Pseudo-Secularism

Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

AMU is for all

The Pioneer Edit Desk

The response of political parties to Tuesday's Allahabad High Court judgement striking down the claimed minority status of Aligarh Muslim University and setting aside the controversial 50 per cent quota for Muslims in post-graduate professional courses has been along predictable lines. The so-called champions of minority rights who are, in fact, traders of minority votes have threatened dire consequences unless the ruling is overturned either by a higher court or through an Act of Parliament. Such fulmination that has the potential of triggering violent protests is best avoided, not least because as a nation we have learned quite a few bitter lessons as a result of the haste with which Rajiv Gandhi's Government mobilised its parliamentary majority to overturn the Supreme Court's judgement in the Shah Bano case.

Those who are celebrating the Allahabad High Court judgement would also do well to exercise restraint and not allow themselves to be carried away by the rhetoric of identity politics. Instead of using the judgement to pursue their narrow political agendas, both sides should view it as a first step towards undoing the damage inflicted by the politics of minorityism on our society and institutions. Only the ill-informed will cry themselves hoarse by accusing the High Court of robbing Aligarh Muslim University of its "minority status"; for, strictly speaking, it was never legally accorded the status of a minority institution.

The Act of 1981 describes Aligarh Muslim University as an educational institution established by "Muslims of India", but it also asserts that the university "shall be open to all persons (including the teachers and taught) of either sex and of whatever race, religion, creed, or class". The 1981 Act has been struck down because it militates against a 1968 judgement in which the Supreme Court had ruled that Aligarh Muslim University was created by an Act of the Central Legislature and was not established by a minority community. Hence, it cannot be accorded the status of a minority institution. From this flows the argument that the 50 per cent quota for Muslims in post-graduate professional courses is untenable and extra-constitutional.

On the face of it, the judgement cannot be faulted. Nor can those who want Aligarh Muslim University to become an exclusive preserve of Muslims cite Article 30 of the Constitution in defence of their absurd position. Funded entirely by tax-payers' money, Aligarh Muslim University cannot be appropriated by peddlers of minorityism, nor can rabble-rousers be allowed to hijack the institution to further their communal politics. Ironically, Union Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh, who has launched a crusade against everything secular in education by foisting his warped, communal worldview on groves of academia, has played an important role in precipitating the issue of Aligarh Muslim University's status.

If he had allowed good sense to prevail over his hare-brained scheme to impose a 50 per cent quota for Muslims, there would have been no court ruling. Instead, because of his chicanery, a needless controversy has erupted which should be nipped in the bud unless the Congress is eager to revive the social tensions that followed Rajiv Gandhi's decision to let regressive views prevail over progressive idealism. Authorities at Aligarh Muslim University are free to challenge the Allahabad High Court's judgement, but the Union Government should steer clear of getting embroiled in another slugfest over Muslim votes. India has moved on, so must its politicians.

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