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Will Uniform Civil Code Be BJP’s Final Act in Ruling India’s Political Stage?

The party's Bill on UCC immediately after its State poll performance, reinforces its policy of crackdown on Muslims.

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Barely a day after the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) stormed back to power in Gujarat but lost in Himachal Pradesh, it decided to give the green signal to Rajya Sabha member Kirodi Lal Meena from Rajasthan, to introduce his private member’s Bill— ‘The Uniform Civil Code in India Bill, 2020’ amid vociferous protests from the Opposition members in the Upper House.

This indicates that the party remains intent on pursuing its policy of Hindutva and politics of communal polarisation. Significantly, Rajasthan is among the clutch of five states, including three from the Hindi/Hindu/Hindutva heartland where Assembly Elections are due next winter.

When it comes to UCC, the party’s steadfastness is evident from the fact that the Bill was tabled by Meena almost three years ago but there was no progress till after the party was voted out of power in Himachal Pradesh.
Snapshot
  • BJP gave green signal to Rajya Sabha member Kirodi Lal Meena from Rajasthan to introduce his private member’s Bill— ‘The Uniform Civil Code in India Bill, 2020’.

  • With anti-CAA agitation and Delhi riots before US President Donald Trump’s State visit, the BJP chose to lie low on UCC Bill.

  • Any move on the UCC would be electorally beneficial to the party in elections due through 2023 and later in the Lok Sabha polls in 2024.

  • BJP aims to raise the social temperature on the UCC—an issue that is seen to interfere with personal matters of religious minorities, especially Muslims.

  • Among BJP's crucial policy decision is the formation of a committee to examine ways to introduce and implement the UCC.

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UCC Bill Was Long-Standing in Parliament

The Bill was first listed for being moved in the post-lunch session on 7 February 2020. However, when the member’s name was called out in the Upper House, he was found to be absent only to appear later and move his second private member’s Bill, comparatively on a non-contentious matter that provided for special financial assistance to Rajasthan for the welfare of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes.

There was little doubt that with the anti-CAA agitation still raging, and Delhi riots triggered just a fortnight prior to American President Donald Trump’s State visit, the BJP chose to lie low on the UCC Bill.

Thereafter, Meena’s Bill was listed for tabling five times, but on each occasion, it didn't materialise.

Now, the BJP obviously considers this to be an opportune time to move the Bill on a matter that opposition leaders stated in Rajya Sabha, as having the potential to disturb peace and hurt the secular credentials of the country. It seems to be unequivocal of the view that any move on the UCC would be electorally beneficial to the party in elections due through 2023 and later in the Lok Sabha polls in 2024.

BJP’s Die-Hard Stance on UCC

The BJP’s assessment is obvious from the robust defence of the Bill by Union Commerce Minister and Leader of the House Piyush Goyal. He said the UCC was made a part of the Directive Principles of State Policy by the Constituent Assembly after careful thought.

"It is the legitimate right of a member to raise an issue which is under the directive principles of the constitution, let this subject be debated... At this stage, to cast aspersions on the government and criticise the Bill at the introduction stage is uncalled for,” he said and asked the Chairman, Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar to allow introduction.

The Vice President subsequently, asked for a sense of the House, and thereafter, the Opposition sought a division where it was outnumbered miserably. The Bill’s admission could not be prevented – 63 members voted in favour and just 23 were in opposition to it.

This underscored that opposition parties were caught unprepared and had not expected the BJP to move on a private member’s UCC Bill so swiftly after the verdict. Beyond doubt, several of its members absented in the post-lunch session on Fridays when private members’ Bills are taken up.

Paradoxically, in the absence of a whip asking them to be present, several Opposition members from Congress and Trinamool Congress besides the Aam Aadmi Party, were absent during the discussion and at the time of voting.

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Whether or not absent, Rajya Sabha members were merely playing truant on the last day of the week, long used by parliamentarians to head for their respective constituencies, is difficult to state at this stage. But, it must be borne in mind that parties as well as individual MPs often avoided taking a stand on issues that appeased individuals and groups with a pro-majoritarian tilt.

UCC as a Poll Issue and Anti-Muslim Policy

It cannot be ignored that the BJP has consistently aimed to raise the social temperature on the UCC—an issue that is seen as one which ‘interferes’ with personal matters of religious minorities, especially Muslims.

The verdict from Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh were declared on the same day but the Election Commission of India did not call for these polls simultaneously. This enabled the BJP in Gujarat to inaugurate and lay the foundation of several projects besides taking crucial policy decisions which wouldn't be possible if the Model Code of Conduct was effective.

These decisions included the formation of a committee to examine ways to introduce and implement the UCC. This step followed similar decisions by the state governments of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh earlier in the year.

The Congress party rightly contended, significantly the AAP did not criticise the move, that the BJP was in power for twenty-seven years since March 1995 with a break of just eighteen months between October 1996 and March 1998 when Shankersinh Vaghela and Dilip Parekh were chief ministers with Congress backing.

If the BJP had been so keen on introducing the UCC in Gujarat, the Congress asked appropriately why did it not act previously and instead, constitute the committee on the eve of polls. Clearly, the intention was to convey to Hindutva-endorsing voters that the BJP was pursuing policies that Muslims and some other minorities object to.
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Will UCC Take BJP’s Hindutva Push Forward For 2024?

The demand for the UCC is the last of three contentious issues that the BJP raked consistently from the mid-1980s. A common law for all citizens was listed alongside the demands for the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya and the abrogation of Article 370 that granted special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

By the time the next Lok Sabha polls are held, the temple in all probability would have been thrown open to devotees. The Centre also aims to hold elections in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir soon. Progress on the UCC would be presented as another ‘feather in the cap’ of the BJP and will further boost the enthusiasm of Hindutva supporters.

In the case of BJP state governments with their limited jurisdiction, the formation of committees to study UCC’s implementation is merely dog-whistle politics. Secondly, if the Centre backs Meena’s Bill, can it not be argued that “the State” is not fulfilling its obligation to “endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code?"
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Divisive Agenda & Majoritarianism

Many in India supported the introduction of UCC in the country at a time when the polity was not stifled by majoritarian authoritarianism and when it wasn't heading towards becoming just an electoral democracy from a constitutional one.

In recent years, the practicality of the UCC has also come under the radar mainly because of issues of inheritance within Hindu families and the diverse systems or schools of traditional laws. It is also common knowledge that marriage under Islam is akin to a social contract whereas it is a sacrament among Hindus.

Delving into these issues to contest the necessity of a UCC is of little relevance because Meena getting the nod to table his private member’s Bill is merely a political tactic of the BJP, aimed at securing electoral largesse from people whose Islamophobia the party fed previously and now seeks to milk it. It requires being called out for being just that and having no good intentions.

(The writer is an NCR-based author and journalist. His latest book is The Demolition and the Verdict: Ayodhya and the Project to Reconfigure India. He has also written The RSS: Icons of the Indian Right and Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times. He tweets at @NilanjanUdwin. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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