As the date for the imporant Opposition meet scheduled for 23 June in Patna nears, a large cloud of uncertainty is hanging over the political parties – it goes by the name of Uniform Civil Code (UCC).
Last week, the Law Commission put out a statement inviting opinions from political and social organisations on the UCC, and it could potentially wreak havoc on all plans of a united Opposition.
While the Congress and some other parties like the Trinamool Congress (TMC) have been decidedly against the UCC, the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Thackeray faction) has always been a vocal proponent of the demand to be met. Not just the Shiv Sena, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) too has been in favour of implementing the code. Moreover, even Janata Dal (United) (JD(U)) leader Nitish Kumar, who has called for the Opposition meet, has had an ambiguous stance on UCC in the past.
Congress Attacks Law Commission Over Need To Re-Do Exercise
The 22nd Law Commission, in its statement released on 14 June, said that it “considered it expedient to deliberate afresh over the subject."
The Commission, in the statement, acknowledged that just a few years ago, the 21st Law Commission had “solicited the view of all the stakeholders,” and then published a consultation paper on ‘Reforms of Family Law’. The 22nd Commission has said that since more than three years have passed since the publishing of that paper, and “bearing in mind the relevance and importance of the subject and also the various Court orders on the subject,” it is re-doing the exercise.
This did not go down well with the Congress party, which led the attack against this move.
In a statement released by Jairam Ramesh, general secretary (communications), the leader questioned the need for a fresh round of soliciting opinions on UCC, when the 21st Law Commission had already done so. “The real reason is that the 21st Law Commission after carrying out a detailed and comprehensive review of the subject observed that it is 'neither necessary nor desirable at this stage' to have a Uniform Civil Code,” the statement said.
“This latest attempt represents the Modi government's desperation for a legitimate justification of its continuing agenda of polarisation and diversion from its glaring failures.” Ramesh also quoted the following excerpt from the 21st Law Commission’s report.
“While diversity of Indian culture can and should be celebrated, specific groups or weaker sections of society must not be dis-privileged in the process. Resolution of this conflict does not mean abolition of all differences. This commission has therefore dealt with laws that are discriminatory rather than providing a uniform civil code, which is neither necessary nor desirable at this stage. Most countries are now moving towards recognition of difference and the mere existence of difference does not imply discrimination, but is indicative of a robust democracy.”
-21st Law Commission’s Report on UCC published in 2018.
Soon after the Congress came out all guns blazing against this memo, the TMC followed suit.
“All you can do, in your desperation, is to fan the flame with your deeply divisive politics before 2024. #Uniform_Civil_Code,” TMC’s Derek O’Brien wrote.
Left parties and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) have spoken against the UCC in the past.
Shiv Sena Welcomes UCC, Has Been A Vocal Proponent
The Shiv Sena, however, in its meet on Sunday, welcomed the UCC, but not without taking a potshot at BJP.
"We welcome the Uniform Civil Code for all but would it adversely affect Hindus? If they (BJP) could not implement the ban on cow slaughter in the entire country, how can the UCC be implemented?" Uddhav Thackeray asked.
In the past, Shiv Sena hasn’t just favored UCC but vociferously demanded it.
“The truth is, having a separate law for Muslims is like encouraging the formation of another Pakistan,” the Shiv Sena had said in 2016 in an editorial in its mouthpiece Saamana.
Before that, in 2015, the Sena had cornered its then ally BJP, over the question of delay in implementing UCC. The tensions between the two allies were at their peak at the time.
“Declare this country as Hindu Rashtra and implement common civil code, instead of searching in people’s homes for beef," Uddhav had said, referring to the lynching in Dadri over beef-storing rumors.
AAP Has Favored UCC, Goaded BJP To Implement It
While Sena has been a dyed-in-the-wool Hindutva party on issues like the UCC for the longest time, even AAP was found goading the BJP to implement UCC last year.
In a speech in Gujarat, ahead of the state elections last year, party leader Arvind Kerjriwal had criticised the BJP for dragging its feet in the process.
"Why not implement it (UCC) across the country. Are they waiting for the Lok Sabha elections?” "They formed a committee after winning the Uttarakhand elections, but then they went back home," Kejriwal said, referring to the committee formed by the party in Gujarat ahead of the polls to deliberate on the same. Kejriwal accused the BJP of forming a committee "three days before Gujarat elections" which will also "go home" after the polls.
Nitish Kumar Dodges 'Heated' Question of UCC
The grand opposition meet has been called by JD(U)’s Nitish Kumar who hasn’t himself had a very clear stand on the matter.
On Sunday, while addressing a press conference, when Kumar was asked abouts his response to the Law Commission’s notice on UCC, the leader dodged the question entirely.
"Bahut garmi hai...sab baat hoga baad mein, abhi bahut garmi hai (It's too hot. Let us talk about all these matters later)," Kumar said.
In 2017, Kumar had written a letter to then Law Commission chief B.S Chauhan stating that the UCC must be seen as a “measure of reform for people's welfare” and not a "political instrumentality”.
“The JD(U) is of the firm view that democracy is based on the foundational principle of constructive dialogue. Where the UCC is concerned, such a dialogue, based on broad-based consultations with all religious denominations, is particularly necessary, given the multi-cultural, multi-religious nature of our society. In the same spirit of dialogue, it is essential that the UCC is first put to debate in Parliament as well as legislative Assemblies of states, and other forums of civil society.”
-Excerpt from Nitish Kumar’s letter to Law Commission on UCC in 2017
Political Importance of UCC
Sources said that the party leaders are aware of these differences and will try to paper over them in the meet. “We will try to find the commonalities and focus on them, than address these differences. The issue is that this UCC notice has come just days before the opposition meet, or else we could have gone without discussing it entirely, let’s see how it goes,” a Congress leader said.
The UCC has been a hot-button issue ahead of many state elections in the last few years, and is seen as the next big issue that the BJP will try to capitalise on electorally, after the triple talaq criminalisation, Ram Mandir, and Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).