The following has been extracted from the book, ‘Claiming Citizenship and Nation: Muslim Politics and State Building in North India, 1947-1986’, by Aishwarya Pandit.


The background to the AMU issue deserves some attention. The controversy dates back to the 1950s and many Muslims were incensed that successive Congress governments had failed to address their demands. In pursuance of the recommendations of the University Education Commission 1948 and the coming into force of the Indian Constitution 1950, AMU Act was comprehensively amended in 1951. The provision for confining the membership of the Court to Muslims alone was deleted. A provision was also made to the effect that religious instruction should be imparted only to those students who consent to receive it. In April 1965, serious rioting took place on the campus leading to assault on Vice Chancellor Nawab Ali Yavar Jung. The students resorted to violence forcing the Vice Chancellor to call the police on campus. Correspondence of the then Education Minister and the most controversial actor in the story M.C. Chagla revealed that public opinion among Muslims was divided over the issue of the Ordinance which was promulgated soon after. A Presidential Ordinance was promulgated replacing the elected executive council with a nominated one. This signalled a crisis as far as the status of AMU was concerned and petitions were filed against government decisions in court. The involvement of the courts prevented an immediate solution to the problem further catapulting the issue to national relevance. The use of judicial processes meant that government decisions and actions of political parties on the issue came under judicial scrutiny and allowed limited room for manoeuvre.
Leading Muslim politicians, who were ministers in the Congress government in Bihar such as Syed Mahmud, Abdul Qayum Ansari, Asad Madani, the General Secretary of the Jamiat-Ulema-i-Hind (JUH), members of the AICC and leaders from the All India Seerat Committee among others wrote letters to Chagla expressing concern and in some cases welcoming the Ordinance to resolve the AMU dispute. Interestingly, many of these leaders had been a part of the government since independence and were a part of the Muslim elite. Syed Mahmud had been educated at AMU and had helped draft the Lucknow Pact. Chagla belonged to a well-off Gujarati Ismaili Khoja family and was a distinguished jurist. Asad Madani, the son of Husain Ahmed Madani, was a distinguished Deobandi scholar and an emerging leader of the JUH. Fakhruddin Ahmed, another important actor in the story belonged to an educated family in Delhi with a Nawabi lineage and was an alumni of University of Cambridge. Ahmed later became the President of India in 1974. Thus, the concerns the leaders articulated on behalf of the ‘Muslim community’ were indeed concerns of a few. However, they had managed to present it as an All-India Muslim identity issue.
While some viewed the Ordinance as an attempt to dilute the minority character of the University, others saw it as the only means by which some of the University students could be cured of ‘Muslim League mentality’. Interestingly, it was many senior Congressmen who made such statements in private, poking holes in their secular rhetoric. The letters convey that secularism of the Congress in the 1970s was more rhetoric than a matter of actual policy as Muslim constituency was no longer the only reliable means to win an election. Chagla himself was of the view that there were very few nationalist Muslim leaders of any consequence, very few of them spoke publicly condemning violence and that majority of Muslim organizations were full of communal elements. He was worried about the fall-out of this dispute internationally with Pakistan exploiting it for political gains.
The AMU affair exposed the deep divisions among Muslim politicians of different hues contrary to the popular perception that they were united on issues concerning Muslims. The Urdu press attitude towards the whole issue was similar to its stance on the issue of Muslim representation in state service discussed in Chapter 2. It condemned the Congress government and accused Chagla of collusion with the Jan Sangh. For instance, the Sada-e Aam, published from Patna in September 1965 argued in a column:

the fact is that the existence of the Muslim university pricks their eyes like a thorn. They only needed an excuse to finish its present status and this they got in last month’s disturbances. Similar incidents like these in other universities are ignored and incidents in AMU are highlighted as they cannot tolerate the existence of the university.

