The way Aligarh participates in various walks of national life will determine the place of Muslims in India’s national life. The way India conducts itself towards Aligarh will determine largely, the form which our national life will acquire …,” said Zakir Hussain when he was vice-chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).
Looking at Hussain’s reference to the link between AMU and the Muslim community, we should take a look at the history of the institution, which is dotted with controversies and legal complexities.
The university came under a malicious attack in 1965 as mullahs were opposed to Muslims going for modern education; it is in trouble again under the NDA government.
In January, attorney general Mukul Rohatgi told a Supreme Court bench that “it is the stand of the Union of India that AMU is not a minority university. As the executive government at the Centre, we cannot be seen as setting up a minority institution in a secular state”.
This, as AG Noorani had pointed out, was a reversal of the stand taken by the UPA government.
Noorani recalled that “in India itself, curiously, whenever it suited the government to do so it never failed to refer to Aligarh with pride as a flourishing Muslim institution”. A pamphlet --- Muslims in India ----- published by the ministry of information and broadcasting in 1964 referred to Aligarh as “the oldest Muslim educational institution in India. It was founded by the late Sir Syed Ahmed Khan in 1875 as the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental (MAO) College. It was in 1920 that it formally became a central university after the enactment of the Aligarh Muslim University Act in that year”.
There is a crucial difference between establishing a university and incorporating or upgrading an existing functional institution to the level of a university.
In the Azeez Basha vs Union of India case, the SC’s Constitution bench had ruled that AMU was not established by Muslims, but by an Act of Parliament and hence did not merit to be seen in the ambit of Article 30 of the Constitution, which gives the right to minority communities to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.
The upgrade of MAO College to AMU was a legal requirement. The word ‘Muslim’ was included in AMU as an acknowledgement that the government of the day accepted the university as an institution of Muslims, established to promote the educational and cultural advancement of Muslims, making it a minority institution.
The government must not touch the AMU’s minority status. If it changes the status, it would go against Prime Minister Naremdra Modi’s policy of ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas’.
The Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia are institutions of scientific learning. The government must ensure peaceful functioning of the minority institutions, and use Article 29 and Article 30(1) to grant minority tag to more such institutions.
Omar Peerzada is former member, National Monitoring Committee for Minority Education, HRD ministry
The views expressed are personal