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Many Congress MPs doubted necessity of Shah Bano law, but supported it: Sheila Dikshit in autobiography

“But owing to the manner in which the issue was framed by interested parties across the political and religious spectrum, it fell victim to the political fault lines that independent India had inherited,” she recalled.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi |
Updated: January 22, 2018 7:10:15 am
sheila dixit, sheila dixit autobiography, triple talaq law, sheila dixit book, shah bano, rajiv gandhi, nirbhaya gang rape, indian express Former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit. (File Photo)

Three decades after then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi brought in a controversial law to overturn the Shah Bano verdict of the Supreme Court, senior Congress leader Sheila Dikshit has revealed in her autobiography that many of the Congress MPs “had doubts about the necessity” of such a legislation but supported it “in a show of discipline.”
Her disclosure in the book Citizen Delhi: My Times, My Life, interestingly, comes at a time when her party is locked in a battle of nerves with the ruling BJP over the Triple Talaq Bill, blocking it in Rajya Sabha after it was passed in Lok Sabha.

Dikshit, who was elected to Lok Sabha from Kannauj in 1984, remembers that Rajiv had in May 1986 asked her to “help rally (party) MPs around the” Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Bill. “In April 1985, the Supreme Court had ruled that Shah Bano, a divorcee, was entitled to maintenance. In response, G M Banatwalla introduced a private member’s bill seeking to exclude Muslims from the scope of Section 125 of the CrPC under which Shah Bano had sought relief. Rajiv’s first inclination as a modern-day liberal was to ask his Minister of State for Home Affairs Arif Mohammad Khan to mount a spirited defence of the Shah Bano judgment in Parliament, which the latter did,” she has written.

“But owing to the manner in which the issue was framed by interested parties across the political and religious spectrum, it fell victim to the political fault lines that independent India had inherited,” she recalled. Dikshit has said that while Muslim leaders in the party argued that “a considerable section of Muslim society, led by the clerics, was upset by the judgement because they perceived it as an attack on Muslim personal law,” other veteran leaders said that it was not their place to intrude into the affairs of a minority community.

“The situation had to be salvaged somehow. The result of this was the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Bill, which all Congress MPs had been asked to vote in favour of,” she has said. Dikshit remembers that the party had issued a three-line whip and most of the 400 and more MPs of the Congress spoke in favour of the Bill. “I too stood up to speak for the first time in Parliament. Among the MPs there were many who had doubts about the necessity of the Bill, but nevertheless supported it in a show of discipline,” she added.

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In the book, Dikshit also talks about the party’s decision to project her as the Chief Ministerial candidate of the Congress in the 2016 Uttar Pradesh election. She remembers that she had “resisted” for two months the party’s proposal to become the CM face of UP. “I must admit I was a bit confused about whether I should take the plunge or not – if I said no, it might be taken to mean that I was not inclined to do my bit for the party. On the other hand, if I said yes, I was not sure what exactly my role would be. Ultimately, loyalty to the party and its leadership prevailed,” she recalls.

Dikshit remembers that while there was a great deal of excitement in the initial days of the Congress campaign, its slogan ‘27 saal UP behaal’ “became redundant and the euphoria and enthusiasm slackened once it became clear that the Congress was going in for an alliance” with the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party.

She has also revealed that she wanted to step down as Chief Minister of Delhi in 2012 because of health concerns, but the December 16 gangrape firmed up her resolve to stay on. “After the Nirbhaya incident, I was in a bind. My family, which had seen my distress throughout that period, urged me to step down as planned earlier, but I felt that such a move would be seen as running away from the battlefield,” she has written.

She also talks about the Anna Hazare agitation and the Ramdev episode. “That was the time when the cracks started showing in the Central government,” she has said, and noted, “what was needed was decisive political management, but the Centre ended up looking tentative.” “One image of senior Congress ministers going to the airport to receive Baba Ramdev, when the Anna camp had upped the ante, revealed the Centre’s vulnerability before the entire nation,” she has said.

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