People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
June 19, 2005
controversial decision of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) authorities and
the ministry of human resources development (MHRD) to reserve 50 per cent of the
seats in postgraduate courses in the university for Muslims invited extensive
opposition from the academic community. This 50 per cent reservation has been
effected for 36 different postgraduate courses and involves 2000 seats. Under
the existing rules, 50 per cent of the postgraduate seats are reserved for
‘‘internal candidates’’ (read: AMU graduates) who clear the test and 50
per cent for students from outside. All admissions are on merit and are
irrespective of faith. According to the new decision, the admissions based on
common entrance tests would be limited to only 25 per cent of the total seats.
While reserving 50 per cent seats for students belonging to the Muslim
community, another 20 per cent has been reserved for the graduates from the same
university. The vice chancellor will give direct admission to the remaining 5
per cent of the seats. No reservation has been made for the SC- ST students.
decision has evoked strong reaction from the Left and other secular forces.
However, the issue is now being used to rail against the Left, by raising a
controversy on its position on AMU reservations. Even the credentials of the
Left in its fight against the Sangh Parivar’s anti-minority politics have been
questioned in some circles. The university officials and the MHRD justified the
decision by quoting section
5 (c) of the AMU (Amendment) Act 1981, which empowers the university to
‘‘promote especially the educational and cultural advancement of the Muslims
of India.” At the
same time, however, they ignore section (8) of the same act that categorically
says that admission to students should be given irrespective of religious
considerations. The decision has been questioned by about 65 teachers from the
university itself, which includes noted historian Professor Irfan Habib.
is for the first time that reservation on the basis of religion is being given
in the history of Aligarh Muslim University since its inception in 1920. Even
after the 1981 amendment to the AMU Act, which inter
alia talks of promoting “especially the educational and cultural
advancement of the Muslims of India,” no reservation based on religious
considerations was ever made during the last 24 years.
goes without saying that the establishment of Mohammedan Anglo Oriental (MAO)
College in 1875 marks one of the most important events in the educational and
social history of modern India, especially of Indian Muslims. Sir Syed Ahmed
Khan, founder of the MAO College, visualised the western style of higher
education as the only way towards the cultural and educational advancement of
the Muslim community in India. In 1920 it was an Act of Indian Legislative
Council that elevated the MAO College to the status of a central university.
Gradually, the AMU grew into a major Indian university.
Mohammaden Anglo Oriental College was earlier affiliated to Kolkata University
and later to Allahabad University. According to the AMU’s annual report for
the year 1925-26, the university envisioned “happy union of western-Hindu as
well as Muslim cultures, to evolve a new outlook that may be foundation of
Indian nationalism.” The university, which was founded with the aim of
educational and cultural upliftment of Muslims, later became one of the leading
universities where any Indian, irrespective of religious faith, could seek
admission on the basis of merit.
the constitution of India came into existence, universities like Aligarh Muslim
University and Banaras Hindu University, which were created in the
pre-independence period, were included in the seventh schedule as the 63rd entry
in the first list of the constitution and made into institutions of national
importance. As per the first amendment to the AMU Act, brought by the Nehru
government in 1951, non-Muslims were allowed to get elected to the governing
bodies of the university, including to the senate. The amendment also allowed
for inclusion of religious education as an optional subject and gave affiliation
to all institutions within the 15-mile radius of the university.
the Indian parliament passed the second amendment to the AMU Act in 1965, some
religious leaders approached the Supreme Court saying that the amendment was
against minority rights as ensured by article 30(1) of the Indian constitution.
But the 5-member constitutional bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Justice K
N Wanchoo, rejected the argument, saying that the university was neither
established nor administered by the Muslim minority community as defined by
article 30(1) of the constitution. The court observed that the AMU was
established by the Aligarh Muslim University Act 1920 passed by the Indian
Legislative Council and hence the amendment brought by the Nehru government was
not a violation of the article 30(1) of the constitution.
on, the Congress and the Janata Party governments brought a number of amendments
to the AMU Act, with the aim of reaping political gains. In the year 1972, the
then Indira Gandhi government brought an ordinance to empower the university to
cancel the affiliation of institutions, which were brought under the academic
control of the university as per the amendment of 1951. Later, in 1978, the
Janata government reinstated those affiliations by bringing another amendment.
Again in 1981, the Congress government brought another amendment to “promote
especially the educational and cultural advancement of the Muslims of India,”
which is now being interpreted in favour of giving reservations to the Muslim
community in the university. While giving this interpretation, the university
and the MHRD ignored the latest amendment, which states that admissions will be
done irrespective of religious considerations.
that fact that the university was established with the aim of educational
advancement of the Muslim community, it emerged after independence as a
university where all sections were given admissions on the basis of merit,
irrespective of faith, as in the case in other central universities. The AMU is
a central university which comes under schedule 7 of the Indian constitution and
is completely funded by the government of India. The Supreme Court itself had
categorically maintained that it would not come under the constitutional
definition of “minority institution.” So, the question of reservation is to
be examined on the basis of its significance towards protecting minority rights
as ensured in the constitution, which ultimately aims to protect the “unity
and integrity of India.” Moreover, it is the responsibility of all sections to
ensure that an institution like the AMU, which has immense importance in
national life, is not being used by vested political interests.
is no doubt that it is necessary to protect the minority rights, as maintained
in article 30(1) of the constitution, since it is the only way to ensure equal
treatment between minorities and the majority and hence to ensure equal justice.
