The Congress, it appears, is not the only party looking to redefine its stand towards Muslims. When the Lok Sabha on Thursday debated and passed the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights of Marriage) Bill, which contains penal provisions for any man practising instantaneous triple talaq or talaq-e-biddat, Trinamool Congress (TMC) MPs neither participated in the debate nor did they vote.
This is exceptional, particularly because party chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is known to be a vocal votary for women’s issues.
Asked about the party’s silence on the Bill, a Rajya Sabha MP from TMC said, “Why do we have to have a point of view on every Bill? Why do we have to talk on every Bill? Is it mandatory? Let the Bill come to Rajya Sabha.” Sources in the party, however, said the matter was “discussed threadbare” in the party and a decision taken to steer clear.
In the past, the West Bengal government under Banerjee started a monthly stipend for imams and muezzins, and the CM has often been seen reading the Kalma during public meetings in Muslim-dominated areas. But now, with the BJP going all out to make forays into Bengal, Trinamool appears to be attempting a rebranding.
The silence on the triple talaq Bill is not the only instance of this. On January 8, the party is organising a Brahmin Conference in Birbhum, a first in the history of Bengal.
During an interaction at The Indian Express office earlier this week, Congress leader Ashok Gehlot had said that the party is trying to counter BJP propaganda that the Congress is “giving preference to Muslims”. Off the record, Trinamool leaders admit that such a process is under way in their party too.
A clear stand in favour of Thursday’s Bill would have alienated Muslim clerics of Bengal who have traditionally thrown their weight behind Banerjee and her party, such as Maulana Barkati of Tipu Sultan mosque and Jamiat-ulama-i-Hind, whose meeting Banerjee attended in 2015 at the iconic Shahid Minar in Kolkata. State Jamiat general secretary Siddiqullah Chowdhury fought the 2016 Assembly elections on a TMC ticket.
On the other hand, to oppose the Bill would be to alienate at least one half of the state’s 27 per cent Muslims — women of the community — and perhaps risk the wrath of women’s organisations. It would also mean exposing the party to the charge of Muslim appeasement — many within the party think this to be biggest contributor in the rapid rise of BJP in West Bengal in terms of at least vote share. “We discussed the triple talaq Bill threadbare and decided that the best option would be to not take a stand. It is a case of doomed if we do, doomed if we don’t,” a party Lok Sabha MP said.