You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that the public controversy over the Uniform Civil Code is timed with an eye on the coming round of Assembly elections later this year and the parliamentary poll next year. Having said that, it in no way detracts from the validity of the demand for heeding the directive of the Constitution and doing away with the provision of a separate law for a particular religious community. Indeed, there was far more rationale behind the Citizens (Amendment) Act providing fast-track citizenship for persecuted Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, etc, from the neighboring countries, given that they have no other country to call home, than there is for the UCC to stay on the statute book well after 70 years of independence. Seeing everything through the prism of partisan politics causes a prejudiced view of otherwise crystal-clear issues. Merely because Muslims opposed CAA, a host of others, including some very well-meaning people, latched on the anti-CAA bandwagon. The question where the persecuted Hindus and Sikhs, say, from Pakistan and Afghanistan, and other minority groups native to this country would go was never properly answered. The entire debate was misdirected in the anti- and pro-BJP vituperations.
Back to the UCC. Timing aside, its advisability was as valid in 1985 when following the momentous Shah Bano ruling by the Supreme Court, Rajiv Gandhi succumbed under the pressure of the Muslim clergy and reversed the order. Observers reason that was the beginning of Rajiv Gandhi’s decline, and the start of the BJP rise. We are not suggesting that the debate over the UCC is one such historic moment. Yet, the ongoing debate cannot be wished away merely because the Opposition parties, led by the Congress, have their gaze fixed on the Muslim vote. Indeed, a case can be made that one of the main reasons for the socio-economic backwardness of the Muslims is the vote-bank politics practised since Independence by the Congress party. Without ensuring their socio-economic progress, without making an effort to end their ghettoisation, the Congress relied on the easy stratagem of pandering to the obscurantist Muslim clergy with an eye on the vote of the community. Let us not remain in any doubt. UCC is not an attack on Muslims — it prevails in a number of avowedly Islamic countries. Even at the time of the framing of the Constitution the demand for a common personal law for people of all religions was on the agenda but in the face of stiff resistance mostly from Muslim members of the Constituent Assembly it was decided to include it in the Directive Principles of State Policy.
If — more than seventy years after the Constitution came into force — we are still dithering on implementing one of the more desirable directive principles, nothing but partisan politics is to be blamed. Unfortunately, even the Muslim public intellectuals who are every-ready to condemn any real or perceived hurt against their co-religionists have consciously chosen to maintain a stiff upper lip on the matter. Whether it is the fear of the extremist and obscurantist elements in their community or the fear that saying the right thing may directly or indirectly could be seen lending support to the BJP agenda, the truth is the failure of the educated Muslims to oppose the retrograde elements in the community cannot be exaggerated.
Even when the Rajiv Gandhi government surprised everyone by succumbing to the pressure of the extremists in the Shah Bano case, barring Arif Mohammad Khan, now the Governor of Kerala, we can hardly recall anyone of note who had opposed the reversal of an eminently sensible decision which sought to undo the wrong to divorced Muslim women. Meanwhile, the partisan politics revolving around the UCC debate is bound to force the Opposition on the back foot. Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking in Bhopal argued forcefully in favour of UCC. Earlier the Law Commission had invited the people to give their views on the advisability or otherwise of the UCC. Lesser leaders in the saffron brigade are bound to follow the PM’s lead, demanding a categorical response from the Opposition parties. The issue cannot remain on the back burner, now that the election season is once again upon us and the motley Opposition groups are searching for unity. Let each Opposition group spell out its stand on UCC. The Muslim clergy has spoken in one word: And it is a big and firm no.