'It’s time to contemplate a Uniform Civil Code'

Senior Congress leader Margaret Alva speaks on her four decades of public life and why she is espousing a Uniform Civil Code.

July 16, 2016 01:40 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:02 pm IST

Congress leader Margaret Alva.

Congress leader Margaret Alva.

With her autobiography, Courage and Commitment, due for release soon, senior Congress leader Margaret Alva spoke to Nistula Hebbar on her four decades of public life and why she is espousing a Uniform Civil Code.

Your book details your run-ins with the [Congress’] high command culture. With the party at a historically low point, isn’t it time to change?

I believe that the high command has always, in the history of the Congress, taken all final decisions in the party. The only question is should these decisions be taken unilaterally, or should there be more consultation and feedback from State units before decisions are taken. Things are changing a bit now. I believe Rahul Gandhi is taking more opinion. Today the rank and file are asking for more openness, discussion etc.

Is because of the poor electoral performance — it would seem the magic of the Gandhi name is not delivering victories?

Defeat is not about numbers. It is not just about the party but about the atmosphere. I believe there is no alternative to mass contact. The party must connect with the people. Where are the demonstrations by the Youth Congress against price rise?

On various other issues, like women’s security etc, an occasional intervention on television by the Mahila Congress is not enough. There have to be mass contact programmes by party workers. Only then can you reconnect with the voter.

You have expressed regret at the ill treatment meted out to former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao at his death.

I had great respect for him, although I, like the others, was greatly upset with him on the way he had handled the Babri Masjid and some other issues. But the point is, whatever may have been wrong, he was a Prime Minister, a Chief Minister, a Congressman; he made his contribution. In death, one needs to respect the individual, whatever your differences, and I did feel strongly that he had been wronged.

You opposed Rajiv Gandhi on the Shah Bano issue, as pandering to some orthodoxy…[but] he felt that he couldn’t intrude on the space of minorities. Are you in favour of a Uniform Civil Code?

There is the commitment as a secular country that personal laws will be respected. Therefore, how far can you combine national ethos with the rights of minorities is a challenge. I’m one who has always believed — and I’m a Christian and a minority — that I would also like to see a common law for marriage, a civil code. When you say a common civil code, the impression given is that a Hindu Civil Code is going to be imposed, which is not true. Goa has a very successful common civil code brought in by the Portuguese. If it can be done there, why can’t it be done in the rest of the country? Public opinion has to be created. Educated people have to speak up and be prepared to be part of the decision-making process.

Your book details a rather startling incident of Cuban leader Fidel Castro sending a warning to Rajiv Gandhi not to trust V.P. Singh.

He sent a message to Rajiv Gandhi that he wanted to meet me. I was in Mexico then and went to Cuba to meet him. He said he wanted me to carry a message to Rajivji. He said ‘tell him from me that he shouldn’t trust his finance minister’. I looked at him and said ‘Your Excellency, he trusts V.P. Singh a lot and gets along well with him.’ At this he said, ‘That’s wrong; it’s not good.’ I came back and conveyed and Rajivji smiled and said, ‘what does he know

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