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Uniform Civil Code is Indian PM’s response to electoral rout

It confirms Narendra Modi will again use Hindu majoritarianism to win a third consecutive term in 2024

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi walks to receive Nepal Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal (not pictured) before their meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on June 1

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi walks to receive Nepal Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal (not pictured) before their meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on June 1. (Photo: AFP)

Published: June 19, 2023 11:38 AM GMT

Updated: June 19, 2023 11:44 AM GMT

In a land where the most simple of marriage laws — that the bride must be 18 years of age — is defied by tens of millions every year, the uncommon hurry to enact a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) for 1.30 billion Indians within this year, confirms the fears that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will again use the Brahmastra, or divine weapon, of Hindu majoritarianism to win the 2024 general election, for a third consecutive term.

In every election, since he used the formula to come to power in 2014, Modi has notched upsets, carrying the battle to the grassroots, seeing his opponents trying to ape him in several shades of Hindutva (hegemony of Hinduism) and fail.

The Congress, even the left and the socialists in between, have discovered that soft Hindutva does not work when the real McCoy can be had for the asking.

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At its basest, this smoke and mirrors politics works by scaring the majority Hindus — close to 80 percent of the population — that they will be reduced to vassals of Muslims who once ravaged the land of its history and culture, and are now multiplying in geometric progression, to overwhelm and overrun the rightful owners of the land.

This worked well in 2014 when Modi’s foot soldiers boasted of his great success in teaching Muslims the lesson of their life in the 2002 Gujarat riots. He repeated it successfully again in 2019.

Before every election, there was loud and incendiary targeted violence, slogans of “love jihad,” referring to interfaith marriages of Muslim men with Hindu women, and some more bloodshed in targeted regions.

Local authorities in northern states like Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have sought to keep up the tempo with extra-judicial killings, the bulldozing of suspect Muslim houses, uncounted arrests, and indefinite incarceration under the most draconian laws the country has ever known.

They even borrowed the blood curdling act of lynching from the dark period of American racial history. The victims here were not black slaves, but Muslim young men suspected of carrying contraband beef.

Christians have been collateral damage, vilified politically as agents of the West, proselytes with illegitimate dollars, Euros and pound sterling. A series of anti-conversion laws against Christians have been modified or weaponized to cover young Muslims in love with Hindu women. The penalties are horrendous.

For Christians, the annual 1,000 or so cases of persecution have been overshadowed by the ethnic violence in the northeastern state of Manipur. More than a 100 Kuki tribal people, who are Christian, have been murdered since May 3, over 300 churches destroyed and some 50,000 rendered homeless and displaced.

Amid the dust and gore, Modi, who has been prime minister for nine years, has become the generalissimo of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, a man of mythical strength, cast in the mold of warrior kings from the Indian epics. Everyone pales into insignificance, not just in the opposition but also in his party.

The one real kick in the teeth for Modi has been the near route of his party in the southern state of Karnataka where the Congress made a triumphant return.

The campaign saw the Church shed its diffidence, with the Bangalore archbishop staking much in his call to oppose the oppressive anti-conversion law, and support those who stood for constitutional values of amity, fraternity, and coexistence. Civil society responded. Muslims, who have a decent slice of the votes, responded even more.

Siddaramaiah returned as chief minister and in his first few orders announced the repeal of the anti-conversion law, and assured Muslims of safety and respect.

It is a moot question if the Karnataka model will work with equal success in the states where legislative assembly elections are to be held before the general elections.

The first two states to go to the polls, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, are seeing the lead opposition, the Congress Party, try a soft Hindutva approach. Its leaders are worshiping the holy Narmada river in choreographed rituals in Madhya Pradesh and announcing lifelong care of cows in Chhattisgarh.

Modi thinks on his feet and acts exactly the opposite of what people expect. He has blunted all international advocacies by Muslims, Christians and civil society, by getting an invitation to speak to a joint session of the US Congress.

Modi has earned the gratitude of the Pentagon and the American military industry by buying, this time, unmanned drones carrying weapons of war, or the guns of an assassin. That it may raise tensions in the subcontinent another ten notches is of no issue for those behind the 3 billion dollar deal.

