In poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, students of Aligarh Muslim University discuss politics sipping evening tea with snacks inside a small hostel room. On asking whether AMU has produced significant voices over the years in the political arena, the discussion bounces off from names such as former Union Minister Arif Mohammed Khan to Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan. Faisal Hassan, who is pursuing PhD from Department of Psychology in AMU, said, “AMU has not produced a strong national voice. We need to groom and harness student leadership which could voice our collective concerns at all levels, irrespective of gender, sects or other factors.”
His roommate, who did not wish to be named, disagreed, “Any voice can be made into a national voice with the help of media. Local leaders such as Abdul Hafiz Gandhi, who passed out from AMU, is not given attention. It would be unfair to assert that the university has failed to produce voices when media keeps them out of limelight.”
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Aligarh Muslim University, which was established over a century ago by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan as Muhammadan Anglo Oriental College to impart modern education to Muslims, boasts of producing alumni like Hasrat Mohani, Ali Brothers, Raja Mahendra Pratap, who played an important role in the freedom struggle. But over the years, the University has not been able to exert the same influence over the political affairs of the country.
“Role of AMU students, teachers or alumni was immense during the freedom struggle. They were involved in political mobilization. But after partition, the institution became stigmatized,” Dr. Mohd. Aftab Alam, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, AMU said. “There are some instances where you find some ex-student union leader contesting elections for Lok Sabha, or state assembly. But as such, AMU is not participating in the political process.”
Role of Student Union Body at AMU
The Student Union at AMU stays away from national-level politics. The candidates do not associate themselves with any particular political party during student union elections. “It is in Aligarh’s consciousness that we should not let it become a playground for political interest. In fact, if any candidate is branded with a political party, or is rumoured to have a political affiliation, the candidate is not voted to power,” Akhtarul Wasey, AMU alum and current VC of Maulana Azad University, Jodhpur said.
Nadim Asrar, AMUSU President, 1999, said the situation has left the student body “without teeth”. “AMU is no longer a credible voice during elections because it is not politicised. The student body is left without teeth, or higher understanding of politics. While JNU nurtures Kanhaiya Kumar, AMU fails to do the same with its student leaders.”
Professor Alam believes that the participation of political parties will lead to excess of money power in the student elections but agrees most students interested in politics look for quick success rather than working for the community, after passing out from the university. “Particularly for quick success, they wish to avoid ground level participation in politics as they feel they are already late entrants into politics. It is a demerit. Muslim voice emerges not from AMU but from other parts such as JNU or Hyderabad,” he said.
AMU’s struggle coincides with Muslims struggle
Criticising the media for its ‘negative portrayal’ of the university, Faisal asks why the positive aspect about the university is not reported. “Times Higher Education gave AMU the second best ranked university in the country. We have our own riding club, a beautiful campus and we give quality education at feasible rates. Why is the media always reporting on the controversies?”
Professor Arshi Khan, who teaches Political Science and International Affairs at AMU, said the vernacular press in Aligarh is highly managed and there is “misinformation” and “disinformation” of facts. “Misinformation means all the good things about the university is kept hidden. Disinformation means fabricating false information about the university,” he said.
Addressing concern that forces in the country are working towards exclusion of Muslim voices, Professor Khan said Muslims in India are not democratically integrated with the nation. “AMU does not get degrees of grant that BHU receives. It happens because of politics of exclusivism. There has been a problem with democratic integration of Muslims in India. Muslims are highly excluded from decision-making. This exclusion automatically leads to discrimination and prejudices,” he said.
Adding another reason for the failure of Muslim voters to mobilise themselves in the state, Nadim Asrar said the few Muslim voices in the leadership have failed to connect with the Muslim voters. “Muslim elites have continued to pursue politics of emotions and identity politics. But these issues lack conviction with Muslim population at ground level. No leader has done anything to address concerns laid out by Sachar Committee report,” he said.
Agreeing with Asrar, Professor Khan, describes the trend as a “violation of democratic principle”. “In India, there is no civic political mobilisation process- which happens on common issues of common people such as road, education, health, infrastructure etc. Instead, we have a political mobilisation using caste, religion or identity factor- such as Ram Janmabhoomi, Gau Bachao or Muslim personal law,” he said.
Professor Khan holds the exclusion of Muslims in India responsible for weak “political bargaining power” of Muslims. “The exclusion of Muslims in India permanently reduces their political bargaining power that make democracy competitive. BSP made political bargaining with BJP, Ram Vilas Paswan made pacts with BJP, but we cannot seek any political bargains,” he said.
Asmer Beg, Professor of Political Science at AMU, who conducted poll surveys for CSDS in Uttar Pradesh, said personal factors play a role in the voting patterns of people rather than communal reasons. “A lot of people in Aligarh might vote for Vivek Bansal, including the Muslim population, since he is known around in the area. Similarly, people might vote for Independent candidate Zameerullah Khan as well, since he has been the sitting MLA here for two terms and has done good work,” he said.