Updated: February 8, 2020 7:40:42 am
As the government battles street protests across the country against the new citizenship law and changes in the National Population Register, a BJP member in Rajya Sabha on Friday appeared to abandon at the last moment his plan to introduce a private member’s Bill on the Uniform Civil Code — an issue that has long been high on the party’s agenda, but which would likely have only inflamed further the ongoing agitation.
A private member’s Bill is separate from a government Bill, and is piloted by an MP who is not a Minister. Individual MPs may introduce private member’s Bills to draw the government’s attention to what they see as issues that require legislative intervention. The Bill on Uniform Civil Code was listed on the agenda of the House, and was circulated to all members. However, when his name was called to introduce the Bill, Kirodi Lal Meena, the BJP MP representing Rajasthan in Rajya Sabha, was found to be absent from the House.
But Meena did not stay away for long — he walked into the House the very next minute, and proceeded to introduce another, all together different Bill, seeking special financial assistance for Rajasthan.
While this second Bill too, was mentioned against his name, Meena did not ask to be allowed to introduce the first Bill that had been listed — The Uniform Civil Code in India Bill, 2020. Neither did the Chair give him the opportunity.
Meena’s first Bill called for the “constitution of the National Inspection and Investigation Committee for preparation of Uniform Civil Code and its implementation throughout the territory of India and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”. The issue of a Uniform Civil Code has found mention in BJP manifestos from the time of the party’s inception.
Sources said Meena was asked to remain absent as the BJP and the government did not want attention on the Uniform Civil Code now, as it could trigger further unrest among the Muslim community which is already agitated over CAA and NPR, and the possible National Register of Citizens (NRC).
After repeated assertions from the government about a nationwide NRC earlier, the Prime Minister has announced that there is no discussion on this subject yet. BJP leaders have largely avoided making public statements on the NRC since the passage of the CAA in December triggered nationwide protests.
There was no mention of NRC in the President’s Address to the joint sitting of Parliament this week. He had mentioned NRC in his first speech after the new government had taken office last year.
The Opposition in Rajya Sabha had planned to oppose the introduction of the UCC Bill by Meena. They protested when his name was called, but calmed down when they realised that Meena was not in the House. CPM MP Elamaram Kareen had submitted a letter to the Rajya Sabha Secretary General requesting him not to give permission for the introduction of the Bill.
“This Bill violates the fundamental aspects of the Constitution and there is a chance to affect the communal harmony of the country. As you may be aware of the protests going on in different parts of the country against CAA; introduction of this Bill in the current circumstances will further aggravate the situation. Considering all these, you are earnestly requested not to allow permission to introduce ‘The Uniform Civil Code in India Bill, 2020’ by Dr Kirodi Lal Meena today in Rajya Sabha,” his letter said.
Sources in the Opposition said the introduction of the Bill could have put the government in a spot. “Once discussion on a private member’s Bill is over… usually the government requests the member concerned to withdraw the Bill, or else it is voted upon. How can this government ask Meena to withdraw a Bill for Uniform Civil Code? And how can the BJP members vote against it? At the same time, the BJP would ideally want that the government bring a Bill on UCC with much shor sharaba (noise). Maybe they felt this is not the right time,” an Opposition leader said.
The BJP’s manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections said: “Article 44 of the Constitution lists Uniform Civil Code as one of the Directive Principles of State Policy. BJP believes that there cannot be gender equality till such time India adopts a Uniform Civil Code, which protects the rights of all women, and the BJP reiterates its stand to draft a Uniform Civil Code, drawing upon the best traditions and harmonising them with the modern times.”
Interestingly, a similar Bill was listed on the agenda in Lok Sabha as well, by the Shiv Sena MP from Ramtek, Krupal Tumane. His Bill too, wants to “provide for the constitution of the National Inspection and Investigation Committee for preparation of Uniform Civil Code and its implementation throughout the territory of India”. Shiv Sena is now an ally of the Congress in Maharashtra. Lok Sabha did not function in the afternoon due to (unrelated) Opposition protests.
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