Civil code: BJP's motives suspect

Civil code: BJP's motives suspect

The debate over a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) for the country has quietly been revived by the Narendra Modi-led NDA government by asking the Law Commission to “examine the issue” and submit a report. The government has relied on a specific reference made by the Supreme Court about eight months ago asking whether “it was willing to bring the UCC to ride over inconsistent personal laws in different religions.” Though Law Minister D V Sadananda Gowda has stated that it was a very sensitive issue and needed wider consultation, indicating that the government was aware of the need for a broad consensus on the matter, the opposition Congress has been quick to dub it as “cheap politics.”

Though the Centre’s move is welcome, as UCC has been a long-cherished demand – even finding mention in the Directive Principles of the Constitution – the timing of the decision, coming as it does just a few months before the crucial assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, makes the BJP’s motives suspect. The BJP may argue that election in some part of the country or the other is never far away, it has not been forgotten how the party ruthlessly exploited the 2013 communal riots in Muzaffarnagar for electoral gains in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Besides, by raking up many divisive issues over the last two years, the BJP has not exactly created a conducive atmosphere for a meaningful debate on as contentious an issue as UCC.

Looking at the merits of UCC, let it be said that a national and inter-religious consensus on a common law concerning issues of marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption and maintenance covering all citizens of the country is highly desirable. A number of provisions of existing laws, based on scriptures and customs of major religious communities, are outdated and highly discriminatory, especially against women and their constitutional rights. They militate against the very essence of democracy and basic human rights. Hence, the courts and several reports of the Law Commission have repeatedly urged elected governments to adopt a UCC, but so far there has been no political will to do so.

If the Modi government is serious about bringing forward the UCC, it should take all religious communities and progressive groups within them into confidence to forge a consensus. It should strive to adopt the best elements of all laws, including the Muslim Personal Law, to make the UCC a truly secular law which gains widest possible acceptance. If a comprehensive law is difficult to achieve at one go, Modi should take a leaf out of Jawaharlal Nehru, who,  in 1950s, faced with stiff opposition to the Hindu Civil Code, brought separate legislations regarding marriage, succession and inheritance and ensured their passage.
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