a dismal law and order situation in the state— highlighted by the rape-murder of a minor student on the outskirts of Shimla recently—have given a big handle to the BJP to beat the ruling Congress with.

The issue of triple talaq is now likely to feed into the prevailing narrative of the opposition party. The BJP’s youth wing, the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, has started a monthly event to have a dialogue on social issues. “We start with a debate on triple talaq,” said BJYM chief Poonam Mahajan.

The Congress, which had earlier cautioned against politicising the issue, welcomed the apex court verdict on Tuesday.

“It is a constructive, progressive decision that must be welcomed by all right thinkers,” said party spokesman Manish Tewari. The principal opposition party has maintained that if a religious practice is contrary to modern times, effort should be made to “eliminate it with their (the community’s) consent”.

With the BJP running away with the electorally potent issue, the Congress seems to be in a damage-control mode, especially after the party faced many questions over senior leader Kapil Sibal representing in court the All India Muslim Personal Law Board which had defended triple talaq as a matter of faith.

The grand old party will, however, need to do much more to establish its progressive credentials that took a hit following the Rajiv Gandhi government’s decision to dilute the Supreme Court judgment in the Shah Bano case.

First Published: Aug 22, 2017 13:50 IST