Recent controversies show AMU is once again a victim to petty politics

By Dr Anwar Khursheed for

I distinctly remember the fierce debate when proposal of off campus AMU Centres was first mooted by the MHRD. Out of the university fraternity some opined them as illegal, some considered them legal but unfeasible; and rest perfectly in tune. The then University VC Naseem Ahmad rejected the idea initially, but the next VC Professor Aziz placed it before University authorities and got their endorsement.

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In 2002, the then CM of Madhya Pradesh Digvijay Singh as the Chief Guest in the Sir Sayyed’s Day function on October 17 put up proposal of establishing off campus Centres. Mr. Singh also offered 100 acres of land for this purpose to the Gharib Nawaz Foundation (GNF). The Secretary of GNF visited AMU and met with the VC in 2003 and then GNF submitted its proposal of a second campus of AMU to Shri Arjun Singh, Union HRD Minister. The UGC on Jan 28, 2005 wrote a letter to GNF informing that it has asked AMU to submit a proposal. On March 13, 2005 the GNF again requested (read complained) Arjun Singh about the AMU off campus and requested him to “promulgate an ordinance in order to expedite the process as a first step in this direction” (copy to VC, AMU). The Under Secretary MHRD wrote a letter to UGC on April 21, 2005 on the same line and then on August 28, 2006 Dy. Secretary, MHRD, wrote to the VC, complaining about delay on it and suggested to establish the said Study Centre u/s 12(2) of the AMU Act.

The story does not end here; it has another episode. In 2007, the Belgachia Education Trust (BET) through Chief Minister of West Bengal also requested the PM to establish an institution in WB on the model of AMU at Murshidabad. The MHRD then wrote to AMU to establish a centre u/s 12(2) of the AMU Act. In view of no affirmative response by the then Registrar the MHRD in June 2007 reprimanded him repeatedly.

The initial concept of Centres in minority-dominated areas was a very catchy idea, since it was a step towards fulfilment of Sir Sayyed’s dream of furtherance of education among Muslims. However, the moment the above details came to light, there was a surge of queries, doubts, apprehensions and uneasiness besieged people’s mind. The most obnoxious action is the request of private trusts to promulgate an ordinance. What locus does the GNF posses to ask this from us? If the trust is so enthusiastic about the Centre, why it does not establish a deemed University on its own?

The University virtually becomes a sandwich in case of these Centres; first we were pressed to establish them and now the same MHRD is bent upon to close them or if not so, then create a situation of their slow death. The initial financial proposal was of Rs 1,400 crore for Malappuram and Murshidabad Centres but as ever the dubious Congress sanctioned Rs 349.55 crore in the 12th five-year plan. Till date, only Rs 130 crore has been released. Only one year is left in this plan and the present government is in no mood to give anything more.

Sec 5(9A) of AMU (Amendment) Act, 1972 provides “University shall have power to establish within a radius of twenty five kilometres of the University Mosque such special Centres, specialised laboratories or other units for research and instruction as are, in the opinion of the University, necessary for the furtherance of its objects”. While Sec 12 (2) of AMU (Amendment) Act, 1951 confirms that the University may also, with the sanction of the Visitor and subject to the Statutes and Ordinances, establish and maintain such special Centres, specialised Laboratories or such other institutions for research or instruction as are necessary for the furtherance of its objects either on its own or in cooperation or collaboration with any other institution.

Reading section 5(9A) with 12 (2) provides that establishment of Centres subject to approval of the Visitor is legally permissible, since sec 12 (2) was enacted in 1951, while sec 5(9A) was subsequently incorporated in 1972, which empowers the University to establish Centres without Visitor’s approval but within a radius of twenty five kilometres of the University Mosque. These two sections are therefore not contradictory and for the same reason 12 (2) was not struck down when 5(9A) was incorporated in 1972. Nevertheless no such centre can be legalised without framing necessary statutes and ordinances vide statutes 23(2), 28(6) and 29(1), which the university did in the mean time.

The Preamble of the AMU Act of 1920 provides “An Act to incorporate a Teaching and Residential Muslim University at Aligarh”, the debate on residential character of the institution as per the preamble of the Act can only be decided by studying the all important question whether the Preamble is a part of the Constitution of India or not. The preamble to the Constitution of India sets out the guiding purpose and principles of the document. For some time it was assumed that like the preamble of a statute, the preamble is not an integral part of the Indian constitution, however, Kesavanada Bharati Case created history. For the first time, Supreme Court recognised that the Preamble to the Constitution of India is a part of Constitution. Preamble is neither a source of power nor a source of limitations and it has a significant role to play in the interpretation of statues, also in the interpretation of provisions of the Constitution.

The inference drawn is that residential character is a part of the Act but not absolute and there is certainly no ambiguity in the establishment of campuses/Centres and this is perhaps the reason that hostel is not compulsory for the students since its inception and therefore provision of non-resident students does exist. The President of India as the Visitor of the University accorded approval for the establishment of these Centres under Section 12(2) of the University Act. Allahabad High Court comprising then Chief Justice F. I. Rebello and Justice A. P. Sahi dismissed a writ petition challenging the decision to establish two new Centres of AMU at Malappuram and Murshidabad, since the same was duly approved by the President of India as the Visitor of the University. The Kerala High Court bench comprising Chief Justice J. Chelameswar and Justice P.N. Ravindran had earlier rejected the prayer for interim relief against the establishment of Aligarh Muslim University centre in Kerala.

The MAO College at the time of its establishment in 1877 by Sir Sayyed possessed only 78 acres of land which has now expanded to more than a thousand acre; almost another thousand acres of land is now further gifted by the respective states of Kerala, Bihar and West Bengal, which is a big leap. Still, the full benefits of such Centres to the community may be far from reality in the absence of restoration of Minority status of the University pending before the Supreme Court, but whatever service AMU is rendering to the community the same these Centres are doing.

The AMU is always a victim of the politics be it Congress or the BJP the two sides of the same coin. First it was Congress through MC Chagla and Professor Nurul Hasan; now it is BJP through Smriti Irani. How pitiable it is on part of the Cabinet minister of HRD that she is totally ignorant about the history of creation of these Centres and putting the blame on the present VC Lt. Gen. Zameeruddin Shah.

But the ultimate victim is the same; the underprivileged AMU despite ranked as the second best among Indian universities. Irani is not speaking on her own accord; rather it is the words of others in her mouth. The unfortunate reality is that some Aligs (Aligarh alumni) are misguiding MHRD. Earlier, only the BJP/RSS were opposing these Centres now the same BJP is at the helm of affairs so the morale of these people is high; nevertheless the fence is clear that all those opposing the Centres are on the side of communal forces.

The author is Professor of Engineering at the Aligarh Muslim University