Why AMU's affidavit against Centre is counter-productive and harms Muslims more - Firstpost
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Why AMU's affidavit against Centre is counter-productive and harms Muslims more

Fair is foul, and foul is fair: / Hover through the fog and filthy air, said the witches in Macbeth.

In the warped world of Indian democracy and its even stranger notions of 'secularism' the Bard's words find full expression. Consider the righteous indignation showed by the Aligarh Muslim University while telling the Supreme Court that the NDA government's opposition to its minority status is "mala fide" and based on "political considerations".

Aligarh Muslim University. Image courtesy: University website

Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). Image courtesy: University website

The varsity's affidavit, filed before a bench led by Justice J S Khehar on Tuesday, was in response to the Centre's decision in April to withdraw the previous UPA government’s appeal against an Allahabad High Court verdict which had struck down AMU’s 'minority' status.

AMU said the Union government cannot argue against its 'minority' status because that would be "unconstitutional, highly irreverential and irresponsible apart from being ex-facie improper".

"While the majority community have hundreds of institutions, Union of India should not try to take over even the single institution from the minority," read the affidavit. "The AMU is the oldest Muslim university in the country. Its minority character means a lot to all Muslims," said the varsity.

This is a staggering subversion of the word 'unconstitutional', a rotten twist to our Constitution's original idea of secularism and an oft-repeated, cynical attempt to ghettoize Indian citizens on the basis of their religious identity. Not having minority status for almost half a century has not stopped AMU from producing noted scholars and academics. It may not be purely coincidental that this was raked up ahead of poll-bound Uttar Pradesh where Muslims make up around 18% of voters.

AMU charged NDA government with "deliberate dereliction of constitutional duty" in not backing its minority status. It said Centre's decision does not appear to be a sound one based on "cogent and valid reasons, but one based on political considerations."

Ironically, these are the same charges that could be brought against the varsity. It could be argued that it is the AMU, and not the Centre, which is trying to reinstall a regressive, discriminatory step of reserving 50 per cent of post-graduate seats for Muslims. In seeking a separate institution for members of minority community, it is encouraging intellectual separatism among Muslims, preventing them from being part of the social mainstream.

Muslim youth seeking higher education have access to all Indian institutions. Instead of helping them, this cooping up harms their interest more. It reduces Muslims to half-citizens, forever jails them to their religious identity and makes them fit only to serve as vote-banks — a 'high political art' perfected by the Congress and now gainfully employed by a dozen such so-called secular parties.

In Congress's long history of playing political football with India's institutions and undermining their secular underpinnings, AMU is just one among many.

In 2006, the UPA government and AMU had challenged an Allahabad HC verdict that struck down Indira Gandhi government's 1981 Parliamentary amendment to grant the University a 'minority' status. The amendment circumvented a 1967 ruling by the Supreme Court which said the AMU was not a minority institution as it was set up the government, and not Muslims. So when the NDA government, through Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, told the Supreme Court in April this year that it shall withdraw challenge filed by the then Congress-led UPA against the Allahabad HC order, it was only seeking to set the legal record straight.

It is one thing to protect the rights and interests of the minority communities as the Centre is Constitutionally bound to do. And it is quite another to use that as a pretext to pander to sectarian interests and raise communal passions for electoral benefits. Constitutional mandates and judicial rulings are evaded through executive fiat and the entire exercise is then turned on its head through a concerted, Goebbelsian trick and that which is unconstitutional, is then deemed constitutional.

Let us see AMU's case threadbare.

According to Article 30(1) of Indian Constitution, "all minorities whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice." The AMU was established as a college for the scientific advancement of Muslims. However, such institutions must be funded by minority communities themselves, not by the Indian state. Established in 1875 by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, The Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College — which was a minority institution — was dissolved and re-established as the Aligarh Muslim University by an Act of Indian Parliament in 1920.

This Act, which is the legal foundation upon which the University stands, did not define AMU as a minority institution. It did allow certain privileges for Muslim students. However, the AMU now became subject to Constitutional provisions. As Washington-based Tufail Ahmad, Director of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute, pointed out in Firstpost: "While the Constitution gives rights to minorities to establish educational institutions, such institutions cannot retain a minority character if their funding comes from the Indian state.

"Under Article 30(2), the state can give aid to minority institutions. But the AMU's case is not a case of the state giving aid, but a case of the Indian state fully funding and running an institution specifically for a minority community."

This is against Constitutional provisions because India is a secular state. The fundamental tenets of "secularism" implies complete neutrality by the state in matters of religion, neither supporting, nor opposing it. All citizens are equal regardless of their religion. The state shall not favour or give preferential treatment to any particular religion or non-religion. Therefore, AMU cannot get taxpayers' money.

Any ambiguities on this issue was cleared in the 1967 Azeez Basha case wherein a five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court held that AMU was "not a minority institution".

Now came the political gymnastics. In 1981, the Indira Gandhi-led Congress government bypassed the Azeez Basha judgement and amended the 1920 Act to label AMU as a minority institution.

In 2006, the Allahabad High Court restored Supreme Court ruling by setting aside the 1981 Amendment. That was immediately challenged by the UPA. The BJP, this year, has sought to withdraw that challenge which could be seen as a legal response to Congress's cynical tactics. It is deeply tragic that not only Congress repeatedly tried to subvert the clearly laid terms of Indian Constitution, it did so in the name of "secularism".

As Ram Jethmalani wrote in Sunday Guardian: "Secularism and communalism are two words in India's political terminology that have intentionally been left undefined, so that they can be misused as weapons of attack by the Congress and its allies against any political opponent… without any accountability, or questions regarding their true meaning. It is politically more opportunistic to leave these terms elusive, undefined and intentionally misusable, and cultivate sections of captive media and intelligentsia to disseminate disinformation and brainwash gullible sections of the people."

It is no less ironic that AMU, in its Tuesday's affidavit, says AMU's "minority character means a lot for all the Muslims". If members of the minority community feel their education depends solely on exclusivity of their institution, then it reflects very poorly on Indian leadership that has since Independence failed to assimilate them into larger Indian society.

To quote Ahmad again: "Such a ghetto mindset among Muslims creates a sense of grievance, defeatism and victimhood. The AMU's leadership must come out of the minority mindset. It must not insist on retaining AMU's minority character because it sends out a wrong signal among Indian Muslims that they have only one university to look for… The NDA government's opposition to AMU's minority status is not only constitutionally valid, but it also treats Muslims as full citizens."

The AMU must understand that its affidavit is counter-productive and harms the larger interest of Muslims in India.

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