Muhammed Sabith & Mohamed Shaffeeq N
What is the role of Aligarh Muslim University in the lives of Indian Muslim community, and, in broader perspective, in protecting India’s rich pluralistic legacy?
The university was originally established as Madrasatul Uloom Musalmanan-e-Hind by the Muslim reformer and visionary Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in 1875 – barely two decades after the invading British forces brutally suppressed the 1857 uprising, which started in Uttar Pradesh and was participated by large number of Muslims. Sir Syed wanted the Muslims, sidelined after the failed independence war of 1857, to rejoin the mainstream and further develop educationally.
Madrasatul Uloom soon became the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College. The college became Aligarh Muslim University in 1920, following the Aligarh Muslim University Act passed by the imperial legislative council.
For Sir Syed, competence in English and modern science was the necessary skill needed for maintaining Muslims’ political influence in the country. Before setting up his institution in Aligarh, Sir Syed visited top universities like Oxford and Cambridge in Britain.
Needless to say, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) has eventually emerged as one of the topmost centres of knowledge in the country, and has educated hundreds of thousands of men and women who made contributions in different fields.
In a recent speech addressing the AMU community, prime minister Narendra Modi said the AMU community – its students, teachers and professors – was serving the country during the last “hundred years.”
“… AMU Campus is like a town in itself. A mini-India is also seen among many departments, dozens of hostels, thousands of teachers, professors and lakhs of students,” he added.
However, where does the university stand today? An important question that everyone interested in the meaningful growth of the university needs to ask is whether AMU is fulfilling its historic responsibilities and its founder’s vision? Or, is it stuck in the past?
“We wanted AMU in different parts of the country”
In 2009, the AMU administration, under the leadership of the then vice chancellor Prof. P.K. Abdul Aziz, made a historic decision to set up five AMU campuses outside Uttar Pradesh. The decision was to set up special centres in Bihar, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal.
“We wanted to have the AMU centres in south, north, east, west and the central part of the country, keeping the cultural and academic values of the AMU intact,” Prof. Abdul Aziz told the EIF while talking about the reasons behind the initiative.
“There were three major reasons behind establishing the centres – first reason was the great legacy of AMU itself; second reason was the then public debate around extreme backwardness of the Muslim community and the findings of the Sachar Committee Report; and the third reason was a clause in the AMU Act that allows establishing special centres outside Aligarh,” said Prof. Abdul Aziz, who has also served as the vice chancellor of the University of Science and Technology Meghalaya (USTM), and Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT).
He said it was a period when there were nation-wide discussions on the Sachar Committee Report. There were also talks about “affirmative action for the minorities” and “15-point programme” introduced by Manmohan Singh-led UPA government, following the Sachar Committee report. So, the Sachar Committee report was an important factor behind the idea of AMU special centres outside Aligarh.
A clause in the AMU Act (The Aligarh Muslim University Act, 1920), which empowers the university to start special centres even outside Aligarh, made things easier. “I realised possibilities of setting up of AMU centres in different parts of the country. Given the backwardness of the Muslim community especially in education, we wanted replication of AMU in different parts of the country,” said the former VC.
An initiative that attracted unprecedented support and enthusiasm
Recalling the days he spent while the AMU special centres were being set up in Bihar, Bengal and Kerala, former AMU, the professor said that the initiative could spread fresh hope among the Muslims in different states.
“The idea became a reality because politicians from different political parties, besides the university’s various bodies like the AMU Court and the Executive Council, supported the idea.”
The then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Minister of State for HRD Mohammad Ali Ashraf Fatmi were particularly supportive of the idea. “Pranab Mukherjee helped by allotting 50 crore rupees in the union budget for the proposed AMU centres, and also worked together with the Bengal state government, ruled by a CPI(M) government, to ensure the land for the centre at Murshidabad.”
There were “impressive public demands and movements” in different states in favour of the proposed AMU centres in those states, he said.
The former VC, who was a key figure behind the idea, also named Kerala chief ministers V.S. Achuthanandan and Oommen Chandy, Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, Abdul Mannan Hossain (Lok Sabha MP, Murshidabad) and Maulana Asrarul Haque (Lok Sabha MP, Kishanganj), among several mainstream politicians from different states who supported the AMU centres. He also appreciated the support extended by Kerala ministers M.A. Baby, Paloli Mohammed Kutty, Abdul Rabb, P. K. Kunhalikutty and Aryadan Muhammed, of different governments.
“Positive responses and efforts of these politicians and others created “confidence” among the AMU administration and helped the idea “getting a shape and soon becoming a reality,” recalled the professor.
“The governments in Bihar, Bengal and Kerala handed over the lands to the university within one and half years since the university announced the project in 2009. The classes started in as early as 2011 itself, only two years after the university decided to proceed with the idea.”
Kerala government, under V.S. Achuthanandan, was the first to offer land for the centre, in Malappuram, he said. And, in Bengal, though Pranab Mukherjee and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee belonged to different parties, “they worked together for making the Murshidabad centre a reality.”
Among other two states where the AMU administration wanted to set up special centres, Madhya Pradesh declined the proposal, and Maharasthtra, which was first hesitant to respond, eventually responded positively when centres in other states became a reality. However, both the MP and Maharashtra centres didn’t become a reality.
Prof. Abdul Aziz remembers how this initiative sparked hope and grabbed attention of many state governments and minority groups across the country.
