Inheritance laws, not political opposition, has cast a shadow over UCC | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Inheritance laws, not political opposition, has cast a shadow over UCC

Apr 15, 2024 04:50 PM IST

Implementation of UCC may mean changes in Hindu Succession Act and Indian Succession Act. An individual can challenge its applicability on division of estate.

In an ideal world, the BJP government at the centre would have long introduced the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) at the national level.

PM Narendra Modi asserted that the BJP will work towards implementing the one nation, one election initiative, and stressed that the Uniform Civil Code was in the national interest;(AFP)
PM Narendra Modi asserted that the BJP will work towards implementing the one nation, one election initiative, and stressed that the Uniform Civil Code was in the national interest;(AFP)

From the BJP’s point of view, before general election 2024, two long-standing agendas of the party have been fulfilled: the Ram Mandir was inaugurated and Article 370 is abrogated. A third vital cog, the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code, which goes back to the days of Jana Sangh, remains hanging in the air.

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As is evident now, the BJP can take momentous decisions without wasting any time. So, there is no apparent reason for not implementing this seemingly `popular’ legislation, never mind its sweeping powers that are bound to impact personal laws.

In June last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh put discussions about the Uniform Civil Code back into the spotlight, triggering nationwide debates on its potential implementation. He was merely reflecting on the longstanding agenda of the BJP to implement the UCC and abolish personal laws concerning marriage, divorce, and succession.

“The BJP remains steadfast in its commitment to implement a Uniform Civil Code in the country,” Union Home Minister Amit Shah said at TV channel Aaj Tak’s gathering last year, adding, "UCC was the Constituent Assembly's mandate to the country's legislature and Parliament…Since 1950, all our election manifestos have mentioned that the BJP will try to bring in UCC.”

In December 2022, BJP Rajya Sabha member Kirodi Lal Meena introduced a private member’s Bill in the House. The Uniform Civil Code in India Bill, 2020, proposes to constitute a National Inspection and Investigation Committee to prepare a UCC. Its ostensible goal is to have a uniform set of laws governing aspects of marriage, divorce, guardianship, inheritance, adoption, succession, maintenance, and so on, cutting across all religious practices.

Now comes the rub. Well-placed party sources say that the main opposition to the UGC does not come from the Congress, as claimed by the ruling party, but from the BJP’s principal supporters, the propertied and the monied classes, mainly in North India, who are opposed tooth and nail to the UCC, given its impact on current inheritance laws.

A member of the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), India’s apex trade body, told this reporter, with a request not to be quoted. ``One of the single biggest impacts of the UCC will be on the laws of inheritance. Experts believe that the implementation of the UCC will change the hierarchy of inheritance in several ways.”

According to him, for Hindus, it would mean the removal of the distinction between ancestral and self-acquired property. The UCC eliminates the differentiation between ancestral and self-acquired property under Hindu law. This means that coparcenary rights, with reference to joint Hindu families, are not specifically mentioned in the UCC.

In other words, every legal heir will have the same rights to ancestral property as they have to the self-acquired property.

Secondly, there would be changes in intestate succession. Both parents, the mother and father, are elevated as Class-I heirs in the case of intestate succession under the UCC. This is a departure from the Hindu Succession Act where the father is included among Class-II heirs in case the deceased is a Hindu male. The Class-I heirs of Hindu male, as per central succession laws, are children, widows (spouse), mother, grandchildren, widows of their children and widows of their grandchildren, among others.

To add to the complexities, the Class I heirs of male and female are the same under the UCC whereas this is not the case for Class I heirs under Hindu Succession Act. According to the Hindu Succession Act, the Class I heirs of a married Hindu female do not include her own parents whereas Class I heirs of Hindu male include his mother, but not the father.

The CAIT, representing and empowering ``eight crore traders and over 40,000 trade associations’’ prides itself as the ``world’s largest MSME organisation for the non-corporate sector’’, and has strong links to the ruling BJP. One of its key office bearers, Praveen Khandelwal, is the 2024 BJP candidate from the Chandni Chowk Lok Sabha constituency, traditionally dominated by the Bania and trading communities.

In February 2024, when Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami introduced the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) Bill, Uttarakhand became the first state in the country to implement a UCC, which presents common law for marriage, divorce, inheritance of property, among others.

While the BJP has signalled its resolve on UCC with this introduction in Uttarakhand and Goa, the reality of introducing such a legislation on a national scale is quite another matter.

Crucially, certain provisions of Uttarakhand's UCC – for example- are in contradiction of the Hindu Succession Act and the Indian Succession Act. An individual can challenge the applicability of the UCC on the division of the estate.

Interestingly, Hindus and Christians can escape from the UCC applicability on account of Article 254 of the Constitution, which secures supremacy of the central laws in occupied fields. This is because the inheritance laws of Hindus and Christians are codified, hence, in the event of contradiction, the central laws will prevail over the state laws. In the case of Muslims, there is no central codified law. Thus, their intestate succession will happen based on UCC laws.

It’s a debate that has all the potential for a flashpoint: the Law Commission, which advises the government on legal reforms, has received close to 8 million responses from stakeholders, including religious organisations, after it solicited views of the public in the middle of 2023.

Says lawyer Prashant Bhushan: ``Even the Hindu code is not uniform. Once the government says that all Hindu laws go by customs, you then must make the civil law uniform. It should be a liberal civil code. The BJP probably is not able to do that. You can steamroll the Muslim community, but you cannot steamroll all the Hindu communities.”

The Uniform Civil Court is not going to be quite as easy as abrogating Article 370 or even building the Ram Mandir because when it comes to peoples’ personal properties, the mood of the public can change quite rapidly – and drastically.

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