The acronym AMU stands for Aligarh Muslim University, but to all intents and purposes, it stands for Allah Miyan’s University, that is, a divinely ordained sanctuary where the mere thought of reform is considered sacrilegious. Understandably so, since it is effectively a Succession State of the Mughal empire, much on the lines of Oudh, Bengal and Hyderabad. The descendants of the Muslim conquerors, the thousand years old ruling class — the Ashrāf — have been endowed with a principality of their own to wallow in the nostalgia of their imperial past, and to fantasise about its revival. These lotus eaters are maintained by the Indian State, which pays for their reverie from the Consolidated Fund of India.
The AMU Amendment Act 1981, Section 5(2)(c) says that the purpose of this university is “to promote the educational and cultural advancement of Muslims of India”. Though the money is supposedly sanctioned, released and spent in the name of Indian Muslims; historically, the Ashrāf Muslims of Uttar Pradesh, mainly from its western part, have exercised the right of ownership over the institution. No wonder, in its hundred years old history, every vice-chancellor, except one, has come from the small group of Ashrāf. Majority of them from western UP, some from eastern UP, and three from their southern cousins, the Muslim aristocracy of Hyderabad. This is no coincidence. There is a pattern. It’s a result of how the institutions of power in this principality are structured. Its Executive Council, Academic Council, and the Court are incestuous clubs where everyone is everyone’s someone.
If the Indian State spends hundreds of crores on the university in the name of Indian Muslims, why should the Ashrāf of UP have all the fun? Why shouldn’t India’s diversity get reflected in AMU’s power structure by the inclusion of various regions, sub-regions, classes, castes and linguistic groups in its governing bodies? Why should a Bihari or Bengali, a woman or a Pasmanda, a Hindu, even a Dalit (much loved by Muslim narrative makers), should be an unimaginable possibility as vice-chancellor of this university? Why should the selection pool be so small as not to yield more than a couple of probable names?
This historic institution, the second-largest residential university in India, carries a heavy baggage of history. If reforms were allowed, it could shed the burden of its past, and emerge as the Indian National University. But Indian Secularism, as instituted during the Congress Raj, wouldn’t let it reform. The Muslim communalism has been institutionalised as Indian Secularism. It has two main totems: Muslim Personal Law, and Aligarh Muslim University. A mere thought of reform in either could upset the secularist applecart, and rob them of their vote bank.
For a better integration and mainstreaming of the Muslim community, the totem of separatism, the Muslim Personal Law, needs to be radically reformed in order to inject into it the contemporary ideals of gender justice. However, the process must begin with an overhaul of the power structure at the institution, which, though no longer intellectually alive, has once been the “arsenal of Muslim India”.
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How to modernise AMU
Let’s begin from the top. As mentioned, almost all vice-chancellors of AMU have come from a very small subgroup of a sub-region, that is, Ashrāf of western and eastern Uttar Pradesh. There is an inevitability about it, given the composition of AMU’s Executive Council and the Court. While the government selects and appoints the vice-chancellor of all universities, AMU’s Executive Council prepares a panel of five names, of which three are forwarded by the Court to the government, which is bound to appoint one of the three as the vice-chancellor.
Thus appointed, the vice-chancellor has absolute power in all affairs including admissions and appointments. His — can’t use the feminine or gender neutral pronoun for want of any woman being in that position ever — emergency or discretionary powers cover everything under AMU’s sun. Every incumbent has been most extravagant with its use. Therefore, the need of the hour is to make the AMU’s vice-chancellor like that of any other central university, divest him of his extraordinary powers, and disabuse the Muslim community of his halo of Amir-ul Momineen and Khalifat-ul Muslimeen.
But, would the Indian State, still working within the appeasement framework of Indian Secularism, bite the bullet, and set out to reform a university where it pours in more money than all other campuses except the Banaras Hindu University (BHU). Like the reform of the Muslim Personal Law, the reform of AMU’s administrative and academic system is the proper domain of the State. With regard to the Personal Law, the disingenuous liberals might forward their cliched argument that reform should come from within the Muslim society. But AMU has been created by legislation, and Parliament has to set things right by legislating a new AMU Act. The apex body of the University, known as the Court, should be abolished; and the composition of the Executive Council, the real governing body, should be reformed so that it doesn’t remain a closed club of siblings, cousins and in-laws. It consists of people holding administrative positions in the university, who owe a lot to the vice-chancellor’s emergency or discretionary power — from their recruitment, confirmation and promotion to their elevation to the much sought after administrative position.
These two measures are inexorable imperatives for modernisation of AMU on the lines of other central universities. The University Grants Commission’s (UGC) regulations should apply to it in the same manner as they do to other universities. Any recourse to the Muslim Exceptionalism should be exposed for it serves not the Muslim masses but the small class of Ashrāf. The network of power and patronage, which is at the root of the identitarian and separatist discourse, has to be dismantled.
The Indian State, under Nehru’s leadership, reformed the Hindu family law, but left the Muslim Personal Law untouched. The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) has been a constitutional ideal which no government deemed practical. Likewise, when BHU was reformed, AMU was left to the class-cabal of Ashrāf for enjoyment in perpetuity. Under the Narendra Modi government, the time has come to set right these anomalies of the past. The road to UCC goes through the UGC.
Ibn Khaldun Bharati is a student of Islam, and looks at Islamic history from an Indian perspective. He tweets at @IbnKhaldunIndic. Views are personal.
Editor’s Note: We know the writer well and only allow pseudonyms when we do so.
(Edited by Prashant)