NEW DELHI: The Modi government made a political point by introducing the fresh “triple talaq” bill seeking to ban and punish instant divorce among Muslims amid verbal clashes on the first functioning day in Lok Sabha and a formal division that was easily carried by the treasury benches. The decision to bring the bill, intended to replace an ordinance giving penal teeth to a Supreme Court order holding triple talaq as unconstitutional, at the start of the 17th Lok Sabha was a bid by BJP to underline a prominent poll pledge and urge opponents to reconsider in the light of the big endorsement NDA has received from voters. As law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad sought permission to table the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2019, the opposition led by Congress objected to the legislation as “discriminatory” while the minister said it was not about religion but about “justice to women”. With MIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi seeking a vote, the government proposal won by 186-74, though in the process it left Congress in the difficult position of opposing the bill by vote after an election where it has been seen to be at the receiving end of Hindu polarisation. Prasad questioned the opposition’s arguments, saying 229 cases of instant divorce have been reported even after the SC declared the practice as unconstitutional. “Now what is to be done? Should the women hang the judgement in their homes? That is why a deterrence is a must,” Prasad said justifying the bill. Congress’s Shashi Tharoor started by clarifying that Congress was not defending “triple talaq” but was opposed to the text of the bill which “conflates civil and criminal laws”. The government has argued that without penal provisions – some restrictions have been added – the SC ruling is meaningless. The bill has been in limbo for around two years with BJP lacking the numbers for its passage in Rajya Sabha. Its ally JD (U) has refused to support the bill and parties like BJD and AIADMK have opposed it too. However, BJP managers are hopeful of making a renewed push aided with some parties walking out rather than voting against the bill. The Centre promulgated ordinances in September 2018 and February 2019 as the contentious bill remained pending in Rajya Sabha after being passed by the lower House, and thus finally lapsed. On Friday, the Modi government ensured that it was the first item in the legislative business of the 17th Lok Sabha. It sets the stage for another debate on the bill, and its passage, in the lower House.