Historic ruling a victim of votebank politics?

After the Supreme Court’s “historic” judgment on triple talaq, when the haunting eyes of Shah Bano were being compared with Shayara Bano looking joyous and relieved, certain Twitter handles were predicting how Prime Minister Narendra Modi had expanded his support base to the nearly 90-million strong Muslim women of the country. And they might well be proved right.

Mr Modi is being hailed by his devoted supporters as the next social reformer after Raja Rammohan Roy, who had rallied against the centuries old Sati system and campaigned for widow remarriage in the 19th century. 

And in political circles, more than the social implications of the apex court’s verdict, its immediate political impact is being discussed, especially since the next Lok Sabha elections are less than two yeas away and the ruling BJP is already in election mode. The BJP and its supporters will sell the verdict as part of Mr Modi’s efforts to carve out a “New India”. 

During the Uttar Pradesh elections, at off-the-record briefings there was lots of talk of how the BJP will get the support of Muslim women as the issue of triple talaq had erupted then and the party was going with the women. After the Assembly election verdict, many BJP leaders were heard saying how the party had managed to make inroads in the community, which was perceived to be “anti-BJP” and managed to win in Muslim-dominated constituencies, all thanks to the community’s womenfolk.

Blamed by political opponents for being “anti-Muslim” and playing the “Hindutva card,” BJP strategists consciously pitched the triple talaq issue as that of “gender equality” and “gender justice” and not about any faith or religion. 

Seconds after news channels started beaming the Supreme Court’s verdict, social media was buzzing with how Mr Modi and the BJP under Amit Shah have provided justice to Muslim women, who till now were victims of Islamic fundamentalism and appeasement politics. In his Independence Day speech too, Mr Modi said that the entire nation supports Muslim women battling the practise of triple talaq.

Though the BJP had been maintaining that the issue should not be politicised, comparisons were made between the Shah Bano case of the Eighties and that of Shayara Bano, divorced through triple talaq via Speed Post and the main petitioner in the triple talaq case. Saffron party supporters were bashing Congress, whose leader and the then PM Rajiv Gandhi brought a legislation to overturn the Supreme Court’s judgment in Shah Bano’s case, restricting maintenance paid by the husband till iddat period only.

Cautious response from the BJP’s opponents, including principle Opposition party, the Congress, are indication enough that the BJP has managed to score a point. In fact, Mamata Banerjee-led TMC, whose core votebank includes Muslims, preferred not to react to the verdict at all. 

In Bengal, the BJP has been trying to gain ground by highlighting the appeasement politics of the TMC government, which has been blaming the BJP for playing the communal card. 

The verdict has also unsettled regional players, mainly SP, BSP and RJD, whose poll numbers largely depend on the Muslim vote bank. Regional parties had mostly kept away from the national debate on the issue. 

The BJP, which had suffered because of the “communal tag,” has also been highlighting its efforts of “inclusiveness” and its slogan of “development for all appeasement for none”. And with the triple talaq verdict, the saffron strategists say, the party has acted on it. And its gains will be visible in the crucial electoral battle of 2019. 

Assembly elections in key states, including Gujarat, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh are scheduled before 2019. Though polarisation does play a role in these states, the Muslim women of these states may well be getting ready to press the button with the kamal sign next to it. Because this time they may not follow the man in house but the man who stood by them, even if it was under the saffron flag.