The Attorney General (AG) Mukul Rohatgi, referring to the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), stated in the Supreme Court last week that “as the executive government at the Centre, we can’t be seen as setting up a minority institution in a secular state.” Arguing against the AG’s statement Syed Zafar Mahmood, president, Zakat India Foundation, said that “secularism” should be an asset for the well-being of the heterogeneous Indian society. “The AG’s statement has presented secularism to the court as a constraint forced on the minorities. But the Central government functionary realised the importance of secularism in the Indian Constitution,” said Mahmood, alumnus of AMU who was also a part of the Sachar Committee.
In his latest paper on the issue, Mahmood cites several other institutions that oppose a limited interpretation of a “secular state”.
“To manage Hindu temples and endowments in the state of Tamil Nadu, for more than 50 years, there exists a separate service cadre for Hindus only (code 003). It is known as ‘Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Administration Service’.
“Recruitments are made by Tamil Nadu State Public Service Commission for the post of Assistant Commissioner under the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Administration Department. The recruited officers, after undergoing official training, are posted across the state. They’re accommodated in government residences and they travel in government vehicles,” wrote Mahmood.
He adverted to the “Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Administration Department” (HRCEAD) in Kerala, for which deputy commissioners are directly recruited by the Kerala Public Service Commission (KPSC).
“The KPSC advertisement in newspapers specifically mentions that ‘only persons professing the Hindu religion shall apply to the post’. In Karnataka,Sections 6 and 7 of Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Act, 1997 specifies that the Commissioner etc., shall be government servants and they shall be Hindu,” explained Mahmood.
“Similarly, Sections 7 and 8 of the Orissa Religious Endowments Act, 1970 say that an officer of the state government shall be the president of the board and shall be a Hindu. In the most populated state of Uttar Pradesh, Sections 3 and 6 of Sri Kashi Vishwanath Temple Act say that four secretaries to the Government of Uttar Pradesh, one director, the divisional commissioner and district magistrate of Varanasi shall form the executive committee of the board and if any of these officers is not a Hindu, the officer next below him who professes Hindu religion shall substitute him,” he said.
Thus, Mahmood concluded that for granting special (minority) status, government recognition is an enabling factor, otherwise the recruitments and special government services rendered to the Hindu temples in the earlier mentioned five states would need to be withdrawn and cancelled because all these have been established through Acts of Legislative Assemblies.
He said, “Under the spirit of the Constitutional provisions of Article 15(4), Article 15(5) and Article 30(1), Parliament, through the AMU Amendment Act of 1981, had empowered the university to promote especially the educational and cultural advancement of minorities in India. Through this statutory amendment Parliament had neutralised the ‘anti-minority-character’ effect of the Supreme Court judgement in Aziz Pasha Case of 1967.”
On the other hand, a source close to the case said, “The Constitution bench judgement in S. Azeez Basha v UOI, 1968 SCR (1) 833 has settled the question of whether AMU is a minority institution or not. It clearly states that the 1920 Act may have been passed as a result of the efforts of the Muslim minority, but that does not mean that the university, when it came into being under the 1920 Act was established by the Muslim minority. It was established by the Central legislature and cannot hold an exclusive minority status.”
As the issue gains more momentum, the Opposition consisting of eight political parties, including Congress, Trinamool Congress and the Left, along with several Muslim organisations announced on Friday to launch a campaign against the government in the forthcoming Parliament session.
Mahmood added: “The Prime Minister will hopefully once again act in the spirit of a world statesman, and will intervene and benevolently restore to the AMU its pristine glory of minority status as per the dreams of its illustrious founder Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. The PM should instruct the HRD Ministry to revise its stand taken in court. Alternatively, the Supreme Court would restore justice to the glorious institution established by Indian Muslims 130 years ago in 1885. For that purpose, it may even refer the matter with suitable directions to the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions in the spirit of Section 11(c) of the NCMEI Act, 2009.”