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After Ayodhya, battle for AMU

Updated on: 29 January,2024 04:55 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Ajaz Ashraf |

The BJP is seeking to usher in yet another moment of Hindutva triumphalism by arguing in the Supreme Court against the varsity’s minority status, in the hope of altering its religious composition

After Ayodhya, battle for AMU

AMU was conceived as an institution for providing modern education in an Indo-Islamic environment

Ajaz AshrafIt is ironic, and hilarious, of the Union government to challenge the minority status of the Aligarh Muslim University on the ground of secularism, which has been delivered many a deadly blow after Independence. None more decisive than Prime Minister Narendra Modi participating in the consecration ceremony of the idol at Ayodhya’s Ram Temple last week.

Shorn of all legalese, the battle over AMU, currently underway in the Supreme Court, is at its core about altering the religious composition of the institution. In case the Supreme Court deprives AMU of its minority status, it will have to introduce reservation for the Schedules Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes and the Economically Weaker Section.

Such a measure will lead to 60 per cent of AMU’s seats and faculty and non-faculty posts being set aside for caste-based reservation. Through this route some backward caste Muslims may gain entry into AMU, but their number will be small. An institution, overwhelmingly Muslim, will undergo a dramatic change in its demography.

Call it the Hinduisation of AMU!, or call it the secularisation of AMU, as Hindutva will hypocritically insist. Call it whatever you may, this attempted transformation mirrors the change brought about, after more than a century of dispute, in the character of the Babri Masjid, where now stands the grand Ram Temple.

AMU was conceived as an institution for providing modern education in an Indo-Islamic environment. But for one solitary year, it never had a Muslim quota in admission. AMU admits students in two categories—internal and external. For BA, the internal category includes students who passed out from five AMU-run schools; for MA, students who graduated from AMU.

The intake of students into AMU is split 50-50 between internal and external categories. Twenty per cent of the latter include SC and ST students, children of AMU staff and alumni, and those belonging to distant states. It requires a sociological study to ascertain precisely why non-Muslims do not flock to AMU other than to its medical and engineering colleges. It is most likely because non-Muslims do not wish to send their children to be educated in an Indo-Islamic environment, not even when the campus was under substantial Leftist influence.

The current battle for AMU has two milestones, both connected to its admission policy. In 1965, Vice-Chancellor Nawab Ali Yavar Jung refused to implement the Tyabji committee’s recommendation to increase the internal quota in admission to engineering and medical colleges, from 50 per cent to 75 per cent. He was assaulted, prompting the Union Education Minister M C Chagla to amend the AMU Act of 1920 for altering its governing structure. One Azeez Basha, among others, went to the Supreme Court saying the government could not amend the AMU Act as the institution had a minority status and, therefore, it was the fundamental right of Muslims, under Article 30 of the Constitution, to administer it.

No, said the Supreme Court in 1967, arguing that the 1920 Act may have been enacted because of concerted Muslim efforts, but that did not mean that the “Aligarh University when it came into being under the 1920 Act was established by the Muslim minority.” Academic Violette Graff, in a 1990 paper, quoted constitutional lawyer H M Seervai describing the verdict as “productive of grave public mischief”, and cited historian Tara Chand, then in the Rajya Sabha, saying that it was a “falsification of history” to claim that Muslims did not establish AMU.

After 13 years of Muslim mobilisation and protest, the AMU Act was amended in 1981, explicitly spelling out that the institution was established by Muslims. Its minority status was deemed beyond doubt until, in 2005, AMU’s admission policy for postgraduate degrees in engineering and medical courses was changed to provide 50 per cent of seats for Muslims and 25 per cent each for internal and external candidates. The Muslim quota was based on the 1992 Supreme Court judgment in the St Stephen’s case that a minority institute could reserve 50 per cent of seats for the community that had established it. 
The new admission policy had the Union government’s consent.

A non-Muslim internal candidate appealed against the new admission policy in the Allahabad High Court, which cited Azeez Basha to read down the 1981 amendment. AMU went in appeal to the Supreme Court, as also did the Union government. Status quo was restored, and the old admission policy was reintroduced. In 2016, the Modi government withdrew its appeal, saying it can’t be seen as “setting up a minority institution in a secular state”—a State gasping to breathe secularly, so to speak, since 2014!

It is likely the review of the Azeez Basha case in the Supreme Court will be reserved for judgment this week. A verdict annulling AMU’s minority status will become yet another moment of Hindutva triumphalism, yet another proof of the Bharatiya Janata Party upholding the interests of SCs, STs and OBCs. Demoralised and downcast as Muslims are, they will unlikely come to the streets to express their anguish. In their isolation, they will imagine, with sadness, the day when the Muslimness of AMU would be only reflected in the Indo-Islamic architecture of its buildings, which, who knows, maybe bulldozed one day.

The writer is a senior journalist.
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