The formation of a committee by the Gujarat Government for implementation of the Uniform Civil Code is no surprise as the UCC is very much part of the BJP's agenda. Only the timing of the move is suspect, coming as it does just before elections are announced for the state Assembly. Earlier other BJP-ruled states, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, had announced similar committees to study implementation of the UCC. The latter goes to polls on November 12. Article 44 of the Constitution says the State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a Uniform Civil Code throughout the territory of India to formulate and implement personal laws which apply to all citizens regardless of religion, gender and sexual orientation. However, since Article 44 comes under the Directive Principles of state policy, it cannot be enforced. The personal laws of most communities are governed by their religious beliefs and often have a gender bias. It was only the Hindu community where gender-neutral laws of inheritance, succession and custody came into force following the enactment of the Hindu Code Bills in the 1950s.
In its manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha election and several earlier manifestos, the BJP had promised that it would being the Uniform Civil Code but eight years into its rule, the party has not taken it up seriously given the contentious nature of the debate surrounding the issue. Muslim clerics and parties have opposed the UCC on the ground that it infringes on their right to practise a religion of their choice as enshrined in Articles 25-28 of the Constitution. The UCC has always been a sticking point between its votaries and naysayers. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the Shah Bano case. Now AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal jumping on the UCC bandwagon and asking the Centre to implement it throughout the country is aimed at putting the ruling party in a tight spot. The UCC is no doubt a desirable objective given that it protects women's rights. B R Ambedkar himself was in favour of a uniform code to eliminate caste and gender inequalities. However, it has to be implemented in a spirit of consensus. Suggestions of all communities must be taken on board before any conclusion is reached. It cannot be a kneejerk reaction to approaching elections. If the objective behind bringing the UCC is to polarise the electorate, it will be doing a great disservice to the founding fathers of the Constitution.
Tragedy in Morbi
The collapse of a British-era suspension bridge in Gujarat’s Morbi on Sunday that has claimed over 140 lives is a tragedy of epic proportions. It is a reiteration of how little value human life has in India when it comes to the faceless masses. It is a familiar tale of negligence, greed and corruption. The bridge that reopened after renovations on the occasion of Gujarati New Year on 26 October had apparently not been given a fitness certificate by the civic authorities. The private company that operates the bridge had issued tickets much beyond the carrying capacity, and the lone security guard was unable to ward off gatecrashers. On the occasion of Chhath Puja, hundreds thronged the bridge to witness the immersion of idols in the river.
Such easily preventable calamities are a blot on the image of a nation which aspires to be a world leader. If only there had been a crowd control mechanism, if only the authorities had not overlooked the blatant flouting of rules by the private company, if only there had been better checks and balances, the deaths of so many people would not have occurred. No doubt, an inquiry committee was immediately set up, search and rescue teams swung into action instantaneously and the government announced compensation for the kin of victims and the injured — but nothing can bring back the loved ones of countless families. Many children too were among the casualties. There are several lessons to be learnt from this tragedy but the administrative malaise that afflicts India is hard to counter. Bureaucratic corruption and the ‘chalta hai’ attitude that overlooks crater-sized potholes, open manholes, dug-up sewers, et al, is responsible for disasters such as the Morbi bridge collapse or the Jharkhand ropeway tragedy. It is time for a thorough revamp of the system.