Secularise Aligarh University

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Secularise Aligarh University

Friday, 09 November 2018 | Prafull Goradia

Secularise Aligarh University

If some students wish to leave the Aligarh Muslim University, as they have threatened to, let them go. Without them, AMU would be better for serious students

That students at a university should provoke the police into filing criminal complaints is shameful. Aligarh University has a long history of students with doubtful loyalty to the country. Quaid-e-Azam Jinnah had lavished praises on the institution as the arsenal of Pakistan. A sizeable number of its students had gone all the way to Punjab to campaign for the Muslim League during the 1945-46 elections to the Constituent Assembly. When some of the voters asked the students what was there for them in the results since Uttar Pradesh could not be a part of Pakistan, their reply was that they had come to make sure the outcome brings a New Medina. The students had issued a manifesto which declared that 'Pakistan is our deliverance, defence and destiny. We deny that we are one nation with Hindus and the rest’.

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the founder of the Mohammadan Anglo Oriental College, Aligarh was a witness to the 1857 happenings. From 1858 right up to 1898, Syed Ahmad Khan was the pivot around whom the Muslim politics moved. In the speeches made at Lucknow and Meerut on December 28, 1887 and March 16, 1888 respectively, he laid down fundamental guidelines for Muslims to follow in their interaction with the British and the Congress. He asked Muslims not to join the Congress and support only the British. This policy arguably decided once for all the attitude of the whole Muslim community towards the Congress. Few Mussalmans of note since then joined the Congress except one or two. During his lifetime, Syed Ahmad did not make any departure from his political creed.

Late Sir Aga Khan who had led the Muslim delegation to Viceroy Minto in 1906 and demanded separate electorate, had also complimented the university for playing a vital role in the creation of Pakistan. In his autobiography published in 1954 he had written: Often in a civilised history, a university has supplied the springboard for a nation’s intellectuals and spiritual renaissance... Aligarh is no exception to this rule. But we may claim with pride that Aligarh was the product of our own efforts and of no outside benevolence and surely it may also be deemed that the independent, sovereign nature of Pakistan was born in the Muslim University of Aligarh. Another Muslim leader, Zia-ul-Hasan Faruqui described Aligarh as the training centre of the Mujahideen-i-Pakistan. Muslim leaders, like Maulana Azad and Humayun Kabir, were vilified and physically abused by the students of Aligarh Muslim University in 1942). In 1946, communal riots took place in Aligarh. Four persons were killed and a lakh worth of property was destroyed. An enquiry conducted by Divisional Commissioner, John Stone, found that apart city Muslims, students of Aligarh Muslim University had started the riots. In October 1947, the Pakistan Government was found to be recruiting officers for the Pakistan Army from Aligarh Muslim University. GB Pant, then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh had to direct the Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University not to allow Pakistani officers to visit the university.

The Aligarh Movement: This was launched by Syed Ahmad Khan in the 1860s. In terms of its significance and consequences for India, this was the most important of all movements launched by Muslims in modern history. The movement has been called the "Aligarh Movement" because its headquarters were in Aligarh. Prof MS Jain in his research monograph, The Aligarh Movement (1965) asks: "Why did we not develop into a homogeneous nation and why did the Muslims of India, generally speaking, chalk out a path different from that of the other communities in India?" The movement of Muslim regeneration initiated by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan provides the answer.

Richard Symonds who came out with his book, The Making of Pakistan, (Faber & Faber, London 1949) on the morrow of the emergence of Pakistan wrote: In politics he (Syed Ahmad Khan) had stated that Muslims were a nation who could not and must not be submerged in a system of government by majority vote. The Pakistanis rightly claim him as one of the fathers of their country.

In the Aligarh Institute Gazette of September 22, 1893, Sir Syed wrote: "Mahomedans may accept English supremacy because they have been conquered by Englishmen, but who is to make them submit to the supremacy of Hindus, whom they regarded their slaves for 700 years?" Sir Syed laid down as a matter of policy for the Muslims: Undiluted loyalty to the British regime. No truck with the Indian National Congress; and pursuit of modern education. This was followed by Muslims like Ameer Ali until 1906.

Prof Wilfred Smith, who had taught in Lahore for years, had said that by 1941 Aligarh had become the emotional centre of Pakistan; whereas Sir Aga Khan claimed that the independent and sovereign nation of Pakistan was born in the Muslim University of Aligarh.

Uttar Pradesh Muslims, were at the heart of Muslim separatism, wrote Prof Francis Robinson of Holloway College, London. They mainly founded and, with the exception of the Bombay-based Jinnah, mainly led the organisations which represented the Muslim interest in Indian politics. Syed Ahmed Khan founded the Muhammadan Anglo Oriental College in 1875 at Aligarh, which directed much early Muslim political activity and nurtured many Muslim League politicians. He followed this with the establishment of the All India Muslim Educational Conference in 1886, which helped him impress his political will on Indian Muslims.

In 1906, large numbers of Muslims from Uttar Pradesh flocked to Dacca to find the All India Muslim League. In this organisation, the secretaryship was the most powerful position. And between 1906 and 1910 it was held by Uttar Pradesh Muslims in Aligarh. After World War I, Muslims from the same province set up an association of Indian ulama and made the Central Khilafat Committee an organisation of all India importance.

Soon after his appointment as Vice Chancellor, Ali Yavar Jung, suggested certain changes in the rules of admission. Making this a pretext, an agitation was almost immediately set on foot by those who were opposed to him. Once started, the agitation did not remain peaceful. As a matter of fact, it ended up in an attempt to assassinate the Vice Chancellor to the horror of everyone. The students marched with a coffin to the office where the Vice Chancellor was holding a meeting of the University Court, broke into the meeting hall and assaulted him so seriously that no one could have doubts that the intention was to kill him and they nearly succeeded in their nefarious mission.

Ali Yavar Jung, however, had a miraculous escape. Justice MC Chagla was satisfied that the students alone were not responsible for this heinous plot. There were others hiding in the background. Some members of the Court obviously sympathised with the students, and instead of going to the rescue of the Vice Chancellor, they looked the other way. I thought drastic measures were called for as it was impossible for the Vice Chancellor to function in the existing set-up of the university.

Chagla, therefore, got the Central Cabinet’s approval to the promulgation of an Ordinance by which the existing Executive Council and the Court were dissolved, and the Government was empowered to set up a nominated Executive Council and Court. Chagla took pains to see that the persons nominated were sympathetic to the Vice Chancellor, and held similar views with regard to the policy to be adopted in running the university.

A raging and tearing campaign was started in the country by fanatical elements everywhere. Chagla was charged with being a dictator and interfering with the rights of autonomy of the university. The demand was made that the administration should be left to the Muslim community which had a unique interest in its well-being and that the Ordinance should be revoked. He reminded the agitators firmly that the Aligarh University was not a minority institution as defined in the Constitution. It was neither established nor maintained by the Muslim community. It was a national institution in which the whole nation was interested and that, though undoubtedly, it had a special purpose to serve, namely, the advance of Arabic and Islamic studies, that did not change its essential character because even non-Muslims might have an interest in such studies.

If some students wish to leave the university, as they have threatened to, let them go. Without them Aligarh should be better for the studies of the rest.

(The writer is a well-known columnist and an author)

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