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  Opinion   Columnists  26 Jun 2023  Aakar Patel | Why the BJP is pushing hard for a Uniform Civil Code now

Aakar Patel | Why the BJP is pushing hard for a Uniform Civil Code now

Aakar Patel is a senior journalist and columnist
Published : Jun 27, 2023, 12:10 am IST
Updated : Jun 27, 2023, 12:10 am IST

It’s not only one community that will see its personal laws on inheritance, marriage, divorce change, but all communities if there is a UCC

(Representational image)
 (Representational image)

In 2019, energised by his terrific Lok Sabha victory, the Prime Minister set off a series of ideological reforms. The gutting of Article 370, the legislation of the citizenship law and the criminalisation of Muslim divorce. All these came from the Centre and the BJP-run states, similarly enthused, wrote laws criminalising inter-faith marriage and on beef and hijab and such things. The Ayodhya judgment also came around the same time.

December 2019 was the high watermark of this period when there seemed to be no opposition to implement the nationwide NRC and CAA. Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, a series of reversals followed the flow of victories. Protests across India ended the NRC-CAA policy. Though it was in the BJP’s manifesto, it remains unimplementable three and a half years later. The census was likely also sacrificed because of this. In Ladakh, the strong leader narrative began to unravel quickly as discretion was chosen over valour (unlike Nehru). Kashmir remains a mess and the only part of undivided India today not under democratic rule. Events in Manipur has shown fully the absence of application and has put paid to claims to good (or even any) governance.

The Covid-19 pandemic affected the entire world, but few nations saw the extreme trauma of the second wave and India’s overflowing crematoria became a global story. Opposing ordinances passed without debate during the pandemic, the farmers’ protest forced the government to reverse its laws and issue an apology.

Since that period of reversals, no new masterstroke has come. And with good reason: when action without thinking produces failures and stalemates, then one most pause to consider what went wrong.

And yet, now there is talk of the Uniform Civil Code being floated as one of the key issues of the 2024 election. Like Kashmir and NRC, it is on the party manifesto, which says the “BJP believes there cannot be gender equality till such time India adopts a Uniform Civil Code, which protects the rights of all women, and the BJP reiterates its stand to draft a Uniform Civil Code, drawing upon the best traditions and harmonising them with modern times”.

There is a level of complexity required in this harmonisation and that is one of the reasons it has not happened till now. The BJP inserted the promise most recently into its manifesto in Karnataka, but it had little traction and that is for good reason.

It’s not only one community that will see its personal laws on inheritance, adoption, marriage and divorce change, but all communities if there is a UCC.
The NDA has 350 Lok Sabha and 100 Rajya Sabha seats. If it has a draft bill on the UCC, it should table and pass it. Talking about it is a waste of time when one is already in power and able to affect the change one wants.

However, there is a larger issue. Narendra Modi’s second term has so far delivered an average GDP growth rate of under four per cent per year. Covid-19 is only partly to blame. The economy slowed long before the pandemic for the same reasons that are slowing it now. Mainly insufficient private investment, flat private consumption and flat merchandise exports. The first because of a lack of confidence in Corporate India about the medium-term economic future; the second because slow growth has cut what people have earned and can therefore spend; and the last because our exports rise and fall with global trade, which is currently in decline.

Unemployment is over seven per cent and labour participation levels at 40 per cent remain way below where they were 30 years ago.

These things will not be solved by a Uniform Civil Code. Just as these things were not solved by a new temple, another statue, change in the status of Kashmir or persecuting minorities through law. The large problems will remain.
What floating the ICC balloon will do instead is to keep the focus of politics and media away from the economy, from Ladakh, from Manipur and Kashmir. Or at least attempt that, and we must accept that previous attempts have been successful. A generation grew up thinking the main issue of Indian democracy should be what was ultimately a dispute over property in one city. A significant part of national energy was expended on Ayodhya and the nation emerged from it exhausted. The same period also saw what is called liberalisation and expansion of caste reservations but these were normalised and accepted. The communal issue was kept going.

There will be many ways of responding to the BJP on this, from political and civil society opposition to litigation in courts (that will be inevitable) and all of these are valid. But there are two that also merit consideration, particularly for those people who have no strong feelings about the Uniform Civil Code. And they are to say to the BJP: Fine, go ahead with it if you have the votes for it. Show the draft legislation and get on with it. Let Parliament decide if it is to happen. Another would be to say: Fine, this is on your manifesto but so is economic growth and jobs, so is integrity in Ladakh and safety in Manipur. How does doing this now address the failures and problems in the rest?

The likelihood is that the BJP will do neither. It will instead merely talk about it, stoke it using its stranglehold on the media and communalise and polarise politics and society around it as it has successfully done often in the past. It is for the nation to determine whether this, like the BJP issues before it, are the ones that politics and voting should be about.

The writer is the chair of Amnesty International India. Twitter: @aakar__patel

Tags: ‪bjp, uniform civil code (ucc), caa-nrc, jammu and kashmir