Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech at the centenary celebrations of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) was a welcome effort to reach out to the minority community through the beleaguered institution. The PM’s speech emphasised on inclusiveness and his words will certainly change and correct wrong, divisive perceptions.
Dubbed as the ‘laboratory of Indian Secularism’ by Dr. Zakir Hussain, AMU is a modern secular institution of higher learning based on the vision of its founder Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, who preached peaceful co-existence in a pluralistic society and collaboration and communal harmony in that society. This was partly attributable to the way he saw the world and its inhabitants. Though he was a devout Muslim, he preached universal love of all faiths.
The University had recently been graded, several times, by International Ranking Agencies as the number one university of the country but was invariably targeted by the social media for minor incidents, which were blatantly blown out of proportion. Negative Reports, dripping in vitriol, would invariably find their place in print and television channels with the result that citizens of the country began to view it as a regressive, ultra-orthodox institution. Its students were dubbed ‘anti-national’ whenever they raised their voices against perceived injustices without acknowledging their democratic right to protest. Dissidence is certainly not disloyalty.
Hopefully, the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, presiding over the centenary celebrations on December 22, will have a salutary effect. The PM’s speech was highly laudatory, and he rightly termed the university as a ‘Mini India’. The PM is the most powerful person in India and his words carry enormous weight and consequence. This effort to reach out to a beleaguered institution and to the second largest community in the country is praise worthy. It will certainly change and correct wrong, divisive perceptions.
There was criticism amongst a section of the community and the students’ union to the decision by the vice-chancellor to extend the invitation. It involved a mid-course correction since earlier it was given to understand that the honours would be performed by the President of India. This was an exercise in prudence — ‘Hikmat e Amli’ — and had the support of leading intellectuals of the community. The acceptance of the invitation by the prime minister was a visible symbol of his efforts at outreach to all communities.
There were a lot of expectations from the visit in terms of tangible terms. These will certainly follow in due course of time and it is hoped that besides the largesse, usually bestowed on such momentous occasions, the police will be more restrained when dealing with students and withdraw police cases against them. There is also a case of fair and equitable allocation of Government grants.
The greatest advantage will be in intangible terms. Hopefully it will put a lid on the bigoted social media and deter it from their unjustified onslaught on a great institution of higher learning. Despite the fact that these problems were not projected during the ceremony, it is hoped that these were conveyed to the PM.
There are two steps that will rescue the minorities from their present plight: Education and interaction with the majority. The former is already underway and Muslims have got to accept integration (not assimilation). It involves shunning practices which are anathema to the majority, and which do not compromise any religious tenets. Rigidity and intolerance amongst all sections of citizens are an obstacle to peace, tranquility and progress of our country. We have to preserve ‘Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb’, the hallmark of the university.
Anyone who has visited AMU is struck by the beauty of its architecture, its expansive, beautiful and well laid out campus, the culture and behavior ‘tehzeeb’ of its students. They invariably change their opinions and become ‘mureeds’ (fans/followers). I am certain this should have rubbed off on the PM, although this was, for starters, only a ‘virtual’ visit. To his credit, Modi did not use this situation as a political opportunity. That would have been counter-productive. It is hoped that expectations raised will not be belied.
The author is former Deputy Chief Of Army Staff and former Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University. Views are personal