Know the new VC of Aligarh Muslim University

By Aziz Haider, RNI,

Born on 15th August, 1948, General Zameeruddin Shah is now the 38th Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University. He is supposed to reach AMU soon to take up this coveted job. In the first interview as designate-vice chancellor of AMU, Shah talks with Aziz Haider of RNI news agency on different issues from lifestyle to military career to religion and how he is going to tackle the issues confronting AMU.

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Zameeruddin Shah, newly appointed VC of AMU

Excerpts from the interview:

Kindly elaborate on your background?
Gen. Shah: I belong to a place called Sardana, a tehsil near Meerut. My father was in Uttar Pradesh services. He was sent on deputation as Administrator to Ajmer Shareef. He was the first of the Administrator when the Government tried to stem the rot in Ajmer of misuse of funds. Once he went there they wouldn’t let him go. So from 1954 to 1965 he had a running battle with those seeking self-interests in Ajmer. He partially succeeded.

My father always felt that the best thing to do for his children was to give them proper education. He had a transferable job so he sent us to a boarding school in Nainital where we were fortunate to become part of a society where there were students from majority community, the minority community, the Sikhs, the Christians and the Parsis. We never asked each other what the other person was. We practiced our respective religion. We were allowed to go for Eid and other prayers. We were never forced to participate in Catholic worship. That is the background I have.

Then I joined National Defence Academy. I joined a regiment which had camels. I lived in the age of Lawrence of Arabia. Subsequently, I educated myself. In Army you cannot progress unless you are educated. I view education to be very important facet of one’s life. And I rose to the rank of Deputy Chief of Army Staff where I controlled the army budget in crores and I controlled the modernization of army. They reposed complete faith in me. After I retired I went back to Meerut. Then I got this call to be the member of Armed Forces Tribunal where there were so many applicants. I am proud to say that I was selected to dispense justice merely on the basis of past performance.

My mother was educated at home, she knew Persian, Arabic and Urdu. My father was well-educated. He had studied in City High School in Aligarh. Then he went to Afghanistan and from there went off to England. He spent several years there.

Members of the community must understand that it is good quality education which is the need of the hour. It is education that matters. And if you had education, good education of the type that I intend to provide in AMU, you do not need any crutches. We are three brothers. All three of us have done very well in the fields we entered based on the education that was given to us. My elder brother went to IIT Kharagpur on his own merit only on the basis of quality education he received. Naseeruddin Shah, my other brother, is a successful actor in Bollywood.

Elaborate a bit on your family and your own lifestyle?
Gen. Shah: One of my sons-in-law is a doctor. He runs a charity in Calcutta. He charges a pittance. He is a very committed person. As for living, he says that God will take cover of that. My eldest daughter is married to a naval pilot. My third child, my son, got commissioned, he was my ADC. He joined just for five years. He then went to IIM Calcutta and he is having a very good job with Rolta India. My fourth child, also a son, is a corporate trainer.

I am an avid sportsman. I played polo. I boxed as well. I was school champion in boxing. I play tennis, I play golf; you name the game. The army encourages you to participate in sports. Sports deflect you from going into other pursuits which are not desirable. Best thing about sport is that it encourages cohesion, it encourages team spirit. Inshallah, you will see that soon AMU Alumni will represent national teams in all sports. I am going to make sure that. They will be the pride of the country. The country too will be proud of AMU sportsmen.

Personally, I am a homely person by nature. I like to stay at home. And I am not a very social type.

How do you feel when Naseer Sahab takes ‘chutkee’ in this age?
Gen. Shah: He is an amazing actor. I would say that he is the best actor in the world, and not just in India. You name any actor and he is better. He is very devoted. He knows his job. He can learn spirits in 5 minutes. He knows human nature. He is observant. He knows how people react. I am proud of him.

