The row over the law panel's decision to seek public opinion on the Uniform Civil Code intensified today with the government accusing the All India Muslim Personal Law Board of 'politicking' on the issue even as Congress and Samajwadi Party said it should not be "imposed".
A day after the AIMPLB and some other Muslim outfits announced their decision to boycott the process initiated by the Law Commission, Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu insisted on a distinction to be made between the Uniform Civil Code and 'triple talaq', where the core issue was gender justice and ending discrimination against women.
Naidu, however, said a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) was in consonance with the provisions of the Constitution, but made it clear that it would "not be forced on people".
"You (All India Muslim Personal Law Board) join the debate. Let there be enlightened debate you put forth your point of view. Let a consensus be evolved. Why are you trying to bring in the name of Prime Minister and call him dictator," Naidu told reporters in Delhi.
The government's sharp reaction came after AIMPLB and various other Muslim organisations said the move amounted to the Modi government declaring a "war" on their religious rights and that UCC will "kill" India's pluralism.
A combative Naidu went on to say, "If you are so interested in making political comments you can as well join any political party of your choice. This is not expected from Muslim Personal Law Board and other religious leaders.
"You have to confine yourself to the issue and the issue is put forth for discussion by the law commission," he said.
Amid the raging row over the twin contentious issues, Congress said the matter of 'triple talaq' sould be left to the Supreme Court to decide, but expressed itself against "imposition" of a Uniform Civil Code. "UCC should not be imposed and all stakeholders need to be taken into confidence," its spokesperson Shobha Oza said.
She said Congress has always been in favour for empowerment of women.
Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav said the issue should be left to religious leaders.
"I will not say much on this issue but there should not be dispute on it. The issue of uniform civil code should be left to religious leaders. On the issues of country and humanity everyone should be united," Yadav told reporters in Lucknow.
On the issue of 'triple talaq', a matter which is being adjudicated upon by the Supreme Court, Naidu said," The real mood of the country is that people want this triple talaq to end. People do not want any discrimination on basis of any religious faith agianst women. As I told you the issues are gender justice, non-discrimination and dignity of women.
Naidu said the Law Commission wants a thorough discussion
on UCC and if the AIMPLB does not want to participate in the debate, it was their choice.
"If you don't want to react, do not want to respond, it is your choice but you do not pose yourself as you are the champion and other's views have no relevance. Do not try to convert this into a political debate," he said.
About the issue of triple talaq, he said the Law Commission wanted the views of all stakeholders.
"They wanted this issue to be debated, discussed and all the religious leaders, social workers, prominent public personalities need to acknowledge the basic principle of equality of all human beings -- men or women and work in that direction," he said.
Naidu said Uniform Civil Code is enshrined in Article 44 of the Directive Principles of the Constitution and not brought in by NDA government or Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
"There is nothing wrong in discussing about it (UCC) and nothing is going to be forced on people. If something is done, then it will on the basis of consensus and agreement within the community," he said.
Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad defended the Centre's stand on 'triple talaq', saying when over a dozen Islamic countries were regulating the practice by enacting laws, how could it be considered wrong for a "secular" country like India.
"Over a dozen Islamic countries such as Pakistan, Tunisia, Morocco, Iran and Egypt have regulated triple talaq. If Islamic countries can regulate the practice by enacting law, and it has not been found against Sharia, then how can it be wrong in India, which is a secular country?" Prasad told a news conference in Patna.
The Minister, however, refused to comment on the issue of Uniform Civil Code.
"The Law Commission is considering it and has sought views of various sections of the society. Since it is under their consideration, I have nothing to say," he maintained.
For the first time in India's constitutional history, the Centre had on October 7 opposed in the Supreme Court the practice of triple talaq, 'nikah halala' and polygamy among Muslims and favoured a relook on grounds of gender equality and secularism.
The Law Ministry, in its affidavit, referred to constitutional principles like gender equality, secularism, international covenants, religious practices and marital law prevalent in various Islamic countries to drive home the point that the practice of triple talaq and polygamy needed to be adjudicated upon afresh by the apex court.