Opinion: Hindutva groups’ assault on AMU was never about Jinnah. It had a more sinister motive

It was intended to demonise a particular community and interfere in educational institutions that support free speech and liberal values.

It is not about Jinnah. It was never about Jinnah.

Khud aankh se humne dekhi hai
Baatil ki shikast e faash yahan

“I have seen with my own eyes
The clear rout of falsehood.”

I have always enjoyed singing the Aligarh Muslim University’s tarana, or anthem, and these lines never fail to give me goose pimples. Today, these lines help fuel my resolve to stand with the AMU as a proud third-generation alumna in a fight for right.

If it was about Muhammad Ali Jinnah then why did they not see out Bharatiya Janata Party MP Satish Gautam’s 48-hour ultimatum to the AMU Students Union to remove the founder of Pakistan’s portrait from the Union Hall, where it had been hanging forgotten since 1938? Is a bye-election happening in Kairana?

If it was about Jinnah why did the goons of the Hindu Yuva Vahini and other Hindutva groups who had come with weapons and the police not march towards the Union Hall? Why did they come shouting provocative slogans, branding the students traitors and calling for causing harm to them? How did this group of armed goons come within 100 meters of where Hamid Ansari, with whom the right-wing has always had a problem, was staying? Ironically, the former Indian vice president had come to deliver a speech on the subject “India has failed to establish a pluralistic society”.

It is not about Jinnah. It was never about Jinnah.

It is about demonising a particular community. It is about interfering in educational institutions that support free speech and liberal values.

It is irrelevant whether Vinayak Savarkar promoted the “two nation theory” first or whether Jinnah defended Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bhagat Singh passionately. Those asking these questions want to back AMU’s students and staff and its supporters into a corner, where they have to defend or abuse Jinnah. But Jinnah is irrelevant for Indian Muslims today.

As many of the banners held by the students during protests against the May 2 assault on the campus pointed out, “Jinnah itihas hai, aastha nahi.” Jinnah is history, not an article of faith.

But by then the media, especially some TV news channels, had gone to town portraying the AMU in a very negative light. It was as if they were just waiting for something like this to happen so they could issue certificates of patriotism and treachery as per their blinkered right-wing sensibility.

Dividing us

Some TV channels aired videos of the students protesting near Bab-e-Syed, alleging they were demanding “Azadi from Bharat”. But as the fact-checking news website AltNews pointed out, the slogan was “Bharat mein lenge Azadi and not “Bharat se lenge Azadi”. That is, the students were demanding freedom in India, not freedom from India.

TV channels ran numerous programmes on Jinnah the Villian even as the students were putting up posters declaring that they were protesting against the attack on the campus and not over Jinnah’s portrait. Moreover, as Mashkoor Ahmad Usmani, the president of the AMU Students Union, pointed out, students at the university “come from India, their grandparents chose India over Pakistan” and opposed Jinnah.

The AMU Teachers Association, alumni from across the world as well as others who stand for what is right and not the right-wing reiterated as much.

Indeed, this attempt to divide our society into us versus them, Hindu versus Muslims is being resisted by all those who do not believe in the right-wing agenda of divisiveness.

The protesting students are demanding a judicial inquiry and the arrest of the right-wing goons who entered the AMU campus on May 2 and fired pistols near the guesthouse. They are asking why the police released the six men caught in the act and why no FIR was filed. Two of the attackers, Amit Goswami and Yogesh Varshney, former city president of Hindu Yuva Vahini, have reportedly been arrested now and sent to jail.

It is not about Jinnah. It was never about Jinnah.

A portrait of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, hanging alongside pictures of Mahatma Gandhi, Babasaheb Ambedkar and Lal Bahadur Shastri in a Public Works Department guesthouse at Khair in Aligarh district, was removed last week and replaced by a portrait of Narendra Modi. Why could the prime minister’s picture not be put up, if it had to be, without taking down Khan’s?

The AMU has always stood for pluralistic values and secularism. When Khan sought donations to set up the university many non-Muslims gifted money and land. Their names are displayed at the Sir Syed House. A portrait of Raja Mahindra Pratap, a land donor, is displayed in Maulana Azad Central Library.

The students union leaders have said they would remove Jinnah’s portrait if the government orders them to do so in writing.

But it is not about Jinnah. It was never about Jinnah.

Rana Safvi is a historian, author and blogger.

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