How do you view religion?
Gen. Shah: I leave all my decisions to the Almighty. It is by His grace that I have been chosen as the Vice Chancellor. I don’t preach. I am proud to be a practicing Muslim and to observe the tenets of my religion. They don’t interfere with my professional work, they never have. Religion is my own personal affair. I will do it the way I wish to do. Nobody should tell me what to do as this is something very personal.

What background and credentials make you fit to be the Vice Chancellor?
Gen. Shah: I have a totally secular background. I joined the army and I am very proud to say that it is a first rate secular organization which gives you your due. I have had most prestigious opportunities. I have been Defence Attache in Saudi Arabia. I commanded a Division. I commanded a Corp which was looking after complete North East at a time when we were faced with insurgencies in North Eastern states. So I have dealt with various shades of people. I have also commanded a formation when it was sent to Ahmedabad in 2002 and I am proud to say that the army did its job in preventing total bloodshed. And it was extremely fair. You can ask the people of Ahmedabad what the army did. I was there for several months. I have not only experience in the military field I also had a good experience in the field of education. I have trained young students to get commissioned. I have been head of Sainik School, Purulia. I have been the head of the Army School of Management, Calcutta, where we train people for MBA. I have been associated with Army War College – a premier education institute for the army. I have also headed the Center for Land Warfare Studies – Calcutta which is also a premier think-tank for the army. Though I joined the army at the age of 15, I subsequently did my MSc and MPhil with the help of the Army. People allege that I am uneducated. I am afraid I am not. I am well-aware of what is happening in the world.

Elaborate on your experience and role in a fire incident in Haj camps?
Gen. Shah: There was fire and it was spreading very rapidly. And I was tasked to go towards the fire. So I did. The wind was blowing and the fire was progressing very fast. I came back and advised that we evacuate straightaway. We advised people to leave their belongings and leave.
People got separated from their wives and children. We were instrumental in reuniting families, providing food and water and tried to get the whole community together. The team of embassy officials and me did that the whole night. We distributed packets of food and water and tried to reunite the families. I am proud of the fact how the embassy staff and I functioned.

What are the problems that are afflicting the Muslim community?
Gen. Shah: Problem, as I see is to draw the Muslim community out of its shell, give them a secular education. My thrust area is to get people into the premier jobs – the best and most sought after jobs of the country. Also my thrust will be to get young boys from AMU into the armed forces because that is the place which will strengthen them, give them respect and also be appreciated by the whole country. I am sure you agree that what I did was not only service to the country but also service to my community, service to my family. I think that it is going to be my thrust. I also had diplomatic experience. I have been Defence Attache in Saudi Arabia. I have traveled all round the world. This experience I intend to put to good use in AMU.

Is a reformist drive of similar or bigger magnitude than that of Sir Syed the need of the hour? Is it true that the Muslim community reached a nadir from where it cannot come out without a helping hand from the majority community?
Gen. Shah: The majority community will come to help provided we get out of the shell. If we remain trapped in a shell how can they help. I must say majority community has helped me in my profession. They reposed trust on me. They gave me the most sensitive jobs. This wouldn’t have happened if they had not reposed trust. It is for the Muslim community to indicate that they are ready to take on the responsibility.

I had a talk with a group of AMU students 40 years ago, when I had just joined the army and I told them what was the problem, but they were not convinced. They said I was a sarkari musalman. So that mindset has to be set right. We got to get rid of the shell. We got to prove that this country is ours. We got to prove that we are true to ourselves. Key to our development, key to our progress is secular education. That does not mean that you compromise on your religious beliefs. Not at all! Islam teaches that you need to be aware of what is happening in the world. This conception that you have to be uneducated and backward to be practicing Islam is a fallacy. And secularism does not stand in the way of practicing Islam.

I can’t compare myself with Sir Syed but I will certainly try and emulate what he did and the spirit which he inculcated.

