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Why Jinnah once famously called AMU ‘the arsenal of Muslim India’

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The AMU students worked as foot soldiers for the Muslim League during its election campaign in the 1945-46 elections that became a referendum on Pakistan.

The news that a portrait of the Qaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah still hangs on the walls of the Aligarh Muslim University students’ union office has led to a new controversy and some violence in Aligarh. In defence of the portrait, it has been noted that those who were accorded life membership of AMU students’ union, including Jinnah, have their portraits on its walls. Those opposing it have argued that the portrait of a figure who vigorously propounded the two-nation theory, partitioned India, and created Pakistan, should not adorn the university’s walls.

It begs the question as to what was the relationship between the AMU and its students with Jinnah, the Muslim League (ML), and the Pakistan movement?

Jinnah once famously called AMU, “the arsenal of Muslim India”.

He visited it regularly as did the top ML leadership from all parts of India, these visits becoming quite frequent after the 1940 Lahore Resolution. Jinnah delivered some of his most important speeches on the developing political situation in India, the ML’s politics, and Pakistan in the hall of this very students’ union to overflowing numbers. During the 1940s, the ML moved quickly to capture the AMU by getting its men elected to AMU’s court, the Executive Council, thus dominating its affairs. Its vice-chancellor Dr Ziauddin was the secretary of the Muslim League party in the Central Legislature while the pro-vice chancellor A.B.A Haleem, while often not seeing eye to eye with the former, too was an ML notable. He would go on to lead Sindh University after Partition.

Some of Jinnah’s earliest and most ardent supporters who played a major role in fashioning the Qaid’s public persona came from AMU. Jamiluddin Ahmed, lecturer in English department, edited the bestselling two volumes of Some Recent Speeches and Writings of Mr. Jinnah, which remain a major primary source for scholars working on Jinnah, Partition and Pakistan. He also produced a number of other timely pamphlets during the 1940s, which were published by the Lahore firm of Shaikh Muhammad Ashraf as part of ML propaganda on Pakistan.

Aligarh students flocked to the ML and also played a critical role in the party’s student organisation. The All Indian Muslim Students Federation founded in 1937 was first headed by Mohammad Nauman, an Aligarh student. Later, its President was the young Raja of Mahmudabad who was also a member of the ML’s Central Working Committee and its Treasurer. The importance that ML gave to AMU’S students can be discerned from the fact that the Muslim University Muslim League was given the status of a separate ML unit, much like a district ML. The ML flagship newspaper The Dawn carried a regular column on Muslim University news.

The AMU students worked as foot soldiers for the ML during its election campaign in the 1945-46 elections that became a referendum on Pakistan. It began with 400 AMU students working for Liaquat Ali Khan’s campaign in the Meerut constituency during the first round of elections for the Central Assembly, especially since the Congress had pulled out all stops to defeat him. Liaquat publicly thanked them for his victory. Their utility in this round of elections prompted Jinnah to draft them for the second round of elections to the provincial assemblies and also handsomely fund their campaigning in Punjab, Sindh, Bengal, NWFP, Assam, Central Provinces, and UP Aligarh students fanned out across various constituencies a full two months before the elections happened in February and March 1946. Aligarh staff too participated by taking charge over the separate branch offices set up for organising students’ work in different provinces. The British Islamic activist Kalim Siddiqui reminiscing about those times wrote:

“One of the author’s earliest memories is of the arrival in our ancestral village in northern India of three young men carrying the Muslim League flag — the Islamic crescent and star on a deep green background. The three were students from Aligarh university. They planted the flag in the village square and a crowd of little boys gathered around them… Within an hour our quiet village had been turned into Pakistan village…. Every piece of green material our mother could find was made into Muslim League flags…A few months later they [parents] all walked in their bare feet and some carried their aged and sick parents on their backs to the polling booth four miles away to vote for the Muslim League and Pakistan. This was repeated all over India. Seldom in History have so few inspired so many with so little effort.”

After Partition and the creation of Pakistan, Aligarh became an object of suspicion. Its new vice-chancellor, Nawab Mohammad Ismail Khan, the erstwhile President of the UP Muslim League pledged its loyalty to the Indian state and its Constitution. Ismail Khan laid out the tasks that the University and its denizens had to fulfill in the new India. Ismail Khan noted:

“We shall therefore have to create an atmosphere of goodwill and fellowship so that their doubts and suspicions as to our aims and objects may be dispelled. It is my firm conviction that politics should be altogether divorced from this university and it should now revert to its primary role as a seat of learning pure and simple with no political leanings or affiliations. Not many of the students who will pass out from here can hope to secure employment under the government. The abolition of weightage may not be an unmixed evil but may on the contrary be a blessing in disguise if it thereby makes our students more self-reliant and enterprising and ready to explore other fields and direct their hopes and aspirations from stagnant careers in government services to channels more productive of material good. We must now learn to stand on our own fate.”

That the AMU continued to occupy a dear place in the Qaid’s heart is evident from the fact that it finds a place in his will, as did also the University of Bombay.

Yet, while the ML had a dominating presence at Aligarh in the 1940s and the university, its staff, and students played their role in the Pakistan movement, one should not ignore the strand of nationalist Muslim opinion that emanated from Aligarh. But that will require another essay.

Venkat Dhulipala is Associate Professor at University of North Carolina, Wilmington. He is the author of the 2015 book ‘Creating a New Medina: State Power, Islam, and the Quest for Pakistan in Late Colonial North India’.

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  1. Indian origin foreigners, No need to elaborate. India is the biggest exporter of beef yet make it illegal to consumers at home on religious grounds.

  2. No doubt, it was commendable efforts by Alig students that brought victory to Muslim League particularly in UP and also in other parts of undivided India. Salute to their efforts.

  3. Again distorted narratives by Historians, whether Indian or Foreigners or Indian-origin foreigners. In 1946 Assembly elections in U.P. Out of 74 Muslim League bagged 53 including one unopposed. In total there were 74 candidates from Muslim League who included ten who could not withdraw their nomination within the stipulated time. They were cover candidates. Muslim league candidates bagged 498672 votes
    52 seats Won by Muslim League: Votes Polled 435,642
    10 seats Lost by Muslim League: Votes polled 61,130 on these seats
    Woman seat (lost):1900 votes polled
    Total: 498672 votes polled by Muslim League candidates
    Total Muslim Electorate who cast their votes 799842
    Number of total Muslim electorate: 1,366,832
    Women Muslims: 75,913
    TOTAL; 1,418,300
    58.51 per cent of Muslim voters used their franchise. Out of them, 62.34 per cent voted for the Muslim League
    Total Number of voters: 72,37,829 out of them Muslim voters constituted Slightly short of 20 per cent. It means only 3.25 per cent of the Muslim population had the voting right.
    The learned writer has buttressed his submission by quoting a British historian. The AMU students fanned out in rural areas. They stayed in mosques. They approach was restricted to the poors among Muslims who did not have voting rights. The Ashrafs (elites) did not welcome them. How could they influence the outcome in favour of Muslim League. A certificate was issued by Jinnah and Aligarians smugly accepted their ‘glorious’ role in creating Pakistan.

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