Uniform Civil Code is a victim of electoral politics and a victory for religious obscurantism
The uniform civil code (UCC) has been a passion with BJP for long toward its vision of a homogenous, non-appeasing and non-discriminative India. The party's other passion was abrogation of Article 370 and 35A, that it fulfilled in 2019 to cement India's physical integrity.
The idea behind UCC is to have one law, like the Criminal Laws, for the whole nation to regulate personal matters like marriage, divorce, inheritance and adoption for all citizens regardless of religion, gender and sexual orientation. Though eminently noble, it has so far remained elusive to enforce. BJP is willing to suffer minor electoral reverses but can't afford violence, fanned and sustained mainly by its political opponents, religious obscurantists and left liberals.
NDA spoke about its need prior to 2014 parliamentary elections and included it as one of its goals in the 2019 election manifesto. Closer to 2019 elections, it may even introduce a bill, expressing its sincerity of intent to expose the hypocrisy of the opposition and use during campaigning, their hostile arguments to lay bare their secular duplicity. The momentum for this has already begun. The governments of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Assam are seriously examining how quickly and in which shape and size it can be implemented. Other BJP states like MP and Himachal Pradesh where state elections are due this year, have also declared their resolve but may choose to wait and see how well UCC has been received by people in UP and Uttarakhand.
Uniform Civil Code is not BJP's exclusive idea. Under Article 44 of the directive principles of the state policy of the constitution, the framers wanted the states to make endeavours to implement it. But 70 years have gone by, no endeavour has been made. The general refrain is that it is unrealizable in a country which abound in bewildering variety of faiths, traditions and social practices. The high courts and supreme court find it incredulous that citizens continue to be denied of equality in basic personal matters like marriage, divorce and inheritance and has, of late, the judges been pushing the central government to start taking some positive initiatives.
Still, the prospect of implementing UCC does not look bright. Muslims, Catholics, Parsis, Goanese, sizable number of tribals and indigenous Hindu groups follow their personal laws and would hate to concede an inch. All India Muslims personal Law Board calls the move unconstitutional as it violates Article 25 which guarantees freedom of practicing religion. Communists and opposition political parties that depend largely on Muslim votes for their electoral survival are busy scaring Muslims. They say that UCC is anti-minority, divisive and an attempt to subjugate them to Hindus, a theme that they will also play out to evoke condemnation from their lobbyists abroad in order to put the BJP leadership under pressure.
The irony is that women across all religions who stand to gain maximum from the uniform civil code in matters of their marriage, divorce, inheritance and adoption always align themselves with their tormentors (males) when street protests are organised. Recall their role in Shaheen Bagh blockade, triple talaq ruckus and pro-hijab demonstrations. Their male folks, peers and clerics have ensured that they remain afraid of asking for equal rights.
Given these constraints, the best way to implement UCC will be for UP, Assam and Uttarakhand to take the lead, legislate a bill and send it to the President for assent. It will make the task easier for other NDA states to go for it once the minority community sees its benefits on the ground and realizes that it neither attacks their faith nor makes them economically and socially inferior. Maybe, in due course, other states will fall in line. Other option is that NDA gives wide publicity of the provisions of UCC and follows it with discussions in the parliament and then enacts it. In both scenarios, UCC will surely be opposed violently on streets and agitated in courts. Once again, the supreme court will have to intervene to settle the status of UCC that could take years unless a Ranjan Gogoi decides to take the bull by horns.
(Amar Bhushan worked with the Research and Analysis Wing for 24 years after briefly serving in the BSF intelligence, State Special Branch and Intelligence Bureau. He served as the Special Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat before he retired in 2005.)
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