Similarly, the Rahnuma-e-Deccan suggested that the reason M.C. Chagla was critical of some of the happenings in the University was because of his Jan-Sanghaite mentality. The Sangam from Patna went a step further and called Chagla the biggest communalists saying ‘Chagla ji turned communalists the very moment the Jan Sangh proposed his name for PM after the demise of Nehru’. The Urdu press exposed the deep divisions among Muslims on the status of AMU and questions as to how to tackle the issue of its minority character. But they were united in the criticism of the Education minister accusing him of colluding with the Jan Sangh and its attempt to use the AMU affair for political purposes.
Writ petitions were filed in the Supreme Court challenging the amendments of 1951 and 65 highlighting the fact that the Muslim minority established AMU and they alone had the right to administer it. In a judgement a five-judge Constitution Bench dated 20 October 1967, the Supreme Court ruled that the AMU was neither established nor administered by the Muslim minority and there was no question that the amendments made in 1951 and 65 were unconstitutional. Further the top Court was of the opinion that in 1920 the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College (henceforth MAO) voluntarily surrendered whatever property it had to a corporate body. Hence, the Muslim minority did not have the right to the property surrendered or its money. Moreover the Supreme Court was of the opinion that University was brought into existence by an Act of Government of India and not the Muslim minority. The government appointed Fakhruddin Ahmed, Minister of Industrial Development and Company Affairs to look into this matter and he appointed an eight-member committee led by M.M. Beg as it convener. The committee submitted its report to Ahmed, which included the following clause:

notwithstanding any judgement, decree or order of any court or tribunal to the contrary, the AMU shall be deemed to have been established by the Muslim minority of India as an educational institution of its choice and shall be administered and managed as provided for by Article 29 and 30 of the constitution.

The evidence suggests that the Beg Committee was also in favour of restoration of the minority character of AMU, the court ruling notwithstanding. The use of the courts and invoking Article 29 and 30 of the Constitution suggest that Muslims were suspicious about the professions of secularism made by the Indian state. Many of them indicted the Indira Gandhi government and her pro-Hindu stance for denying the repeated demands raised by the community. Many suspected that the government feared losing the power to interfere in the affairs of the University using the President’s clause as an excuse. Most importantly, the AMU issue was seen as an issue, which concerned the entire community not just a section of Muslims studying or associated with Aligarh. As Chapter 2 has shown, after the departure of top Muslim League leaders to Pakistan, Aligarh and its role in Pakistan movement was constantly highlighted and critiqued in the press. Student politics at the University was under scanner especially due to the pressure from the Jan Sangh who questioned the loyalty of the students at the University. Members of the Jan Sangh objected to the deletion of the provision of the 1951 Act providing for the affiliation of local ‘Hindu’ colleges to the University situated within 15 miles from the University mosque. Although this provision existed in the 1951 Act, it has since then been deleted. All Aligarh colleges were now affiliated to Agra University. The main demand was that the University should be governed by the same provisions applicable to other universities in the area; leading to charges of appeasement by successive governments. It was argued on behalf of Hindus that in a secular country like India, local Hindu colleges should not be deprived of the facility of the University situated in the same city. Many activities at the University were openly branded as anti-national for fostering the spirit of exclusion of its students from nation-building. A note prepared by the GOI was revealing the nature of the controversy:

There is a strong demand on behalf of the Muslims of the country for restoring the minority character of AMU. The use of the word restoration is very significant. This gives the impression that the minority character of the University existed earlier and was taken away and now is the demand to give it back. During the last Lok Sabha elections in 1977, the constituents of the Janata party took full advantage of this controversy and reportedly promised to restore the minority character if they came back to power. The Muslims think it was incorporated in the political manifesto of the Janata party and at the time of the elections demanded that the character be restored. However, it is now clear that it was not clearly mentioned in the manifesto although many Janata party leaders made speeches making the commitment.