“Besides the five states we originally planned to set up the centres, we received offers and proposals from five more states to open AMU centre there.”
“Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot offered us nearly 300-acres of land in Ajmeer to set up a centre there. Similarly, Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi wrote to me saying that he would give us land in Guwahati. Haryana government too informed us that it would support us to set up a centre in that state. Tamil Nadu Waqf Board offered us land to start the centre. Andhra Pradesh Waqf Board also made similar offer.” “These proposals, if became reality, could have “caused a huge educational change”.” Said Prof. Abdul Aziz.
Talking about the capacity of the AMU to bear the expense for running these centres, such as the infrastructure and salaries, he said “it is a long-term process taking 10-15 years. We would not need to achieve everything at a single stretch. But these centres would act as a nucleus, an inspiration”.
“The centres stay where they started”
However, the current status of the AMU special centres in three states tells us stories of negligence and injustice. Both former and present senior AMU officials associated with the centres say the institutions are far from achieving the objectives they were started with.
Dr. Faisal K.P, director of AMU centre in Malappuram, Kerala, said the centre is facing shortage of funding. “There is lack of funding,” he said. He also said the centre submitted different proposals for improving infrastructure facilities and starting new courses, and waiting for results.
Prof. Hassan Imam, who is the director of the AMU centre in Bihar’s Kishanganj, also said “the central government has not yet sanctioned posts and funds” for the institution. However, Prof. Imam said the “centre is working well … with the support of AMU authorities.” “We are getting adequate financial support from AMU to run this centre smoothly,” he said.
However, Prof. Abdul Aziz said he is not satisfied with the present condition of these centres. “They stay where they started.”
Even after several years of establishment, these centres are not offering any new course other than two to three courses that they started with.
Only three courses are offered at these centres – B.Ed., MBA and B.A. L.L.B.
While all the three centres offer B.Ed. and MBA programmes, the Malappuram and Murshidabad centres additionally offer B.A.LL.B (Hons.).
However, the B.Ed. programme at Kishanganj centre is currently “on hold”, according to its director Prof. Hassan Imam. “Due to certain technical issues, B.Ed. programme is on hold,” he said. He also said the matter – the restoration of the B.Ed. programme – is currently before the Patna High Court.
All these facts suggest that these AMU centres are facing negligence, and that immediate and effective intervention by both the AMU administration and the union government is necessary to protect and develop these centres.
“According to our original plan, approved by appropriate university bodies, these centres should have become full-fledged universities by 2020-21.”
Prof. Abdul Aziz said his administration had to face criticism from the very beginning. “We were accused of causing fragmentation of the AMU and destroying its culture. A kind of propaganda was launched against these centres, and it was very disappointing.”
According to the former VC, the university administration apparently changed its stand regarding the centres after his tenure was over, and even decided not to receive a land offered by the Maharashtra state government in Khuldabad, a historic city where several Sufis had lived.
His administration had prepared a “phase-wise plan” for the development of these centres, and its proposals to the government as well as the government’s responses were based on this plan. “As per out original plan, there should have been ten thousand students and one thousand teachers at each of these campuses (special centres) when they complete ten years,” he said.
Prof. Abdul Aziz feels that after his departure from the university, there was “no serious effort” either to develop the centres that were already started or to establish other proposed centres. A University staff, who is familiar with matters of the AMU centres outside Aligarh, said these centres have been asked to “generate revenue” for addressing different financial needs, even though it is not easy for newly started institutions to generate funds independently.
Observers say that the AMU administration may be “preoccupied with the matters in Aligarh alone,” and not giving adequate attention to the university centres outside Uttar Pradesh. “The university administration is not making prompt and positive decisions on the proposals submitted by the special centres,” said a senior university official who doesn’t want to be identified.
Prof. Abdul Aziz says he now feels “very sad and disappointed,” because the AMU special centres didn’t grow from where they started a decade ago. “We have betrayed the cause of Indian Muslim community,” he said. He also added that the state governments, which gave “acres of lands” to set up AMU centres, have also been “betrayed.” “We could not fulfill our responsibility.”
“Follow the procedures correctly, everything can be achieved”
“Anything can be achieved, especially in terms of financial support from the union government, if the vice chancellors and other officials concerned of the university follow the official procedures properly. You follow the procedure, do your job as per the official rules, then your proposals will smoothly sail through all the sections of the government departments … This is my experience,” said the former vice chancellor who led the university between 2007 and 2012.
“My experience with government of India was so smooth. I got everything I wanted for the university. There was no need of pressure [from some influential person].”
According to him, many proposals do not succeed because there is “absence of homework.” “You need to start your work one year in advance if you want to get something done.” He “could get things done” for the university even when the HRD minister was not completely in good terms with him. “No minister can tell you ‘no’ if you are acting properly. That is my experience, and belief,” he said.
Talking about his vision about the AMU centre in Kishanganj, for which he is the director, Prof. Hassan Imam said that he is “very much optimistic” about the centre, and that he hopes the centre “will grow fast, and in near future, it will be a great university with modern infrastructure and sufficient staff.”
Everybody else, who loves the idea of AMU and who is concerned about Indian Muslims’ educational backwardness, shares this bright hope, not just for the Kishanganj centre but for every centre that the AMU established and may also set up in future.