IT would be denied. It would be contested. No one in government would admit it on record. But make no mistake. The debate engendered by the triple talaq law leads us only in one direction - a Uniform Civil Code (UCC). The contradictions in the positions taken by the opponents of the bill cutting across the political divide explain the thesis. Let me show how.
The Congress that confidently weakened the Supreme Court verdict to deny maintenance to Shah Bano in 1986 is now agitated that the triple talaq bill denies maintenance to Muslim women! While the official position of Congress party as stated by Ranjit Surjewala supported the law, with some caveats, leaders like Salman Khurshid dumped it outright. Khurshid had incidentally drafted the 1986 law for Rajiv Gandhi.
What explains the Congress ambivalence? For one, BJP ruling at the centre underscores that Hindu consolidation too can bring you to power. Congress’ Antony doctrine that was in full display recently in Gujarat made sure that the grand old party could not be seen to be taking a position against the majority narrative. At the same time, by remaining noncommittal to the minority sentiment it risks further alienating a traditional vote bank. The giveaway came at the time of voting on the bill when Congress refused to support amendments moved by Asaduddin Owaisi.
The AIMIM chief, who fancies himself as the sole Muslim spokesperson in present day politics, strongly championed the cause of Muslim ulema. But imagine what he did: In his intervention to oppose introduction of the bill, Owaisi strongly batted for Section 125 of CrPC, exactly the provision that was opposed by Muslim orthodoxy in Shah Bano case! Clearly shows the distance the nation has travelled between Shah Bano and Shayra Bano.
If you read between the lines, Congress showing nerves over minority appeasement, and Owaisi’s taking refuge under secular provisions of law like the IPC, and seeking protection under articles 14 and 25 of the Constitution, and not the Shariat Act 1937, shows how fertile the ground has become to bring debate on UCC out of the cold storage. Such is the force of public perception this time that even the most conservative elements within the Muslim community have not dared take a pro-triple talaq stand, only objected to State meddling in the domain of religion.
The day of the SC verdict outlawing triple talaq we had broken a story from the studios that the government would bring in a law to give statutory protection to the ruling. The minority view in the SC had actually wanted it to be left to the parliament to decide on the issue. While, the two minority judges might have reflected uncomfortable memories of the summer of 1986 in their caution, a politician as sharp as Narendra Modi grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Going by the discomfiture of Congress party, Modi might have achieved more than a couple of targets. While keeping the agenda setting initiative in his hands, he would have added an incremental vote of Muslim women for 2019, and most significantly, fired up his core constituency with dangling a possibility of that RSS utopia – the UCC.
PS: After our triple talaq law newsbreak, some editors called to question my understanding of law with the argument that SC verdicts become law of the land and do not need an enabling legislation. I responded by saying that while they could question my understanding of law (despite a law degree!), but not my grasp of the BJP led by Narendra Modi. What say?