Calcutta, March 13: Narendra Modi believes that to be secular in India means to be able to indulge in 'minority blackmail'. Mani Shankar Aiyar wonders why the minority community should 'accept the diktat of a man like Modi'.
As words flew like shrapnel at The Telegraph Calcutta Club National Debate this evening, in the middle ground lay laughter. Lawyer Fali S. Nariman said: 'I'm not a Hindu or Muslim. I'm just a poor fish in a shoal of political sharks.'
There weren't too many light moments like this, though, at the four-a-side punch-up over whether 'To be truly secular India needs a uniform civil code'.
Supporting the motion that India did, indeed, need one were Arun Jaitley, Seshadri Chari, Vasundhara Raje and Modi, all of the BJP.
Arguing against was, for all practical purposes, the Congress, represented by Aiyar and Salman Khursheed, who are its leaders, but Syed Shahabuddin and Fali Nariman ' politically not so identified ' were on their side.
Modi was the star of the show among the people who had gathered inside Calcutta Club, but very much a villain outside where crowds gathered to protest against his presence in Calcutta.
Religion took centre stage, with the spotlight on gender bias that is the hallmark of personal laws dictated by religion, at the debate moderated by Dileep Padgaonkar.
The motion's supporters took control with former law minister Jaitley starting off: 'Rights of human beings cannot be ruled by religion,' he said, adding, 'laws contrary to constitutional guarantees must go'. There should be 'no conflict between secular India and the dignity of women'.
Petroleum minister Aiyar reacted to Jaitley's denunciation of the overturning of the judgment in the Shah Bano case by Parliament under Rajiv Gandhi's rule after the Supreme Court had granted her maintenance following divorce.
Aiyar asked Jaitley why he did not do anything about it during his term as law minister and termed the other side 'pseudo Hindus'.
Although the BJP was in power for six years, it did not try to introduce a common code.
Still, Modi drew loud applause when he said: 'You are so threatened by a uniform civil code here, but the Muslim who goes to the US must practise the civil code there.'
Raje, Rajasthan's chief minister and the only woman on the panel, narrated how religious laws have a gender bias regarding property, inheritance and adoption.
Nariman, a Parsi who took the debate above a Hindu-Muslim orientation, said: 'Women continue to suffer because of the attitudes of men.'
The motion was carried.