The Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) receives scores of e-mails each day from its alumni in India and abroad, asking the institution not to compromise on the minority character that the union government purportedly plans to change.
Both former and present students believe the BJP-led NDA government’s stand is in line with the Hindutva agenda. They say the AMU is being targeted because Muslims established a Muslim institution of repute.
Arshad Jafri, a former student settled in Aligarh, says the AMU is the counter-narrative to the educational and cultural constructs about the Muslims. “The AMU has been fighting this war of perceptions; it changed the way the Muslims were viewed with its educational advancement, not only for the community but other communities too,” he adds.
Since attorney-general Mukul Rohtagi told the Supreme Court that the AMU was not a minority institution, the mood is sharply anti-BJP on the campus which has seen Muslim politics taking shape from the days of the freedom struggle.
Vice-chancellor Lt General Zameer Shah agrees: “There are anti-BJP elements on the campus. They feel the BJP is anti-AMU. Of course, the students are agitated.”
“In our case, the U-turn by government in court is deeply worrying. People in general and students are deeply attached to minority character of the AMU. It is a matter of life and death. Consequences will be serious if that is changed.”
History and arguments are on the side of the AMU as it fights the legal battle.
“The BJP has brought up this sensitive issue in a calculated way. It can have a polarising effect in 2017 Uttar Pradesh elections,” said a senior professor.
“Other political parties are looking for ways to play it to their advantage. One thing is for sure, what is being done is being done from a communal perspective,” he added.
The AMU had started off as Madarsatul Uloom, a seminary, in 1875 and evolved into the Mohammadan Anglo Oriental College with progressive roots.
In 1920, the Indian Legislative Council set up the university, and all the assets of Mohammadan Anglo Oriental College were transferred to it. Muslims then collected Rs 30 lakh (the current value is 1 lakh crore) and handed it over to the authorities.
In court, the government has taken the stand that the university was set up by the British legislature and not the Muslims.
The university’s stand is that the British ran the government of the day and the AMU needed their ratification for the sake of degrees. In 1981, the Parliament passed AMU amendment act, which accepted that Muslims set up the AMU.
In the run-up to the deliberations on the issue, the act had the support of then Bharatiya Jan Sangh, out of which BJP was born, and Subramanian Swamy who was with the Janata Party at the time. The act was passed after the Supreme Court ruled the AMU wasn’t a minority institution in the Azeez Basha vs Union of India case in which the AMU was not a party.
When some aspects of admission policy were challenged, the Allahabad high court also ruled the AMU was not a minority institution in 2005. The Supreme Court stayed the single-bench order allowing the AMU such a status.
The status allows the AMU a degree of autonomy in its functioning and doesn’t allow it to follow the principles of reservation as a central institution.
The AMU, at present, doesn’t have religion or caste-based policy, but it does have preferences and reservations for local candidates, irrespective of faith. The BJP has pushed for Dalit reservation at the university vigorously of late.
Shah said the Dalits were persecuted for thousands of years and needed reservation and protection. “Muslims are even lower in every sphere, be it education, poverty and so on,” he said.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati came out in strong support of the AMU in January this year. She said the centre’s plan of depriving the university of its minority status was like making “Muslims an orphan in field of education.”
The SP, Congress and the Left, which was once a strong force to reckon with in AMU, too have become quite active in the district on this issue.