Finance minister Arun Jaitley attempted to corner the Congress in Parliament on Friday, saying past leaders of the opposition party backed a ban on cow slaughter that has ignited an acrimonious nationwide debate on rising communalism.
The finance minister’s comments came after a raucous opening day of the winter session, when home minister Rajnath Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi clashed verbally on a number of issues, including the Constitution and the legacy of BR Ambedkar.
Jaitley accused the Congress of not following the Constitutional provisions of Article 44 and 48 – that deal with the formation of a uniform civil code and prohibition of cow slaughter, respectively.
Former prime ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi wrote to the states, asking them to make laws under Article 48 of the Constitution, and all states at the times except Kerala and West Bengal complied,” the finance minister said in the Rajya Sabha, as Opposition benches erupted in protest.
The first two days of the crucial session have been earmarked to commemorate the Constitution and the role of Ambedkar. But the session has quickly turned into a slanging match between the government and Opposition with heated verbal exchanges.
“Ambedkar talked about imposing the uniform civil code. If he did it today, how would the House have reacted? If he proposed prohibiting cow slaughter, as is done in the Directive Principles of State Policy, how many here would have accepted,” Jaitley said in the Upper House.
The finance minister’s attempt to drag the Congress into the cow slaughter debate is being seen as significant as the opposition party has repeatedly accused the BJP of trying to polarise communities on the issue.
The issue gained nationwide attention after a mob lynched Mohammad Iklaq in Uttar Pradesh over rumours that he had killed a calf for consumption. Since then, several instances have been reported from different parts of the country of people being attacked and sometimes killed over rumours of butchering or smuggling of cattle.
Hardline Hindu organisations have been pushing for a nationwide ban but minority groups have resisted the move.
Uniform Civil Code has also emerged as a hot button issue in recent months after the Supreme Court ordered the government to decide quickly on the contentious issue.
India allows communities to be governed by their religious norms in family matters such as marriage, inheritance and divorce but many have long advocated for a set of uniform norms that does away with several religious provisions that are discriminatory towards women. The BJP has backed the UCC for decades.