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Patriotism Trumps Nationalism. Killing Won't Fuel Love for Country: AMU's Shah

File photo of Lt Gen (Retd) Zameer Uddin Shah.

File photo of Lt Gen (Retd) Zameer Uddin Shah.

As the nationalism debate rages in campuses across India, Lt General Zameer Uddin Shah, the outgoing vice-chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University, has said that focus should instead be on patriotism.

New Delhi: Lt General Zameer Uddin Shah’s tenure as the Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University was marked with controversies, amid larger debates around minority institutions and nationalism. In a no holds barred conversation with News18’s Eram Agha on his last day in the office, Shah says he chose to overlook the internal politics as his job was to make AMU Number 1, and not to run a popularity contest. Highlighting what he calls “inequity of funding”, he says AMU gets less grants than the Banaras Hindu University. In three years of Modi government, he says, “no special damage” has been done to AMU. People, he says, are apprehensive about Yogi Adityanath, “but my policy is that one should not discard such people”. Edited excerpts:

Your 5-year long tenure as the Vice Chancellor ends today. How has the journey been?

It was the most challenging assignment I have done so far (Shah had led the Army division that was brought in to quell the 2002 Gujarat riots and served as the Deputy Chief of Army Staff between 2006 and 2008). I was looking after 35,000 people from 5 to 35 years of age and it has not been easy. In addition to that, there were 1400 university teachers and 600 school teachers. I tried to do my job to the best of my abilities. The major challenge was indiscipline among a small group of teachers and also the students union. Once they assume office, students think they have become Lordships and forget that they are students. I expelled some office bearers for the same.

What were your most memorable moments as the VC of this iconic institution?

Not a single day was lost in academics. This was historic because every single Vice Chancellor in the past had had two-three sine die in his tenure. There has been infrastructural development… there are no derelict buildings or roads anymore. As far as academic achievements are concerned, in 2015 we climbed up the rankings. But the arson in 2016, when the proctor’s building was torched, damaged the reputation of the university. It was one of the most shameful things that I had to deal with. There was a gang of criminals but most of them were non-AMU people. The constant demand of the students union is to take them back into the fold, which has soured our relations with them. I have made it clear that those thrown out on grounds of indiscipline will not be taken back.

This year, however, we are back to good rankings. Law, medical and engineering departments have been ranked well. I am certain that this year too we will be ranked among the top 5 universities. When I joined, there were 12 faculties now there are 13. There were 99 departments, now there are 108. PhD output rose from 300 to 850. In fact, we had to cut down on the intake because of the financial constraint. Also, UGC asked us to focus on quality rather than quantity. My aim was to get more people to do PhD so that there is increase in research.

We are leaders in three things — recycling waste water, techniques of anaerobic digestion and projects of Ganga and Yamuna clean up. Andhra Pradesh government is using the same for its new capital. We did good work in nanotechnology and in desalination of rainwater. Harnessing solar energy for automobiles was also one of our achievements.

There were people who had proposed your name for the post of Vice Chancellor. But things changed after you assumed office. There were allegations and court cases. Many people turned against you. Could you please explain what exactly went wrong?

Yes, there are AMU parasites. I call them parasites because they cling to every Vice Chancellor and ask for their share of spoils. It happened to me as well. There were lot of people who clung to me. They wanted to be rewarded with positions, contracts, become members of Court or0 Executive Council. They expected favors and asked me to recommend them for things. They used to come and say “humne aapko banwaya hai” (We made you what you are). A nurse told me that she wanted to be excused from night duty because she voted for me. I used to hear all their requests and statements, then politely say ‘thank you’ and walk away. Worst mistake any AMU VC can do is to fall in the trap of parasites. I have a legion of enemies but I didn’t come here for a popularity contest. Greek mythology says that if you try to clear the Augean stables, you will run into trouble. So what? We were here to make AMU Number 1, not to run a popularity contest.

During your tenure, two major political developments took place. In 2014, Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister and in 2017, Yogi Adityanath became Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. How did the campus respond?

I have always said that when you are given responsibilities, you change. And I was not wrong. Tell me if Modi has said anything against Muslims or if Yogi has said something terrible after assuming office? People are apprehensive but my policy is that one should not discard such people. You must try and win them over, talk to them, explain your viewpoint.

In Aligarh, I met this lady from Hindu Mahasabha, Pooja Shakun. She wanted to meet and speak on Triple Talaq and other issues. You cannot close the doors of negotiation or communication with them.

In three years of Modi government, I must say, they have done no special damage to Aligarh Muslim University. I always said there is inequity of funding, AMU is getting less grants than Banaras Hindu University and even Jamia Milia Islamia, which is quarter size of what we are.

I pointed out to the governments earlier also but no change at all. I have met Yogi Adityanath. He was very cordial.

Smriti Irani wanted the off campus centers to be shut down and, according to media reports, ‘misbehaved’ with you. How are things with Prakash Javdekar?

I don’t want to discuss the Smriti Irani episode.

But, yes, she was misguided by some insiders of the university about the off campus centers. I pointed out to her that they are legal. She believed that person because he was a former member of Parliament and alumnus.

I explained the same thing to Javadekar, and he has accepted our point of view. I have met him and he has been very civil and nice to me. Towards the end, even Irani had agreed to our view on the off campus centers.

According to the UGC Regulations 2010, a university should have an academic as the VC. Your appointment has been challenged in the court on this ground. Do you think top army officers and bureaucrats should be sent to the universities as VCs?

Some people have spent fortunes to get me kicked out and have gone to court with this...

I see no harm in army officers or bureaucrats being sent as VCs. Once, a US ambassador asked me the same question, I asked him why people of the United States selected 16 Generals to be the presidents of USA. Not that we have political ambitions but we are the people who live by discipline; we have respect and we run things well.

The basic job of a VC is administration. He has to make sure that the university gets funds and has good public relations. A VC is not to get into the day-to-day running of the university. In AMU, things are too VC-centric. It sets a bad precedent, which is why I delegated duties to others. I made sure I was not at the spot unless there was some emergency, like the arson on April 23, which was challenging.

How important is the minority status of AMU?

It will help because of poor schooling among Muslims. As a result, they do not get admission in institutes for higher education. Minority status will ensure affirmative action in education for them and the standard of Muslims will rise. Unfortunately, because of poor schooling, Muslims are not able to compete on a bigger platform. But when they get good schooling, they are very good. To improve the quality of schooling, Sir Syed Education Foundation came up with a proposal to set up schools. Maulana Azad Foundation has accepted it and schools will be opened soon. I discussed this problem of schooling with the minority affairs minister as well. The need is for secular, modern schools to end the problems of ghettoized education, which is harmful.

You served as the Deputy Chief of Army Staff. What do you have to say about the nationalism debate? During your tenure, Aligarh MP Satish Gautam wrote to you about ‘anti-national events’ on campus.

What they are talking about is super nationalism. I told him, criticizing somebody does not mean you are anti-national. I explained it to him that we will allow all opinions but that shouldn’t be taken as being anti-national. In my report on the National Education Policy, I mentioned that instead of nationalism, the focus should be on patriotism, which is love for the country. And love for the country can be inspired if people get a fair deal. If you burn their house or kill their relatives, there will be no feeling for the country. Riots give rise to people who have no stake in the country.