Sunday, February 25, 2024

UCC another agenda

When the Constitution was being written, many of its framers made the commonsensical point that if India was going to be a secular state, where matters of governance would be kept separate from religion, then there should be one law for all citizens. Thus was born the concept of Uniform Civil Code(UCC) born, a view shared by both BR Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru. However, not everyone was on board and for varying reasons. Faced with these arguments, Nehru and Ambedkar gave in and agreed that India would have one criminal code but on personal matters (marriage, divorce, adoption, inheritance, etc.) there would be many religious laws. The need for a UCC was put into the Constitution’s Directive Principles of State Policy, which are not binding. The Constitution of India, under Article 44, one of the Directive Principles of State Policy, states that the state shall endeavor to secure a UCC for its citizens. However, the framers of the Constitution left it to the discretion of the government to implement a UCC, recognizing the sensitivity and complexity of the issue. The UCC is now a raging issue across India especially as prime minister Narendra Modi has made it the agenda before India goes to the polls in 2024. The idea is to have a common set of laws for personal matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and adoption for all citizens, regardless of their religious affiliations. The point is why is the BJP raising the issue now, after nearly nine years of ruling India, during which it could easily have encouraged a serious debate and reassured Muslims as well as other religious minorities that their religions and practices would not be in any danger from a uniform, equitable law? The hurry with which the BJP is pursuing UCC gives rise to a cynicism that it is more interested to push through UCC in preparation for the 2024 Lok Sabha election. Despite the 21st Law Commission’s report submitted in August 2018 stating that a UCC was ‘neither necessary nor desirable at this stage’, the BJP has kept up the pressure on the issue. The report of the 21st Law Commission was neither taken up nor debated. The 22nd law panel was constituted for a period of three years on February 21, 2020 and its chairperson, Justice Rituraj Awasthi (retd), assumed office on November 9, 2022. The term of the 22nd Law Commission ended on February 20,2022 but the Union Cabinet on February 22,2022 extended its tenure by one-and-a-half year up to August 31, 2024. The Commission on June 14 issued a notice giving 30 days time for receiving suggestions. Rightly or wrongly, depending on which angle one would prefer to look at, it is apparent that the 22nd Law Commission, tasked to recommend suggestions for enactment of UCC, has unveiled the objective as an agenda to fulfil a political, rather than a legal obligation. The UCC, could well also affect even Article 371(A) and similar other acts and which would be in the order of the BJP’s avowed pledge to create one nation, one constitution, one law, one nation and one people. As UCC is nothing new, people across India belonging to various religious faiths and cultures are well informed and therefore, time should be given and there should be no attempt to force it through brute parliamentary majority.

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