Cong cheers verdict, BJP silent

The Congress on Thursday vocally welcomed the Supreme Court judgment decriminalising homosexual acts between consenting adults, but most parties preferred the comfort of the closet on the subject.

By Our Special Correspondent
  • Published 7.09.18
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Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar. File picture

New Delhi: The Congress on Thursday vocally welcomed the Supreme Court judgment decriminalising homosexual acts between consenting adults, but most parties preferred the comfort of the closet on the subject.

Eager to grab leadership of the "liberal" space, the Congress betrayed none of its traditional ambiguity. It got younger spokespersons to put out short video messages expressing solidarity with the LGBTQI community in its moment of "pride without prejudice", even at the risk of a backlash from the Right wing.

The BJP was silent, with not a word from any of the usually voluble party spokespersons through the day. Even finance minister Arun Jaitley, the only significant voice from within the BJP to have supported the decriminalisation of Section 377, did not comment, tweet or blog.

Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar was the sole exception, saying in a statement: "Today's judgment is a step towards accepting people for who they are and respecting their privacy.... Congrats to all those who fought this battle.''

The RSS expressed its position in a statement from spokesperson Arun Kumar. "Like Supreme Court, we also do not consider this to be a crime. The same sex marriages are not compatible with norms of nature so we do not support such relations," Kumar said. "Bharatiya society also doesn't have the tradition to recognise such relations. Human beings generally learn from experience, that is why this issue needs to be taken care of at the social and psychological level."

The CPM welcomed the judgment with a short tweet. The DMK's Kanimozhi tweeted: "Personal choices we make in our lives should not be dictated by law - well done SC for this historic verdict.... Hope we move towards a more liberal, tolerant and inclusive society."

Both the Congress and the BJP, however, had had the opportunity to amend Section 377 of the penal code, which criminalises any sex "against the order of nature". Neither did.

The Congress excuse was that by the time the Supreme Court had in December 2013 set aside a 2009 Delhi High Court judgment decriminalising homosexual acts between consenting adults, the UPA government was in lame duck mode ahead of elections. At the time, the Supreme Court had said it was up to the legislature to repeal Section 377.

As a five-judge constitution bench began hearing the case, the NDA government left the matter to the "wisdom of the court".

By then several prominent BJP leaders, including home minister Rajnath Singh and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, had spoken out in support of Section 377.

The most visible demonstration of the BJP's views came in the Lok Sabha on March 11, 2016, when Congress member Shashi Tharoor sought to introduce a private member's bill to decriminalise homosexual acts. BJP members turned up in strength on a Friday afternoon, when attendance is usually thin, to vote the bill out at the introduction stage.

Congress leaders Sonia and Rahul Gandhi openly supported LGBTQI rights in 2013, but till then the party had spoken in two voices. Then health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad had in 2011 called homosexuality "a disease that came from abroad".

After the 2013 apex court verdict, a disappointed Sonia had said in a statement: "We are proud that our culture has been an inclusive and tolerant one. The Supreme Court also suggested another course. I hope that Parliament will address this issue and uphold the constitutional guarantee of life and liberty to all citizens of India, including those directly affected by this judgement.''