After the Batla House encounter in 2008, when erstwhile vice-chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia, professor Mushirul Hasan announced that the university will provide legal aid to two of its students, arrested on charges of terrorism, Narendra Modi - erstwhile chief minister of Gujarat - in a public meeting, ranted Doob Maro (drown and die).
His objection was that since Jamia is funded by the taxpayers' money, it cannot utilise the fund to support "terrorists". This came despite the fact that it was clear from the very beginning that the university would support the students with the money collected by the Jamia fraternity, not the funds it receives from the government.
His prejudiced judgment on both the students and the university was unbecoming of a chief minister. Either he deliberately skipped the fact that the university is not going to use government funds to support its students to defame the university or was ignorant enough to not know the fine details of the announcement. And calling those students "terrorists" in a public meeting even before they stood a fair trial was also against the principle of "innocent until proven guilty".
How can a university invite a person who denigrated it and its students in public as the chief guest in its annual convocation? Modi has not even apologised for his remarks. Modi's slur on Jamia in 2008 is a good enough reason for the Jamia authorities to withdraw the invitation they extended to him. If this is not enough, let me add one more point.
This year, as soon as the news of University of Cambridge inviting Narendra Modi to speak before the prestigious Cambridge Senate came out in the public domain, many distinguished faculty members and alumni reacted furiously. They wrote a letter to the vice-chancellor of the university, noting that Modi's presence at the institution would bring disrepute.
They protested for several reasons, including Modi government's effort to undermine academic freedom in India. They bravely stood in solidarity with Indian academia and gave voice to their grievances. But to see an Indian university honouring him with a similar invitation is nothing but unfortunate. The V-C of Jamia Millia Islamia has not only insulted thousands of students and alumni of the university by inviting him but also those at Cambridge, who campaigned to support educational institutions like Jamia in India. Thus, Modi's presence at Jamia will not only bring disrepute to the university (as it would have done to Cambridge), but also be seen as an act of betrayal to those campaigners at Cambridge.
Interestingly, however, as many students and alumni protested the invitation, the current Jamia V-C, professor Talat Ahmad, defended the decision and said to India Today, "I won't run the university on students' or alumni's mercy". This statement is also outrageous. Mr V-C should know that universities are supposed to serve students' interests and take their views and grievances into consideration. Every modern democratic educational institution is expected to do so. A university that is not open to feedback and complaints from students can never progress. And I, as an alumnus of Jamia, too can consciously say that the university's environment hardly allows students to dissent. This bitter reality is evident in vice-chancellor's statement.
In my democratic right as an alumnus of the university, I urge the vice-chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia to immediately withdraw the invitation. He cannot just wish away our concerns, unless he wants to run the university in an authoritarian manner.