Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday lashed out at the opposition Congress over the issue of triple talaq and its approach towards Muslims while insisting that his own government’s effort to end the practice of instant triple talaq should not be linked to religion.

Modi said the Congress had missed two opportunities on adopting a Uniform Civil Code – first in 1951 and then in 1986 – adding that the party has now a third chance to make it right by supporting the Triple Talaq bill.

He said a former Congress minister had stated recently that the leadership of Rajiv Gandhi was of the opinion that it was not the job of the Congress party to reform the Muslims and that “if they (Muslims) wanted to stay in a gutter, then let them be there”.

He did not name the leader but was apparently referring to a purported interview by Arif Mohammad Khan in connection with Shah Bano case.

“The Congress missed opportunities on Uniform Civil Code and Shah Bano case. Now again there is an opportunity, and we have brought a bill for women’s empowerment. Please do not link it to religion,” he said.

The reference led to protests from the Congress benches.

Amid massive uproar from the opposition, the Triple Talaq bill was tabled in the Lok Sabha on Friday, that seeks to make the practice “void and illegal and an offence punishable with imprisonment up to three years and fine”.

As discussion on the bill opened, Congress MP from Kerala Shashi Tharoor said the government should bring a uniform law and not one that only targets Muslim men.

Objecting to the penal provision in the bill for the Muslim man, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi called the bill “discriminatory”.

Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad defended the bill saying that it was about justice and women empowerment and will protect the rights of Muslim women.

The law seeks to declare the practice of triple talaq to be void and illegal and makes it an offence punishable with imprisonment up to three years and fine.

Earlier, on June 12, the Union Cabinet approved the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019, paving the way for the legislation to be introduced in Parliament.

The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019 will replace an ordinance issued in February by the previous BJP-led NDA government.

Earlier on Thursday, President Ram Nath Kovind, while addressing a joint session of the Parliament, had called for the removal of practices like ‘Triple Talaq’ and Nikah-Halala’ to ensure equal rights for women.

President Kovind in February promulgated the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Second Ordinance, 2019 to give continued effect to the provisions brought in by Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Ordinance, 2019.

A Bill to convert the earlier ordinance, issued in September 2018, was cleared by the Lok Sabha in December and was pending in the Rajya Sabha, which lapsed on June 3.

The Supreme Court had in August 2017 declared “Triple Talaq” unconstitutional and in violation of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, which provides for equality before the law and directed the government to enact a law on the issue.