SP Singh Baghel, the former junior law minister who was recently shifted to the health ministry, has said that the tribal rights and customs in the Northeast and other parts of the country will not be impacted by the proposed Uniform Civil Code (UCC), becoming the first member of the government to spell out the assurance amid a growing pushback.
Mr Baghel, who is now the minister of state for health, told reporters on Tuesday that the BJP respects the diversity and culture of the tribal communities and will not impose any law that goes against their interests.
“The BJP chose to nominate a tribal woman as the President of India, the highest post in the land. It also has the largest number of tribal MLAs, MPs, Rajya Sabha members and ministers. The customs of the Northeast are respected by the party, and we will not hurt any religious or social customs, but appeasement politics is not right either,” he said.
He also said that as per Schedule 6 of the Constitution, which grants special provisions to certain tribal areas in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram, nothing will apply to them unless their own state legislatures ratify the centre’s decision.
He added that as far as tribals of other states are concerned, they will also be consulted and their views will be taken into account before any law is made.
The minister was responding to a statement made by Rajya Sabha MP Sushil Kumar Modi, who heads the parliamentary standing committee on law and justice, that the tribal population in the North East and other regions should be kept out of the ambit of the UCC.
The UCC is a constitutional mandate that aims to replace the personal laws of different religious communities with a common set of laws governing marriage, divorce, inheritance and other matters.
The BJP has been pushing for the enactment of the UCC, which is one of its core ideological issues, and came into sharp focus last week as Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed for a public debate on the subject at a rally in Madhya Pradesh.
However, the UCC has faced opposition from various quarters, especially from minority groups and tribal communities, who fear that it will erode their identity and autonomy. Many NGOs and political parties, most of them BJP allies, have publicly opposed the proposal already.
The opposition to the UCC has been the strongest in Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Nagaland where Christians account for 74.59 per cent, 86.97 per cent, and 87.93 per cent respectively, according to the 2011 census.