Was AMU-Jinnah controversy used to split Karnataka polls mandate?
Caught between a portrait and Hindutva, the varsity shows the way.
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The recent controversy over Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s portrait in Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), hanging inside the Students Union Hall since 1938, followed by the ruckus created by India's right wing forces and the Uttar Pradesh police’s brutality on students sent tremors through the varsity’s alumni community — the Aligs — and raised serious questions about how to come out of this ploy hatched in the wake of Karnataka Assembly elections.
The massive outrage displayed by students in such a milieu is a natural response. The community of Aligs all over the world, through alumni associations, joined the protest by expressing solidarity. In addition, student communities from many other universities and various other groups have also supported AMU.
However, the country’s electronic media has been cleverly setting debates around Jinnah’s portrait, ignoring the outrage and solidarity over valid concerns about law and order. A judicial probe into the whole fiasco has already been demanded by various alumni associations in India and abroad. Nonetheless, barring a few channels, TV news appears entirely compromised and playing the cards for an incumbent regime to divide the mandate along communal lines.
Before we proceed to make judgments on the matter, a few observations deserve our attention. Photo: PTI
Before we proceed to make judgments on the matter, a few observations deserve our attention.
First, Aligarh Muslim Students Union (AMUSU) was neither made aware of nor does it remain obliged to respond to any such demand from outside its campus and jurisdiction. Though the university may take a position on the matter, it is worthwhile to remember that AMUSU has its own constitution and cannot be forced to take a stand by the university administration as it goes against the very spirit of democracy and autonomy granted to the institution whose legacy lives on.
Second, without waiting for a response, within two days of dispatching the letter, on May 2, 2018, the armed men of Hindu Yuva Vahini allegedly tried to forcefully enter the campus twice by shouting provocative slogans. Some of them were caught and handed over to the city administration at Aligarh that later released them — and they attacked the varsity yet again. They scuffled with the university’s proctorial staff and students while trying to enter the campus.
Third, the police, instead of arresting the goons, brutally attacked the students in the name of lathicharge. Clearly, the city administration’s role with regard to the behaviour of its police requires a high-level inquiry as CCTV footage shows UP police escorting the miscreants, while marching towards the Baab-e-Syed at Aligarh. Several alumni associations within and outside the country have already pressed the demand for a judicial inquiry into the whole affair.
Fourth, though it was used as a trigger for controversy by the sitting MP of Aligarh, it is not the portrait of Jinnah that students are protesting over because the letter for its removal was written to the university and not addressed to the AMUSU.
More importantly, even if the demand was made, neither the union nor the university is obliged to comply with any nefarious motive to erase history, whether of AMU or other varsities. Needless to mention that renaming and rewriting India’s history is one project that is dear to the right-wing forces and they often spark such controversies in lieu of votes during the elections.
Sadly, when the media starts acting as an instrument in the hands of the legislature, it is indeed time to worry about the democracy we so cherish despite the odds. TV anchors (along with spokespersons of the right wing) are asking why the portrait was not removed as per the MP’s demands. They failed to represent different hues of the protest and, hence, failed to understand why the agitation — and have been unable to report on the controversy in an impartial manner.
Interestingly, during a recent meeting convened by AMUOBA Delhi-NCR at India Islamic Cultural Centre on May 6, a former student of the university, also a member of the BJP, openly criticised the Aligarh MP and declared that police brutality on the students is a “blot on the Constitution”. Several videos of students from the Hindu community too countered rumours, misrepresentation of facts and the negative portrayal of the university in the media.
Most revealingly, the controversy — in the wake of Karnataka elections and the Kairana and Phulpur by-polls — leads us to believe there is a clear ploy to divide the mandate along communal lines so that the BJP gains in terms of votes. Now how much it gains from such designs remains to be seen.
It must be mentioned that in the long history of the university, the ongoing students’ demonstrations in Aligarh have been most spectacular. For the first time in the 21st century, the varsity saw women students' active participation alongside male peers on an issue that didn’t specifically target women.
More importantly, the recent crisis and the response from within Aligarh sheds light on Muslim subjectivities that had been suppressed under a regime ruled by the most unwelcome face of the right wing for India’s minorities. Impressive demonstrations, outdoing those at other universities in terms of participation, reveal that the pressure can no longer be tolerated.
It is evident that if pushed further, our society may resort to anomalies, if not pathologies. Though, it may also surprise us by offering an alternative to the corrupt and jejune politics that dominates India today.
We, as Aligs, are deeply troubled about the deadlock over the issue, and even a judicial probe seems possible only after the elections. In such a context, what are the possible solutions to the ongoing mayhem that disrupts the academic session of the university? Speculations are that the agitations, if continued, may force the university administration to exercise the option of resorting to sine die.
Perhaps, in the larger interest of the illustrious university, AMUSU can change the mode of protest to avoid hampering the academic session and the exhaustion that comes with sustaining protests with the same zeal. They can devise new strategies and adopt different modes of protests to have their demands and objectives addressed.
One way to do this is to organise a protest lecture series around the theme of democratic rights and issues surrounding the Indian democracy in particular. Another way is to launch an electronic/digital protest with clear directions from the AMUSU — which, to date, defends India’s democratic spirit and upholds scientific inquiry to lead the nation in the 21st century.