People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 25

June 19, 2005

  On Religion Based Reservations In AMU

                                                                      K K Ragesh


THE 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.



The 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.


It 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.


It 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.


The 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.



After 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.


When 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.


Later 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.



Despite 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.


There 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.


The 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.



Though 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.


It 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 agenda of the Sangh Parivar.


The 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.



If 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 consideration.


While 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 of minorities.



In 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.


Not 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).