Aligarh Muslim University: Laboratory for Religious Polarisation

A day after Mahatma Gandhi’s model was shot at and torched by a group of Hindu Mahasabha leaders in Aligarh Wednesday, idle chatter about the event dominated discussions among locals.

‘Mindset of AMU students’

At the center of Aligarh’s polarisation rests a century-old Muslim university — the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).

Over the last few years, AMU, the first Muslim university in the country, built in 1920 — 11 years after the establishment of the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) — has made more titles for communal disputes than it has for any education-related issue.

On the day Gandhi’s model was shot at in Aligarh, in AMU, students reportedly hanged a puppet of Nathuram Godse, the Hindu Mahasabha leader, who had shot Gandhi.

Days earlier, the university was in the news for issuing a show-cause notice to some students, including local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA Dalveer Singh’s grandson, Ajay Singh, for organizing a ‘tiranga yatra’ in the campus without the requisite permissions.
But none of this is unique for AMU.

Following 2014, the university has been an explosive battlefield for communal politics to play out.

The ‘Muslimness’ of AMU

Last year, Gautam triggered a row when he asked that the portrait of Muhammad Ali Jinnah be removed from the university. An event at which former vice-president Hamid Ansari was to be bestowed with a lifetime membership of AMU, had to be canceled due to violence by radical Hindu groups, in which dozens of people were injured.

UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath too balanced in on the controversy, arguing that there is “no question” of celebrating Jinnah in India, and ordered an inquiry into the matter.

Weeks later, Adityanath repeatedly sought to make a political statement by invoking AMU. Addressing a public meeting in Kannauj, Adityanath said that there must be Dalit reservation in AMU and Jamia Millia Islamia.

Why AMU matters to national politics

As for the former Lt General Zameer Uddin Shah, who was vice-chancellor of the university until 2017, targeting the school is a well-thought-out-strategy to stoke communal passions in the city.

Students of the university, who he calls as “hot-blooded youngsters”, are intentionally provoked by BJP MP Gautam to gain political mileage for his party, says Shah.

Former Congress MP from Aligarh, Chaudhary Bhupendra Singh, agrees. In the previous 5 years, the BJP has regularly tried to polarise Aligarh using AMU, he argues

They target Aligarh because it is so close to Delhi…What happens in Aligarh makes national headlines, so they keep trying to divide the electorate with issues of gau hatya(cow slaughter), triple talaq, etc,” says Singh.

“And then AMU is a famous university across the country, so it becomes an easy, effective target.”

‘Hindustan-Pakistan divide’

The politics of AMU has influence across the city.

“We never even step into AMU,” says Gupta, the mobile repair shop owner. “In Aligarh, they are Pakistan, and we happen to be Hindustan.”

While leaders over the political spectrum insist that Aligarh has been largely peaceful in spite of the high-octane communal speech, the former Congress MP believes that it is only due to “God’s grace” that riots haven’t erupted in the city as yet.

There is large-scale polarisation happening in Aligarh, and they want to create a riots-like situation, but everyone is turning a blind eye,” he adds. “Up until the Lok Sabha elections, I fear, this will keep happening, and can get much worse.

The previous year, the UP police killed two Muslim youth after accusing them of killing 6 people, including two Hindu priests, in what was widely believed to be a fake encounter.

While the police saved that Naushad (17) and Mustaqueem (22) had killed the two priests, a family member of one of the two slain priests reportedly claimed that the 2 were killed as a result of political pressure that the police was facing.

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