The tussle over Aligarh Muslim University (AMU)’s minority status is not new: The Supreme Court had in 1967 ruled that the university was established by an Act of Parliament and not by Muslims, and hence was not a minority institute.
However, a 1981 parliamentary verdict circumvented the apex court’s ruling, granting AMU minority status, a move that was spearheaded by the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, the precursor of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
There was a time when the Bharatiya Jan Sangh was a strong proponent of Aligarh Muslim University’s (AMU) minority character.
The Bharatiya Jan Sangh, from which was born the BJP, contested the 1977 and 1979 general elections on the manifesto and symbol of the Janata Party.
During the 1979 mid-term elections, its manifesto read, “The Janata party will give priority to enacting appropriate legislation to restore the autonomy and original character of the university as institution for Oriental and Islamic studies, and for the promotion of educational and cultural advancement, primarily of the Muslim community.”
It also explained how it failed to enact the legislation to “(restore) the minority character of the university” because of the early dissolution of the Lok Sabha.
Future BJP leaders such as LK Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee were part of the Morarji Desai cabinet that drafted the bill.
The legislation in question was the Aligarh Muslim University (Amendment) Act, which was passed two years later in 1981 by then Congress government.
The bill introduced by the Indira Gandhi-led government was also supported by senior Janata leaders such as Ram Jethmalani, the then vice-president of the party, and Subramanian Swamy. Jethmalani even introduced a private member bill to give AMU a minority status.
“We do regard Aligarh Muslim University not as just a university but as a movement, which was started with the objects and purpose that Mr Gadgil just appropriately pointed out,” Swamy said during a debate on the bill, “...but the basic points about the Aligarh Muslim University are its minority character and autonomy... Now, over a period of 18 years (1965-1981) they have gone through a process of losing it.”
In fact, Dr Swamy asked the government to include the addendum: “...notwithstanding any judgement or a decree of the court of law to the contrary, the university is declared a minority institution under Article 30 (1) of the constitution.”
He said he would wholeheartedly support the bill if his request was met. However, even if it was not, he said, he would still support the bill, but with reservations.
However, more than three decades later, on April 4 this year, the BJP-led NDA told the Supreme Court that AMU is not a minority institution, seeking to reverse the stance taken by the UPA. The move threatens to snowball into a political slugfest ahead of the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections next year.
If declared a minority institution, AMU need not reserve seats for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward classes.
In 2006, the erstwhile UPA government and AMU appealed against the high court verdict that struck down a 1981 parliamentary amendment to grant the university minority status and circumvent the 1967 Supreme Court verdict.