You were chosen as the best man to lead out of several others. How do you see yourself as the best man?
Gen. Shah: I have not been associated with others. I am sure they have merit. I am a soldier and I have retired. People feel that I can be instrument for change for the better. In that they want me to make sure that the University reaches the pinnacle and it becomes the leading university of the country. And I will make sure that its boys are given opportunity and training to join the central services and to join the armed forces and the police and the industry comes in droves to recruit boys from our university. At the moment, I am afraid to say that people don’t come to AMU. I am going to ensure that they are given an opportunity. I am just going to be an instrument but I am well-equipped. I am sure that others would have their plus points, but the very fact that there was consensus in electing me does indicate that they showed faith in my ability to steer AMU to its heights.

How much did the Army training help?
Gen. Shah: The army life helped me to understand human nature. It helped me to understand that you got to stick by the rules. It helped to understand that if you are to succeed you need to carry the entire population with you. If you are not a soldier you normally don’t get these experiences. I am going to use whatever I have learnt to carry everybody with me. I am going to ensure that there is fair play. I am going to ensure that the rules are kept and above all I am going to ensure discipline. Because without discipline, you cannot achieve anything! I am going to ensure that classes are run on time. I want to make sure that the teachers have their lesson plan. It will only be done through discipline. If you are undisciplined, you are not going to reach anywhere.

Won’t you then be putting your hand in the beehive?
Gen. Shah: No, because the people are going to appreciate. I am going to set the example. If I am not punctual, I cannot expect it from others. Army teaches you to lead by personal example. Our motto is ‘follow me’. When you are going under fire, then too you have to lead. Inshallah, I will lead here as well. You will find that I will not be found wanting in any aspect. I will lead. And people will see and they will appreciate.

There are so many powerful groups in AMU. Eventually what happens is that one of the groups starts targeting the VC.
Gen. Shah: I was not aware of all this. But during the selection process I did get to know that there are so many camps. One advantage I have is that I do not carry any AMU baggage. I have never been associated. I have no interests. I have no relatives in the academic body. So I have no interest other than betterment of AMU. And I am not going to be associated with any of the groups. I am going to be neutral. I know how to do it. Otherwise I couldn’t have led soldiers. I am not going to be influenced with any of the groups. I am only going to be influenced by what is better for the betterment of the university.

What is going to be your work-plan for the future?
Gen. Shah: I won’t take any action unless I have studied the situation. I will act as the situation demands.

What is your view on AMU’s special centres at other places?
Gen. Shah: Matter of the center is a controversial issue. I would not like to comment. Let me go and study the pros and cons and what the Muslim community act says. Then only will I take a stand. At this moment I do not like to comment. Because I know there are very divergent views. I will attend to it when I have studied.

Kindly comment on the slander campaign carried out against you?
Gen. Shah: I am very confident of my abilities and I am very confident that God is guiding my hand. I am not looking for a job. I have status of a High Court judge. I felt it was a calling. When I was Deputy Chief of Army Staff, again people approached me. At that time people thought I was crazy. I was prepared to jump into the fray. I was prepared to resign. I told the Chief and he was rather shocked why I was doing it. I said may be it is a calling. The very fact that I have been elected by consensus indicates that people are looking for a change, for the AMU.

Net is full of slander against me and my family but I have kept quiet. I feel very said that people have to revert to slander campaign. It was a personal attack on not only me but my family. But people will realize and feel sorry after sometime that they resorted to this once they have seen me. For example they say I am an alcoholic and things like that, they will be proved wrong. I felt those people will feel ashamed and hopefully they will mend their ways. So the slander campaign doesn’t worry me. I have never been in the controversy, and I don’t intend to be in controversy. My sole aim is commitment to the job, if it is entrusted to me. Time will tell!

Some people feel that an academician would have been more suitable for the job. What is your opinion?
Gen. Shah: Every one has got plus points. An academician will know what is right and wrong in academics. An administrator will know how to administer. Fortunately I am a happy combination of both. I have been associated with educational institutions. Both have the areas of strength. I really can’t say what is better. But if you have a happy combination of both, is there a problem?
R.N.I. News Network