Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation as the chief guest in the centenary celebrations of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) is nothing short of historic. Not many people saw this coming and when the university announced that Prime Minister will be the chief guest on the occasion, many people felt shocked and bewildered. There were numerous voices of dissent asking the university officials to reconsider their invitation to Prime Minister. However, the university administration refused to succumb to the demand and Prime Minister Narendra Modi not just joined the centenary celebrations held online, but also went on to deliver a rather impressive speech, praising the great services that the university has rendered over the past 100 years as university and previous 45 years as Muhammadan Anglo Oriental College.
Prime Minister, in the course of his long speech, not just praised the founder of the prestigious university, among the best in the country, he also called AMU, a mini India, a microcosm of living of different people together.
Modi, who seemed rather somber, very unlike the ebullient self, he usually is said, "Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) represents a 'mini India'. Its campus is like a city in itself. We see a Mini India among different departments, dozens of hostels, thousands of teachers and professors. The diversity which we see here is not only the strength of this university but also of the entire nation".
He went on to praise the inclusive nature of the Muslim university too, saying it is pleasing and reassuring to see the reverence of Hindu, Muslim and other religious scriptures in the university campus. "It is engrossing to see religious scriptures of Hindus, Muslims and other faiths shelved together at the Maulana Azad Library of the university. This is what India is all about, and AMU functions every day on this principle," Modi said. He went on to add “Sir Syed Ahmed Khan said that when you receive education and come into the work sphere, you must work towards all, without any discrimination, without seeing caste or creed or religion. That is a thought that we must always carry with us."
Sir Syed was a visionary. He knew the importance of education, particularly modern education and realized while serving as a bureaucrat and jurist in the British government that the lack of modern education was behind the malaise responsible for Muslims’ backwardness. There is no denying the fact that Muslims had got antagonized with everything British following the slow usurpation of power by the British East India Company and more importantly after the bloodbath of Muslims and Hindus alike at the hands of the Raj. Born on 17 October 1817 in Delhi, he belonged to an aristocratic family who traced their genealogical roots to Prophet Muhammad. After serving in different capacities in the British administration, Sir Syed moved to Aligarh in the year 1864 in United Provinces at that time. He lived there for the rest of his life nurturing an institution that he treated as his own progeny. Sir Syed once said that Hindus and Muslims were the two eyes of the beautiful bride that is Hindustan'. Some people have tried to falsely drag him in the controversy of Pakistan and the partition. However, nothing can be more far-fetched than this completely false assertion. He died long before the birth of Muslim League and decades before Muslim League made any demand for formation of Pakistan.
Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College was founded by Sir Syed and his associates in the year 1875, less than two decades after the Mutiny of 1857. Sir Syed, fresh from a one and half year journey to London, not just patterned the college after Oxford and Cambridge universities but also brought the best teachers to his nascent institution from the two universities, the leaders in academia even at that time. As many as three principles of the MAO College were also from Britain.
Modi’s visit has created seemingly unending controversy in a university beset with innumerable issues. Many people have condemned the move to invite Modi, saying he was a divisive personality and doesn’t deserve to be invited in such a historic event of the Muslim university. There are tens of teachers and staff members too who have been airing similar opinions. Ghazali, an alumnus of AMU said, “I am not against flexibility and change and do not deny the fact that change is a natural process that will take place whether we like it or not. However, I am really surprised to see people comparing the sycophants with a selfless personality like Sir Syed and the British with Hindutva fascists. Can you imagine any of today's 'pragmatists' taking on the BJP in the manner Sir Syed took on the British? Can you imagine any of them telling the Hindutva fanatics about their Islamophobia and their uncalled for hatred against Muslims? And if anyone of them did dare, will he be listened to in the manner Sir Syed was listened and responded to… There is absolutely no comparison between the behaviour of the British and the BJP and Sir Syed and the chamchas of today. Sir Syed never compromised on his milli dignity. His whole struggle was for our respect and dignity”.
Shakeel Rasheed, editor of Mumbai Urdu News, in his editorial made scathing attack against what he called the dual policies of the Modi government. “While delivering his speech at the AMU, what Modi said must have made many people believe that Modi has done a lot for the Muslims of the country. Most of these people are completely unaware of Muslims' deplorable condition, their backwardness and the sort of perpetual fear that they have confronted in the country over the last six years. While he talked about sabka saath sabka wishwas, gave an account of achievements of his government, the great services of that the AMU has rendered over the course of the last one century, the successful fight against Covid-19, but he didn’t mention those students of the AMU who were indiscriminately targeted by police, who were confronted with indiscriminate firing and tear gas shelling, who were beaten up in police custody and arrested under stringent sections just a year ago during anti-CAA protests there. What sort of sabka sath, sabka wikas and sabka wishwas is this” wrote Rasheed.
However, there are a large number of people within the community who have condemned use of harsh words and critical tone of Modi’s detractors and have said that his participation in the centenary celebrations of the university was in his capacity of the Prime Minister of the country.
A Muslim intellectual, while writing on an online group hailed Prime Minister’s visit to the university and said, “This is indeed a great opening of dialogue. The PM has minced no word to recognize the contributions of Muslims and the Muslim community. Our policy should be one of engagement rather than self-alienation. A democratic government cannot afford to ignore a big minority like Muslims”.
Another participant on the heated issue also asked the members of the community not to view it from communal prism. “Mr. Modi is our Prime Minister and for all Indians, so any negative views and harsh words should be avoided”. Another ex student said, “As an Alig I welcome Prime Minister of India at my Alma Mater. I would humbly appeal the Alig community to welcome him wholeheartedly displaying the rich traditions and cultural ethos inculcated in an Alig, the qualities for which we are well known the world over and feel proud to flaunt, and further also to ensure, not to give a chance to our detractors. Since this will be the first time that Prime Minister Modi is going to address the AMU fraternity and not to forget that addressing AMU means addressing the Muslim community in general, It is an opportune moment for him too to restore, build confidence and make a statement to assuage some of the fears of the community”.
Prime Minister Modi’s speech was a mixed bag. He praised the university and its glorious services for the Muslim community and the nation. This must be welcomed. However, there were many people within the community who were expecting big ticket announcements from Prime Minister Modi. Many others were also expecting that Prime Minister Modi will use the opportunity to launch something big and may assure something tangible for the expansion and development of the AMU, however, they were left disappointed.
More Columns by Syed Ubaidur Rahman:
The rise of Muslim politics in 'God's Own Country'
Prophet Muhammad's Milad and Blasphemy
Sir Syed's jihad against religious orthodoxy continues today
NEP 2020 and Muslims: Aspirations and apprehensions
Ahmadullah Shah: Hero whose head and body are buried
Syed is a New Delhi based author and commentator. His forthcoming book 'Ulema's Role in India's Freedom Movements with Focus on Reshmi Rumal Tehrik will be out in October