Despite numbers stacked against it, the Narendra Modi government finally managed to breach the Rajya Sabha citadel to get the triple talaq bill passed by Parliament.
In the process, the government also completely exposed the Opposition and the fabled talk of its unity. The lead Opposition party Congress too saw its benches empty at the time or voting.
At least four Congress MPs — Vivek Tankha, Rajiv Bishwal, Mukud Medhi and Pratap Bajwa — along with senior leader Sanjay Singh were missing. Independent MP KTS Tulsi also didn’t vote, even though he had moved amendments to the bill.
Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)’s Ram Jethmalani and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)’s Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel were some of the other prominent names missing.
Earlier in the day, Sanjay Sinh dealt a blow to the Opposition by resigning from the Congress and Rajya Sabha. RS Bharathi from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) was also not present as was an MP from the YSR Congress. Both parties had opposed the bill, but their missing members brought down the Opposition numbers.
The final numbers for the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill were 99 in favour of and 84 against it.
Supporting the bill were the BJP and its allies, except the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). Like in the Lok Sabha, the JD(U) spoke against the bill in the Upper House as well and then walked out in protest.
The AIADMK, which had supported the bill in the Lok Sabha, also staged a walkout in the Rajya Sabha. When asked about the move, AIADMK MP Vijilla S said, “We are opposed to the criminalisation part of the bill, so we walked out.” She added, “There is no opposition unity.”
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) also helped the government by not voting. Party MP Satish Chandra Mishra had opposed the bill at the time of discussion, but was missing at the time of voting. All four BSP MPs were not present.
Six Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) MPs, five of the Samajwadi Party (SP)’s 12 MPs, two Telugu Desam Party (TDP) MPs and two Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) members also remained absent. One member each of the Trinamool Congress, IUML and Kerala Congress were also missing during voting.
In the final count, about 30 missing parliamentarians helped the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government pass the bill.
Earlier in the day, the Rajya Sabha also rejected an Opposition-sponsored motion to send the bill to a Select Committee of the House and for making triple talaq a civil offence with 100 votes against it as compared to 84 in favour.
While Congress MP Raj Babbar told News18, “Absence of MPs was managed by the government,” senior party leader Digvijaya Singh called for introspection in the opposition ranks.
Congress members in the upper house may now have to give an explanation to the party as it had issued a whip to ensure the presence of all its members during voting on the bill.