At home, after the Manipur violence which he has not so far publicly even commented upon, Modi has got the courts to get the Law Commission to produce a snap report on the Uniform or Common Civil Code to govern the country. In calmer times, it is no more than a think tank for the Supreme Court and parliament.

The fear now is that its report may be followed rapidly with a new law through parliament, or by a presidential ordinance, enforcing the code.

The criminal justice codes have a nationwide jurisdiction irrespective of religion, caste, gender, or socio-economic status. It is surprising that the 30 days notice given to religious and social groups seeking their comments to the Law Commission has not raised the hackles it should have.

The Church in general and the Catholic Church have yet to show any moves to codify their response. The Christian community, barring rare instances, does not respond with any alacrity to issues of the constitution and the law. The only time they act is when schools, colleges and hospitals they run are involved.

It is not just the Catholic Church. The Episcopal and evangelical groups are as tardy. The vast archipelagos of independent and Pentecostal churches, which claim more than half of the entire community, are strangers to concerted action on issues of constitutional import.

Only once in the past, during the tenure of late Delhi Archbishop Alan de Lastic, as president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, has the Church reacted with punching farce.

“Show us a draft of the code you plan, Mr. Prime Minister, and we will give you a response,” he said at a press conference when the then-prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, needled him repeatedly on enacting a Common Civil Code.

Vajpayee in his lifetime could not show a draft, and neither has Modi.

The issue is not new. The 21st Law Commission in August 2018 made it clear that a UCC “is neither necessary nor desirable at this stage.”

The UCC is not given in any detail in the constitution. It is part of a bagful of societal developments that were good in intent but were put on the shelf for the time the democracy matured.

These were called directive principles. The cow is part of it, as is welfare net for all citizens, including jobs. The Supreme Court in the 1980s held that the “Indian Constitution is founded on the bedrock of the balance between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles.”

The polemic about there being no ‘uniformity’ in personal law has to be countered with the fact that most Indian laws are already uniform in most civil matters. The recent additions of the Aadhar card as a national identity document and the General Goods and Services Tax are binding on all people irrespective of their religion or other differences.

“When the state comes to attend your marriage or walk you through your divorce or help divide your property, pay very close attention. This is about votes and power for them. It is about you,” Jagmohan Singh, editor of World Sikh News famously wrote.

It is clear even to the blind that Modi’s target is the Muslim. This seems to have made a section of the Christians feel it is either not about them or in some way may even help them.

But the impact on tribal and Dalit communities can be devastating. Many Dalit Christians marry their first cousin, an anathema to the community in the rest of the country as it is to the self-styled upper caste Hindu.

In Kerala, the Knanaya Catholics can expel anyone who marries a person who is not from their own endogenous community. Elsewhere, the courts would have intervened and declared it ultra vires of the constitution. In northeast India, some communities have matrilineal systems of marriage and inheritance.

For Hindus too, myriad customs abound in the 4,000 or so peoples’ groups and subcastes, some of which could lead to bloodshed if practiced by another community or in another state. And then, there is the matter of the Hindu undivided family, historically a fact but now a myth and a tax-saving device. Should it be given to Christians and Muslims living with their parents?

There are very few options open to religious minorities. The first, and most difficult one, is to boycott the Law Commission.

The second is to repeat the Alan de Lastic argument and ask the government for its draft so we can make an educated suggestion.

A possible option is a preliminary note to remind the Law Commission of the wide variety of marriage, succession, and inheritance practices as exist in the community in Kerala, among some Christian groups in Tamil Nadu and the Telugu states, and in the northeast.

We can also point out the fantastic variety of personal laws in Hinduism.

Else we will be seen buying into the government’s Islamophobic thesis and Muslim bashing.

In a secular modern nation, the government must minimize its intervention other than in maintaining law and order, welfare, and human rights.

It would help to tone down the rhetoric of religious nationalism. This is essential if mellower voices can begin the process of internal reforms. A Buddha, Mahavira, Kabir, Nanak, Phule and elsewhere, a Martin Luther is perhaps once again waiting in the wings. That would help the world, not just India.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.


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Asking for the draft of the proposed code makes sense.

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