Politics of opportunism and AMU students’ response
It has always been a commonplace fact in India that its political class has failed to deliver according to its promises and thereby has frustrated the hopes and aspirations of the common people. However, in the recent times, owing to a number of factors there has been an increasing demand for more accountability from the leaders of our country and thus the old methods of securing votes are being put to test. The recent series of events at the Aligarh Muslim University are a clear pointer to the fact that it might not be possible any longer for the political parties to manage votes from people, especially the minorities in the way it traditionally used to do.
What happened actually
A few days back the news kept doing the rounds at the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) campus that Mulayam Singh Yadav, the chief of Samajwadi Party (SP) is expected to address a seminar on the 24th of this month on the minority character of AMU i.e. legal validation of the fact that the university was established and administered by the Muslims of India. The minority character of AMU has been the Pandora’s box for the past few years and any individual or collective which has tried to win the sympathy of the AMU students have shown their excessive concern towards it. As the news was confirmed it was known that a hitherto unknown organisation called Sir Syed Movement Forum (which is headed by an alumnus) had invited him. The news led to a widespread resentment among the students for the sheer fact that the way in which SP’s government had handled the recent Muzaffarnagar riots was not just irresponsible but also inhuman and pathetic. Not only this, Mr. Yadav who is credited by his supporters to be the ‘messiah of the Muslims of Uttar Pradesh (UP)’ had opposed the Communal Violence Prevention Bill in the Parliament.
In a quick succession of events, it was decided by a group of AMU students on the night of Friday, 21st February that Mulayam Singh Yadav’s visit to the campus would be boycotted. Accordingly, a protest march was organised on the afternoon of the next day during which a memorandum was presented to the Proctor of the University asking the administration to cancel his visit, more so because the Vice Chancellor had stated earlier that he would not permit any political personality to visit the University before the 2014 General elections.
As the organisers of the event sensed that it was on the brink of being jeopardised, from there began the process of convincing and intimidating the people who were leading the protest. On the evening of Saturday, 22nd February a group of students led by a former AMUSU office bearer (who is currently a member of the SP) barged into the room of Munazir Bari, a PhD student and an activist of “Students of AMU”, an Islamist Students’ organisation in the campus. He tried to convince Munazir Bari and the other people who were present in his room not to carry on with their protests and thereby permit Mulayam Singh Yadav’s AMU visit. When his arguments to convince them failed, he falsely accused Abdul Rouf Mir, the Coordinator of “Students of AMU” of being a “Congress agent” who was working according to the directions of his ‘party’. It is pertinent to mention here that “Students of AMU” in association with other independent student organisations had played an active role in this protest movement.
On that very night Fawaz Shaheen, a law student and an activist of “Aligarh Activists’ Society”, a civil rights organisation in the campus received calls from unknown numbers wherein he was asked to be ready to face the ‘consequences’ if he did not step back from his decision to protest.
Braving all these attempts to throttle the protests, the students distributed pamphlets on that night at every room in the hostels of the University. The pamphlets bore information about the fact how callously the SP led UP Government had dealt with the Muzaffarnagar riots and why it was important not to permit the party supremo to visit the AMU campus.
On the evening of Sunday 23rd February, a massive number of students gathered at the University Library Canteen to proceed towards the Registrar’s residence and ensure that the programme scheduled for the next day get cancelled. As the students gheraoed the place and started shouting slogans, the Registrar came out of his residence after around ten minutes and announced before the students and the media persons that the programme has officially been cancelled.
And what it signals
The entire series of happenings is unprecedented in the University campus, at least in the recent times. There are a number of reasons behind this. Those who are familiar with the political culture at the AMU campus will acknowledge that students here are strongly affiliated to various regional lobbies which are headed by the ‘seniors’ of respected lobbies. Thus, the regional identity of a student becomes his most important (to a certain extent his only) identity and all his actions are decided on the parameters of benefit or loss to the lobby he supposedly seems to be representing. However, this was a case where the common students defied the diktats of their lobby heads and acted on ethical grounds.
This, of course, could not have been possible in a single day. During the past one and half year the civil society movement at AMU is slowly but firmly gathering momentum and is trying to emerge as an alternative to the lobby politics which has frustrated the common students of the University. “AMU Students for Justice”, a conglomerate of all independent students’ organisations at AMU have vehemently campaigned against politics of hate, regionalism and most importantly gender violence. Their campaign has partially been successful in denting the regional identity of the students and thus enabling them to come out in the open defying their regional patriarchs.
The incidents are important in the perspective of national politics as well. AMU has traditionally remained against Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for its aggressive brand of Hindu nationalist politics and its stand on issues such as the Uniform Civil Code. However, it was important to expose parties such as SP which are opportunistically secular. SP has traditionally enjoyed the support of Muslim voters in UP and it has successfully managed to do so by terrorising them against the threat of ‘communal’ BJP. Before the General elections of 2014 at a time when the prospects of BJP seem quite bright owing to a messed up Congress, the SP chief thought of repeating the same trick. However, the widespread anger against SP in AMU is actually a pointer to the fact that they should not take its Muslim voters for granted.
Coming back to the analyses of the paradigms at AMU it is important to make a critique of the role played by the AMU administration as well. Toeing the line of other s Universities in India, the AMU administration has tried to muzzle the independent students’ voices in the campus. A few weeks back the permission to hold an academic symposium entitled “Aam Aadmi Party: Revolution or Anarchy” organised by Aligarh Activists’ Society, was not granted on the grounds of being a ‘political programme’. The hypocrisy of the University administration stood exposed when they permitted the head of a political party (who is not in any constitutional position) to visit the University campus. The manner in which the University campus was plastered with banners bearing “Welcome Mulayam Singh Yadav” made one wonder if one was walking on the roads of the University or those adjacent to the station and other parts of Aligarh city which are usually abound with banners and hoardings of various political parties.
On an ending note it must be reiterated that it is important to sustain this precedence of students’ activism at AMU. It is the only way here through which the students can reassert their independent identities freeing themselves of their regional loyalties. It must also be proclaimed in clear terms that students’ politics at AMU has always remained politically independent and thus nobody should be permitted to use the campus for their unconvincing political ambitions.