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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

Cong rattled, BJP upbeat after ruling on AMU

Yogesh Vajpeyi / New Delhi

The Allahabad High Court's verdict declaring Aligarh Muslim University (Amendment) Act 1981 unconstitutional has left the ruling UPA Government rattled and exposed the contradictions within its partners.

As the Congress appeared to fumble for words and the Left parties tried to duck the issue, an upbeat BJP on Wednesday welcomed the verdict as a "vindication" of its stand and geared up again to attack the "pseudo secularists" policy of Muslim appeasement.

Ruling on a public interest litigation against the Union HRD Ministry's recent notification allowing 50 per cent reservations to Muslims in the university's professional courses, the High Court had not only quashed the notification but also struck down the 1981 amendment giving it the status of a minority institution.

Expectedly BJP, which had fought against Union HRD Minister Arjun Singh's decision and was consistently opposed to AMU's status as a minority institution, was up in arms against possible UPA moves against the verdict.

Speaking in Allahabad, senior BJP leader and former HRD Minister Murli Manohar Joshi said, "the verdict has come as a blow to those indulging in politics of appeasement" while in Delhi, party vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi asked the Union Government not to appeal against it.

Warning the Government against going for a Shah Bano-type solution to nullify the judgement, Mr Naqvi threatened a nationwide agitation if the Government tried to restore AMU's "minority status" or re-introduce "religion-based reservations".

Fearing a replay of the Shah Bano controversy, which triggered off a massive backlash after the Rajiv Government brought a legislation to nullify a Supreme Court judgement, the Congress-led UPA Government was caught in a bind.

While vociferous Muslim organisations were pressing for urgent measures to restore AMU's minority character, the Government seemed to be caught considering the wider implications of such a precipitous action which could present a tailor-made issue to the principal Opposition party.

At the same time, the Congress also seemed conscious of the urgency to consolidate its Muslim vote, under threat from the grouping of Muslim organisations in Assam into a political party and zealous espousal of the Muslim cause by political rivals like the Samajwadi Party in UP.

Giving an indication of how these rivals are waiting to exploit the Congress dilemma, Samajwadi Party leader and UP Cabinet Minister Azam Khan has already demanded that the Government convene a special session of Parliament and pass a new law to restore status quo. Sources said the Government would prefer the AMU to fight the legal battle. "The Government will take a final decision only after wider consultations with the HRD and Law Ministries," they added.

Congress spokesman Anand Sharma was reluctant to spell out the party's future course of action and merely said that it was up to the AMU authorities to respond to the judgement and take an appropriate view on the course of action and available remedies.

"Besides AMU, it was the HRD Ministry that would be competent to take note of the developments," he pointed out, adding that, "as far as the Congress is concerned, the AMU should have the minority character."

Refusing to bail out the Congress, the Left parties that had earlier expressed reservations about the HRD Ministry's notification approving 50 per cent reservations for Muslims in AMU professional courses, withheld their immediate reaction.

"We have to study the judgment in detail before reacting," CPI (M) Politburo member Brinda Karat told mediapersons.

In the midst of this chaos and cacophony, BJP leaders were busy chalking out their war strategy to put the UPA Government on the mat.

Accusing the Congress-led Government of using religion-based reservation to further its own political interests, Mr Naqvi alleged that HRD Minister Arjun Singh was himself "unsure of the legal validity" of his decision despite the BJP's stiff opposition to the move.

"But for the Congress, the AMU has always been an arena to play politics in. As a nation, however, we should support universalisation and high-quality uniform education," he added

Whose AMU?

* The AMU Act, as amended in 1981, has two contradictory clauses:

* Section 5 (c) allows AMU " to promote especially the educational and cultural advancement of the Muslims of India". This is cited to claim minority status for AMU.

* Section 8, however, says AMU "shall be open to all persons (including the teachers and taught) of either sex and of whatever race, religion, creed, or class". This is cited by those who want AMU to be secular.

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