The Aligarh Muslim University, various bodies of its alumni, and Muslim outfits in the country have decided to keep away their fight for the university’s minority status from the so called “secular parties” which want to project the issue as “Muslims versus Bharatiya Janata Party”. The AMU fraternity believes the matter is a clash between the legislature and the judiciary instead.
The AMU’s battle for minority status has been a prominent issue in the Muslim politics of India since 1951. It was rekindled this week when the Attorney General of India, Mukul Rohatgi, representing the government, stated in the Supreme Court that the National Democratic Alliance government wants to withdraw its petition challenging the 2006 Allahabad High Court judgement which had quashed AMU’s minority status. The previous United Progressive Alliance government had filed a petition in the SC challenging the Allahabad HC verdict, and asking for implementation of the 1981 Act that grants AMU minority status.
Political parties like Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajwadi Party and Aam Aadmi Party have alleged that the BJP is communalising the AMU issue by withdrawing the SC petition so that it could derive some political mileage ahead of the upcoming Assembly elections in West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. AMU has its branch in Murshidabad, West Bengal.
“Minority status for AMU is close to the heart of the Muslim community. We all have firm faith in our country’s judiciary. We are firming up our legal defence in the SC,” said Lt Gen Zameeruddin Shah, the vice chancellor of AMU.
Shah on Friday announced that the varsity has hired a battery of legal luminaries like Harish Salve, P.P. Rao, and Rajeev Dhavan to fight its case in the SC.
The next hearing in the case is on 4 April. There are around six petitions filed in SC on behalf of AMU. Various bodies of AMU alumni are also collecting funds to finance the legal battle.
“AMU Act 1981, passed when Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister, had granted minority status to AMU. The Allahabad HC in its 2006 judgement could not have denied it without rejecting the provisions of the Act and that is exactly what it did. Rejection of the Act automatically led to the enactment of the 1951 Act, which was an amendment in the 1920 AMU Act, and which had snatched the minority status of AMU,” said Professor Ariful Islam of Women’s College, AMU.
Prof Islam added that the case of AMU raises a very pertinent debate in a parliamentary democracy. “The question here is whether any court of law can reject an Act passed by Parliament. It is an issue of the ‘supremacy of legislature over judiciary’. This is where the legal basis of AMU’s case in SC has to be placed,” added Prof Islam.
Echoing similar views, Professor Aftab Alam of the political science department said that AMU’s case is strong enough to withstand any legal challenges in the court. “It has to be fought properly. There must also be objections to the current three-member SC bench hearing the case as 1967 SC judgement in Aziz Basha case, which had abolished AMU’s minority status and is the basis of 2006 HC judgement, was delivered by a six-member bench. Hence, current petitions must be heard by a larger bench. In addition, it has to be emphasised that once an SC judgement is superseded by an Act of Parliament, judges should not rely on such a judgement,” added Prof Alam. He also said that Article 30 of the Indian Constitution clearly allows minorities of India to establish institutions for their educational advancement.
As the issue hit the headlines, all AMU circles on social media, student and alumni circles started debating it. A majority of these are supporting a legal fight.
Meanwhile, some Left-oriented AMU academics like historian Irfan Habib said that he believed that only some privately established institutions may be termed as minority institutions and not the Centrally-funded universities established by an Act of Legislature.
Interestingly, BJP spokesperson Syed Zafar Islam, seconded the thought.
Several protests and even riots were witnessed in the past over the minority status to AMU. Muslim outfits like All India Majlise Mushawarat, Indian Muslim League (North India), and several associations of AMU old boys were established only because of this issue in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.