Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh: On Wednesday, police caned students of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and on Friday, internet was suspended in the district. While it is Pakistan founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah's portrait — mounted in the student union hall — that is in the eye of the storm, professors and students hold the right-wing responsible for creating chaos over a non-issue.
Professor M Shafey Kidwai, also in-charge of AMU's corporate communications, said Jinnah's portrait has been in the hall since 1938, when he was accorded lifetime honorary membership of the university. This was nine years before India's partition, he pointed out. (The AMU has a tradition of giving lifetime membership to prominent people, whose portraits are then put up in the student union hall.)
Kidwai clarified that AMU neither glorifies Jinnah nor condones his ideology. "People who supported his ideology have left India long ago and there is no point in stoking an unnecessary controversy in the name of the person who is not liked by anyone in the varsity campus," he said.
When asked why Jinnah's portrait was still adorning a university wall if he's not a well-liked figure, Kidwai said the AMU Student Union (AMUSU) is a semi-independent body, run by the students. He said the university administration does not interfere in the union's affairs. However, as the presence of the portrait is being misconstrued as the university's endorsement of Jinnah, he said the vice-chancellor's office has now sent a letter to the union to look into the matter. He said the AMUSU and teachers' association will take a call in this regard.
While speaking on the subject, he did not hide his disapproval of Jinnah. He noted that Jinnah was responsible for India's partition and massacre of hundreds of thousands of people.
"Neither the university nor its students preach Jinnah," Kidwai asserted and reiterated that the portrait is up in the university merely because of his honorary lifetime membership. He said that apart from Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, the AMU also has portraits of those who were against Jinnah's ideology, such as Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Zakir Husain and Hasrat Mohani. He rued that amid the Jinnah controversy, nobody was paying attention to this fact.
"The university makes its stand clear that these portraits are archives because they are a part of our history and nothing else," he said.
'Targeted because we're Muslims'
AMUSU secretary Mohammad Fahad echoed Kidwai's statement. "Why would we preach Jinnah? Why is it that we are being targeted? Because there is the word 'Muslim' in Aligarh Muslim University?" he asked.
He said the right-wing protesters whose actions led the police to using force on Wednesday know nothing about the AMU's history. He said the goons barged into the university campus and the students tried to stop them because this brouhaha was taking place at a stone's throw away from where former vice-president Mohammad Hamid Ansari was in the university guest house. Ansari, an alumnus as well as former vice-chancellor of the AMU, was to be accorded its lifetime membership on Wednesday.
Professor Ali Nadeem Rezavi, a faculty member in the AMU’s history department, said the entire incident was perhaps designed to embarrass Ansari, since his Muslim identity has been used against him earlier too. He said it was shameful that the university failed to honour its distinguished alumnus because of this ruckus.
Further, Rezavi said it is unfortunate that the varsity is being targeted for political benefits. He opined that this incident might also have been orchestrated to polarise voters, with an eye on Assembly election in Karnataka and the Lok Sabha bypoll in western UP's Kairana seat.
Pointing out that Jinnah's portrait is mounted even in a Shimla institute and other places in the country, he asked why the AMU alone was being targeted. He said it was not only politicians but also people within the university who were seeking to use the institute as a vote bank.
Aftermath of Wednesday violence
After police caning injured many students in Wednesday's incident, the student community is outraged. The AMUSU has decided to file a case against the police and the district administration in Allahabad High Court. Thousands of university students as well as teaching and non-teaching staff took out a protest rally on Thursday as well as Friday to decry police heavy-handedness.
The district magistrate of Aligarh snapped internet in the region from Friday 2 pm to Saturday midnight to check the circulation of communally inciting messages.
(With inputs from Akram Khan in Aligarh and Saurabh Sharma in Lucknow. Both are members of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters)
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Updated Date: May 05, 2018 08:35 AM