In his first address to Parliament, President Ram Nath Kovind on Monday marked the beginning of the Budget session by making a strong pitch for simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies, while expressing hope that the triple talaq Bill would be passed this time.
Kovind’s remarks echoed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s comments outside Parliament, where he issued an appeal to political parties to “join hands” in passing the Bill so that “Muslim women will get their rights”. Later, Modi advocated simultaneous polls during a meeting of NDA allies.
In his address, Kovind said: “Citizens alive to the state of governance in the country are concerned about the frequent elections in one part of the country or another, which adversely impact the economy and development. Therefore, a sustained debate is required on the subject of simultaneous elections and all political parties need to arrive at a consensus on this issue.”
Regarding triple talaq, the President said: “For decades, the dignity of Muslim women has remained captive to political cost-benefit. Now the nation has an opportunity to emancipate them from this situation. My government has tabled a Bill on triple talaq in Parliament. I hope that the Parliament will soon pass it into a law. The law on triple talaq, once enacted, will also enable Muslim sisters and daughters to live a life of self-respect with courage.”
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Earlier, speaking to reporters outside Parliament, Modi said: “In the last session, it was our effort and the nation had high hopes that there won’t be any politics on crucial issues like triple talaq so that the Muslim women will get their rights. However, despite the orders of the Supreme Court, the Bill on triple talaq could not be passed by Parliament. I hope and appeal to political parties to join hands in passing the triple talaq Bill to protect the rights of Muslim women. It will indeed be the best gift of 2018, in the new year, for Muslim women.”
The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017 was passed by the Lok Sabha last month. It makes instant triple talaq a criminal offence carrying a three-year jail term for a Muslim man who divorces his wife by uttering the word “talaq” thrice including in written or electronic form. However, it could not be passed in the Rajya Sabha due to a deadlock over the Opposition demand that it be referred to a select committee.
In his address, Kovind also highlighted the key themes underlined by the government, including the push for a “new India”, “empowerment and not appeasement” and the economic growth trajectory. “Dream of a New India does not belong to one political party or organisation… To fulfil this dream, we all have to work together with complete dedication,” said Kovind, referring to several initiatives, including housing, uninterrupted power and LPG connections for the poor.
The government was committed to “empowerment and not appeasement”, and was making intensive efforts for education and socio-economic development of minorities, said Kovind, citing the move to allow women above 45 years to perform Haj without a male guardian.
Referring to the violence in parts of J-K, Kovind said these incidents were “directly related to cross-border infiltration”. The situation in the Northeast and Maoist-violence affected areas had improved, he said. “My government has kept open the path of dialogue with those who wish to shun violence and join the mainstream while reposing faith in the Constitution,” he said.
India’s growth rate, Kovind pointed out, remained “impressive despite the global economic slowdown”. Though the economy had witnessed a temporary slowdown in GDP growth during the first quarter of 2016-17, the second quarter had seen a reversal, he said, with foreign exchange reserves having risen to over $410 billion. “Our fight against corruption continues,” said Kovind. The registration of about 3.5 lakh dubious companies had been cancelled in the last one year, he said.
Turning to international relations, Kovind said there had been a consolidation of relations with friendly countries and major powers. The membership of the missile technology control regime and signing of the Memorandum of Obligations of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, he said, were reflective of India’s growing global role.
Those who were present in Central Hall Monday included BJP president Amit Shah who occupied a seat in front with Home Minister Rajnath Singh, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi was also seated in the front row with his mother and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. Senior BJP leader LK Advani and former prime minister Manmohan Singh were seated next to Sonia. NCP chief Sharad Pawar was seen engaged in an animated conversation with Rahul Gandhi.
After the President’s address, the Prime Minister flagged the issue of simultaneous elections at the NDA meeting in the evening, calling upon allies to create an atmosphere in its favour.
JD(U) MP Kaushalendra Kumar, who attended the meeting, told The Indian Express: “The Prime Minister spoke about the expenses, the deployment of forces and other arrangements while pointing out that elections consume a lot of time, energy and money. Ideally, all elections — parliamentary, assembly and civic elections — should be held together. However, he said, we should now consider holding at least Lok Sabha and Assembly elections together and the others 15-20 days later. The Prime Minister said it is necessary that the country is made aware of its advantages.”