Responding to a question on the government’s stand on the Places of Worship Act, which has frozen the character of all places of worship as they existed on August 15, 1947, Shah refrained from commenting specifically on the law enacted in the face of the campaign for Ram Mandir, which has been challenged on the grounds that it is violative of freedom of religion and worship.
“After the Ayodhya judgement, a few more disputes have cropped up and the law enacted in 1991 has also been challenged. I should not speak about these issues from a public platform because these are sub judice. However, I must say that every law should pass legal scrutiny,” he said during the Times Now Summit on the theme ‘India: Vibrant Democracy, Global Bright Spot’.
Asked if the government proposes to amend the law, the minister said the court has sent a notice to the Centre and it will clear its stand soon on the subject. Despite his reluctance to comment specifically on the law in question, Shah’s remarks are seen as significant and the first potential peek into the government’s thinking on the matter. Shah also dealt with the sensitive issues of Uniform Civil Code, stressing that the country might have it by 2024 but there would be a healthy and open debate on the subject, as well as the CAA and NRC.
On the CAA-NRC, Shah rejected the suggestion that the change in the law to provide citizenship to victims of religious persecution in the neighbouring Islamic countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan (which sparked off angry protests) has been consigned to the deep freezer. “CAA is a law and a reality that cannot be changed now; we have to frame rules. These got delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. No one should even dream that CAA will not be implemented. Those who think like that are mistaken,” asserted a confident home minister who said that BJP would retain power in 2024.
He promised exemplary swift punishment for Aftab Poonawala who allegedly dismembered the body of his live-in-partner Shraddha Walkar, while striking a combative note on the leaked videos of Delhi minister Satyendar Jain having a comfortable time inside the Tihar Jail complex.
He claimed that BJP was headed for a landslide win in Gujarat and would surpass its previous best score of 129 seats, and get a majority in Himachal Pradesh, besides winning the polls for Municipal Corporation of Delhi where it is pitted against AAP in what is virtually a direct contest.
Asked to comment on the leak of videos of Jain in Tihar, Shah said it is AAP that owes an explanation to people as to why they have persisted with him as a minister. “This is unprecedented brazenness and a shocking instance of a minister who is in jail, not being asked to step down on ground of political morality. I resigned when charges were brought against me and I was jailed,” he said, emphasising that he was discharged by the court which held that the allegations against him were politically motivated.
The home minister criticised the culture of freebies and denied that the free foodgrains being provided to the 80 crore poor households was also a freebie. “We have provided free LPG connection, but people have to pay for the refill. We organised power connection for houses, but they have to pay for the electricity they consume. We have also built houses and toilets for people but it is their responsibility to maintain them,” he said.
“Gujarat’s has a budget of Rs 2.42 lakh crore and the cost of implementing the promises that have been made would come to Rs 3.6 lakh crore,” he said.
Shah dwelt at length on Uniform Civil Code, saying that the promise to enact one has not only been part of BJP’s political journey, but also a directive by the Constituent Assembly to the legislature. “No secular country can have religion-based laws. How can a secular country and a government which is secular have laws sanctioned by religion. People irrespective of their faith should follow only one law,” Shah said.
“Whatever their motives might be, we cannot go ahead without everybody on board. That is why BJP governments in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat have started the process of enacting their own UCCs,” he said.
Shah disagreed with the suggestion that the continuing resistance means that there would be no progress on UCC. He said the promise would be fulfilled after 2024. “We alone will form the government in 2024,” he said, adding that it is very possible that by then two/thirds of the states may well enact their versions of UCC. “In such a situation, Parliament will have to ponder its course of action and what was left for it to do,” he said.
When told that the government ended the special status for J&K despite lack of consensus, Shah said the two issues were not comparable. “Article 370 that guaranteed special status was designed as temporary. Moreover, the matter concerned only one state and we got that when the Governor of J&K wrote,” he added.
Referring to the Shraddha murder case, he underscored the need to have laws against conversion and against love jihad. “The laws are being followed strictly. You can propagate your religion, but you can’t lure people with money or facilities and forced them to convert,” said Shah.
On the need for an anti -conversion law at the national level, he said, “That is a grey area. We need to define whether we need an anti-conversion law at national level.”
Asked whether Jammu and Kashmir was his biggest achievement during his term as the home minister, he said, “In Jammu and Kashmir, the Modi government has brought in a drastic change. It used to be said that J&K is with India due to Article 370. Now Article 370 and 35A are not there but J&K is still a part of India. Around 30,000 panches and sarpanches are leading the democracy movement there; Rs 56,000 crore worth of investments have come in; 80 lakh tourists have visited the UT – the highest number since Independence; J&K’s native languages have been recognised as state languages; Dalits and other backward classes have got reservation benefits for the first time; and every house now has electricity and water connection. Since the 1990s, terrorism has been at its lowest and no stone-pelting incidents are taking place any more. J&K is thriving now.”