Is Aligarh Muslim University, once again, leading a campaign for Partition of India?

After serving 35 years in the Indian Army, Brigadier (retd) Syed Ahmad Ali joined the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) as its pro-vice chancellor in 2012 and seems to have conveniently forgotten the secular ethos that are integral to the military life. The title “Syed” in his name means that Brigadier Ali traces his lineage to the family of Prophet Muhammad. Also, the Syeds, being an upper caste, do not marry lower caste Muslims, barring exceptions. The AMU website declares proudly that Brigadier Ali belongs to a “distinguished family of zamindars” – or landlords, one of the only two classes of Muslims, the other being Islamic clerics, responsible for the continuing Muslim backwardness.

Speaking at a seminar on The Inclusion of Article 341 in the Indian Constitution and the Muslim Reservation, Brigadier Ali stressed the need for reservation to Muslims, forgetting in the process that our political leaders delivered a secular constitution at a time India was going through religious bloodshed. The seminar was organised at the AMU campus where Brigadier Ali was the chief guest. According to the Urdu daily Roznama Sahafat of 28 January, Brigadier Ali stated: “Muslims are extremely backward in the field of education for which it is necessary to give them reservation in educational institutions.”

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File image of Syed Ahmad Ali. Image credit: AMU website

About 1,000 years of Muslim rule in India should have propelled Muslims to great heights in the fields of education and sciences and taken this nation to majestic glories. But Muslim emperors spent time building mosques, palaces and tombs rather than inventing buses, railways and the telegraph. It’s unfortunate that the only diagnosis the pro-vice chancellor of this leading Muslim educational institution offers is not innovation and invention but reservation.

What is also worrying is that during a 35-year military career, Brigadier Ali did not learn anything about merit and the need for a questioning mind, scientific temper and liberal outlook as necessary for the progress of Muslims. These were the basic reasons Sir Syed established the Aligarh Muslim University and launched the Urdu magazine Tahzibul Akhlaq with the singular purpose to inculcate scientific temper among Muslim students. It does not appear that Brigadier Ali has learnt anything from Sir Syed.

The Article 341 of the Indian Constitution is known by its two sub-clauses which state:

(1) “The President may with respect to any State or Union territory, and where it is a State after consultation with the Governor thereof, by public notification, specify the castes, races or tribes or parts of or groups within castes, races or tribes which shall for the purposes of this Constitution be deemed to be Scheduled Castes in relation to that State or Union territory, as the case may be.”
(2) “Parliament may by law include in or exclude from the list of Scheduled Castes specified in a notification issued under clause (1) any caste, race or tribe or part of or group within any caste, race or tribe, but save as aforesaid a notification issued under the said clause shall not be varied by any subsequent notification.”

Nowhere do these clauses indicate that religion can be a criterion for reservation. However, it seems the seminar was organised in order to call for the removal of Article 341 from the constitution. This was no small seminar. It was organised at the Kennedy Hall, which is the largest auditorium on the AMU campus. Mahmood Pracha, a senior advocate at the Supreme Court, was invited to speak at the seminar. According to the Roznama Sahafat report, Mahmood Pracha argued: “Reservation can be given even on the basis of religion.” It is astounding that calls will be made in the 21st century from the campus of AMU for the use of religion in public policy, providing the necessary ingredient for another partition of India.

For Indian youths who do not know history, it was from the campus of Aligarh Muslim University that the Pakistan Movement originated, leading to the Partition of India on religious basis in 1947. It does not automatically follow that the AMU’s founder Sir Syed also wanted the Islamic state of Pakistan. It appears that the birth of Pakistan Movement at the AMU campus came about as an unintended consequence of Sir Syed’s educational movement. In his capacity as the pro-vice chancellor, it should have come as a natural instinct to Brigadier Ali to recognise the historical parallel and discourage any argument based on religion. Instead, Brigadier Ali endorsed and advocated that religion be the basis for reservation in educational institutions. Such Islam-based advocacy will create its own logical next step: a new cycle of partition. It will be sad if it comes from the AMU.

In recent years, Islamists in India have sought to forge unity with Dalits to advance their Islamist cause. Speaking on the occasion, Mahmood Pracha went on to describe the Article 341 as a threat to the Muslim-Dalit unity, a deep longing of Indian Islamists. Pracha stated: “[The lack of] discussion of religion in Article 341 of the constitution is a suppression of the rights of Dalits and Muslims which should be removed.” According to the report, Dr Muhib ul Haq, a teacher at the department of sociology of AMU, also spoke on the occasion. He also took the line of argument Pracha advanced, stating: “Great injustice was done to Dalits and Muslims by not giving reservation and by banning religion from Article 341.”

Nazar Abbas, another AMU teacher, also argued that reservation should be granted to Muslims in order to eradicate their “social and educational” backwardness. If Islam could not eradicate “social” backwardness of Muslims, I am left wondering how reservation can do it. It seems the lone voice to speak of all human beings, not just Muslims, was a young research scholar Muhammad Rizwan who argued: “The nation cannot progress until the backwardness of all sections of the country is removed.” Notwithstanding Muhammad Rizwan’s exception, it is clear that seminars like these will birth another Pakistan movement on the AMU campus in near-future and for which Brigadier Ali and his like-minded colleagues should alone be held accountable. The year 2017 marks the 200th birth centenary of Sir Syed (1817-1898). I suggest that the AMU leadership hold the next big seminar on the following question: Is the AMU campus leading, once again, a campaign for another partition of India?