Is Prime Minister Narendra Modi trying to complete all the three core agenda of the Sangh Parivar?
He had overseen the other two issues in the past nine years of his regime- building the Ram Temple in Ayodhya and revoking Article 370. Implementing a uniform civil code remains on the table. The moot question is whether India needs such a law and whether this is the time to push it.
Despite the codification of Hindu laws in 1956, a consensus on the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is yet to come in India. Many religious communities at present abide by their own distinct personal laws. The UCC is a complex issue. It has several angles, such as political, legislative, religious, gender and Constitutional perspectives, to the question.
The UCC is prevalent in many countries like France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia. However, some countries like Kenya, Pakistan, Italy, South Africa, Nigeria, and Greece do not have it. Analysts see Modi's raising the issue again during his address to the BJP workers in Bhopal last week as not an off-the-cuff remark. He had measured every word. Significantly, Madhya Pradesh is a poll-bound state.
The origin of the UCC dates back to colonial India. The British government recommended uniformity in the codification of Indian law in 1835. The UCC intends to unify all personal religious laws, including marriage, divorce, property rights, inheritance, and maintenance. Article 44 of the Indian Constitution stipulates the state shall endeavour to secure a Common Code throughout India for citizens. One of the Principles of State Policy states that the UCC is essential.
Goa is the only Indian state that follows a uniform civil code. The Portuguese law of 1867 remained the same even after India annexed Goa.
The Constituent Assembly debated the issue
India's first Prime Minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru, postponed a decision claiming, "I do not think that at the present moment, the time is ripe for me to try to push it (UCC) through". If only the framers of our Constitution had decided on the issue, the problem would not exist today. The Law Commission of India began to examine UCC afresh and sought suggestions from the public. The UCC has become more political than legal. Supporters and opponents argue on both sides. Supporters believe, sooner or later, there must be a common law that applies to all religious communities.
The BJP believes in the UCC
Prime Minister Modi, while making a strong pitch for the UCC, said in Bhopal the Constitution mentions having equal rights. "If there is one law for one member in a house and another for the other, will the house be able to run? So how will the country be able to run with such a dual system?" the prime minister asked.
He argued that passing the Uniform Civil Law would provide benefits despite many differences and conflicts. It would provide gender equality and one law for all. Modi urged Muslims to see how the Opposition provoked and exploited them.
Further, The Supreme Court highlighted the importance of a (UCC) in 1985. The apex court noted that it would maintain national unity. In 1995, the Court recommended a single law governing all citizens. In 2019, the Modi government expressed its commitment to the UCC to the Apex Court. Earlier, the Supreme Court outlawed the Triple Talaaq providing gender justice.
The Opponents, led by Congress and other secular parties, oppose it. Muslims and other minorities do not favour it although some Islamic countries have adopted a common law for all, Modi's call for Uniform Civil Code has provoked sharp criticism from opposition parties.
They allege Modi was trying to divert the attention from bread-and-butter issues such as rising prices, unemployment and violence in Manipur. They note that without a consensus on the subject, there could be no UCC. The opponents point out that Muslims perceive the UCC as infringing on their religious freedom.
In a secular country like India, UCC is significant to provide one law for all. Seventy-five years have passed, and it is time to consider it seriously in a country where 65 per cent are youth. However, it is the political will that is required. Uttarakhand has received a report from a commission led by a former Supreme Court recommending UCC for the state. Perhaps the BJP intends to replicate this in other states.
Modi would like to face the 2024 Lok Sabha elections after UCC legislation. It is a question mark whether he could push it through. The Prime Minister must convene an all-party meeting to mobilise support for the UCC. With Assembly elections in some states and the General elections scheduled for next year, there is some urgency to implement UCC.
(The writer is a well-known columnist. Views expressed are personal)