As a devout and committed activist (Swayamsevak) of RSS, Prime Minister Narender Modi has already fulfilled the dream of abrogation of article 370, 35A and laying the foundation stone of Ayodhya Ram temple, though the issue was settled by the Supreme Court. Now, third in the wish list of RSS and BJP is Uniform Civil Code (UCC) which is ready for execution prior to 2024 polls and PM Modi has set the process in motion during his recent Gujarat visit to take this core issue to the logical end. Experts opine that it will be in consonance with the father of Hindutva ideology, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar Savarkar’s vision and ideology of Hinduness of RSS thereby acting as a guarantor of ‘secularism’ like moon and space mission would mean embracing the advanced progress in science and technology in India.
Watch PM Modi speaking about the UCC in one of his recent public meetings.
UCC in the making: A long history
It was 187 years back when the Britishers produced a report which laid emphasis on the dire need for uniformity in the codification of Indian laws relating to crimes, evidence and contracts besides making specific recommendations regarding the personal laws of Hindus and Muslims thereby keeping them outside such codification to ensure stability and harmony in the society. Due to increase in legislation dealing with personal laws, British Raj was forced to appoint B N Rau Committee to codify Hindu law in 1941.Based on these recommendations, a bill was then adopted in 1956 as the Hindu Succession Act to amend and codify the law pertaining to intestate or unwilled succession, among Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs. However, there were separate personal laws for Muslim, Christian and Parsis. A spate of Hindu family laws governing marriage, divorce, guardianship, succession and the ownership of property were enacted through the 1950s even as opposition from some quarters persisted.
Prime minister has recently set the agenda in motion to fulfil the third electoral promise of implementation of the promise of uniform civil code (UCC) made by BJP/RSS combine which preceded abrogation of article 370 and construction of Ram Temple at Ayodhya though timing is undoubtedly linked to 2024 parliamentary polls.
UCC draft on the cards?
As per top BJP leaders in Delhi, a bill about implementation of UCC in the country may be introduced in the parliament during the ensuing session which begins from July 20 and it may be sent to the Standing Committee of parliament to ascertain more views from different sections of the society to make it acceptable and less controversial. In a related development, Justice Ranjana Desai committee appointed by Uttarakhand Chief minister Pushkar Dhami one year ago may submit the UCC draft soon which will pave the way for its implementation in the hilly state. But Uttarakhand will become the second state in India to implement UCC which was adopted at the first instance by Goa in 1867 by the then Portuguese rulers and it was Re adopted with some modifications post-independence.
Cracks appear in Opposition
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Shiv Sena, Shiv Sena(Udhav Thakre) and Bahujan Samaj Party have supported UCC, whereas majority of opposition parties and Muslims organizations are opposing it tooth and nail. Opposition parties are convinced that BJP is embarking upon UCC to take advantage of polarization in 2024 polls hence the prime minister made it a central point in his speech on June 27 during one day visit to Gujarat.
As per indication, several regional parties sympathetic to BJP may not oppose the central legislation on UCC which will be applicable to all states/union territories etc. though some of them keep it in abeyance.
PM Modi Links UCC To Rights Of Muslim Women
PM Modi’s assertion of “Two Laws in a house” clearly exhibits his confidence and faith that UCC will eliminate this discrimination and protect the rights of Muslim women.PM has got clarity about UCC and dubbed the opponents as Anti Muslim women. PM quoted the Supreme Court which has favored UCC which eliminates the chances of opposing it. The Modi government has been credited for abolishing the Triple Talaq which was profusely welcomed by Muslim women who rejected the appeals of radical elements in the community. Even prior to the existence of BJP, Jan Sangh had favored the legislation of UCC in India hence the issue is not new one. BJP had included implementation of UCC in its election manifesto in 2019 hence it is bound to become reality prior to polls though the procedure of seeking a report from the Law commission is being adopted.
The center had requested a law commission to make recommendations about UCC, hence it has invited suggestions from all sections of the society and the process may be completed soon.
Parliamentary committee asks for views of various parties
Parliamentary committee on personnel, public grievances and law and justice headed by BJP leader, Sushil Kumar Modi tried to inject possible space for keeping tribal communities and north eastern states out of the ambit of UCC as constitution permitted some exceptions for certain groups which will help in preserving their unique customs and traditional laws. Law commission members sought to make a case that UCC may be examined afresh though the commission in 2018 had described it(UCC) as neither necessary nor desirable.
