Hyderabad: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pitch for the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) has brought the controversial issue to the centrestage of Indian politics.
The issue is likely to generate a lot of political heat in Telangana, where the Assembly elections are due to be held later this year.
The UCC has been one of the three key issues on the BJP’s agenda since its inception. After its success in building Ram temple at Ayodhya and scrapping Article 370, the saffron party now has its eyes set on the third goal.
Whether the country will ultimately agree to the UCC given the vast diversity of religious, ethnic, regional and linguistic groups across the states and their practices is debatable but political observers say the BJP clearly senses the huge electoral benefits it can yield from the highly emotive issue.
With elections in several states, including Telangana, are due this year followed by general elections in 2024, BJP is likely to go all out to capitalise on the “polarising issue”.
Political analysts say the saffron party which suffered a big jolt with the defeat in Karnataka Assembly elections, desperately needed an emotive issue to whip up sentiments and thus lift the sagging morale of its rank and file.
The BJP, which was looking aggressive in Telangana till a few weeks ago with leadership confident of capturing power in the state, found itself on back foot after the defeat in neighbouring Karnataka.
The Karnataka outcome not only halted the joining of some rebels from ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) and leaders from other parties into BJP but also embolden the dissidents within the party to raise a banner of revolt against the state leadership.
A section of leaders, including MLAs Eatala Rajender and Raghunandan Rao and former MLA Komatireddy Rajagopal Reddy, openly aired their views, targeting state BJP chief Bandi Sanjay Kumar.
The rumblings within the party and the reported statement of a senior leader that the BJP is trailing far behind at third position in the state embarrassed the party.
Political analysts say the party was in search of an emotive issue like UCC to divert the public attention.
The introduction of a Private Member’s Bill on UCC in Rajya Sabha by a BJP MP late last year and several BJP-ruled states announcing their intention to implement the UCC had already triggered a debate on the issue.
Now with the strong pitch by the Prime Minister, the BJP is likely to use the controversial issue for polarisation. In a state where the BJP leaders claim a realistic chance for the party capturing power, they will seize the opportunity for “communal polarisation”.
“The BJP may use the emotive issue to build a narrative and thus consolidate itself in pockets where it is considered strong,” says political analyst P. Raghavendra Reddy.
“The kind of rhetoric state BJP president Sanjay indulges in, it will not be surprising if the party decides to make it a key issue in the elections,” he averred.
Sanjay had hailed Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami for promising to implement the UCC once re-elected. Sanjay, also a member of Parliament, had stated that undeterred by vote bank politics, the Uttarakhand Chief Minister has taken BJP’s campaign beyond electoral politics and demonstrated the nation’s first conviction.
“I am sure that this much-needed and awaited reform, once started from Devbhoomi will spread all across the country,” he had said.
Sanjay has been raising several controversial issues, in a clear strategy for polarisation. Now the BJP leader is likely to rake up UCC issue in the subsequent phases.
He already sparked a row with his demand for digging work at all mosques, saying there was a possibility of finding Shiva Lingams underneath. He also stated that if BJP comes to power in Telangana, it will abolish all madrasas, do away with reservation for Muslims, and remove Urdu as the second official language.
Sanjay has been delivering provocative speeches, projecting himself as the champion of the rights of Hindus. He repeatedly mentions in his speeches that Hindus constitute 80 per cent of the population.
The Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) is yet to take a clear stand against UCC. In the past, the party had opposed any move to bring UCC. However, with its focus on achievements made during the last nine years, BRS may avoid taking a clear stand to deny BJP an opportunity to polarise the voters.
However, the BRS may come under pressure from Muslim community to speak out against UCC. The community has been backing the party led by KCR ever since formation of Telangana in 2014.
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), a key political force in the state and a friendly party of BRS, and other Muslim political and socio-religious groups have been strongly opposing any move to bring UCC.
AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi has already slammed Prime Minister Modi over UCC, saying he considers country’s diversity and pluralism to be a problem.
Stating that the Right to Culture is a fundamental right, he dared the Prime Minister to abolish the Hindu Undivided Family (HUF).
“A tax rebate is given to only the Hindus under the HUF clause by the Income Tax department. Will the PM abolish this provision,” he asked.
“Will you snatch away pluralism and diversity in the name of UCC? I challenge the PM, you have 300 MPs… Abolish the Hindu Undivided Family. Go and tell the Sikhs in Punjab about UCC and see what their reaction is,” Owaisi said.
Hyderabad enjoys a special position in Muslims politics and is known for leading the community’s efforts for protection of Muslim Personal Law. With the cream of All Indian Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) coming from this historic city, it is likely to be at the centrestage of the movement for safeguarding Muslim Personal Law.
Owaisi, who has already started campaigning for the Assembly elections by addressing public meetings in various parts of Telangana, is likely to use UCC as the key issue to launch a counter attack on the BJP.