MUKHTAR ABBAS NAQVI: In the past three years, I have seen that there has been development with dignity, and empowerment without appeasement. We have fulfilled all our commitments. The Narendra Modi government has worked positively and constructively towards inclusive development. We were in Saudi Arabia recently, and the way the ministers, senior officials and people of that country praised our economy and governance, it would make any Indian proud. They said that the whole world is looking at India with a lot of confidence and trust. India is fast moving towards becoming a world leader. As far as minorities are concerned, we have managed to break the stereotypes associated with them — that they should be appeased and not empowered.
Then there is the Haj pilgrimage. Last year, without making any announcements before hand, we got the Haj quota increased. The other important thing is that we have abolished the Haj subsidy. There wasn’t much noise about this within the community or outside because first we ensured that there is no burden on the people. We have given people options. If a person from Srinagar wants to go for Haj, he can go from Delhi as well. Earlier this was not the case. Similarly, a person from Gaya can also go from Kolkata. He would have to pay Rs 1.5 lakh from Gaya, whereas from Kolkata he will have to pay only Rs 60,000. The difference is big.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: Under what circumstances did the government decide to bring in a law to criminalise instant triple talaq without consulting all the stakeholders?
Firstly, the decision on triple talaq wasn’t taken in a day. The Constitutional bench of the Supreme Court heard the matter for a long time. Several religious organisations presented their arguments in court and the bench gave its judgment. There is a positive difference between what happened in 1986 and in 2017-18. In the Shah Bano case in 1986 (under the Rajiv Gandhi government), where triple talaq was an important issue, there were protests across the country. There was a rally at Boat Club, at Ramlila Maidan, in Mumbai… The government came under pressure then and made a law to reverse the Supreme Court judgment. When we took a decision on triple talaq after the Supreme Court’s judgment, there were no voices against it either from religious organisations or the Muslim community. No one said triple talaq is legal. Everyone said triple talaq is unconstitutional, illegal and un-Islamic. This is the big difference between then and now. A few people have said that the law should not ‘criminalise’ triple talaq. They argue that if the husband goes to jail, how will he give compensation to his family. But why go to jail? If you commit a crime, you will go to jail. That is why we are saying don’t commit that crime and go to jail. Secondly, murder is illegal, unconstitutional and a crime as well. If you murder someone you will go to jail. It is the same for robbery. If we don’t make a law on triple talaq, the practice will not end. We have to make a law to give women their rights.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: Ghulam Nabi Azad said that if the government is ready to give compensation, we will let the Bill be passed. Are you mulling that option?
Like I said, why should the person go to jail in the first place? Don’t commit the crime and don’t go to jail. We are bringing in the law so that you don’t go to jail. Also, the Congress and the other parties that have reservations about the Bill, they should have brought in amendments and had discussions in Parliament. But they didn’t have a debate, they didn’t bring in any amendment in the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha. Now they are saying that send the Bill to a select committee. So you don’t want to have an open discussion on the floor of the House and do it behind closed doors. The Congress is confused and it doesn’t know which path to take.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: But a select committee is a standard parliamentary procedure. Why was the government resisting?
There was no resistance. We have never been against the select committee or standing committee. We sent the GST to the select committee. The Motor Vehicles Act also went to it. There are several Acts that have been referred to select committees. But before sending anything to a select committee, the reservations have to be spoken about. All that they (the Opposition) are saying is that why are you sending the husband to jail.
RAVISH TIWARI: Now that the Bill has been delayed anyway, why not send it to a select committee?
It is not late. Der hui hai, par andher nahin hogi (It has been delayed, but there will be a result).
RAVISH TIWARI: People are concerned about the law making instant triple talaq a cognisable offence. Now this means that even a third party can file a case. Had it been non-cognisable, the matter would have stayed between the couple. Wouldn’t that be a better safeguard?
Have you seen the law against Sati? It has much tougher legal provisions. During that time too, people had said that this (Sati) is related to religion and faith and that the state should not interfere in it. But the move was abolished after a law was formulated in the British Parliament. It was declared illegal. It happened with child marriage too. This is not about religion, it is about a wrong practice. When Muslim nations have abolished the practice and declared it illegal and called it a crime, then what is wrong with doing the same in India?
ABANTIKA GHOSH: You are equating killing a person with abandoning one’s wife.
It is a very heinous crime. A man can very easily utter the three words, but where will the woman go after that? She has to deal with the stigma of being a divorced woman. We should not look at it through the political lens. The Constitution is the biggest religious book and Parliament is the biggest temple. We should only focus on delivering justice.
RAVISH TIWARI: But then aren’t you appeasing Muslim women?
There is no appeasement. We are only giving them their Constitutional right, which they should have got much earlier.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: Are there any other social practices against which the government is planning to take action?
People should come forward and speak out against bad social practices in their community. It is much better if reform comes from within the community. The government interferes very rarely. We are not asking for reform in Islam or the Shariat, but there needs to be reform when it comes to evil social practices. There have been many positive changes in the Muslim community. We should welcome this and encourage them to continue on the path of reform.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: While the government is bringing a law against triple talaq, what about female genital mutilation? The women and child development minister had said earlier that if the community does not introduce reforms, we will bring in a law. But now she says that there is no need for a law.
