Aligarh Muslim University woke up to a harsh reality of things shaping up in the country on May 2nd, 2018. At Around 11.30 in the morning, a group of 15-20 right wing activists tried to enter the AMU campus through Bab-E-Syed (The main gate of AMU). They were shouting provocative slogans demanding the portrait of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, hung in Union hall, to be taken down. The security officer of AMU posted at the gate caught hold of these fringe elements before they could enter the campus and handed them to the police, which released them in no time without registering any complaint against them.
At around 12 Noon, Ex Vice President of India, Hamid Ansari arrived at the university to deliver a speech (as part of a workshop), and was also supposed to be conferred with lifetime membership of AMU Students’ Union. He was staying in Guest House No 3 of the university, which is mere 50 steps away from Bab-E-Syed. Around 2 PM, while he was taking a stroll along with members of Student’s union in the garden of the guesthouse around 25-30 armed activists of right wing group again tried to enter the campus. This time their target was Dr. Ansari, these activists were escorted by the police officials, as per the students’ account. Before they could enter the campus, the students present near the gate and the members of the student’s union approached the gate to stop these elements from entering the campus. Presence of Dr. Ansari made the situation precarious and students were concerned for his welfare.
Concerned and bewildered by two incidents of armed approach towards the campus by rogue elements within a span of two hours, the member of student’s union along with other students marched to register the FIR. On the way, they were intercepted by the Police and RAF, which tried to stop them in registering the FIR. This resulted in heated exchanges between students and RAF. The RAF started attacking the students with sticks, without any warning or any physical provocation, which resulted in serious injuries to many students especially the President of student’s union (Mashkoor Usmani), General Secretary (Fahad), ex Vice President of AMUSU (Mazin Zaidi) and others. RAF chased the unarmed students till the gate of AMU and mercilessly beat them.
The city administration also launched a FIR against unarmed and injured students of AMU, charging them with rioting, assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty, criminal intimidation and endangering life or personal safety of others.
To understand the unfolding of such incidents we have to look back at the causes which made situation so volatile and put AMU in a tight spot.
The recent growth of AMU, an institution which is catering to the underprivileged and poor sections of the society by imparting quality education at a very affordable rate, in various fields and its improved ranking on national and international standards has unsettled many in the right-wing camp. They have used every possible medium to tarnish the image of the University by hurling false allegations and branding it as an anti-national University.
On first of May, Dr. Subramanyam Swami, a senior member of Bhartiya Janta Party retweeting an article from Rajesh Singh, a Delhi based journalist, asked his followers, “Somebody needs to teach AMU a lesson. Who will do it? (https://twitter.com/Swamy39/status/991473490372030464). Same day BJP Member of Parliament from Aligarh, Satish Gautam, retweeted a tweet from his party colleague and National Secretary of BJP, Mahesh Giri, where he labelled AMU as an anti-national university and alleged that AMU motivated terrorists like Mannan Wani and its mentality is ant-Indian. (https://twitter.com/satishgautam72/status/991273594754772993). These provocative tweets gave ammunition to the right wing elements to sharpen their attack on AMU.
Coming on to the portrait of Jinnah in the Union Hall, one has to go back in time to understand its historical perspective. Mohd Ali Jinnah was the founder member of the University Court, in 1920, and in 1938 he was conferred with life time membership of AMU Students’ Union . His portrait is hung alongside other life members of AMUSU like Mahatama Gandhi, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and others. Neither Mohammed Ali Jinnah was ever felicitated in AMU in Independent India and nor was he remembered ever apart from the donation he gave to the university. Also one should not forget that AMU union hall is not the only place in India where Jinnah’s portrait is hung – Sanjeev Bhatt (IPS) tweeted that even Mumbai high court and Indian Institute of advance studies in Shimla has Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s portrait (https://twitter.com/sanjivbhatt/status/992377391543615489).
AMU Student’s union maintained that President of India is the visitor of AMU and it is a central university. Thus, if the government has any objection on the portrait of Mohammad Ali Jinnah in Union Hall then they should send their objection through proper channel and it will be responded accordingly.
Mashkoor Usmani, President of AMU Students’ Union said that portrait of Jinnah is a non-issue, actually the fringe elements are trying to create an environment of communalism within the country by polarising the communities on religious lines. He along with his office bearers and all students of AMU are ready to uphold the values of the constitution of India and will not let any polarising group to be successful.
Nishant Bhardwaj, a student of AMU for last 10 years, never felt any prejudice on the campus because of his belief, on the contrary he claimed that AMU is the most secular university in India. According to him, AMU is an epitome of national integration, driven by the vision of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan who was himself a staunch supporter of communal harmony.
Mazin Zaidi, Ex Vice President of AMU Student’s Union, who was injured badly during the lathi-charge by the RAF said that students of AMU will never engage in any anti-national activity and they will work tirelessly to maintain communal harmony on the campus at all times.
By the time of writing this report, the students of AMU are sitting on an indefinite protest at Bab-E-Syed. They are demanding:
- Arrest of the fringe elements who marched on to the campus to attack Dr Ansari.
- NSA should be invoked against the culprits
- the police officials who escorted such fringe elements to the University should be expelled with immediate effect and action taken against them.
- A proper action should be taken against the authorities who lathi-charged peaceful students
- FIR of students should be lodged as soon as possible
- FIR lodged against the students should be taken back.
- Action against the senior members of the ruling party, who provoked such fringe elements by their inflammatory tweets.
Various universities across India, their students, faculties, civil right groups and many academicians and luminaries from diverse fields have condemned such attack on the autonomy of AMU and they have extended their full support to preserve the ethos and values of AMU.
Many see these untoward incidents across India as a precursor to the 2019 general elections and affiliate it to right wing group’s strategy to fight the election on such divisive issues.
—Zartab Haider Jafri is an AMU alumni and works as a business head for Mimer Energy Limited, India.