Uniform Civil Code: How the BJP, RSS position has changed since Independence

The government on Thursday said in Parliament the Law Commission had initiated fresh consultations on the Uniform Civil Code due to the “relevance and importance” of the subject and various court orders on the matter.

On a question about the modalities of the UCC, Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal told the Rajya Sabha that since the law panel was still in the process of holding consultations, “the question of modalities does not accrue at this stage”.

While the UCC is seen as one of the core agendas of the BJP, the party, and its predecessor the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), have not always included it in their election manifestos. Here’s a look at the position the BJP and its ideological parent the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have taken on the UCC over the years.

The years after independence

When Jawaharlal Nehru’s first government brought in the Hindu Code Bill, BJS passed a resolution on April 15, 1955 in its central working committee in Karnataka’s Gokak, “deeply deploring” the Bill which was “in defiance of the public opinion without taking any mandate from electorate”. It also urged the government “not to act in this totalitarian manner.”

The Committee said when the Constitution “clearly enjoins the State to enact a Uniform Civil Code for all the citizens”, the Hindu Code Bill “making discrimination in respect of only one community is repugnant to the Constitution of India.”

On the Hindu Succession Bill, the BJS, on October 23, 1955, took “strong objection”, mainly to provisions that “illegitimate children shall be deemed to be related to their father if known and placed on an equal footing with legitimate children”. It also said the Bill placed “female heirs in a better position than the male heirs and in some cases gave them more shares.”

In its 1957 elections manifesto, the BJS promised to repeal the Hindu Marriage Act and the Hindu Succession Act if voted to power. However, it was silent on UCC.

From 1960 to 1980

UCC did not find a place in the 1962 Lok Sabha manifesto of BJS. However, it again promised to repeal Hindu Marriage Law and Hindu Succession Law. It was ahead of the 1967 Lok Sabha polls that the BJS promised in its manifesto a “uniform law for marriage, succession and adoption for all citizens.” This was promised in 1971 too but was missing in 1977 and 1980 (as Janata Party).

However, the BJS stressed time and again the need for a “national policy” on a uniform civil code governing marriage, succession and adoption.

The ’80s: formation of BJP, Shah Bano case

The BJP was formed in 1980, nearly four months after the Lok Sabha polls that year. Its 1984 Lok Sabha polls manifesto did not mention the UCC. This was the election where the BJP won only two seats in Lok Sabha and its stalwarts, including Atal Bihari Vajpayee, lost. Struggling for a foothold in national politics, in the mid-eighties, with LK Advani as president, the BJP zeroed in on three main agendas — the UCC, abrogation of Article 370, and construction of a Ram Temple in Ayodhya.

After the Shah Bano case — in which the Supreme Court granted alimony to a Muslim woman in 1985 but the Centre overturned the verdict with a law the following year — the BJP and the RSS started raising the demand for a uniform code more forcefully.

In its Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha (ABPS) in 1986, the RSS, in the light of the Shah Bano case, reminded the government that “instead of moving towards a uniform civil code as envisaged in the Directive Principles of our Constitution, the Bill (on Shah Bano) has put the country in a reverse gear by sealing off a section of people from joining the national mainstream.”

In the 1989 polls, the BJP promised in its manifesto to “appoint a Commission to examine the various personal laws in vogue in the country–Hindu Law, Muslim Law, Christian Law, Parsi Law, Civil Law etc. and to identify the fair and equitable ingredients in these laws, prepare a draft with a view to evolve a consensus for a uniform Civil Code.”

After 1990: the coalition era

In the 1991 Lok Sabha polls, the party said, “We will appoint a Law Commission to study various Civil Laws, ancient, medieval and modern, to evolve a Common Civil Law for the whole country to give our citizens a feeling of unity and brotherhood.”

BJP MPs kept raising the issue time and again in Parliament. On August 6, 1993, Sumitra Mahajan, tabled a resolution to urge the government “that in order to achieve the objectives enshrined in article 44 of the Constitution and to promote feelings of unity and brotherhood amongst all citizens of the country a Commission be constituted for framing a uniform civil code.” It was debated on August 20 and December 10, 1993, but could not be adopted.

Bachi Singh Rawat, a BJP MP from Almora, introduced a private member Bill on December 20, 1996, titled the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Bill, which could not pass.

In 1995, the RSS’ Akhil Bhartiya Karyakari Mandal passed a resolution urging “upon all the members of Parliament, irrespective of their party affiliations, to set the process of legislative machinery in motion for enacting the long-awaited legislation on the Uniform Civil Code for all the citizens of the country.”

In 1996, the BJP manifesto stated, “We will adopt a Uniform Civil Code which will be applicable to every community and foster a common Bharatiya identity, apart from ensuring gender equality. Regressive personal laws will cease to have legal validity.”

In 1998, the BJP in its manifesto promised to, “entrust the Law Commission to formulate a Uniform Civil Code based on the progressive practices from all traditions.”

However, after it came to power as part of the NDA coalition, it kept aside “controversial issues” like Article 370, Ram Temple, and UCC.

In 1999, the BJP contested as part of a pre-poll alliance, the NDA. The party did not have its own manifesto but “an Agenda” of the NDA, which did not mention UCC and other controversial issues.

Almost the same words were repeated in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls, which the BJP contested as the NDA’s leader.

However, leaders of the Sangh Parivar, particularly those like the VHP’s Ashok Singhal, did raise the UCC issue occasionally.

After 2000s, amid ‘Modi wave’

In 2009, when Advani was projected as the PM candidate, the BJP manifesto said it “will set up a Commission to draft a Uniform Civil Code, drawing upon the best traditions and harmonising them with the modern times. The Commission will also study reforms towards gender equality in other countries, including Islamic countries.”

In 2014, when Narendra Modi was projected as PM, the BJP’s manifesto said, “BJP reiterates its stand to draft a Uniform Civil Code, drawing upon the best traditions and harmonising them with the modern times.” The same line was repeated in its ‘Sankalp Patra’ for 2019.

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