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Why this indifference to UCC for 63 years?
Opinion

Why this indifference to UCC for 63 years?

Hari Jaisingh

The Supreme Court on September 13 raised a very pertinent question on Uniform Civil Code (UCC) which has been enshrined under Article 44 of the Directive Principles in the Constitution. The apex court bench observed:

Whereas the founders of the Constitution……had hoped and expected that the state shall endeavour to secure for citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territories of India, till date no action has been taken in this regard for the past 63 years.”

This reflects poorly on the state of governance in the country while different governments have been at the helm of national affairs from time to time. Will Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP-led NDA government be different from previous governments? I hope it will be. All the same, I keep my fingers crossed since the present establishment has its own agenda and priorities in tune with its overall political perspective on men, matters and issues. I mainly blame the Congress or Congress-led governments that ruled the country most of the time.

There has been a virtual state of drift in the country’s political management. Every party sees priorities in terms of its short-term vote bank politics. Each leader, for that matter, has put self before the party and the nation. In the process, the political leaders hardly bother about national priorities or the Directive Principles of the Constitution which should provide them a sense of direction and a broad-based vision to take the country forward. No wonder, the credibility of the system of governance over the years has suffered terribly since it has been invariably misused for personal, family or partisan gains. Sadly, this has led to a systematic neglect of the public good.

I do not wish to blame the Modi establishment. The people have looked at it with tremendous faith and expectations, notwithstanding the economic slowdown in certain vital areas. I hope that Prime Minister Modi would finally prove to be different from the past rulers and take the Supreme Court’s observations seriously. Will he? I cannot be doubly sure.

I have of late been concerned about highly polluted political culture. We have been witnessing disturbing scenes in Parliament and outside of it. What is disquieting is the play of competitive negativism among political parties. And we know that a democratic polity cannot grow on healthy lines in an atmosphere of negativism. This has been the pattern of our political cultures for years.

I, however, strongly feel that the people-oriented democracy cannot be upgraded as long as double-standards, hypocrisy and double-speak rule the ministerial thinking and action. Can we provide a credible answer to the on-going poor state of affairs? My quick answer is, Yes. All that is required is the requisite political will to enact Uniform Civil Code that would ensure “One country, One rule” as per Article 44 of the Directive Principles of State Policy.

It has to be constantly kept in mind that India, though a Hindu majority state, is a diverse country with multiple religions and ethnicities within its borders. This gets reflected in our legal system in the form of religion-based personal laws. This creates its own politico-legal complication in governing India. In this context, the Uniform Civil Code proposes to replace the personal laws based on the scriptures and customs of each major religious community with a common set governing every citizen. This is a must to strengthen the roots of our secular democratic republic.

In specific terms, it may be stated that the Uniform Civil Code

a. Will help integrate India by bringing every citizen under one fold, notwithstanding his caste, religion or tribal affinity;

b. It would help in reducing the influence of vote bank politics;

c. It will also help plug various loopholes in Personal Laws of all communities;

d. It will help in improving the condition of women.

e. It will create a new image of India as a modern progressive nation.

At the same time, a Uniform Civil Code will not limit the freedom of people

to follow their religions freely and fearlessly.

It needs to be realized that different religious communities – Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Parsis – have different personal laws. This has led to unnecessary politicization of the UCC issue. I believe that instead of using it as an emotive issue, political and intellectual leaders should evolve a national consensus to consolidate the Indian nationhood.

Regrettably, though Hindu laws were codified in 1956, there has been no attempt to frame a uniform civil code applicable to all citizens of the country despite “exhortations” of the apex court in the Shah Bano and Sarla Mudgal cases.

The Supreme Court, incidentally, has hailed the provisions of Goan laws as “a shining example with a uniform civil code applicable to all, regardless of religion except while protecting certain limited rights”. Still, it is a colonial rule. Therefore, it has to be examined in today’s national perspective.

It is up to the present government to take up this sensitive issue in right earnest, keeping in view sensitivities of the Muslim community over beef, saffronisation of school and college curriculum, love jehad, and the ongoing “silence” from the BJP leadership on controversial matters. I suggest that in the codification exercise, necessary caution has to be taken so that the Muslims do not feel alienated to the advantage of fundamentalists and extremist elements. This is not a tall order, provided the BJP establishment rises above its narrow and sectarian views.

It needs to keep in mind that India’s is a pluralistic society. The focus, therefore, has to be on ensuring harmony in plurality that will make Indian democracy more vibrant and flourishing.

In this difficult exercise, at stake is the rekindling of every Indian’s faith in democratic institutions beyond the frequent voting privilege. In this context, we have to fully appreciate the constitutional potency, including the Directive Principles of State Policy and efficacy of the people’s power, not merely during poll time but even in normal functioning of the polity.

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The facts and ideas expressed in the article are those of the writer.