Weeks before Gujarat is supposed to hold elections, the BJP government in the state has said it plans to introduce a Uniform Civil Code - a contentious issue for Muslims that does away with religion-based laws - in a move that the opposition slammed as a gimmick to shore up votes of the Hindu majority.
The Gujarat government has proposed a committee led by a retired High Court judge - along the lines of the one in BJP-ruled Uttarakhand - to examine how such legislation can be implemented. A civil code is widely believed to be the domain of the centre rather than state.
"Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel has taken a historic decision in the Cabinet meeting today - of forming a committee for implementing the Uniform Civil Code in the state," said Gujarat Home Minister Harsh Sanghavi.
AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal also criticized the move. "His intention is bad. Article 44 of the Constitution clearly states that it is the responsibility of the government to enforce the Uniform Civil Code. So the government should make a Uniform Civil Code. It should be made in which there is consent of all the communities, Uniform Civil Code should be made by taking all the communities together," Mr Kejriwal said.
Assembly elections are scheduled to be held in Gujarat later this year.
Reacting to the Gujarat Cabinet's announcement, Congress said people will not be misled by the BJP government's decision to form a committee for the implementation of UCC.
Calling it a "gimmick" ahead of the Assembly elections, senior Gujarat Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia said the state legislature has no power to make such laws.
"This gimmick is aimed at misleading the public who are suffering due to inflation and joblessness and a host of other problems because of the failure of the government. The power to implement the Uniform Civil Code lies with the Centre. Personal laws were passed by Parliament and the Gujarat Assembly does not have the power to make this law," Modhwadia said at a press conference.
In May, the Uttarakhand government had announced its decision to implement UCC in the state. The same month, Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Jairam Thakur had also announced that UCC would be brought into the state soon.
The BJP and its leaders have in the past supported the implementation of UCC in the county that would replace personal laws based on scriptures and customs of various religious communities with a common set of rules governing every citizen.
However, a debate over the UCC has sparked in several states.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) termed it "an unconstitutional and anti-minorities move", and called the rhetoric for bringing the law an attempt by Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and the Central Government to divert the attention from the concerns of inflation, economy and rising unemployment.
Earlier this month, the Centre had told the Supreme Court that it could not direct Parliament to frame or enact any law on Uniform Civil Code in the country.
The Ministry of Law and Justice in its affidavit stated that the matter of policy is for the elected representatives of the people to decide and no direction in this regard can be issued by the Centre.
It further said that Article 44 of the Indian Constitution is a directive principle, requiring states to endeavour to secure a Uniform Civil Code for all citizens.