Little has changed since Shakuni, many eras ego rolled his dice and changed the history of India with nothing but strategies. After all these epochs, in the present system of governance too, king makers don their thinking caps and master plans, musings and strategies are formed and reformed before every elections and the final results depend on who played the cards right.
Last October when political parties were yet to take out their glitterati dipped manifestos and posters of smiling candidates and folded hands were yet to adorn the nooks and corners of the state, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an ardent plea from a public platform in poll-bound UP to stop the biasness of gender in the Muslim community by advocating a ban on “Triple Talaaq”, the Islamic practice of a man being able to divorce his wife by uttering the word talaaq thrice, thus completely nullifying the need for her consent.
Three weeks before Modi’s parivartan rally, the law commission had issued an appeal on October 7, inviting all stakeholders to give their suggestions on all possible models and templates of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC). One of the 16 questions asked was whether the practice of triple talaq be abolished completely, retained or retained with suitable alterations.
Shayara Bano, a 38-year-old woman from Uttarakhand, was the first petitioner to approach the Supreme Court in February 2016 to seek a ban on triple talaq.
The move started a countrywide debate with the All India Muslim Personal Law Board refusing to cooperate with the commission and many expressing their desire to let politics not interfere in religious practices.
“Look at Shayara Bano’s case. Her husband thrashed her, asked for dowry, got her to abort seven times. Under the Indian law, she had sufficient evidence under which the husband could have been immediately arrested. But somehow the focus was solely on triple talaq. There was no mention of halala or polygamy in her case. Slowly that, along with uniform civil code, was included subsequently.” This was the quote of Kamaal Farouqi, former chairman of the Delhi Minorities Commission and a member of AIMPLB. The members did not refrain from putting forward their view that the motive behind the focus behind triple talaq is less humanitarian and more part of the BJP’s agenda to establish a Uniform Civil Code which the party has been openly advocating.
According to article 44 of the Indian Constitution, “The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India” Even though article 37 of the Constitution clearly mentions that these “shall not be enforceable by any court” but yet, to be true to the Constitution, practice of these directives is necessary for the successful governance of the country.
The demand for the “uniform civil code”, would mean, unifying all the “personal laws” to have a secular set of laws which would be followed by all the communities in India, regardless of their religious stature and under this would come the body of laws protecting and governing the right of the people in relation to property and otherwise, in personal affairs related to divorce, marriage, adoption, inheritance and maintenance. Also, the patriarchal laws will be discarded and The uniform civil code, will reject the existing archaic laws related to women’s right and will give a new life to our female population specially Muslim women where divorce laws and marriage related laws are men favoured.
The BJP government wants to scrap the terminated laws and expects to make a uniform code of conduct, which can be appraised by all the secular communities of India. The Triple Talaq issue was seen as a manifestation of the same.
The Supreme Court was hearing a lawsuit seeking a ban on three specific practices permitted under Muslim Personal Law: triple talaq, polygamy and nikah halala when triple talaq found its way into the election manifesto of the BJP for Uttar Pradesh, a state which is home to 19% Muslim population with high (40%) to moderate (25%) concentration in west UP, polling on February 11 and 15.
Despite the BJP trying its best to project itself as the good Samaritan ending the woes of the Muslim women and its promise to take into account the opinion of Muslim women and present it in the Supreme Court, the move fell short of the momentum and the support that it was about to garner.
There have forever been instances of political parties using religion as a sure-shot way of garnering votes. Mamata Banerjee joined Muslim prayers. BJP kicked up the issue of Love Jihad. Nitish Kumar visited Pakistan to tell Indian Muslims that they are Pakistanis. Sonia Gandhi reached out to Imam Bukhari of Jama Masjid. Arvind Kejriwal visited Bareilly to meet clerics. K Chandrashekar Rao offered quota for all Muslims, even though the OBCs among them do get quota. These were all political gimmiks of which some did the trick and others failed miserably.
The first thing that seems to have nettled the community is the BJP’s picking of one particular controversial issue and its silence on other issues that need urgent attention — female infanticide was raised by Modi himself at the same rally but it did not find the concern and the hiatus of Triple Talaq. Honour killing, riots, rape and rehabilitation, and the political issue of quota for women in legislatures and Parliament have escaped the BJP’s manifesto, which did not go very well with the female population.
And while projecting itself as a benefactor of Muslim women, the BJP has not fielded even a single candidate from the community, less so a woman. In such a situation, the BJP’s attempt to use this issue as an emotional weapon to garner votes has resulted more in the Muslim women viewing it as a ploy and interference rather than a relief.
Even Union minister Smriti Irani’s attempt to corner the Samajwadi Party and Congress leaders by asking them to spell out their stand on the emotive issue failed as both Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi refused to react calling it a non-issue in the elections. Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad’s attempt to tighten the BJP’s stand on the issue by listing 20 Islamic countries that either restricted or abolished it too did not have the desired effect except that it left the community piqued.
This issue took a major U-turn when the All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board petitioned the Election Commission of India demanding action against the BJP for exploiting the triple talaq issue for political interests. Shaista Amber, the chairperson of the commission while opposing the custom of Triple Talaq condemned the BJP for making it a poll issue. Muslim clerics define it as a threat to India’s pluralism and diversity by the BJP government which had earlier too been accused of its open patronising of Hindutva; the new class of modern Muslims want to do away with the practice but they too condemn its politicisation. They want their community reformed but not disciplined by law. Thus, the BJP’s strategy of dividing the community to increase its vote bank had quite the opposite effect of the desired. The Uniform Civil Code which the BJP had been using as a trump card can at best build a majoritan public opinion but it is neither urgent or sensational enough to bring in huge numbers in its favour.
Another major drawback of this issue is that unlike the other issues like cow slaughter, love jihad and migration, this issue does not affect Hindus on social, economic or sentimental level and hence the community has displayed zero interest in bringing reforms in a community that had always previously ben pitted against each other for political purposes. This issue has failed to create a ripple amidst the community and not found much of a place in discussions or conversations, except for a random exchange of views, courtesy a snippet of the newspaper or television.
Asaduddin Owaisi even gave triple talaq a light-humoured turn saying people of the state have decided to divorce Modi, Akhilesh and the Congress.
All these fanfare and dramatics apart, the kismet of the candidates and parties depend on the ultimate fortune-makers, the jaanta. Thus, after and amidst the allegations and counter-allegations, the bombastic acronyms and silver-dipped promises it is easy to confuse the public but harder to fool them. And from the reactions manifested, it is perhaps time for the BJP to review if it should have handled the Triple Talaq issue better, while awaiting the electoral results.