AMU’s minority tag issue is designed to polarise voters in UP
While the BJP is trying to put out a rights-based argument in favour of SC/STs and OBCs to bolster its case, other members of the Sangh parivar are quite open about the its usefulness as a purely election issue.columns Updated: Jul 09, 2016 21:46 IST
Saif Ahmed, a 24-year-old PhD scholar in Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI), flipped through the pages of Rashtriya Arakshan Niti Aur Aligarh Muslim Vishwavidalaya for a few minutes, and said sullenly: “Things are volatile again.” They indeed are. The Centre’s controversial affidavit opposing Aligarh Muslim University’s (AMU’s) minority character will be heard in the Supreme Court (SC) tomorrow. The outcome of the case could set a precedent for a similar legal battle in the Delhi High Court over the status for JMI, also a minority institution.
The 103-page book argues that since the Constituent Assembly, Parliament and the judiciary had accepted that AMU is a central university, the institution should follow the reservation policy for SC/STs and OBCs as mandated by the law.
While this is the crux of the argument of the book, which has a photo of BR Ambedkar on the cover, the underlying tone in it is that AMU is bypassing the quota requirement by waving the ‘we are a minority institution’ flag. The Constitution --- Article 15(5) --- exempts minority institutions from the SC/ST/OBC reservation. The validity of this clause has been upheld by the Supreme Court.
“Most students would not understand the long-winded legal arguments made on the minority tag issue but, yes, it is being discussed in Jamia and in AMU. We are aware that the BJP is raking it up for gains in the UP polls next year,” Saif told me. “There is resentment over this in the campuses”.
The legal aspect of the AMU debate is complicated. In 1920, the Indian Legislative Council set up the university, and assets of its precursor — Mohammedan Anglo Oriental College (MAO) — were transferred to it.
Those defending AMU’s minority tag say that this was done by an Act as that was the only way a university could be set up at that time. In the Azeez Basha versus Union of India case (AMU was not a party) in 1967, the SC ruled that AMU was not a minority institution as it was set up by the British legislature, and not by Muslims. In 1981, Parliament passed an AMU Amendment Act, which accepted that the institution was set up by Muslims.
Some groups challenged the admission policy of AMU and the Allahabad High Court in 2005 ruled that the 1981 Act was ultra vires of the Constitution, and that AMU was not a minority institution. The university’s appeal against the order was dismissed, but the SC stayed the HC’s decision, and so AMU remained a minority institution. Last week, the Centre withdrew an appeal filed in the SC by the previous Congress-led government that had sought to retain the minority tag for AMU.
In an insightful piece on the controversy, Faizan Mustafa, Vice-Chancellor, NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad, wrote in Hindustan Times last week: “No one has ever doubted the minority character of Mohammadan Anglo-Oriental College (MAO College). The Supreme Court in 1967 and Allahabad High Court in 2005 admitted the so-called ‘deep green’ character of the college. The moot question is: Has the college on its conversion in 1920 into Aligarh Muslim University through an Act of Governor-General-in-Council lost its minority tag? Section 5 of the AMU Act says AMU shall inherit not only all debts, liabilities, etc. of the MAO College but also all its rights. Thus, common sense tells us that AMU has inherited the minority tag of MAO College”.
The AMU’s minority tag issue, which has now been raised again by the BJP, is designed to polarise voters ahead of the UP elections.
While the BJP is trying to put out a rights-based argument in favour of SC/STs and OBCs to bolster its case, other members of the Sangh parivar are quite open about the its usefulness as a purely election issue.
In June, the RSS made it clear that the controversy over AMU’s minority tag will be one of the key elements in its already hefty stockpile of other poll issues such as scrapping Article 370, implementing the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and the cow slaughter ban issue.
An aside is that the book is published by the Society against Conflicts and Hate; the acronym: SACH (truth). I searched online for more SACH’s website to know about the kind of issues it takes up but drew a blank. No surprises there. Such organisations are known to pop up for a specific purpose.
To know the other side of the story, I rang up Mustafa Zaidi, associate professor at AMU. He trashed the Centre’s argument. “The admissions for all courses have 50% internal and 50% external intake. Then there is a 20% nomination quota of the vice-chancellor where SC, ST, OBC, children of government servants posted in Aligarh, children of employees, children of alumni, distant state residents, outstanding debaters/speakers, outstanding sportspersons are admitted,” he told me. “The policy has been that whoever applies in the SC/ST category is offered admission through nomination. And that is why, there has never been any court case regarding denial of admissions to a student belonging to this category.”
The other argument is that several surveys on the educational status of Muslims in the country have placed the Muslims at the bottom of the education pile, even lower than the Dalits. The implication is that AMU’s historical association with providing modern education in a largely Muslim ethos, in the Muslim mind, makes a larger number of Muslims from many far-off places feel comfortable to apply here. And so, the present set-up must not be tampered with.
In fact, Zaidi reminded me that BJP stalwarts AB Vajpayee, LK Advani and even Subramanian Swamy of the erstwhile Janata Party had supported the minority character for AMU during the 1970s and 1980s, and the issue was part of the party manifesto; the first two supported the Bill in Parliament as ministers and Murli Manohar Joshi as HRD minister offered 50% reservation for the Muslims to AMU during NDA rule, provided it agreed on a common entrance test.
It is not difficult to understand why the issue has an electoral promise for the BJP: It has the potential to break the ruling Samajwadi Party’s Muslim and OBC support base and the Bahujan Samaj Party’s Dalit and Muslim vote bank.
Critics also believe that this focus on the SC/ST/OBCs right to quality education is also because the government is trying to recover the ground it lost due to the mishandling of the Rohith Vemula case (a Dalit scholar who committed suicide in January). His death led to protests in his alma mater — the Hyderabad Central University — and other campuses.
Strangely, while on the one hand, the Centre is batting for better educational opportunities for the STs, on the other it’s doing its best to dismantle a law that is crucial for the economic and social development of the STs: The Forests Rights Act. The FRA is not an issue in UP, and so the BJP’s doubletalk will not scrutinised.
Moreover, what about the other problems of the higher education sector? One of the main reasons why quotas are so popular is because there aren’t enough good quality universities which can meet the demand.
But India, quotas are the biggest poll freebies you can give because it keeps the electoral pot boiling and parties can reap rich (short-term) dividends. Which political party can deny such a feast?