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Ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power at the Centre in 2014 the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) has been continuously on its target on one pretext or another. The BJP and its ideological mentor the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) drag the name of AMU every now and then generating unwanted controversies and public attention.

The most recent remark was that of Uttar Pradesh (UP) Chief Minister and BJP leader   Yogi Adityanath on 11 April while addressing a public rally in favour of Satish Gautam, who is re-contesting Lok Sabha election from Aligarh. Raking up the issue of the minority status of AMU he said that the institution is not a minority one and, hence, it should provide reservation to Scheduled Castes / Scheduled Tribes and backward candidates in admissions and jobs. He asked the people to vote him so that he can raise the issue of reservation again and again till he succeeds.

In the same public meeting Adityanath also stated that Pakistan founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah should not be honoured in India. He asserted that those responsible for the partition of India and those who wanted to see India disintegrated could not be respected in India.

In run up to the Lok Sabha elections, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes Chairman and BJP Member of Parliament Ram Shankar Katheria had asked the government to argue in the Supreme Court that removing the minority status of AMU would benefit the Scheduled Castes. Earlier, in July last year, Ram Shankar Katheria had also asked the AMU to produce documents or legal proof to support their claim of being a minority institution.

In the month of January the grandson of a local BJP legislature had triggered controversy over a “Tiranga Yatra” in the university. One may notice sudden spurt of Tringa Yatras by the BJP supporters especially passing through minority concentrated areas. A similar Yatra in Kasganj last year had led to a communal flare-up causing the death of one person.

And in sequel to what happened in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in February 2016 three years later in 2019 sedition charges were slapped against fourteen AMU students on the complaint of Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) district president alleging that he was assaulted by some students who chanted pro-Pakistan slogans. Though the charges were dropped by police citing lack of evidence but the incident had snowballed into a major political controversy.

Earlier in December 2014 soon after its victory in the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP leaders had announced that they would forcefully celebrate the birth anniversary of Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh, a Jat ruler, within the AMU campus arguing that he had donated the land for the university but was never hounoured by the university. 

Strangely for almost more than a century the BJP or its predecessor Jan Sangh had never ever raised the issue of celebrating Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh’s birth anniversary because of his left leaning. The irony of fact is that Raja had won the 1957 Lok Sabha election from Mathura by defeating Atal Bihari and throughout his political career he had opposed the Jana Sangh.

But now BJP has no hesitation in appropriating even icons opposed to their ideology provided they fit into their caste arithmetic and help reaping political dividends. Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh belonged to Jat community who plays crucial role in shaping the electoral politics of several Western UP’s Parliamentary and Assemblies constituencies.

After coming into power the BJP led government at the Centre had appointed an academic audit committee that going beyond the mandate and completely ignoring the long history of the establishment of the university, had recommended dropping of the word “Muslim” from its name which snowballed into another controversy.

In 2016 the BJP led government at the centre decided to withdraw the affidavit filed by the Congress led previous UPA government in an appeal against an Allahabad high court judgment quashing AMU’s minority status claiming that there is no constitutional provision that enables it to run a minority educational institution. Recently the Supreme Court decided to refer the AMU’s minority status case to a seven judge bench to determine the correctness of 1968 ruling in Aziz Basha case rejecting the minority status granted to AMU.

We must interrogate as to why BJP wants to keep AMU on boil? What purpose does it serve? The BJP wants to keep the AMU minority character issue alive for couple of reasons. One must understand that the BJP targets AMU essentially because of its Muslim character.

The BJP is constantly raising the AMU issue to counter the new poll arithmetic which has emerged after the Bahujan Samaj party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) alliance in UP as they are counting on the support of Dalits, Backwards and Muslims.

The BJP wants to convey the message that the rights of Dalits and Backwards have been denied in AMU by falsely claiming minority status in connivance with the so called secular parties especially Congress, SP and BSP. The message which BJP wants to put across is that revoking AMU’s minority status would directly benefit SCs and OBCs.

The BJP further wants to drive a wedge between Dalits and Muslims as any formidable alliance between them would cost BJP hugely which is looming large after SP- BSP alliance in UP.

The controversies over removal of the portrait of Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Tringa Yatra contribute in BJP’s strategy to shift the political narrative from livelihood issues to nationalism because the Modi government’s failure on these fronts are getting highlighted. It is no more hidden that the BJP and RSS are working on plan to take the nationalism debate to especially those universities where they have ‘no’ or ‘little’ support base with the active support of friendly media.

For BJP the AMU’s Muslim character makes it a natural target after JNU- a bastion of the left. The BJP tries to falsely propagate that in AMU the founder of Pakistan is still hounoured. The BJP’s strategy of targeting these institutions is completely in line with the RSS ideologue M.S. Golwarkar’s views who in his book Bunch of Thoughts had identified Muslims along with Christians and Communists as ‘internal enemies’.

Furthermore the BJP wants to portray AMU as symbol of ‘Muslim appeasement’ where Hindus are deprived of their rights in admissions and appointments with the tacit support of the secular parties. These issues help in sustaining the BJP’s narrative that ‘Hindus and Hinduism are in danger’ and the BJP alone can save them. During the 2014 election campaign the BJP President Amit Shah had even urged the people to ‘take avenge’ against parties who stood up for Muslims.

The AMU is considered as Mecca of Muslim education in India which has for long provided intellectual and political leadership to the community. Since almost a century it has been doing yeoman’s service by providing quality higher education to Muslims, who have the lowest rate of enrolment in higher education even worse-off than scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, in an atmosphere congenial to the growth of their culture, religion and tradition. The very historical role which AMU has played/playing also makes it an ideal target of the BJP.

The Chief Justice S. Das of the Supreme Court in Kerala Education Bill case way back in 1958 had aptly stated that the distinct language, script or culture of a minority community could best be conserved by and through educational institutions, for it is by education that their culture can be inculcated into the impressionable minds of the children of their community. It is through educational institutions that the language and script of the minority community can be preserved, improved and strengthened.

The idea of a Muslim minority central university is neither averse to the constitutional principle of secularism nor against the law of the land.     Former President of India Dr. Zakir Hussain once rightly remarked that a secular republic “will have a Hindu university and a Muslim university as central universities, because only a secular republic has the large-heartedness, the tolerance and vision to have them both”.

The venomous vilification of AMU is thus nothing but part of BJP’s well crafted strategy of polarizing voters on communal and caste lines to reap political dividends out of it. 

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  • The writer is Professor of Political Science at Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh.

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