PM Narendra Modi on Tuesday during his reply to the Motion Of Thanks On the President's Address' tried to drive home to the Congress how it had missed opportunities to bring reform to the Muslim community, and how it is losing the opportunity yet again by opposing the Triple Talaq Bill tabled by the NDA.
While doing so he told the party how on several occasions, even when the courts had ruled in favour of reform in the personal laws of the community, it did not allow it to happen in order to continue with is appeasement politics.
He also reminded the party of an utterly shocking and disparaging comment made by the Congress leadership in the 1980s during the Rajiv Gandhi about the community's upliftment.
Below is the excerpt from his speech:
"Congress got good opportunities many times, but I don't know why, maybe they are always flying high that is why they miss many issues. In the 1950s, the Uniform Civil Code was being debated. Congress had the opportunity, but they missed it. They brought the Hindu Code Bill and went ahead. Thirty-five years later, Congress got a second opportunity during the Shah Bano case. The Supreme Court helped in every possible way and an environment was created in the country for gender equality but Congress was flying high and refused to see the reality on the ground, even that opportunity was missed by the Congress. Today, another 35 years later, Congress has another opportunity. We have brought a bill for the dignity of India's women. There's no need to link it to communalism.
"I want Congress to know this. When the Shah Bano case was going on, there was a minister in the Congress government back then, his comment in a TV interview back then was shocking. I didn't get an opportunity to verify it but I am saying what I heard. He spoke about what he heard from ministers in the Congress government back then. He said this when the Shah Bano case was going on, a Congress minister said that 'upliftment of Muslims is not the Congress party's responsibility'. It's a serious issue. 'Upliftment of muslims is not Congress party's responsibility. If they want to lie in the gutter, let them be'. They are citizens of our country."
While PM Modi's remark led the House into an uproar with the Congressmen shouting in denial of the comment as well as his argument, the Prime Minister's speech stands true on facts that the grand old party cannot simply deny.
In 1948, Jawaharlal Nehru had tried to pass a Hindu Code Bill regulating Hindu Personal laws in 1948 but refused to make any such laws to regulate Muslim personal laws, much to the disappointment of Nationalists who saw through his politics of religion appeasement. This was the first instance of the party failing to make a mark in enabling a change in the community. The party repeated its stride of keeping politics above the benefit of the people when in 1986 Rajiv Gandhi brought a law that overturned Supreme Court judgment in Shah Bano case. The judgment was a landmark one and had ordered that divorced Muslim women had the right to maintenance beyond the three-month post-divorce iddat period.
With respect to the ''gutter" comment, it was indeed alleged to be made by Congressmen, as per the party's own former member Arif Mohammad Khan.
Khan was a member of Congress and even the Commerce Minister in Rajiv Gandhi's cabinet. He had quit the party in protest of Rajiv Gandhi bringing in a law overturning the Shah Bano Supreme Court judgment in 1986.
Khan was then quoted speaking about Congressmen P V Narasimha Rao, Arjun Singh and N D Tewari where he said that the leaders believed it was not the job of Congress to reform Muslims. PM Modi in his speech referred to the same quote.
Khan had said:
"I’ve said this before and will say this again. I do not believe that Rajiv Gandhi took the decision to overturn the Supreme Court verdict on his own. He had a modern mind and was averse to obscurantism. I have, in fact, seen Rajiv Gandhi’s noting on the file , in which he had clearly written that “there should be no compromise with obscurantist and fundamentalist elements”. He was pressurised to do so by the likes of P V Narasimha Rao, Arjun Singh and N D Tewari (then ministers in the government). They were of the opinion that it was not the job of the Congress party to reform Muslims, (they said) 'if they want to lie in the gutter let them be'."
Khan stands by his memory and comment even today. To ANI, he said on Tuesday:
"Narasimha Rao was the last man to meet me and said 'You are very adamant, Shah Bano has also changed her stand after maulvis put pressure on her. Why do you have a problem? Muslims vote for us, but we are not their social reformers. If they want to lie in the gutter let them'," he said.