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After PM Narendra Modi’s ‘party of Muslim men’ remark, Congress hits back

In the politically significant state of Uttar Pradesh, ahead of the 2019 general elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday launched a blistering attack on the Opposition for practising dynastic politics, accused the Congress in particular of being the biggest hurdle in the passage of Triple Talaq Bill, and asked whether it was only a “party of Muslim men.”

The PM also laid the foundation stone for the Rs 23,000-crore Purvanchal Expressway in Azamgarh he said would transform the areas it passes through.

“The stand of these parties on triple ‘talaq’ has exposed them. On the one side, we are trying to make the lives of women easy. On the other side, these Opposition parties have grouped together to make the lives of women, especially Muslim women, difficult,” the Prime Minister said at the function in Azamgarh.

His remarks come ahead of the monsoon session of Parliament where a bill abolishing the practice of instant triple talaq, passed by the Lok Sabha, is pending in the Rajya Sabha.

The Congress and some other opposition parties have expressed reservations on the bill, and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has accused them of trying to stall it.

The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2017 criminalises the practice of instant triple talaq, or talaq-e-biddat, which allows a man to divorce his wife by uttering the word talaq thrice; it imposes a prison term of up to three years on husbands who violate the law. It also makes a provision for alimony for the woman on whom instant triple talaq has been pronounced and grants her the custody of her children. In a historic judgment on August 22, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court struck down instant triple talaq as illegal.

“I have read in newspapers that the Congress president has said that the Congress is a party of Muslims; I am not surprised by this. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had also said that Muslims had the first claim to the natural resources of the country. All I want to ask them is: is their party for Muslim men alone or for women too?” Modi said. It was a reference to some media reports which quoted Congress president Rahul Gandhi as saying at a meeting with Muslim intellectuals that the Congress “is a Muslim party.” The Congress has rubbished the reports as a rumour, with party spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala saying the Congress “is the party of 132 crore Indians and will remain so forever”.

In a fresh outreach to Muslim women, Modi said triple talaq had been forbidden even in Islamic countries, but in India parties like the Congress were trying to stall the proposed law to ban the practice.

Responding to Modi’s speech, Congress chief spokesperson Surjewala said that fearful of defeat in next year’s general election, the PM was introducing poison in society. “With no respect for the office of the PM he holds, Modi tried to sway the country with lies using the name of Rahul Gandhi and Manmohan Singh,” he said.

The Congress, on its official Twitter handle, said: “Prime Minister continues to lie to the people of India. His insecurities are getting the better of him. What are you scared of Modi ji?”

In Azamgarh, Modi struck a chord with the huge gathering as he began his speech in Bhojpuri, the dialect of the region.

Azamgarh has a sizeable Muslim population and is the parliamentary constituency of SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav. But with Yadav having announced his decision to contest from Mainpuri in 2019, the BJP is trying to wrest the seat from the SP and use the opportunity to consolidate its position in this belt. In the 2017 assembly polls, the BJP routed Akhilesh Yadav’s SP and Mayawati’s BSP almost everywhere else in the state, but it (the BJP) managed to win just one of Azamgarh’s nine assembly seats. The BSP won three and the SP five.

Tearing into SP and BSP, the PM accused the two UP regional giants of using ‘Samajwad’ and ‘Bahujan samaj’ for political gains. The two parties have joined hands to challenge the BJP ahead of the 2019 general elections, wresting three key parliamentary seats from UP in by-polls this year.

“Those who didn’t even like looking at each other earlier are now chanting Modi, Modi. These people… and the dynasty parties now want to create obstacles in the path to development,” he said, adding, “We are working on not only highway but also waterway and airway. Ships sailing from Varanasi to Haldia will take this entire region ahead on the path of industrial development. Twelve airports are being developed under UDAN.”

The PM said Purvanchal Expressway will take the state, especially eastern UP, to greater heights. The 340-kilometre expressway will begin from Chand Sarai village on the Lucknow-Sultanpur road (NH 731) and end at Haidariya village in Ghazipur district. The six-lane expressway will connect Lucknow, to Barabanki, Amethi, Sultanpur, Faizabad, Ambedkar Nagar, Azamgarh, Mau and Ghazipur districts.

Hours before the ceremony, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav attacked the PM and said, “These people have now made it a habit of inaugurating the inaugurated projects and laying foundation of already launched projects.” UP deputy chief minister Dinesh Sharma said the SP government had laid foundation stones and failed to complete projects.

Modi later left for Varanasi, where he launched development projects worth ?937 crore in his Lok Sabha constituency, according to a PTI report.

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