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Published in the 16-31 July 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

SPECIAL REPORT
AMU's dilemma: reconciling merit and minority interest
By Iqbal A. Ansari

Now that the Common Minimum Programme of the United Progressive Alliance has promised to take special measures, including amendment of the Constitution, for educational development of the backward religious minorities, there is a need to have a close look at the reasons for the Aligarh Muslim University's failure to fulfil the responsibility entrusted upon it by the Parliament in 1981 "to especially promote the educational advancement of Muslims of India."

Though the University Grants Commission has been trying to enforce the common entrance test for admission to specified professional courses of all Universities, it is only the case of the Aligarh Muslim University which was raised earlier in the last Parliament by 'secular' parties as one of interference in the autonomous functioning of a premier minority educational institution - which has caused serious distortion of the issues related to academic standards and legitimate interests of Muslims on an all India basis. The University's present admission policy based on categorization of applicants as 'internal' and 'external' fails to promote both academic excellence as well as legitimate interest of the community. To be able to understand why this policy was, adopted and how its perpetuation since 1960s has done immense harm to the institutions academic health, one need to go back to the background of the AMU (Amendment) Act 1981, which defines the University "as an institution of their choice, established by Muslims of India" empowering it to "especially promote the educational and cultural advancement of Muslims of India". 

Such unambiguous provisions were made in the Act in response to one of the most widespread and sustained movements undertaken by Muslims in all parts of the country since 1965 demanding the restoration of the "minority character" of the University which they felt was threatened by M.C. Chagla's hectoring attitude and speech in the Parliament, delivered in the wake of physical assault on Nawab Ali Yavar Jung, the Vice-Chancellor, who had reduced the quota of reservation for "internal" students from 75% to 50%. The Act also sought to rectify the damage caused by the judgment of the Supreme Court, in Azeez Basha Union of India case (1968), that the University was not 'established' by Muslims, according to the dictionary meaning of the word, but by the Parliament, and therefore they were not entitled to its administration. It needs to be noted, that irrespective of the changing governments at the Centre and the State of Uttar Pradesh, the University was never subjected to any pressure or undue interference in any area of its functioning — including the Indo-Muslim orientation of the social milieu of the Campus. The only matter that lay in the area of uncertainty was the issue of the right of the University to preferentially admit students of the community. The matter had started causing increasing concern to the community during the late fifties and early sixties when open competitive tests for admission to the engineering and medical courses, and some science subjects, could not ensure any sizable percentage of Muslims students.

Considerations of secularism, as then interpreted, made Muslims rule out any preferential admission of students of the community. Hence recourse was taken to the indirect preferential admission of "internal" students. As the University has had high and higher secondary schools under its direct supervision, it was expected that 75% quota for internal students would ensure admission of sizable number of Muslim students.

From 1965 to 1980 the beneficiaries of 'internal' quota of 50% and of nominations had developed such a vested interest in its continuation, that the decision making bodies did not attempt to replace it by a merit-based preferential admission of a reasonable percentage of Muslim students from all over the country, which it was entitled to do under the Constitution and its Act of 1981. The 'internal'/ 'external' quota gives undue protection to those who are affluent enough to afford to get admitted to the AMU from the school or higher secondary stage, or who live in and around Aligarh district and other regions of U.P and Bihar. The socio-economic-regional profile apart, this irrational classification refuses admission to much more meritorious students of all communities, Muslims as well as non-Muslims, and prefers to admit far less meritorious students of any community as 'internal'. Under such a secular façade lies the ugly reality of the system undermining academic merit and excellence of both Muslims and non-Muslims. This has resulted in dilution of standards in the University.

Successive Vice-Chancellors testify to the fact that this backdoor entry in the name of Muslim interest has also been a major source of indiscipline, as student leaders thrive on championing the cause of less meritorious students asserting their right to admission.

Attempts in the past, like the one this writer made in 1986 as a member of the Academic Council, to replace 'internal' 'external' classification by meritorious minority and non-minority students, were thwarted. Even after St. Stephens college judgment and the Constitutional bench's ruling in TMA Pai Foundation case (2002) in favour of preferential admission of minority students requiring it to be done transparently on the basis of relative merit of minority students without any rigid ceiling (of 50%) has not made the University change its admission policy based on 'internal' 'external' classification.

A sizable section of enlightened teachers of the University, old boys and Community leaders would like admission of Muslim students to be based on all-India merit. However it needs to be kept in view that 50% quota for Muslims reportedly offered by the former Minister For Human Resource Development of the NDA Government cannot fulfill educational needs of the Muslim community, given their educational backwardness and the responsibility entrusted upon the University to especially promote their advancement. There is a need to make provision for 65 to 75% seats available to Muslim meritorious students. It must be kept in view that the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court has deliberately removed the rigid ceiling of 50% laid down in the St. Stephen's College judgment, directing the concerned authorities to keep in view "the needs of the Community for which the institution has been established," while fixing any quota.

In the early sixties the Chatterjee Committee inquiring into certain administrative matters of the A.M.U, had noted with appreciation the then obtaining mix of Muslim and non-Muslim students in the ratio of 65%-35%. It should be possible for the concerned authorities in the Ministry, the U.G.C and the University to explicitly recognize the University's status as a minority institution — entrusted with special mission for promotion of all India Muslim education — which should make it admit students in the following manner:

General merit: 30 to 35%.; Muslims on an all India merit basis: 50%; Educationally, socially and economically backward Muslims on an all India merit basis: 15 to 20%. 

Internal students and sons and daughters of lower grade employees may be given 5 to 10% weightage, while considering relative merit — but only to be valid for those courses, for which there is not much competition.

The U.G.C. should concede the right of the University to conduct its own merit tests for 50% Muslim (General) and 15-20% Muslim (Backward) candidates; while bringing 30 to 35% general merit seats under Common Entrance Test system. The demands of general merit, of minority interest and weaker sections will thus be rationally reconciled under this scheme, which should be periodically reviewed for necessary adjustments.

Formerly of AMU, Prof Ansari is currently 
visiting professor at the Jamia Millia Islamia. 
He may be contacted at iqbalansari2001@hotmail.com 

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