Why is Congress against Nehru and Ambedkar's dream of Uniform Civil Code?

Ironically, it resists a vision to move the nation together - towards an equal, equitable, just and secular society.

 |  5-minute read |   02-07-2016
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During 1948-51 and 1951-54, Jawaharlal Nehru and BR Ambedkar tried relentlessly to push for a Uniform Civil Code in the country.

Ironically, today, the Congress party in no unequivocal terms has shunned the Nehruvian and Ambedkarite vision. The Congress party has staunchly resisted this vision, which attempted to move the nation together towards an equal, equitable, just and secular society.

hindooo-marriage.jpe_070216070755.jpg It leaves the rituals and day-to-day practices of faith and rites outside the purview of its sight.

Needless to say, a temporary and futuristic debate on the Article 44, which made Uniform Civil Code a directive principle then, was never discussed by the Congress party even while it enjoyed power at the Centre for the longest time.

In 2014, Narendra Modi made a poll promise. On behalf of the BJP, he vowed to implement the Uniform Civil Code. Taking a committed step towards realising this vision, the Modi government has requested the Law Commission of India to lend its views on the deeply controversial issue.

Not only has the government chosen to bell the cat, but also showcased its deepest and sincere commitments towards the Constitution of the India, rooted in the social vision of Ambedkar.

Under the Uniform Civil Code, all personal religious laws in the country covering matters like marriage, divorce, property rights, inheritance and maintenance will be brought under a secular umbrella in a unified way.

The code will be binding on each and every citizen of the country, irrespective of the religious community he/she belongs to.

It leaves the rituals and day-to-day practices of faith and rites outside the purview of its sight, but ensures that civil matters affecting Constitutional rights pertaining to equality, freedom, choice, protection against exploitation and claims of ownership are duly considered.

Goa, a BJP-governed state, consisting of 25 per cent Christian population has adopted the Goa Civil Code or the Goa Family Law binding. Notwithstanding the need for change involving certain regressive clauses, Goa has shown a way towards creating a more egalitarian society. 

The uniform code has been possible and sustainable without any threat to the identity of "minorities".

The secularism in the idea that is Uniform Civil Code must be acknowledged and understood in totality before jumping to the politically motivated and managed debates around the issue. The Westphalian idea of secularism separates the Church from the State.

This separation was made to ensure that there is freedom to follow one's religion (they called it "faith") and that the State does not institutionalise corruption within religion - religion being a very personal connection (therefore, the usage of the word "faith" earlier) between God and man, something intrinsic to individual liberty.

The Indian version of secularism, in essence, adopts the intention of the Westphalian concept while tailor-making the nuances to be able to fit diversity, unity and equality together.

This is important considering India, unlike the West, is a very plural and very diverse society in terms of the practice of various faiths. Therefore, the Uniform Civil Code is necessary to protect and conserve this unique diversity against exploitation - political, social and civil.

Instead of the state discussing religious matters within and through the judiciary, a Uniform Civil Code will divest the state from faith-related concerns and limit its control to civil matters involving issues of rights, inheritance, protection and equality.

This will not just reduce the time and resource consumed on so many pending cases of seemingly religious concerns, but also ensure that the state draws a rather clear line on where it must stop wielding control.

It will protect the rights of the minorities. In a highly patriarchal society like India, diversity and variety has created those marginalised communities who are deliberately brushed aside for dominant political control.

Women, children, disabled and disadvantaged have been sidelined while discussing the rights of religious minorities. This majoritarianism within the debate has excluded citizens from attaining their Fundamental Rights enshrined in the Constitution.

The Uniform Civil Code busts these myths about minorities enmeshed within identity politics and recognises the real minorities whose rights and claims need protection.

It is unfortunate that positive and affirmative polarisation on the issue of Uniform Civil Code is a far cry for politicians in the Congress party.

Not only have they consistently made state intervention binding on religious misdemeanours by flaring religious fundamentalism and fanning a false sense of identity politics, but also ensured that the secular ideal evades the national consciousness.

It is unfortunate that the BJP government at the Centre is being targeted for the "timing" of the debate, considering UP elections.

Since elections are a perennial festival in India and since religious minorities are uniformly distributed all across the national geography, it is myopic and illogical to give an electoral colour to the debate.

At whatever time in history this debate comes up, there is going to be some poll lurking in municipality, panchayat, state or national level.

Does it mean we never debate on this crucial subject to placate a false propaganda by the Oppostion?

The BJP government should, in fact, be lauded for its sincere commitment to convert the promise it made to the citizens of this nation into a reality.

The Congress should play the responsible Opposition and remember that invoking Nehru and Ambedkar to polarise "liberal" and "Dalit" votes is not politics but politicking.

A real tribute to Nehru and Ambedkar would involve positive polarisation on issues of secular concerns like equality, freedom, protection against exploitation and right to ownership.

Is India ready to achieve its historical ideals? Only time will tell.

Writer

Shubhrastha Shubhrastha @shubhrastha

The author is a political entrepreneur and writer, currently engaged with the India Foundation.

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