The government alone cannot bring in social reforms. The society needs to be ready for it. In the past three years, I have seen that there has been a lot of positive change in the mindset of the Muslim community. They are moving towards positive reform.
LALMANI VERMA: You said that the triple talaq law has nothing to do with appeasing Muslim women. But the BJP raised the issue right before the UP elections and reaped benefits as well, especially in western UP.
Where is the appeasement? It is a social reform, a Constitutional right. We are only speaking up for that right.
SANDEEP SINGH: Are you looking at reforms in the field of education?
Education is very important, and not just for the minorities or the Muslim community. There is a huge gap between the south and north. If you look at the education standards and literacy rates in the south — Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh — these are above 90%. In the north, these are around 40%. The rates are even lesser in the minority communities. Now (in the south), it is not just the government that has done things. The society became aware as a whole and decided to get itself educated. We need to fill this gap. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said, Ek haath mein Quran, ek haath mein computer (the Quran in one hand, computer in the other). This was meant to encourage those sections of society that are not a part of mainstream education.
As far as the madrasas are concerned, they have a long history. The madrasa has produced (former president) APJ Abdul Kalam and many such men. There is a long list. The madrasas have contributed to the country, starting from the freedom movement. There may be a few isolated cases, but then they can be from any institution. How do we blend madrasas with mainstream education?… Murli Manohar Joshi had raised this. Now the HRD ministry and my ministry are working on it. We don’t need to interfere in their religious education. That can be 10%. The remaining 90% can be maths, science, computer studies etc. The positive effect of this has been that over 90% of the madrasas have joined the formal education set-up.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: Four Supreme Court judges have made allegations against the Chief Justice of India. What is the government’s position?
This is an extraordinary situation. This has never happened before. The government never gets involved or interferes in the matters of the Supreme Court. The matter should be resolved within the framework of the court.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: Will a press conference like this affect the confidence of the people?
I don’t think one incident can affect people’s confidence in the courts.
RAVISH TIWARI: Your government took credit for relaxing the Haj rules — allowing Muslim women aged above 45 to perform Haj without a male guardian in a group of at least four. But Saudi Arabia had relaxed the rules three years ago.
We don’t want any credit. A system was in place for decades, that women cannot go for Haj without a male companion. Many people gave presentations to the Prime Minister about this, many women met him, too. We formed a committee to look into the matter. It was decided that since all Muslim countries are allowing it, who are we to stop women? So we lifted the ban and now over 1,300 women are going for Haj alone. We also lifted the ban on disabled people taking the pilgrimage.
LALMANI VERMA: Kapil Sibal said in the Supreme Court that the Babri Masjid case should be heard after the 2019 general elections.
We should wait for the decision of the Supreme Court and members of both the communities should accept it. The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court has given its judgment. Only the Supreme Court can resolve the matter.
SANDEEP SINGH: There have been several instances where dairy farmers travelling with cattle have been attacked by cow vigilantes. Have you taken up the issue with the BJP-run state governments?
We believe that it is a heinous crime. In whichever state it takes place there should be strict investigation and judicial proceedings. Action is being taken against the accused in all such cases in Rajasthan, UP and Haryana. Such incidents definitely hurt the BJP’s and Modiji’s agenda of development. We will not allow such incidents to impact our development plan.
SHAILAJA BAJPAI: The Prime Minister visited Israel, and the Prime Minister of Israel will visit India soon. Do you think this will affect India’s relationship with Palestine?
Earlier, all prime ministers would think twice before visiting Israel. But Modiji went and talked to several ministers and politicians there. Narendra Modi has changed perceptions. The decisions surrounding development are getting bigger and stronger. It is all for the benefit of the country. Today, not a single Islamic state has questioned Modiji’s visit to Israel, or threatened to break relations with us based on that. India enjoys the confidence of most countries today. India is growing to become a superpower in the world, and the world is gradually accepting it. Nationalism is a priority for us. We are working with a nationalistic agenda and people have confidence in us because of that. We haven’t left Palestine. Palestine is on our side. All the countries in the world are with us.
RAVISH TIWARI: It has been nearly four years since you came to power. Are the Muslims voting for the BJP?
Today, people cannot say that only Hindus, or only Muslims, vote for us. The nature of politics itself has changed. For instance, we know now that in Gujarat, about 16% Muslims voted for the BJP. Nowadays, we have booths and so we know the demography of the population there. We know if a particular area just has Muslims, and even in such areas we have secured 20% of the votes. The political parties that only focused on Muslim votes or votes from one particular community, even they have been forced to change their path. The nature of politics is changing. The idea of reaching out to everyone is becoming popular.
LALMANI VERMA: What are you doing about the recommendations of the Sachar committee?
There were three-four important points in the recommendations. One was the inclusion and participation of Muslims in government services. That has increased in our time. Muslims only occupied 4.5% seats in government services; now they occupy 10% seats in central government (jobs). Besides that, they are included in administrative services. In 2017, minorities competed for 126 seats in the UPSC exams, of whom 52 Muslims secured IAS seats. All of this has happened for the first time. We believe that we should not take credit for these achievements because these people have secured the positions with their own hard work. But, it has freed them from an atmosphere of discrimination.