Soon after Rajya Sabha was adjourned for the day at 11.09 am, top Congress leaders and some key Opposition figures met at Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad’s Parliament chamber. On the discussion table was not the functioning of the Upper House — the issue was the stand to be taken in Lok Sabha on the triple talaq Bill.
Soon, Mallikarjun Kharge, Congress’s Lok Sabha leader, joined party colleagues Azad, Ahmed Patel, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sushmita Dev, besides Trinamool Congress’s (TMC) Derek O Brien, CPI’s D Raja, Aam Aadmi Party’s Sanjay Singh and RJD’s Manoj Jha.
For the next nearly 30 minutes or so, the discussion centered around the “contentious” provisions in the Bill, and the position to be taken in Lok Sabha. And the decision was to participate in the debate, flag their concerns, and demand that the Bill be referred to a joint select committee. The Congress told leaders of the other parties that it would stage a walkout once the debate got over, and before the Bill was put to vote. Hours later, the plan was executed to perfection.
The consultation was necessary, leaders said, as the Opposition had not put up a united face when the Bill came up for discussion and passage in Lok Sabha almost exactly a year ago: on December 28. The Congress had then let the Bill pass without much protest, and TMC did not participate in the debate.
On Thursday, sources privy to discussions said the leaders were clear that the Opposition should not be seen as divided — or tepid.
The TMC representative, sources said, told the meeting that the party is opposed to only some parts of the Bill. The Congress also said its main objection is regarding the penal provision and the lack of clarity on the subsistence allowance clause. The Congress, sources said, did not want to be seen as opposing the Bill, while at the same time not willing to be seen as agreeing to the penal provision.
After the meeting, Azad, Patel, Anand Sharma and other party leaders then went to the Congress Parliamentary Party office. Sonia Gandhi joined the confabulations minutes later. Rahul did not attend the strategy session.
The decision, it is learnt, got Sonia’s seal of approval. It was decided that the party’s speakers should forcefully argue that it is against the practice of triple talaq but wants the government to specify the subsistence allowance clause and do away with the penal provision.
At the end of the debate, Congress, RJD, AIUDF, Samajwadi Party, National Conference and NCP members walked out together.
The Bill will now move to Rajya Sabha, where, sources said, opposition parties will insist that it be referred to a select committee. The Opposition camp was enthused by AIADMK’s stand — the party not only demanded that the Bill be referred to a select committee but also joined the Congress and others in staging a walkout.