The Big Story: Banishing Jinnah

By all accounts, the violence at Aligarh Muslim University was twofold. First, intruders who were allegedly from the Hindu Yuva Vahini barged in and reportedly tried to disrupt a ceremony at which former vice president Hamid Ansari was to be granted lifetime membership of the university students’ union. Hindutva groups maintain that the real object of their ire was a portrait of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, which has hung in the students’ union building since 1938. Second, when students of the university tried to file a first information report, they were lathi-charged and tear gassed by the police. The first is alarming in itself, part of an epidemic of hooliganism, a growing trend of reacting to ideas that one does not like with physical force. The second is also frightening, for it suggests that those protesting against such hooliganism will have no recourse to law; that they will, in fact, be punished.

Why should a portrait that has hung in the university halls for 80 years suddenly draw anger? It betrays a new fragility in our national ego, which thrives on a virulent anti-intellectualism. Educational institutions, it seems, must conform to prescriptive nationalist histories or pay the price. The Aligarh Muslim University was founded in 1875 by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan as the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College. Modelled on the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, it was aimed at establishing a modern system of education for Muslims in British India. It became an important centre of thought during the freedom movement and played a key role in fashioning a modern Muslim identity in the subcontinent. The portrait of Jinnah, who was made lifetime member of the university students’ union, belongs to this particular past. It was put up long before Indian and Pakistani histories were bifurcated. To erase this past is regressive.

Yet a number of politicians, starting with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, now suggest that Jinnah be expunged from history. Of course, as founder of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, a militant organisation implicated in several cases of communal violence, Adityanath may be expected to sympathise with the rage of the would-be vandals. But it is worrying that, as chief minister, he should fixate on the portrait rather than a serious breakdown of law and order in his state.

The Big Scroll

Shreya Roy Choudhary reports on anger in Aligarh Muslim University.


  1. In the Indian Express, Arvind C Datar on how the refusal to implement the decisions of the collegium is harming the judiciary.
  2. In the Hindu, G Sampath on the casteist bias embedded in the judiciary and the Scheduled Caste/ Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
  3. In the Telegraph, Sankarshan Thakur on New Delhi’s failure in Kashmir.


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