November 22, 2016

India: M.G. Vaidya’s argument reeks of Muslim-baiting, openly canvasses for a ‘Hindu’ democracy (Suhas Palshikar)

Disenfranchising The ‘Other’

M.G. Vaidya’s argument reeks of Muslim-baiting, openly canvasses for a ‘Hindu’ democracy.

Written by Suhas Palshikar | Updated: November 3, 2016 12:51 pm uniform civil code, muslim personal law board, triple talaq, congress, ucc, congress on ucc, bjp, bjp on ucc, wali rehmani, aimplb, muslim outfit, civil code, common civil code, muslim law board press conference, polygamy, triple talaq debate, women property rights, asaduddin owaisi, owaisi, india news, indian express news Attempts to draft personal laws based on uniform principles is an important challenge. M.G. Vaidya (‘The price of personal law, IE, November 1) makes chilling reading. It is not easy to believe that in a democracy, someone could seriously argue a case for disenfranchisement of citizens. But that is exactly what Vaidya’s suggestion to the Law Commission does. It is unlikely that Vaidya would not know or remember the opposition by many Hindu (and Hindutva) organisations to the reform of Hindu laws in the 1950s. So, we do not know if he would disenfranchise those opponents retrospectively. But it is clear that his variant of the argument is oblivious to nuance. So, he would not be interested in questions such as those that some feminists raise over “uniformity” and application of Hindu reforms to all communities. Nor will he find merit in the argument that the problem of triple talaq could be separated from the larger task of bringing all personal laws under a uniform umbrella.
However, in order to simplify the debate, let us not get into those intricacies. Triple talaq is a practice that certainly needs redressal — and, it must be repeated — not because it is a Hindu-Muslim question, but because it is a question of gender justice. It must also be stressed that reform of religious practices and interpretations of religion is a larger, long-term, but welcome process. Having said this, we need to turn to the larger issue. In his enthusiasm to uphold one provision in the Constitution (Article 44), Vaidya has chosen to undermine the larger spirit of diversity and democracy that informs the Constitution. Disenfranchisement does not fit into that spirit.
Vaidya’s piece and his suggestion to the Law Commission need to be read not only in terms of overenthusiasm about Article 44 (one wishes he would be equally enthusiastic about not just other provisions of the Constitution, but also about the spirit of the Constitution). Though the piece smacks of contempt for Muslims, which is not unknown to the ideological tradition he belongs to, the larger danger is not just Muslim-baiting either. Beyond a hackneyed and partial reading of the Constitution and beyond the well-known antipathy toward the Muslim community, the argument makes more dangerous reading for its bold attempt to openly canvass for a “Hindu” democracy.
Religious beliefs of non-Hindus or customs of “so-called” (his word) Adivasis would invite disenfranchisement — so, despite all the social engineering, Hindutva ideology is back to emphasising that this nation belongs to mainly caste Hindus; others may live here but would not be treated as part of the nation. Within this framework of the Hindu nation, democracy is fine; but if one is thinking of a diverse social context, then second rate citizenship is on offer. Critics of Hindutva have often charged the Hindutva political forces of supporting second-rate citizenship. Now, Vaidya’s initiative confirms those criticisms. In the homogenised Hindu national space, “others” can only be second-grade citizens.
There is something more sinister to Vaidya’s suggestion. One always thought the vote is the cardinal principle of citizenship. By recommending disenfranchisement, Vaidya’s piece attempts to link acceptance of everything the state does to citizenship. If you do not accept something the state does, you are no more a citizen. Though his argument is specious about the meaning of the word “shall”, the real point he makes is this: Legislatures are creations of the Constitution, therefore, not agreeing with policies and decisions of legislatures invites forfeiture of citizenship. That is, if you do not accept the UCC, you lose the right to vote. But why the UCC alone? This logic can apply to many such “fundamental” disagreements with legislative assemblies or the parliament.
Attempts to draft personal laws based on uniform principles is an important challenge, but the enthusiasm of the likes of Vaidya can only make that task more difficult because no community would like to acquiesce with a constitutional provision with the proverbial gun of disenfranchisement held to its head. Only recently, a Union minister stated, “You cannot have a uniform civil code without a broad consensus.” (Venkaiah Naidu, IE, October 27). So, do we believe the minister or the inner voice of Hindutva?
The writer taught political science at Savitribai Phule Pune University, Pune, and is chief editor of 'Studies in Indian Politics'.