There are two significant aspects of the note worth considering. The demand was expressed and presented as a demand of the entire community and not just a section of Muslims. Interestingly, the government also saw it as a ‘strong demand on behalf of Muslims of the country’ not just a section of Muslims. It demonstrates that neither the government nor the political parties viewed Muslims as anything other than homogeneous and this dictated their response to the problems. The other aspect was the all parties including the Janata had harnessed the Aligarh issue for electoral gains. The Janata party’s rise to power was due to its ability to channelize the grievances against the Congress into votes for the Janata. It can be argued that secure ‘vote banks’ if they ever existed were things of the past, with the Scheduled Castes and Muslims exploring options other than the Congress. The AMU issue had become more of an electoral issue with every party promising the restoration of its minority character just before the elections. Indira Gandhi had promised it before the 1971 elections and now the Janata party followed suit.
All constituents of the Janata except the Jan Sangh and the Congress (O) demanded an expulsion of Jan Sangh ministers from the cabinet on account of dual membership of the RSS and decline of Janata was attributed to its failure of check crimes against Muslims and dalits. A sort of void existed as far as Muslims were concerned as no party or leader had been able to unite the community under a common banner albeit temporarily. The Muslim Majlis-i-Mushawarat had not managed to gain much ground despite the decline in the support of the Congress due to its internal problems. Failure to resolve the Urdu issue was one aspect of the problem and despite several memorandums, Urdu was not declared a secondary language in UP neither was its status as the medium of instruction at the primary stage clear.
The restoration of the minority character of AMU was a national concern not a local one as suggested by many leading Muslim politicians across party lines. Violence perpetrated against Muslims since the 1960s, increasing incidence of riots and involvement of many Congressmen in the riots were cited as some of the reasons for the disenchantment of Muslims with the Congress.
Many Muslims were ready to explore options other than the Congress and ‘Congress Muslim politics’ was branded as politics of ‘show boys’. Several articles in the Radiance, a mouthpiece of the Jamaat-i-Islami were critical of Congress and its professions of secularism. Repeated columns in the magazine pointed out how the Congress was merely paying lip service to secularism. While the Hindu right was quick to discredit Congress secularism as appeasement, Muslims viewed it with suspicion. As discussed in Chapters 1 and 2, the 1960s showed a perceptible change in the calculations of Muslims. On 24 May 1964, a column in the Radiance titled—‘Congress and communalism’ remarked

in the past also, the Congress has often been swinging between Gandhian morality and Machiavellian opportunism. Indian Muslims have been supporting the Congress for the last 17 years under the belief that it was concerned about their safety and honour much more than any other organization. But the events of the last few years have shaken the belief in the capacity and will of congressmen. Every congressmen at the heart of hearts knows that communal riots in India are not essentially a reaction of the misdeeds of Pakistan, because very often the crimes of a single Muslim have had to be atoned with the blood of scores sometimes innocent Muslim men, women and children.

BOOK: Claiming Citizenship and Nation: Muslim Politics and State Building in North India, 1947-1986
Author: Aishwarya Pandit
Routledge India, pp. 284, Rs 835

It was not only incidences of violence that were seen as a direct assault on Muslims rather the questions about the viability of Muslim Personal Law also raised concerns in the Urdu press. On 19 January 1964, a symposium was held to discuss whether the government had the right to change or alter Muslim Personal Law. It was presided by Education Minister of India M.C. Chagla who was in favour of changes according to the need of the time. Observations were made whether a secular government in India did have the right to interfere. It was claimed that only the ulema could reform the laws. The Sidq-e-Jadid on 8 March 1964 criticized the statement of M.C. Chagla calling for all Muslims to agree and modify the Shariat and to flow with the current culture of the majority. This raised suspicions about the intentions of the Congress and many saw it as a great conspiracy to deprive Muslims of their rights. Many went a step further accused the Congress of openly allying with right wing outfits including the RSS against Muslims. However, Hilal Ahmed has rightly argued this was once again the concern of a few Muslims alone as not many among them understood the sharia or followed it in their day to day lives.
In a news item published in the Radiance in October 1968, it was alleged that

earlier there was a time when no self-respecting secularists or nationalist would associate himself with the fascist RSS. Today the RSS is no more regarded as the antithesis of secularism and nationalism. It is generally looked at with indulgence and its fascism and communalism is explained away as extreme or aggressive nationalism and nothing more. Today every political party including the Congress and the communists or Swatantra party is prepared to enter into an alliance with the Jan Sangh.

There is some truth in this claim as the Swatantra was one of main allies of the RSS since its inception. The leadership of the Swatantra party rested on the Rajput aristocracy and erstwhile ruling families who provided the RSS its support since the Congress had deprived them of their privileges and agency.

The footnotes have been removed from the extract for the ease of reading.