[The conclusion is sad but unfortunately true. It appears as if all policy making has become a measure of populism and drama.]
The procedure for making law in India is really quite simple explains the plethora of laws we have at the Center and the State levels. It is the Parliament that makes Federal Law in India. State legislatures are empowered to make laws too. These laws are drafted by legal cells within relevant ministries and presented as bills in the house. After debate, discussion and necessary changes, the bill goes to vote. If passed by a majority, it goes to the President and after his assent becomes an Act. Court judgements become law too, like the recent Supreme Court order disallowing liquor to be sold or served within 500 meres of the highway.
However, our governments have made the law making exercise a populist and political vehicle on various occasions. The most recent example is the passing of the Finance Act of 2017 as a money bill in the Lok Sabha. The GST is another example of complicated and laborious law making. The Prime Minister opposed the law when he was in opposition, and now some Congress chief ministers are doing the same. It was tough negotiation and arm twisting that got some states to agree to GST. Then there was the famous demonetization order. A matter as serious as making 86 per cent of India’s currency notes invalid was taken allegedly on a whim, disregarding all procedure.
The beef bans that are being imposed across the Northern Hindi belt are again populist laws pushed through without any involvement of various stakeholders impacted by such measures. While the legislature must pass laws by majority vote, it is a denial of democracy when sheer majoritarian might rolls over all possible objection. In all this mess, the strange issue of triple talaq is now occupying all headlines. Suddenly, in a complete U-turn the government wants to keep the issue alive with all and sundry like Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath making regular statements to keep the controversy alive.
If indeed the issue is as serious as the government thinks it is, why has it started consulting various groups? If the demonetization order could be passed in the blink of an eye because it was considered a serious step against corruption, why not simply ban triple talaq if it is the single biggest step for gender empowerment. The champions of women’s rights today are the most unlikely people possible. The great leader himself has abandoned his wife. The president of the party as Home Minister is alleged to have stalked a young woman on behalf of his boss. The President of the RSS has famously declared that a woman’s place is in the kitchen. The UP CM reportedly considers women in the world force undesirable and even evil.
Such a group has now taken on the battle for fighting for those 0.5% of Muslim women who opt for a divorce. The same men could not oppose a cabinet colleague and Minister for Women and Child development who infamously declared that marital rape cannot be made a crime in India as it goes against our culture. A country that fares so badly on all possible gender indices is arguing for an insignificant and irrelevant law that impacts purely the personal lives of a handful of women. The issue here is not whether this practice is desirable or abominable, the simple point is that it is irrelevant to gender justice.
The far more serious issue of child marriage is not discussed at all. More than 12 million brides in India were married before they turned 10, says the Census 2011. More than 50 per cent of pregnant mothers in the country are anemic and suffer from iron deficiency. The State Legislatures and the Parliament have the lowest representation of women among all respectable democracies in the world. In the cabinet itself, a few women have been given irrelevant portfolios and are reportedly ignored in all decision making.
The conclusion is sad but unfortunately true. It appears as if all policy making has become a measure of populism and drama. The Prime Minister's penchant for slogans is reflected in his flourishes in announcing orders. Copying him, one chief minister declared all cow slaughter illegal, another included bulls and a third argued for including all cattle. One state announces that the penalty for cow slaughter would be jail for five years, another makes it ten and Gujarat then announces life imprisonment. Poor Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh who joined the party late had to declare death penalty for the same crime to keep ahead in the race.
Policy making cannot happen in such a competitive environment where political leadership tries to better the previous statement. What was considered paralysis earlier has been replaced by a series of uncoordinated steps announced without logic and thought. A disdain for expertise results in bizarre rules being announced and changed at will. This process only makes for complicated and uncertain legal environments and discourages investment, growth and jobs. The triple talaq issue is embedded in some amateurish surveys done in the past. If it is to be taken seriously we need some robust study and data. If not, the drama should end quickly.