SOUNDING A note of caution amid the JNU row and questions over the minority status of Aligarh Muslim University, AMU vice-chancellor Lieutenant General (retd) Zameer Uddin Shah has said that any attempt to stifle the autonomy of educational institutions could lead to “further discontentment”.
“There is a simmering air of discontent on perceived trampling on autonomy of educational institutions. If these are stifled, it will give rise to further discontentment,” Shah told The Indian Express.
“Anti-national activities cannot be tolerated. Dissidence and difference of view should not be viewed as anti-national,” he added.
Shah’s statement comes two days after BJP MP Satish Gautam asked him, in a letter, not to allow “anti-government” and “anti-national” programmes on campus. Four days earlier, Shakunatala Bharti, the mayor of Aligarh, who is also from the BJP, accused the university of selling beef in a canteen on campus, a claim that the AMU denied.
The canteen attached to the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College in AMU has been closed since February 20, the day Bharti alleged that beef was sold on campus. Shah had clarified that only buffalo meat was served in AMU and Bharti’s allegations were “an attempt to whip up communal tension”.
The canteen contract ended on February 23, said Asif Ahmed, who had sealed the deal to run the canteen in 2015. He added that he would not bid for the contract again, and that the “beef biryani” contained buffalo meat and had been on the canteen menu for the last one year.
Shah, meanwhile, said the students are agitated only about the AMU’s minority character that is currently under challenge in the Supreme Court. “The only thing that is agitating the students is the minority status. We want preservation of minority status. Every student wants it to remain that way. The students are, otherwise, busy with their own studies,” said Shah.
The Centre’s U-turn on the minority status for AMU, Shah said, had let down minority institutions.
“Minority institutions had full faith in the Prime Minister’s assurance of ‘Sab ka saath, sab ka vikas’. This has been shaken by the change of stance of the government by the Attorney General’s statement on AMU in the minority character case. Minorities perceive this as ‘if it is AMU now it will be us later’,” said Shah.
“The stand of the Attorney General indicates that there is a change in the mind of the government which supported our minority status,” he said.
On January 11, the Centre reversed its earlier position and stated that AMU was not a minority institution as it was set up by Parliament. The argument in support of the minority status for AMU, is that an Act of Parliament must prevail over judicial pronouncements — and therefore, the 1981 AMU Amendment Act must hold.
University spokesperson Rahat Abrar said that of the 32,000 students in AMU, about 30 per cent were non-Muslims.