Communal Institutions Like AMU Need Tough Love, Not Platitudes

by Arihant Pawariya - Dec 26, 2020 02:42 PM +05:30 IST
Communal Institutions Like AMU Need Tough Love, Not PlatitudesPrime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the Centenary Celebrations of AMU
  • For a specific point of action, the Prime Minister should have told AMU to open admissions for people from all communities, especially implementing the centre’s quota policy for SCs, STs and OBCs.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered a speech at the centenary celebration of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) on Tuesday (22 December). Both his supporters and detractors were eagerly waiting for this address and seeing their reactions over the last four days, one can safely conclude that both felt disappointed.

It’s something of a pattern with the BJP statesmen when they address Muslim audiences. Their speeches, often full of feel-good platitudes, don’t find resonance in the community and also end up irritating the hardcore supporters of the BJP for adopting an appeasing tone rather than delivering the message with honesty.

PM Modi’s address to AMU was a package of motherhood statements. Even India’s first prime minister and icon of ‘seculars’ Jawaharlal Nehru spoke with more honesty in his speech to the same institution just after independence.

“I have said that I am proud of our inheritance and our ancestors who gave an intellectual and cultural pre-eminence to India. How do you feel about this past? Do you feel that you are also sharers in it and inheritors of it and, therefore, proud of something that belongs to you as much as to me? Or do you feel alien to it and pass it by without understanding or feeling that strange thrill which comes from the realisation that we are the trustees and inheritors of this vast treasure?,” Nehru had asked the Muslim students of AMU.

This frankness expressed by Nehru and more importantly the lingering doubt over loyalty of India’s Muslims in his mind at the time is reminiscent of Sardar Patel’s speech in Kolkata in 1948 when he told the crowd that ‘The Muslims who are still in India, many of them helped in the creation of Pakistan. Fine, if they did but then how come in one night, their hearts changed? I do not understand that. They say why their loyalty is being questioned. That is not something for us to answer. Demand this answer from your heart.”

Nehru wasn’t wrong. After all, AMU had played a crucial role in sowing the seeds of partition of the country and creation of Pakistan whose Quaid-I-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah had called the institution “the arsenal of Muslim India’.

As scholar and author Venkat Dhulipala wrote, ‘The AMU students worked as foot soldiers for the Muslim League during its election campaign in the 1945-46 elections that became a referendum on Pakistan. It began with 400 AMU students working for Liaquat Ali Khan’s campaign in the Meerut constituency during the first round of elections for the Central Assembly, especially since the Congress had pulled out all stops to defeat him. Liaquat publicly thanked them for his victory. Their utility in this round of elections prompted Jinnah to draft them for the second round of elections to the provincial assemblies and also handsomely fund their campaigning in Punjab, Sindh, Bengal, NWFP, Assam, Central Provinces, and UP. Aligarh students fanned out across various constituencies a full two months before the elections happened in February and March 1946. Aligarh staff too participated by taking charge over the separate branch offices set up for organising students’ work in different provinces.‘

AMU’s locality towards India was doubted post-independence due to its disgraced history. It decided to hunker down, separate itself from politics and focus on its primary goal of imparting Islamic education. But as we witnessed last year during the anti-CAA agitation, its students today are as Islamist as they were in the 1940s. This is expected of the institution which played a key intellectual role in propagating and popularising the two-nation theory which was first articulated by AMU’s founder Sir Syed Ahmed Khan.

“I am now convinced that the Hindus and the Muslims, as their religion and way of life was quite distinct from one another, could never become one nation” Khan had said back in 1876 during the Hindi-Urdu language controversy.

In his address, Prime Minister Modi chose to ignore the Islamist past and present of the institution and its founder. He showed once again that he won’t use harsh words for even ideological enemies unless he is speaking at an election rally.

If it was only about past sins of AMU, one wouldn’t complain much but the stakes are as high as ever which will have serious implications for future. Ostrich like behaviour isn’t going to help.

AMU is a sectarian institution, a glorified communal ghetto if you will, which is flourishing in the garb of minority rights, a concept that should’ve no place in modern India. The institution maintains that it doesn’t have any religious reservation for Muslims but it has managed to achieve unbelievable levels of Muslim dominance in employment (teaching, non-teaching staff) and admissions.

Data from 2016 shows that of total 1288 faculties, more than 93 per cent are Muslims out of which more than 88 per cent are Upper Caste Muslims. Data for students is unlikely to be any different given that there is 50 per cent reservation for ‘internal students‘ of AMU who are overwhelmingly Muslim. Then there is additional quota for students of alumni and employees who are again Muslims.

Moreover, the minority status of the institution, which was struck down by the Allahabad High Court (later the matter reached the Supreme Court which put a stay of the high court’s order), doesn’t allow the government to implement its 49.5 per cent reservation policy for admission of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and the Other Backward Classes in the university thanks to Article 15(5) of the Indian constitution and The Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act, 2006 which exempt minority institutions from reserving caste quotas. Both were implemented in Manmohan Singh‘s first term as prime minister.

Not only that, all minority-run institutions are exempt from stifling regulations regarding infrastructure, admission and financial autonomy, teacher recruitment, student-teacher ratio, etc, which are applicable to non-minority institutions (read Hindu institutions).

All this needs to change even if it means amending the constitution. It’s not just about AMU. The differentiation and discrimination emanating from the so-called ‘minority’ tag has to go. The pampering of minority institutions should end.

PM Modi should not only have given an overview of Islamist history of AMU but also a deserving dressing down for radicalisation of youth at the campus which is making them lead violent agitation for communal causes like anti-CAA movement just as they did while supporting Jinnah and Muslim League.

Additionally, he should’ve told them to drop the ghetto mentality and open admissions for people from all communities, especially implementing the centre’s quota policy for SCs, STs and OBCs.

What AMU and institutions like it need is tough love from the Prime Minister, not platitudes.

Arihant Pawariya is Senior Editor, Swarajya.
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