UCC triggers nation-wide political debate

Subhasish Mitra (Wide Angle)

The Law Commission’s recent notification seeking public views afresh on Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s strong push in its favour at a recent political rally in Bhopal have triggered a fresh debate on the highly contentious issue.


The matter, that is bound to affect all Indian citizens regardless of their religious dispositions, has been hogging newspaper headlines.


The UCC had been a key element of the ruling BJP's manifesto in 1998 and 2019. One attempt to introduce a Bill for the introduction of the UCC in Parliament was withdrawn after Opposition protest.


Indian society in the past few years has faced some fundamental changes that compel minority communities to fear the imposition of a majoritarian template on personal laws on marriage, divorce, and inheritance.


The “love-jihad” campaigns, state laws against conversion, and the needless criminalisation of triple talaq, for instance, have all fed into such apprehensions. The precedent of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, which sought to define, for the first time, Indian citizenship on the basis of religion has played its role in stoking these fears.


The BJP has delivered to its constituency two of the three core ideological promises -- Ram Temple and abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir. Now the saffron party may want to push through with the UCC with the same enthusiasm before the 2024 General Election.


Political observers say the BJP leadership must recognise that the UCC is different – because it touches all citizens and because it reaches deep inside their ways of life for generations, and their personal spaces. It requires, even more, an engagement in patient and intricate processes of persuasion and negotiation, not the taking of blunt positions in a polarised political environment.


They point out that the UCC does not affect Muslims alone, as it is being made to appear. It affects the Hindu majority, too, as well as the various other minority communities and tribal groups. Fundamentally, it speaks to concerns of gender equality and justice.


Amid the raging debate, another opinion is that it is high time for India to have a UCC in place and that there is no reason for different personal laws to stay on the statute books for over 70 years of India’s Independence.


The spark for this debate is the 22nd Law Commission’s public notice of June 14, soliciting for over one month public comment on the UCC. This notice comes five years after the 21st Law Commission had opined that a UCC was “neither necessary nor desirable at this stage”.


Prime Minister Modi’s strong push for UCC came while speaking to the BJP’s booth-level workers in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh.


The Narendra Modi government is reported to be considering introducing a bill on implementing a Uniform Civil Code during the upcoming session of Parliament.


In a country as diverse as India, the UCC — the idea that there should be a common set of personal laws that govern marriage and divorce, inheritance and adoption, across religious communities — is a thorny issue with social, political, legal and constitutional implications.


Ahead of the 2024 general elections, the fractious question of the UCC appears set to snowball into a major political controversy. 


Considering the tricky situation, a consensus rather than majoritarian muscle-flexing is the need of the hour. Taking all communities on board in the debate on UCC and proceeding with care and empathy should be the right approach.


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