More than 85 years since its birth, the constitutional question about Aligarh Muslim University’s pedigree remains unanswered. The UPA government purported to reserve 50 per cent seats in the university’s postgraduate courses for Muslims on the assumption that AMU is a minority institution. But the Allahabad High Court promptly held that to be unwarranted. Its reason: the binding authority of the Aziz Basha case wherein the Supreme Court had rejected the claim of AMU being a minority institution on the ground that the Constitution envisaged an institution “established and administrated” by a minority and AMU happened to have been established by the government of the day through a legislative act. The last word on this debate is, for sure, yet to be heard.
In this book, Tariq Hasan does not bother with the history of this controversy. For him, AMU was created as an act of assertion by the Muslims of India to the distress caused by the failure of the 1857 war of Independence.
AMU remains misunderstood. If its founder, Sir Sayed Ahmad Khan, was subjected to ridicule by Muslim conservatives for apeing the British, it is even more perplexing that the author of this very readable, short history of the Aligarh Movement should have received hostile attention from some quarters for painting Sir Sayed in colours of glory.
The story told by Hasan has a curious familiarity that comes from the constant refrain of the Muslim leadership from 1800 onwards seeking to define a role and identity for themselves and for their community. At every step there is a dichotomy: liberals versus conservatives — and yet, with non-Muslims accusing the liberals of being conservatives. Hasan does great service in this book to establish that “the Aligarh of 1888 was an amalgam of the East and the West…. a place where liberal ideas thrived and Hindu-Muslim unity was nurtured.”
Fascinating as the story of AMU as told in this book is, it is a pity that the chapter, "Crisis at the campus 1955-2002" is all too brief. AMU has had a troubled history of internal conflict and external cynicism. It has seen ugliness break out on more than one occasion, causing the Vice Chancellor’s residence to turn into a fortress. Today, students point to spots where ‘martyrs’ fell to police bullets.
There are also new landmarks, both architectural and academic. The alumni of AMU can be found all over the world, meeting in Aligarh every October 17 on Sir Sayed Day.
But the words of Zakir Husain seem to go unheeded: “The way Aligarh works, the way Aligarh thinks, the contribution Aligarh makes to Indian life in its man ifold aspects will determine the place Mussalmans will occupy in the pattern of Indian life. The way India deals with Aligarh will largely determine the shape of things in the future national life of our motherland.” The manner in which readers will read Tariq Hasan’s book may well determine how AMU will be treated by India in the years to come.