Berliner Tageblatt - Modi's BJP promises common civil code ahead of India polls

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Modi's BJP promises common civil code ahead of India polls
Modi's BJP promises common civil code ahead of India polls / Photo: © AFP

Modi's BJP promises common civil code ahead of India polls

India's ruling party on Sunday pledged to introduce a new common civil code for the country, calling it a crucial step for gender equality, a week before a general election in the world's most populous nation.

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Nearly a billion Indians will vote to elect a new government in six-week-long parliamentary polls starting on April 19, the largest democratic exercise in the world.

Many analysts see Prime Minister Narendra Modi's re-election under his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) banner as a foregone conclusion.

The BJP launched its manifesto Sunday, wading into a polarising debate by reaffirming its stand on a uniform civil code (UCC), which would standardise laws for personal matters such as marriage, divorce and inheritance across faiths and religious communities.

The party "believes that there cannot be gender equality till such time Bharat adopts a uniform civil code, which protects the rights of all women", the manifesto said, using Modi's preferred name for the country.

India's 1.4 billion people are subject to a common criminal law, but rules on personal matters such as marriage, divorce and inheritance vary based on the customary traditions of different communities and faiths.

Women's rights vary considerably depending on which code they fall under -- Hindu sons and daughters theoretically enjoy equal inheritance rights, while Muslim daughters are only entitled to a fraction of any male heir's inheritance.

Many right-wing politicians, jurists and reformists have described these custom-based codes as regressive and have lobbied for a code that would apply to all Indians equally.

- Muslim fears -

But many communities, particularly Muslims, fear a UCC would encroach on their religious laws and see it as an attack on their identity and against India's secular constitution.

The 76-page manifesto did not refer to either Hinduism or Islam by name, but the BJP pitched to Muslim women voters by pointing out it had protected them from the "barbaric" practice of "instant divorce".

Over the last decade, India's opposition parties have struggled to compete with the BJP's Hindu nationalist appeal, and the manifesto cover was emblazoned with a tagline of "Modi ki Guarantee" or "Modi's guarantee".

The party's sweeping popularity has also been driven by economic growth -- India is the world's fastest-growing major economy, with its GDP overtaking that of former coloniser Britain under the BJP's watch -- and a raft of targeted welfare programmes.

The party said it would maintain its focus on those if voted back for the next five years, reiterating its commitment to free ration and electricity initiatives, while promising continued funding for a popular cash handout programme for the country's farmers.

It also vowed to expand a free government-backed healthcare scheme for senior citizens and build more affordable houses.

"In the next five years, we will take our nation into the top 3 economies of the world," Modi said, adding it would "launch a final and decisive assault against poverty".