AAP in spot in Gujarat over support to UCC. Tribal leader resigns, state head says ‘firmly against it’


New Delhi: The Aam Aadmi Party’s “in-principle” support to the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) being proposed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government at the Centre has landed AAP on a sticky wicket not just in Punjab — which it governs along with Delhi — but also Gujarat, where it won five seats with a vote share of approximately 13 percent in the 2022 assembly elections, ThePrint has learnt.

Sources in the party told ThePrint that both state units have expressed their displeasure over the central leadership’s decision to back the UCC without consulting them.

The UCC, which aims to replace personal laws based on religion with a common set of laws for all citizens, has become a contentious issue after Prime Minister Narendra Modi advocated for it in Bhopal last month.

While Punjab is a Sikh-majority state (57.69 percent population here is Sikh according to  2011 census), 14.75 percent of the population in Gujarat are tribals, who are primarily concentrated in 14 districts located in its eastern parts, according to state government records. Of the 26 Gujarat Lok Sabha seats, four are reserved for Scheduled Tribes (STs).

On 28 June, Sandeep Pathak, AAP’s national general secretary (organisation) and Rajya Sabha MP, was quoted by the media as saying that “in principle, the AAP stands with the UCC. Article 44 [of the Constitution], also supports the UCC. However, we believe that the Centre should build a consensus on the issue by holding wider consultations with political and non-political stakeholders.”

Article 44 of the Constitution says that the state shall try to bring in a Uniform Civil Code in the country.

On Monday, top leaders of AAP’s Gujarat unit, led by chief Isudan Gadhvi, met Delhi Chief Minister and AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal at his residence in Delhi, party sources told ThePrint.

Interestingly, the meeting took place on a day Praful Vasava, a prominent tribal face of the party in Gujarat, quit AAP opposing its stand on the UCC.

In his resignation letter addressed to Kejriwal, Vasava, who had finished third in the race for Nandod constituency in last year’s assembly election with 13.78 percent vote share, attributed his decision to Pathak’s 28 June statement.

“The country’s adivasi (tribal) and other communities will support my decision as they believe that the UCC is not in the national interest… On the one hand, the AAP promises to implement the fifth and sixth schedule of the Constitution, and on the other there is no guarantee that the UCC will safeguard the rights of the adivasis. How can the AAP extend its support to the UCC then?” wrote Vasava in the resignation letter, which ThePrint has seen.

The fifth and sixth schedules of the Indian Constitution deal with special provisions relating to the administration and governance in scheduled or tribal areas across the country. In the run-up to the Gujarat assembly polls, the AAP had promised to implement the fifth schedule to protect the interests of the tribals in the state if voted to power.

Speaking to ThePrint Monday on the issue of UCC in tribal areas, Gadhvi said, “we firmly oppose it”.

He added: “We are launching a campaign against the UCC in Gujarat’s tribal areas. We will firmly oppose any attempt to implement UCC among the tribals who follow varied customs and laws. On the question of UCC among other communities, we will wait for the Centre’s draft. But one must not forget that it will have an adverse effect on even many communities following the Hindu faith.”

Gadhvi cited the examples of some caste groups — including the Maldharis, to which he belongs — who do not approach courts for divorces, said the leader.

“These are also caste groups in which women do not seek property inheritance from their fathers even when they have a share. Maldharis, Ahirs, Jains, Kshatriyas follow separate traditions. A majority of Gujarat’s 146 caste groups will oppose UCC,” Gadhvi added.

Commenting on the Vasava’s exit from the party, Gadhvi, who had finished second behind the BJP’s Mulu Ayar Bera at the Khambalia seat in the 2022 assembly polls, said the tribal leader “took his decision in haste, as the AAP will never betray the interests of the adivasis“.

ThePrint also reached Sandeep Pathak over phone for comment on the tribal leader’s resignation, but did not receive a response till the time of publication of this report. The article will be updated if and when a response is received.