What is important is to consider whether the minorities really benefit from the
efforts to appease them for narrow political gains and whether their just and
reasonable rights, as enshrined in the constitution, are protected and ensured.
A cautious approach towards this entire issue is needed to prevent the majority
fundamentalists from misinterpreting the question of minority rights and
democratic considerations as given to the minorities in the field of education.
argument of the AMU authorities is that the Supreme Court of India, in its
judgement in the T M A Pai case, allowed for reservation of seats for minorities
in minority institutions. In fact, however, that verdict referred only to
schools, colleges and professional institutions owned by religious minorities.
Nowhere did it refer to reservations in universities. After the judgement,
admissions in the Islamic Academy case were settled by making an equation of
50:50, which is applicable to all private institutions. In aided institutions, a
limited number of seats can be reserved according to regional requirements. But
making religion based reservations in institutions that are fully funded by the
government is a violation of the constitution of India.
no minority reservation has ever been implemented in the history of AMU, a vast
majority of the students studying in the university belong to the Muslim
community even in the absence of any such reservations. More than 80 per cent of
the total strength of students are Muslims. This is attributed to historical and
geographical reasons that have made minority students feel closer to the AMU.
Even if the government reserves 50 per cent of the seats in 36 different
postgraduate courses that involve merely 2,000 seats in AMU, where more than
25,000 students are currently studying, it is not likely to bring in much change
in the strength of the minority students in the university. It is preposterous
to claim that, in an institution where 80 per cent of the students belong to the
Muslim community, a reservation of 50 per cent out of a mere 2,000 seats would
mean a big concession to the minorities.
is obvious that all the minority rights rhetoric that was made by the ministry
is designed to appease the minorities for narrow political gains. Such gimmicks
that target minority vote banks would not in effect extend any big facility to
the minorities. On the other hand, however, they might add to the woes of the
minorities by misleading the common people and pushing them to the divisive
the Sangh Parivar.
argument that the move would benefit the students from all over the country
instead of only those belonging to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, who are in a
majority in the AMU at present, is also illogical. While advancing this
argument, the authorities have ignored the possible deterioration of the quality
of education, which the reservation may result in. Although reservations exist
in minority institutions, it is a university that provides degrees. But when a
university itself reserves seats, it would have an adverse impact on the quality
of courses it offers. Ultimately it will damage the image earned by the
university through decades of efforts towards academic excellence.
the government considers the question of educational backwardness of the
minorities as a grim matter of concern, it should strengthen public education
system and set up more educational institutions in selected areas. Besides this,
the government should also ensure that minority students are admitted to all the
seats that come under minority quota in the so-called minority institutions.
Unfortunately, the grim reality in most of the institutions established and
administered by a minority community in our country is that the real eligibility
criterion is the ability to pay exorbitant fees, rather than the minority
saying that it is predisposed to ensuring the constitutional rights of the
minorities, the central government unfortunately succumbs to the pressure of an
affluent minority within the minority communities. The Minorities Education
Commission Act, passed by the central government, is an instance in this regard.
The government says it established the National Minority Education Commission,
as promised in the National Common Minimum Programme of the UPA, in view of the
discrimination being practised against the minority institutions in BJP ruled
states like Gujarat. But the
provisions of this Act are such that they benefit the affluent sections within
the minorities by legalising the commercial interests of private managements. It
has not taken note of the fact that article 30(1) endeavours for the educational
advancement of a majority of the backward sections among the minority
communities. Even the suggestion of
the Left parties to redefine the “minority education institutions” as
institutions committed to eradicate educational backwardness of the backward
majority among the minority communities, was not incorporated. It is ironical
that a government, which is not
bothered about the majority of the needy students among the minorities, is
trying to make still more political gains through the mechanism of reservations,
which in effect would not contribute to overcoming the educational backwardness
A LESSON FOR THE CONGRESS
order to fulfil its narrow political interests, the Congress party has
historically been keen to appease the communal forces in various religious
groups by playing a balancing game between them and by hobnobbing with the
fundamentalists among the majority as well as minority communities.
Who can deny that the legislation passed by the Rajiv Gandhi government to
overturn the Supreme Court verdict in the Shabanu case was a blatant effort to
satisfy the conservative minority among the Muslims? As we know, the Congress
opportunism in that case helped the communal game of the Sangh Parivar as well.
Later, the Congress stance on the Ayodhya issue also benefitted the Sangh
Parivar. When the BJP shouted for a ban on cow slaughter, the then Congress
chief minister of Madhya Pradesh made an appeal to the then prime minister
Vajpayee that cow slaughter should be banned across the country.
It is only fair to say that the Congress party’s capitulations contributed
to the rise of the Sangh Parivar in the past.
very long ago, the BJP led NDA government was using academic institutions to
push its agenda of communal hatred by positioning the Parivar’s men in various
academic bodies. After the BJP-NDA’s defeat in the last elections, detoxification of education
must become one of the priorities of the UPA government. Using academic
institutions for narrow political gains, however, may even sabotage the
credibility of such a detoxification drive. It is not the gimmicks based on
communal sentiments that may ensure the unity of the people; this requires
constructive measures and protection of the just and true rights of the
minorities as enshrined in the constitution. Would the Congress deign it
necessary to learn a lesson from the past experiences?
(K K Ragesh is president of the Students Federation of India).