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Opposition parties wary of talking about UCC as elections near

Catch Team | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:46 IST

Ever since the Supreme Court sought a scrutiny of the practice of triple talaq, nikah halala and polygamy, Opposition parties, barring a few, have maintained an eerie silence over the contentious issue for purely political reasons.

The Congress, the principal Opposition party, has refrained from making any comments calling the matter sub judice.

A calculated silence

Faced with crucial assembly polls early next year, especially in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress has taken a conscious stand to not irk either the majority or the minority community by taking a stand.

Also read - What exactly is the Uniform Civil Code in India? Here's your guide

When asked to specify the party line, party spokesperson Manish Tewari said that there is a petitioner, respondent and a judge, and that the matter is sub judice. The party's spokespersons have refrained as well from making any comments on the issue and have consistently played the sub judice card to evade any controversy.

Earlier, Congress spokesperson Shobha Oza claimed that the party stood for women empowerment but the "tricky matter" of triple talaq should be left to Supreme Court.

The Congress has consistently played the sub judice card to evade any controversy

On 16 October, when former member of Parliament Obaidullah Khan Azmi, who recently joined the Congress, tried putting his views forward on triple talaq, he was interrupted by Ghulam Nabi Azad who claimed that the matter was with SC and there should be no discussion on it.

"If the government tries to misuse it or make any wrong move on the issue then I will fight against it. I will oppose it in my individual capacity," said Azmi, before being interrupted by Azad. An office bearer of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), Azmi shot to prominence for his public speeches against the Supreme Court judgement in the Shah Bano case.

Political repercussions

It seems that the political fall out of the Shah Bano case is playing on the minds of the Congress leadership, making it hard for the party to take a stand on the triple talaq issue. In 1985, Shah Bano filed a criminal suit in the Supreme Court against her husband for not paying her the maintenance amount after he ended the 43-year-old marriage. The apex court then directed the husband to pay the maintenance amount, which angered the minority community.

The Rajiv Gandhi government then invalidated the SC decision and passed the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986, which was widely perceived as a move to appease the minority community. However, the move backfired and Congress was reduced to 197 seats in 1989 Lok Sabha elections, as compared to 404 in 1984.

Gender justice

In similar circumstances, the Supreme Court decided to hear Shayara Bano's petition challenging the constitutionality of Section 2 of the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937, in March this year. Bano's petition opened a Pandora's Box reigniting the UCC and triple talaq debate forcing political parties to comment.

Later the apex court dragged the Centre into the debate seeking its views on the matter and in its response, the central government, in its affidavit on 7 October, said triple talaq, nikaah halaal and polygamy were not "integral to the practices of Islam or essential religious practices".

The AIMPLB has said that UCC is divisive and will lead to social unrest

In its affidavit, the Centre further noted, "The fact that Muslim countries where Islam is the state religion have undergone extensive reforms goes to establish that the practice in question cannot be regarded as integral to the practices of Islam or essential religious practices."

Thereafter a questionnaire was also put on the Law Commission's website seeking public opinion on reforming the personal laws of all religions. The commission claimed that the objective of the exercise is to address discrimination against vulnerable groups and harmonise the various cultural practices.

This further irked the Muslim religious and social bodies that out-rightly rejected the questionnaire and AIMPLB said that UCC is divisive and will lead to social unrest. However, wary of a backlash from either the majority or the minority community opposition parties, opposition parties too seem to be toeing the Congress' line and have shied away from taking on the government on the issue.

The Nationalist Congress Party too played the sub judice card and refrained from taking a stand on the contentious issue.

The death of diversity

While Trinamool Congress without directly opposing the BJP government over UCC and triple talaq said that all religions should be respected.

TMC spokesperson Derek O' Brien tweeted: "The Indian Constitution is our guide. We are a sovereign, secular, democratic republic and so beliefs and customs of all religion must be respected in this great nation."

Only allies of the NDA are pitching openly for the introduction of UCC

However, only the Left parties have expressed strong views against any plans to impose UCC. A statement released on the issue by CPI(M) read: "With the offensive of communal forces on the very identity of minority communities, any move to push the agenda of UCC as is being done by the government directly and through its institutions is counterproductive for the rights of women. Uniformity is not the guarantee for equality."

Even Janata Dal (United) slammed the Centre for indulging in "issueless debate" while All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen leader Asaduddin Owaisi claimed UCC would kill the diversity and plurality of India.

As expected, the allies of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), like Shiv Sena, have backed the government's stand are pitching in for the introduction of UCC to ensure justice for one and all.

Edited by Aleesha Matharu

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First published: 20 October 2016, 2:42 IST