Also Read: ‘Can’t be forced, need wider consultations’ — how Opposition reacted to Modi’s UCC pitch

‘Detrimental to interests of tribals’ 

The campaign against UCC mentioned by Gadhvi above also appears tied to its Dediapada (Gujarat) MLA Chaitar Vasava’s public announcement made Sunday, where he said he would consider resigning from his seat if the party extends support to the UCC, which, he said, was detrimental to the interests of the tribals.

Chaitar Vasava, who was mentored by seven-time MLA Chhotubhai Vasava, made the remarks during a meeting on UCC Sunday, which was attended by tribal leaders from the 14 tribal-dominated districts of the state.

With the AAP banking on Chaitar, who is also its legislative party leader in the state, for deepening its hold among the tribals, party leaders have been instructed to refrain from extending any “in principle support” to the UCC going ahead, party sources said.

Incidentally, the AAP had to tackle the UCC question even ahead of the Gujarat assembly polls when the ruling BJP had announced the formation of a committee to draft a common civil code for the state.

Commenting on the BJP’s move, Kejriwal had then cited Article 44, while also adding that “its intentions are bad”.

“Article 44 of the Constitution clearly states that it is the responsibility of the government to prepare a UCC. The government should prepare a UCC, but with the consent of all the communities,” Kejriwal had told the media after a rally on 30 October last year.

He had then alleged that the BJP had formed a similar committee in Uttarakhand before the assembly elections there, and after its victory, the committee was nowhere to be seen.

Justice (retired) Ranjana Prakash Desai, who was heading the five-member Uttarakhand committee, reportedly said last week that it had completed its task and will submit a report to the state government soon. Meanwhile, CM Pushkar Singh Dhami was quoted in the media as saying last week that the state will implement the UCC in a constitutional manner, once the committee submits its report.

In the context of Gujarat, Kejriwal had said, “Similarly, now they have formed a committee before the Gujarat elections. After the elections, this committee will also disappear. If they actually intend to implement the Uniform Civil Code, then why not prepare a code which is applicable on the entire country. Are they waiting for the Lok Sabha elections to do so? They do not want to implement the UCC. Their intentions are bad.”

According to media reports, the state government is seeking legal opinion on whether to introduce the committee in the form of a legislation or a resolution.

Opposition to AAP’s UCC support

Meanwhile, Sandeep Pathak’s statement on UCC had created a ripple not just within the party in Gujarat, but also in Delhi and Punjab.

On 28 June, when Pathak made the statement, what went largely unnoticed was the fact that, on the same day, speaking separately to the media in Uttar Pradesh, AAP Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh said, in the absence of a draft UCC, the BJP was interested in “doing politics over the issue”.

“Which document do we support? Has the Prime Minister released any draft UCC?” Singh had asked.

Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann has distanced himself from Pathak’s announcement, telling reporters on 5 July that “UCC was the BJP’s agenda to divide people for electoral benefits. AAP is a secular party and stands against any attempt to tamper with faiths”.

While arguing against the UCC, Mann had also underlined how the traditional practices of Sikhs, in terms of marriages and last rites, differ from the Hindus.

AAP sources told ThePrint that Mann has made it categorically clear in party circles that he will staunchly oppose the UCC.

“Pathak’s comment was made in haste and avoidable. It is common sense that any suggestion on UCC will face strong resistance in Punjab. Also, in Gujarat, the party has made good inroads among tribals. What purpose will speaking in favour of the UCC, which does not even exist, serve? It is a trap set by the BJP,” said a senior AAP leader on the condition of anonymity.

The Aam Aadmi Party also faced heat from the Opposition Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Congress in Punjab following Pathak’s statement. While the Congress took a swipe at the AAP, asking if the latter has “exclusive access to the UCC’s draft”, the SAD accused it of indulging in “double speak”.

(Edited by Richa Mishra)

Also Read: UCC is Modi’s nuclear button—split Indian politics between Hindu-lovers, Muslim-appeasers



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