The BJP is Promising a Uniform Civil Code, But How About a Uniform Moral Code First?

The BJP's purpose behind promising a uniform civil code is to win elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh by causing a Hindu-Muslim divide.

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One of the most cherry-picked (especially by the right-wing) segments of the Indian constitution is Part IV. This sets out what is called the ‘Directive Principles of State Policy’.

Although not enforceable by any court, the various clauses of this part encapsulate the egalitarian vision of its drafters, enunciated with the purpose to obtain full “economic, social, and political justice” for every citizen of the republic-to-be.

From the standpoint of economic justice envisioned in the Directive Principles, the heart of the constitution lies in provisions inscribed in Articles 38 and 39.

As can be seen from the text, the ideals of equity enshrined in these Articles are indeed breathtaking.

They speak of all material resources belonging fundamentally to the people; of the injunction to the state that its objective “shall” be to ensure that concentration of wealth in a few hands does not happen; that inequalities of income shall be reduced to the minimum; that measures shall be taken to make a dignified livelihood available to all men and women; that there shall be equal pay for equal work; that citizens shall have the right to food, to work, and to health, and indeed, a great deal more.

Also read: What the Proposed Uniform Civil Code Should – and Shouldn’t – Be

Read that and look around you at the economic philosophy of the right-wing now ruling the stipulated republic – characterised by the rampant transfer of public resources to private hands, yawning disparity in incomes and purchasing power, centralisation of wealth to an obscene degree, denial of the fundamental rights of livelihood as set out in these Articles as mere calls to “freebies”, etc.

This is the reason why Articles 38 and 39 of the Directive Principles of State Policy are never invoked by the right wing especially, or indeed have not been invoked by any governments post the declaration of the Washington Consensus of 1990 which, in effect let loose the reign of hot money worldwide in a “neo-liberal” package that made national boundaries secondary to the prerogatives of global finance.

The Articles that, however, are invoked by the right wing are 46 which speaks to the desirability of proscribing the slaughter of cows and calves, and, you guessed it, Article 44, which contemplates a “Uniform  Civil Code”.

Although the Article does not provide any elaboration whatsoever about what that code should be like, or how it might be arrived at, the idea was that just as all Indian citizens, regardless of religion, class, caste, gender, or any other form of discrete identity is subject equally to the provisions of the Criminal Code, so also a uniformity might be achieved in the civil aspects of all community living, such as those that pertain to marriage, divorce, property rights, rights of inheritance, rights of married or unmarried women thereof, matters affecting joint family structures, etc.

The common perception has been that the right-wing insistence on enforcing through legislation this idea of a UCC is primarily yet another ploy to polarise the polity and target Indian Muslims, besides seeking, at the bottom, to obtain the suggested uniformity on principles practised by (caste) Hindus.

Those that see some merit in Article 44 have often proposed that the government of the day, if it wishes to activate this Article, had best formulate a draft that could be circulated and debated by Indians of all denominations; and that, perhaps, the most rational and equitous practices of various religions could be then put together as an agreed text, although how that may then be enforced on India’s Scheduled Tribe communities will still remain an intractable conundrum.

But, no, this is not what any right-wing government wishes to do; to a point where most recently the ruling party has declared that it will put in place a UCC if it wins the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assembly elections.

BJP national president J.P. Nadda along with Union minister Anurag Thakur, Himachal Pradesh chief minister Jai Ram Thakur and others release the BJP’s manifesto for the upcoming Himachal Pradesh assembly elections, in Shimla, November 6, 2022. Photo: PTI

Never mind that such powers rest only in the Union government via parliament and not in any state government. But who is listening?

The purpose straightforwardly is to win these states by causing a Hindu-Muslim divide. Given this backdrop, one wonders how about a uniform political and moral code first?

Also read: A Hindutva Model of Uniform Civil Code May Make It Even Worse for Women

While the best constitutional and community minds may well deliberate on how a common civil code may be achieved, albeit with the best cosmopolitan intentions, would it not be first more desirable to strive to arrive at a uniform political and moral code for the nation’s public agents?

What might that entail?

That all poltical forces who participate in Indian democracy have a level playing field in terms of funds commensurate with their voting strength; that similarly commensurate media time is available to them; that excesses committed allegedly by political agents in differently ruled states are named and prosecuted uniformly; that hate speech uttered by one is the same as hate speech by another; that when bridges collapse in two different states run by two different political parties, one is not called an act of god and the other an act of fraud; that the investigative agencies of the state do not discriminate between one accused and another based on their political affiliations; that when parliament is in session, motions moved by the opposition on genuine grounds under legitimate provisions are not rejected one hundred percent; that if is made known to the voting public as to who is buying electoral bonds and for whose benefit; that the numero uno of the executive does not uniformly castigate state governments run by opposition parties on visits to states and uniformly praise governments run by his own party; that the unconstitutional slogan “double engine ki sarkar” implying that states run by the party ruling at the Centre will receive special favours as against those run by opposition parties, be jettisoned forthwith; that a covenant is reached among parties that never shall any ducks and drakes be played with data of any kind bearing on the performance of the state or of individuals, no matter who they be; that just as Article 44 of the Directive Principles is sought to be invoked, all, but all, stipulations of the constitution of India shall be honoured by any and all governments and their agencies with transparent accountability to public scrutiny.

Indeed, the desirable list of uniformities here is far more extended than may be codified in a column.

But can there be any disagreement that were such desirable political/moral uniformities to be codified and practised, the need for resistance to a Uniform Civil Code might of its own gradually wither.

Any provision of the constitution is only as credible to the public mind as the quality of the men and women charged with the responsibility to operate the same.

Thus any demand for uniformity in one sector must remain a matter of dissension should other more urgently required uniformities not only not be envisaged but positively discouraged by rulers who aim brazenly to rule not in uniform but in sectarian ways.

Unless sauce for the goose is seen to be sauce for the gander as well in all matters of governance, the motivated call for a Uniform Civil Code cannot but only lead to further fracturing of the national psyche, rather than obtaining any uniformity.