The members gave their input about UCC and submitted its proposals to the parliamentary committee. Politicians of north east states,however, are apprehensive about UCC as they feel that it may pose a threat to their identity. Under articles 371(A) and 371(G) of the Constitution, the tribes from the Northeast states are guaranteed special provisions which restrict the parliament from enacting any law thereby superseding their family laws.
AIMPLB Opposes UCC
Muslim Personal law (Shariat) Application act,1937 governs the Muslims in India which makes UCC unacceptable to them. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board is opposed to UCC as it feels that rights of Muslims enshrined in Muslim Personal law will be snatched away. The Bigamy in the proposed UCC will have no place which is already prohibited under all personal laws except Muslims. But experts say that anti bigamy provisions of the Indian Penal Code can be amended prior to giving final shape to the bill to make them applicable to all religious groups including Muslims.
Congress, DMK and BRS oppose UCC
Congress party, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS0 submitted separate written statements to the parliamentary committee and took an anti UCC stand. Both parties quoted the consultation paper of 21 st law commission report in 2018 which did not favor implementation of UCC at that Stage.
Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar on UCC
It may be recalled that B R Ambedkar, while formulating the Constitution had said that a UCC is desirable but for the moment it should remain voluntary, and thus the Article 35 of the draft Constitution was added as a part of the Directive Principles of the State Policy in part IV of the Constitution of India as Article 44. The UCC debate in India dates back to two centuries and the oldest document relates to the year 1840 which dwells upon a certain Lex Loci (meaning Law of the Land). It deals with the necessity of uniformity in codification of criminal laws but recommended that personal laws of different religions – laws on inheritance, succession, marriage and religious ceremonies – should be kept outside such codification. The Government of India Act of 1858 similarly promised non-interference in personal laws. In Shah Bano case, apex court ruled in her favor of her right to demand alimony which was overturned through an act in parliament by Rajiv Gandhi government due to pressure of Muslim conservative groups. Another case was the Sarla Mudgal Case (1995), which dealt with the issue of bigamy and conflict between the personal laws existing on matters of marriage.
It may be recalled that B R Ambedkar, while formulating the Constitution had said that a UCC is desirable but for the moment it should remain voluntary, and thus the Article 35 of the draft Constitution was added as a part of the Directive Principles of the State Policy in part IV of the Constitution of India as Article 44. A debate about UCC for all communities began in 1951 when Ambedkar resigned from Nehru cabinet protesting against the then prime minister’s inertia on Hindu code bill. Ambedkar fiercely advocated UCC but faced flak from all sides including Hindus and Muslims, congress and RSS. With the passage of time
Hindu laws was codified and optimism prevailed that personal laws of other communities would be amended as per demand of the modern times. Ironically, Jan Sangh bitterly opposed codification of personal laws and Syama Prasad Mukherjee went to the extent of saying that it would shatter the magnificent architecture of the Hindu culture. Nehru could implement Hindu laws as he was backed by a majority of the opposition. But now BJP is taking lead to execute UCC hence included in its priorities in election manifestos in 1998 and 2014. Now RSS thinking runs like this “it is not about Hindus, Christians, tribal and Muslims but intent to bring all under one umbrella of common law as various communities cannot be governed by different personal laws. ”
On the other hand, the Centre had already requested the Law Commission of India (21st) to undertake examination of various issues relating to UCC and to make recommendations thereof. Uttarakhand will not be first state in India to implement the UCC as Goa has been following the Portuguese Civil Code, 1867 which is also called Uniform Civil Code. After its liberation from the Portuguese rule, the code is survived by virtue of Section 5(1) of the Goa, Daman and Diu Administration Act, 1962.
UCC and what it will mean if implemented?
As per definition, the Uniform Civil Code is a proposal in India pertains to formulation and implementation of the personal laws of citizens which apply to all citizens equally irrespective of their religion, sex, gender, and sexual orientation. At present, the personal laws of different communities are governed by their religious scriptures. The UCC comes under Article 44 of the Constitution of India which lays down that the state shall endeavor to secure a Uniform Civil Code for the citizens throughout the territory of India. BJP promised the implementation of UCC if it comes to power in 2019 parliamentary polls if it came to power hence it has chosen Uttarakhand to take the lead. In this complex scenario, the Modi government is poised to implement UCC and party ruled states will follow suit and stark division amongst the political parties seems to be imminent as some of them will support and rest may oppose the proposed bill in parliament which will be on the basis of their political exigencies and political will.
(Writer is a political analyst and senior journalist based in Shimla.)