Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday said India needed a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) as the country could not run with the dual system of “separate laws for separate communities”. He was addressing booth-level workers of the BJP in Bhopal (and the interactive sessionbeing livestreamed to 10 lakh workers of the party), an address which clearly signalled his government’s intent on bringing the UCC.
His statement on the UCC — a divisive issue on which several minority communities have often expressed reservations — comes at a time when the country’s political calendar for the next one year is packed with Assembly polls in five States and the 2024 General Elections. It also comes less than a fortnight after the 22nd Law Commission of India sought fresh suggestions from various stakeholders, including public and religious organisations, on the UCC.
There was also dual messaging in Mr. Modi’s address wherein he urged the Muslim community in India to “understand which political parties are instigating them to ruin themselves”, an urging at a time when he had been dogged with concerns expressed in certain quarters of the United States, during his state visit there, on minority rights.
“Colleagues, Muslims in India will have to understand which political parties are instigating them to ruin them while reaping benefits for themselves. These days, we are seeing that such people are being instigated in the name of Uniform Civil Code. You tell me, if in the same family there is one law for one member and another law for a second member, will that household be able to function? Can one run the country with such dual system?” he asked.
‘Same rights for all’
Attacking his political opponents for using Muslims to further their interests at the cost of the community’s well-being, particularly that of the Pasmanda Muslims, the Prime Minister reminded his audience that same rights for all citizens had been mentioned in the Constitution too.
“Friends, they [opponents] level allegations against us, but the truth is the same people who speak for Muslims, if they were true well-wishers of the Muslims, then majority of the families of my Muslim brothers and sisters would not have lagged behind in education, jobs and would not have been compelled to lead tough lives. And the Supreme Court has said time and again, it cracks its whip and says bring Common Civil Code but these vote bank-hungry people … [pauses, followed by a cheer from the crowd],” he said, of the UCC.
With Ram temple and Article 370 out of the way, the UCC is the only major fundamental plank that the BJP has termed its “core issues” left to be addressed and implemented.
The party since its inception and even during Jana Sangh days has backed the same. While a BJP government in Uttarakhand had formed an expert panel to implement the UCC, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP government in Madhya Pradesh — a State that goes to polls this year and one where Tuesday’s event was held — has also spoken about constituting a similar committee.
The government’s push for the UCC may be clear but it will be a tough road to travel. AICC general secretary K.C. Venugopal asserted that Mr. Modi rarely addresses incidents like the violence in Manipur and urged him to address concerns regarding poverty, inflation, and unemployment before focusing on other matters.
“He [Mr. Modi] should first answer about poverty, price rise and unemployment in the country. He never speaks on the Manipur issue where the whole State is burning. Manipur is burning for the last 60 days. He did not speak a word about it nor did he appeal for peace. He is just distracting people from all these issues. We’re not going to fall for that,” Mr. Venugopal said.
All India Majlis e Ittehadul Muslimeen leader Asaduddin Owaisi said that when “Mr. Modi speaks on the UCC he is only talking of implementing a Hindu Civil Code, stripping all Islamic references. I ask him whether he can abolish the Hindu United Family tax exemptions, or the Special Marriage Act, or even remove Article 371 which accords special status for 11 States, including six States of the north-east. Can he talk of UCC in Punjab, to the Sikhs,” he asked.
As recently as a couple of days ago, the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC), moved a resolution that any UCC will not be acceptable to that community and many tribal communities may yet take the same line.
By flagging the issue so strongly in his address, however, Mr. Modi has left no one in any doubt that he, at least, intends to bring the UCC sooner rather than later.