Uniform Civil Code: New ingredient in BJP's cocktail

Religion, freebies and strong leaders is BJP-RSS formula for future to woo masses and expand to new pastures before 2024 LS polls

Uniform Civil Code: New ingredient in BJP's cocktail

Sujata Anandan

With Ram temple nearing completion and Article 370 repealed, the RSS has shifted its focus to the uniform civil code. Various Sangh outfits are advised to keep the polarizing game on with new issues every other day like hijab and economic jihad against Muslims.

After sweeping victories in four of the five state assembly elections, the RSS and BJP believe they have a pat formula down for the future.

Hindutva seems to have paid off, it will be mixed with better delivery of welfare schemes. And the saffron brotherhood will use its strong leadership to explore some more touchy issues like the uniform civil code and the inclusion of OBCs in its Hindutva parivar. But there is no consensus as yet because tinkering with Constitutional provisions on the first to include their own concept of what should constitute an ideal family law might rattle even liberal Hindus, including women. And the RSS is by no means certain how much importance they should accord to OBCs - do they treat them equally or with condescension as lesser beings. And, of course, there is the classic battle ahead between leaderships of the RSS and BJP with the former never too happy about BJP men who grow larger than life and overshadow those in the mother organisation.

So it is just as well that the BJP has won the elections in Goa this year against all expectations. Goa is the singular state in this country that has one “family law” applicable to all castes, communities, religions and genders – in other words a Uniform Civil Code – introduced by the Portuguese to Goa in 1870 and retained by the state after its liberation in 1961.

By terms of this Portuguese Civil Code, based on the Napoleonic Laws applicable throughout the European continent, the Goa civil code, however, is strictly not a uniform civil code as modern India conceptualises it. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has been studying it for years. More than a decade ago, RSS top functionary MG Vaidya had written to chief ministers of five BJP-ruled states to introduce their own civil codes on the lines of Goa but this move came up against several roadblocks because while it gives equal coparcenary rights to women ( introduced in India much later and something the RSS does not really want) , it does make exceptions relating to divorce, adultery and other aspects of marriage for different religions. In some instances it runs parallel with the British Common Law on which India has based its independent laws and allowed personal laws of each religion to prevail.

But now ruling more than half the states of India, introducing a uniform civil code tailored and suited to Indian needs is top of the mind for the RSS which, however, will have to step gingerly over the rights of inheritance of women, the question of divorces (they are not liberal about this aspect of Hindu marriages), the freedom to marry people of any faith or caste provided in the Hindu Code Bill (which the RSS is violently opposed to as it permits women to marry Muslims and lower castes or even in the same gotra if they so wish) and the rights of adopted children (which they wish to deny).

According to sources who prefer to remain unnamed, the RSS and the BJP have been brainstorming over this issue for long years but despite their determination for a uniform civil code, they have been unable to come to a means of resolving all their prejudices over these issues and reconcile these differences with the need for one law for all. There is a section in the RSS which reluctantly acknowledge that the founding fathers of the nation had perhaps got it right by enacting a common law alongside allowing personal laws to prevail, leaving the choice with the individuals. The possibility of social disharmony even among the majority of liberal Hindus if they riffle with the Constitutional provisions and interfere with freedom of choices is too fraught with danger to risk the attempt. Hence the uniform civil code is just likely to remain a talking point and even if enacted on the lines of Goa in any other BJP- ruled state, they are likely to leave the freedom of choice well alone, say sources.

So how different would that be from what is already provided by the Constitution?

However, they are surer about bringing a mix of religion and welfare politics to the BJP-ruled states which, according to them, gave them rich dividends in Uttar Pradesh. At the beginning of the year, the RSS had been wary about the results and hence focused in concerted fashion on Uttar Pradesh where it dispatched nearly 150,000 workers to move among the people to talk about both the temple, freebies, food deliveries and the strong leaderships of both Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath to overcome the handicap of the Covid mismanagement with images of bodies floating in the Ganga still fresh in the people’s memories. There was also some apprehension in Uttar Pradesh about Adityanath’s leanings towards a particular caste group. While this wariness has been addressed somewhat in the formation of the new cabinet, there is a division of opinion in the RSS on how to proceed forward on this course.

While one group falls back on RSS tradition of Brahminism and is not really enthused by the promotion of OBCs and other lower groups. However, there is another group which insists the majority of the Hindu population (formed by OBCs) can only be ignored at their own peril and there is likely to be much wooing of this sector in the near future.

“Modi himself is an OBC, isn’t he?” asks one RSS ideologue, “And we have had more success with him than we have ever had with [Atal Bihari] Vajpayee (who was a Brahmin). While critics have been engaged in criticising the RSS for its Brahminism, they are unaware we have set a whole chain in motion to rope in OBCs a part of the larger parivar. Shortly we will no longer be looked upon with suspicion by this group and that will soon put an end to caste-based parties in the country.”

He is, however, cagey about the specifics of the courtship of OBCs. However, he acknowledges to some restlessness within the RSS about Modi’s invincibility. Usually, the RSS has been able to keep its members in place and was able to sideline even L.K. Advani with no difficulty.

However, Modi’s popularity among the masses surpasses everything – and that is why they had to make sure of the return of Yogi to Uttar Pradesh.

“Actually, the RSS really has no problem with Modi for he has delivered on everything – change in education policy, harassment of Muslims, crony capitalism, privatisation, filling RSS coffers to the top-- these are as much policies of the RSS as of the Modi government. But they needed a balancing factor. Hence Yogi. And Modi’s balancing move is the return of Keshav Prasad Maurya as deputy chief minister despite the fact that he lost the election,” says a veteran journalist who has been observing the RSS for years. “So, both Modi and RSS benefit from each other and keep each other in check.”

But the need to keep Modi in check also manifests itself in statements like that of union minister Nitin Gadkari who recently avowed that the nation needed the Congress to be a strong opposition. “Gadkari is a RSS favourite and though the RSS recognises he could never have delivered what Modi has, they use him from time to time to keep Modi in check,” says he.

However, while UP in the north and Karnataka in the south have become their experimental bowls, the RSS is acutely aware that large tracts of India remain uninfluenced by their ideology. So while they will tread warily on their majoritarian goals, the next course of action is to make maximum use and show of their welfare measures for people in BJP-ruled states to persuade those unimpressed by their ideology that the BJP is better on delivery than other states. Delivery will be the key for by and large welfare measures in all states are now similar and follow predictable lines.

The “double engine” of Modi and Yogi, whatever they achieve together or separately in the future, is another point of emphasis – people in India seem to appreciate strong leadership and even if the RSS does not play one against the other these two leaders will pave the way for whatever the RSS plans for India’s future.

Good, bad or ugly.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

(Views are personal)

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Published: 02 Apr 2022, 2:00 PM