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Published in the 16-30 June 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

AMU reservation row

By Rizvi Syed Haider Abbas

The Milli Gazette Online 

Lucknow: As if the scorching May heat was not enough when HRD Minister Arjun Singh declared on May 20 that Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) would have 50% reservation for Muslim students, and thereby, triggering an outcry from all and sundry for sanctioning ‘communal reservation’ or ‘reservation based on religion.’ AMU, today prides for having more than 20,000 students and about 43 post-graduate courses which are mostly professional courses like masters in medicine, business management, Technology, Computer Science (MCA) and Education. All PG seats make not more than 2000.

The previous rule was 50% of PG seats reserved for internal students (AMU’s own products) and 50% for students from outside. The present rule is 25% for external students along with 20% to be filled in by internal students selected on merit and 50% of all seats to be filled by Muslim candidates. The remaining 5% would be going for Vice Chancellor’s nominations, children of employees or alumni or to those belonging to Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes.

The row started the very next day. BJP’s student wing Akhil Bharti Vidharyati Parishad (ABVP) went to Supreme Court (SC) to stop the move. BJP’s former Chief Minister of UP, Kalyan Singh (who hails from Aligarh) called it ‘blatant communalism’ and found consonance from unexpected quarters, as Irfan Habib, the Marxist historian from AMU used similar words for the reservation. Irfan Habib and his Communist Party of India (Marxists) had earlier opposed the AMU Amendment Act (1981), whereby AMU was given specific Muslim university status.

AMU VC Naseem Ahmad had to rush to Delhi where he spoke to the media on May 22 saying that the the decision had a precedent as former BJP HRD Minister Murli Manohar Joshi had offered similar reservation to Jamia Hamdard, Delhi which is a deemed university. This did not stop the media to continue its rampage. The Indian Express publsihed an editorial (May 21) ‘Destroying AMU’ and Times of India (May 21) dubbed it editorially as ‘Ghetto Mentality’. Both the editorials emphasised the move as a retrograde step fraught with the political objective of drawing minority votes and nothing but minority appeasement.
Perhaps a rewind to history would help here. AMU, as it stands today is undoubtedly a Muslim institution and the SC has been constantly taking this view that minority institutions are entitled to give preference to students of their community

It may also be recalled that Aziz Pasha had challenged the validity of the first AMU Amendment Act (1965) in the SC. The Apex Court had rejected his contentions but has also taken the view that university had come into existence by resolution of a society formed by Syed Ahmad Khan and the building and the assets of the Anglo-Mohammedan Oriental College (AMU’s precursor) were converted into AMU by an Act passed in 1920.

What was AMU Amendment Act (1965)? "In, 1965, Ali Yawar Jung, AMU VC, brought a law declaring 50% reservation for internal students and a ruckus broke in campus and police fired on students, injuring three. The Students Union Hall was fired at the time when a University Court meeting was being held. This event was made the base and Congress government usurped the autonomy of the university" says Saleem Peerzada, presidnet of Parcham Party.
Then followed what is called as AMU’s Black Act of 1971 where the minority character of the university was scrapped. This was effected by a Marxist AMU professor Noorul Hasan who later became Education Minister under Indira Gandhi. "In between 1965 and 1971 we in the campus fought against government and I went to jail four times protesting the same along with so many seniors," said Peerzada, explaining that the Congress had always wanted to crush AMU in one form or the other by diluting the Students Union or resurrecting a parallel Student Council or trying to belittle the autonomous character of the university. "Had Zakir Husain Khan and Maulana Azad not been there, the Congress would have allowed Dayal Singh College, Lahore, to be shifted to Aligarh and vice versa.". Peerzadah asked why the government failed to initiate an inquiry in tothe knee-jerk reaction by police in 1965 when VC had categorically denied having asked the police to intervene. On whose order the police fired, was there anyone superior to Ali Yawar Jung? he asked.

The agitation carried on for a decade until AMU Amendment Act (1981) was passed by Indira Gandhi. Through this amendment it was specifically acknowledged that the AMU was established by the Muslims of India and for future administration of the same it also was provided in Section 2 (C) of the Act that promotion of educational and cultural advancement of the Muslims will be one of the main objectives of the university. Some other amendments were made in the Act so as to ensure that Muslims remain in majority in the AMU Court which was declared to be the supreme governing body of the university. Prior to1981 the Executive Council was the main governing body of the university and it had a pre-dominated majority of nominated or ex-officio members. After the amendment, the AMU Court became the final authority which had a Muslim majority. Today 27 members make EC and 180 constitute the AMU Court.

What is baffling is the consigning of AMU Amendment Act of 1981 to the darkroom and then bringing a rabbit out of hat after 24 years. Why did the government only now specifically acknowledge the restoration of AMU’s “minority character” which was cleared in 1981? Nothing but the lure of Muslim votes to uplift the sagging graph of Congress in UP could be the answer to this. 
It may also be mentioned that the May 20 announcement is actually in compliance with the judgement of 11 judges bench of the SC given in TMA Pai case, wherein the SC had laid down that the percentage of the reservation of seats would be fixed by the respective government and since the AMU is a Central Unversity the quota of 50% seats was to be determined by the central Government and this was now rightly done by issuing a no-objection notice to the proposal of the university which was adopted by both its Academic and Executive Councils.

"Muslim reservation in a Muslim institution, what a fun," queered Peerzada taking on Congress for denying Muslim Dalits ‘their right’ through the Scheduled Castes Order of 1950 which says in section 3 that no person who professes a religion different from the Hindu religion shall be a member of Scheduled Caste! "Why did Irfan Habib and his party keep mum over this discrimination done to Muslims for over half a century using a religious pretext where a Hindu sweeper gets job reservation but a Muslim sweeper is denied the same for the fault of his religion, he said.

It should be mentioned here that the then HRD Minister MM Joshi had asked AMU VC Naseem Ahmad that in case he agrees to the combined education test he may reserve 50% seats for Muslims the way Jamia Hamdard had been given. While Hamdard had agreed, AMU refused to accept this offer. The current government has simply adopted the same proposal with the only change that it has not imposed a combined education test as a bargain.

The issue therefore is not granting Muslims reservation in a Muslim university but a far more broader reservation in both public and private sectors. After all, SC has observed in Indira Sahani vs Union of India case in 1992 that reservation can be given to the residents of a popular area, be it large or small, to a particular religious group or caste. But, the determination of it would be on the basis of social and educational backwardness. Now, who can deny that Muslims as a whole are the most backward group in terms of education and representation in government jobs.

Now a poser to the communal-communist brigades: did anyone ever bother to check the exact percentage of Muslims in Benaras Hindu University or for that matter in Gorakhpur and Allahabad universities? Are the communists and saffronites concerned only with AMU? 

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