There are several complex questions involved in the controversy over the 'minority' status to Aligarh Muslim University. Most of these are legal and some, given the context of the current political climate in the country, political. That the latter has already taken precedence over the former in public forums comes as no surprise.
The opposition would like to see the decision of the BJP-led central government not to press ahead with the 'minority' status to the varsity and abide by the 1967 ruling of the Supreme Court, a communally motivated one. This is one more example of the government trying to attack minority institutions, which is part of their larger agenda to divide the country along communal lines, trust this to be their line of argument in the coming days.
But here’s a brief look at the legal aspect of the matter. In what’s known as the Azeez Basha vs Union of India case, the constitution bench of the Apex Court ruled that AMU was not established by Muslims, but by an Act of Parliament and hence did not merit to be seen in the ambit of Article 30 of the Constitution which gives right to minority communities to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice. The university, which has always been identified with the Muslim community, lost its minority status.
Those arguing against the court’s verdict – they include Dr Faizan Mustafa, former registrar of AMU and currently vice chancellor of NALSAR University, Hyderabad – contend that the university was not even party to the case in Supreme Court, which was over internal reservations in the institution. They also maintain that the fact that the university grew out of Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College, an institution set up by Muslims, was not seen in the correct perspective by the court.
In 1981, Parliament had amended the relevant Act to upturn the court’s verdict but the Allahabad High Court rejected it in 2006. The UPA went in appeal against it. The BJP government has now decided not to contest it. For an institution that has managed without the minority status for over half a century, it would not make much existential difference, but it is signal for politics to kick in.
The decision comes at a juncture when the intolerance debate still rages in the country. Seen in the long chain of issues that have dominated the political discourse over the last few years, beginning with love jihad through ghar wapasi to attack in beef-eaters to the anti-national debate to the current controversy over bharat mata ki jai, it is easy for the opposition to fit the latest move into a pattern which they believe is dictated by the Hindutva agenda of the wider Sangh Parivar.
Coming as it does months after the government took a similar position on Jamia Millia Islamia, the political opposition is keen on driving home the message that the BJP is anti-minority and it reflects the way it is targeting minority institutions.
“They will do everything, which can create insecurity and division and divert attention of people from the miserable performance of the Narendra Modi government and its failure on all fronts...They are basically divisive in their approach, in their ideology and their mind," said Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma. Former Law Minister Salman Khurshid blamed it on the narrow political view of the government. The BJP maybe on firm ground legally but it will take some effort from it to establish that its intent was not malicious.
Whether this has the potential to become a hot political topic, capable of influencing electoral politics or even the community as a whole, is another matter though.