What are the political and electoral motivations behind Modi’s latest proposal on Uniform Civil Code, and how it aims to polarise the society along Hindu-Muslim lines
lections for the next Lok Sabha are less than a year away, and a load of preparation has already begun. Congress, with its Bharat Jorro Yatra and its recent attempt to bring 24 political parties together to put together an effective alliance against the ruling BJP, is clearly seen as an emerging threat.
It hasn’t helped that Manipur has been burning for three months and more; its reverberations are being felt across the world, from an urgent resolution in European Parliament to the latest statement by US State Department - the places Modi government is keen to call its own. For its part, it has been looking to build alliances with smaller parties and listing all the symbols of a Hindu India.
Modi recently inaugurated a new parliament, like a Hindu priest endorsed by Hindu priests; they are set to inaugurate the new Ram Temple in Ayodhya by January 2024, just ahead of elections. And then they have released this latest spark by inviting people’s opinion on a new Uniform Civil Code (UCC) for all. This has long been an item on the electoral manifesto of the BJP.
The concept of a UCC has been long debated in India. Predictably, it has sparked widespread discussions and debates across the nation. It is worth exploring the political and electoral motivations behind the latest proposal on the UCC and how it aims to polarise the society along Hindu-Muslim lines.
We need also delve into the recommendations put forth by the 21st Law Commission, which has suggested that the UCC is unnecessary, and reforms in customary laws are more appropriate in a diverse country like India. Furthermore, we need to analyse how the UCC debate affects various communities including Muslims, tribal groups and Christians, and why its timing raises suspicions.
Political and electoral
The latest proposal on the UCC by the present government has raised eyebrows due to its timing and the broader political context. Critics argue that the government is driven by political considerations, aiming to gain support from certain voter bases by appealing to the majority Hindu population. By projecting the UCC as a necessary measure, they seek to capitalise on sentiments of uniformity, ostensibly benefiting the Hindu-majority voters. This approach can further polarise the society along religious lines, potentially leading to heightened communal tensions. They are not averse to it, at all.
While the UCC debate may appear to focus solely on Muslims, as has been pointed out by many scholars already, it is essential to acknowledge that numerous other communities, such as tribal and Christian groups, will also be impacted. These diverse communities have their distinct customary laws that govern various aspects of their lives. Imposing a uniform code on such a multicultural nation could lead to the erosion of their cultural identities and practices. The fear of losing their autonomy in personal matters can create unease and resistance among these groups.
Recommendations of the 21st Law Commission
The 21st Law Commission had previously examined the question of the UCC and concluded that there was no urgent need to introduce it. Instead, they proposed that reforms in customary laws would be a more effective approach to addressing issues of inequality and gender justice.
Customary laws often reflect the unique social and cultural practices of various communities. Reforming those in line with constitutional principles can ensure a fairer and more inclusive society. India’s diversity is one of its defining features. It has a multitude of religions, ethnic groups and tribes coexisting harmoniously. A single, universal code might struggle to accommodate the complexities of these varying cultural norms. For instance, when addressing women’s rights, customary laws have distinct provisions for property inheritance, marriage and divorce, which may not align with the ‘uniform’ approach.
In this context, it needs underlining that India is home to over 2,000 distinct ethnic groups and more than 4,000 communities, each with its own unique customary practices. For example, the matrilineal societies in Meghalaya follow a unique lineage system. The Nairs in Kerala have their own matrilineal traditions. Furthermore, different religious communities, such as Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians, follow their respective personal laws governing matters like marriage, inheritance and divorce.
The latest proposal on the UCC by the present government in India has undoubtedly ignited contentious debates regarding its political motivations and potential consequences for societal harmony. The recommendations of the 21st Law Commission emphasise the need for comprehensive reforms in customary laws rather than the imposition of a uniform code. Such reforms can address inequalities and ensure gender justice while respecting the diverse cultural practices of various communities.
It is crucial to recognise that the UCC debate affects not only Muslims but a range of minority groups in India. Its timing has raised concerns about political intentions. A point that needs to be stressed is that while the BJP is using this as another ruse to polarise and win votes, its longer-term ideology is to create a monolithic India cast in the mirror of Hindu upper caste values and interests. The UCC, therefore, sis not something which gives uniform, equal rights to all but imagines all the people living in India to conform to a common social order which would continue to thrive on hierarchies set by this upper caste Hindu vision. As India moves forward, striking a delicate balance between personal freedom and harmonious coexistence will remain essential for a thriving and inclusive society.
The author is an independent researcher and writer who has been associated with social activism for many years