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Explained: Battleground AMU; A Raja and his Legacy

The issues are complex, and include the tension between Jats and Muslims that continues to simmer in western Uttar Pradesh.

Written by Mohd Faisal Fareed |
November 29, 2014 2:24:07 am
amu-l Students of AMU stage a protest against plans by the BJP to celebrate the birthday of Raja Mahendra Pratap within the university campus, on Friday. (Source: PTI Photo)

The BJP wants to celebrate the birthday of Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh — the same Jat ‘king’ who badly defeated the young Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Mathura in the 1957 Lok Sabha election — at Aligarh Muslim University. The issues are complex, and include the tension between Jats and Muslims that continues to simmer in western Uttar Pradesh. Faisal Fareed explains.

Who was Raja Mahendra Pratap?
Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh (born December 1, 1886, died April 29, 1979) was the son of the Jat king of Mursan in Aligarh, Raja Ghanshiam Singh. He was adopted by Raja Harnarain of Hathras when he was three years old, and went on to live in Vrindavan and Mathura.

What is his link to AMU?
He joined the Mohammedan Anglo Oriental College in 1895, but could not complete his graduation. He left MAO in 1905. MAO became Aligarh Muslim University in 1920, which regards Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh as an alumnus. In 1977, AMU, under V-C Prof A M Khusro, felicitated Mahendra Pratap at the centenary celebrations of MAO.

Did he donate land to the university?
He wasn’t born when MAO was established, and there is no record of any donation of land from him. However, in 1929, he leased a 1.221-hectare (3.04-acre) plot to AMU at Rs 2 annually. The lease charges are now Rs 200 per annum, and the land — called Tikonia Park — is used as a playground by City High School of AMU. MAO was set up on 74 acres of cantonment land purchased from the British. Mahendra Pratap’s father Raja Ghanshiam Singh of Mursan had got a hostel room constructed, which continues to stand as Room Number 31 in Sir Syed Hall (South).

What is the BJP claiming?
The BJP claims that Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh donated the land for setting up AMU and therefore, AMU should celebrate his birthday like it celebrates that of founder Sir Syed Ahmed Khan.

What is AMU’s position?
Initially, AMU agreed to celebrate the Raja’s birthday outside the campus near Tikonia Park. A meeting was held, which was attended by an RSS functionary, members of AMU Students’ Union, and V-C Lt Gen Zameeruddin Shah. There was noise after it became public that an RSS functionary was involved, and AMU has now refused to hold any celebrations and written to HRD Minister Smriti Irani, warning of “massive student unrest” and the “possibility of communal conflagration if political machinations are not controlled”.

Why is the BJP suddenly aggressive about celebrating Mahendra Pratap’s AMU connection?
On November 17, UP BJP chief Laxmikant Bajpai and general secretary Swatantra Dev Singh visited Aligarh and directed the district unit to celebrate Mahendra Pratap’s birthday. The raja is a Jat icon, AMU is seen as a Muslim institution, and the Jat-Muslim conflict that erupted in violence in Muzaffarnagar continues to simmer in western UP. The BJP would like to be seen as restoring the glory of a Jat ‘king’. And if the state government puts curbs on the celebration, the BJP can accuse it of “Muslim appeasement”.

Where does the ruling Samajwadi Party stand?
Local SP MLAs have opposed the BJP’s move. However, that seems to be more out of a desire to underline their Muslim identity, rather than in view of what is good or bad for AMU. The SP is in a Catch-22 situation: if it allows the celebration, it will anger Muslims; if it doesn’t, it’ll be handing the BJP an ‘issue’. RLD, which has lost a lot of ground among Jats, is supporting the BJP’s call.

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