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Jaitley push for civil code debate

New Delhi, Aug. 22: Having burnt its fingers once, the BJP today said it considered a uniform civil code “very important” and “necessary” but would not seek to frame a law unless there was a broad political consensus.

A day after the BJP’s own allies opposed the move to introduce a bill banning cow slaughter, Union law minister Arun Jaitley said the Centre has not taken any decision on framing a uniform civil code.

Replying to a short-notice question in the Lok Sabha, he said the Centre amended personal laws of various communities only after consultations with them and political leaders.

Jaitley said since there were “strong views” in favour of and against a common code, the matter had to be debated.

BJP spokesperson Vijay Kumar Malhotra said a uniform code was necessary in the national interest. He said this meant that even the Hindu civil code would have to be reformed.

The BJP objected to the DMK’s opposition to a uniform civil code, saying: “The DMK is a member of the Union cabinet and once it (a bill) has been decided by the government, the DMK should abide by it.”

The BJP is none too happy that its southern ally opposed a bill banning cow slaughter yesterday and does not support legislation ensuring a common civil code.

Malhotra said there should be a consensus on the proposed bill since the government could not introduce the legislation on its own.

“The Congress has a major role to play in bringing a legislation for a uniform civil code as with its support there could be a two-thirds majority in the House,” the spokesperson said.

He agreed with a questioner that reforming the Hindu code would prove difficult. Property rights in an undivided Hindu family, equal rights for women and agricultural rights were some of the issues on which it will be difficult to reach a consensus, Malhotra said.

Earlier, Jaitley said amendments to personal laws to bring them in line with constitutional guarantees had been done only after discussions with community and political leaders. He added that several such laws had been amended in the past, including those relating to Christians.

In recent years, amendments to personal laws like the Special Marriage Act, 1954, the Indian Divorce (Amendment) Act, 2001 and the Indian Succession (Amendment) Act have been made after due consultation.

Muslim League member G.M. Banatwala said the Centre should clarify that the Supreme Court had not delivered a verdict on the uniform civil code on July 23. He said it should make it clear that Chief Justice V.. Khare was only expressing his personal opinion on the matter.

Khare, heading a three-member bench, had called for a common civil code for all Indian citizens, holding that there was no necessary connection between religious and personal law. He said the effort to secure a uniform code would “help the cause of national integration”.

Jaitley responded to Banatwala’s remark by saying a debate on the matter was necessary.

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