By Anwar Alam 

The recent UGC Academic Audit Report on the Aligarh Muslim University, AMU has drawn the national attention towards its malfunctioning, notwithstanding the din over its recommendation of dropping the word “Muslim” from its name. While the bulk of secularists and Muslim intelligentsia might see the report as another “Hindutava instance” against the Muslim community, it did provide a good opportunity to critically reflect upon the state of affairs in the two premier Muslim educational institutions of India: the AMU and the Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI). Though there has been a nationwide discussion and recommendations to uplift the educational plight of the Muslim community since the publication of Sachar Commission Report (2006), discussion on the functioning of wholly public-funded Muslim educational institutions has been rare. The hegemonic discourse of exclusion and practice of Indian secularism has further insulated the internal functioning of these institutions from wider public scrutiny.

AMUOriginated as a community project with vastly different trajectory (AMU: communal-separatist; and JMI: nationalist-secular), today both these institutions are Central University. Baring nomenclature of Central University, both these institutions differ vastly with other Central Universities in terms of exercise of power, style of functioning, objectives and historical mandate. These institutions did produce a generation of “educated Muslims” and contributed towards the formation of sizable Muslim middle class in post-Independence period, but without any competitive edge and national-modern outlook. Their participation and success rate in national opportunity structure is abysmally low, not on account of any institutionalised discrimination, but due to a lack of motivation, low participation and poor quality of education. Behind their failure to evolve as quality academic institutions lies a combination of factors.

First, as “hunger” for education among the Muslim community has surpassed other communities in India and a large number of Muslims desire to seek a quality education in a Muslim environment whereby the preservation of Muslim culture, religion and tradition can be assured, there is a sheer mismatch between the capacity of these two universities to perform and cater to ever increasing number of students. The AMU is the largest residential university with a capacity of approximately 30,000 students, while JMI has roughly around 15,000-17,000 students. The system of education ranging from nursery to Ph.D, ever increasing student intake, every day pulls and pressure emanating from the community structures, the pressure to draw teachers from “Muslim pool”, all combined have made these two Muslim premier institutions unmanageable and inefficient.

The second crucial factor is the feudal moorings of decadent Ashraf Muslim elite and the middle class that has historically shaped and controlled the power-structure of these Muslim institutions. As a result, these institutions remained feudal in orientation and ethos and the same are reflected in almost all dimensions of academic life of both the universities, particularly about the relationship between their Vice Chancellors and the rest of the university. While all universities, whether State or Central, suffer from “VC syndrome”, its degree of discretion and arbitrary exercise of power is much greater in these two universities. Part of the reason for “heavy centralisation of academic life” lies in the tradition of appointment of bureaucrats as Vice Chancellors in these universities, a practice hardly followed in other Central University. Both universities have dubious distinction of having military officer as Vice Chancellor in the recent past!

The third structural problem of these universities is their gradual transformation into a symbol of collective Muslim identity. The politics of Ashraf, the silence of the secular Government, the impact of identity-centred Islamicist movement within and outside India, the alleged growing threat of Hindutava and widely held perception among large section of Muslims and secularists that these institutions are the only hope for imparting education to the Muslim children as outside opportunities for the same has dwindled — all combined have pushed the “Ashraf-dominated Muslim politics” to secure the goal of declaring these institutions as “minority institution”. The process got intensified against the backdrop of collapse of Ashraf leadership following the demolition of Babri Masjid and later the announcement of 27 per cent OBC reservation in Central educational institutions, which appeared to threaten Ashraf dominance in these institutions. Today both AMU and JMI have acquired a semi-legal status of “minority institution” (doing away with OBC reservation) subject to the final outcome of the court ruling.

The “process of minoritisation” of these two Muslim Central Universities will have a far-reaching adverse implication on the academic health of the university in the future. First, in demanding official recognition of these institutions as “minority institution” despite

being wholly public funded, the “Muslim politics” in the country further strengthened its gradual trend of moving from one of “politics of minority right” to “politics of minoritism”. The latter contributed to the development of politics of majoritarianism.

Second, an academic degree of minority institution without any brand value will be considered of a lower value in the national market. Hence career prospects of students have greatly been compromised. Third, the more the process of “minoritisation” of academic life in these universities, the more gheottisation of academic life will take place. Fourth, it will strengthen the communal forces within the community. Finally, with hardening of Muslim identity, its educational goal has taken a back seat. The paradox is that while educational institution is expected to uphold constitutional values of democracy, secularism, nationalism and pluralism and produce democratic citizens, the thrust, orientation and moorings of these universities stand opposite to these constitutional values. After all, Pakistan came out of the womb of the AMU. A university with such inward outlook will never produce the national and universal values and affect the capacity of its students to compete at the national and global market.

The fourth structural problem begets from a kind of relationship between the Government and these educational institutions. The Government and large public sphere tend to see these two educational institutions primarily as “Muslim educational institutions” and symbols of Muslim identity. One consequence of this process is that Vice Chancellors of these universities get a larger media coverage and retains their public visibility not on account of their scholarship or being administrative head but on account of being perceived as an important representative of Muslim community. Aware of the positional advantage of office of Vice Chancellorship of these universities, some of ambitious Vice Chancellors make the political use of their office and the university to further their political interest. Unlike other Central Universities, the past precedent of becoming President, Vice President, Governor, Lt Governor, etc, through this route also encourages and inspires the incumbent of this office to move in the same direction. As a result, the attention of the VC gets deflected at the cost of “educational cause”. Academics becomes the secondary issues and most of the attention is geared to buy “peace” at the university through a combination of force, fear and balancing the internal factionalism, which is presented as “orderly academic life” to the outside world.

Moreover, given the competitive electoral democracy, the Government has been normally reluctant to “inspect and supervise” the academic quality of these institutions out of fear that such moves might generate negative repercussion and the Government may lose support among the Muslim community.

As a consequence, these universities internally suffer from massive misuse of “autonomy” of educational institution. This autonomy gives rise to nepotism, corruption, inbreeding, non-transparent functioning of administration, academic inertia and dishonesty and sub-standard academic practices. The AMU has never implemented the mandatory provision of 22.7 per cent SC & ST reservation and 27 per cent OBC quota in admission and appointments of teaching and non-teaching positions without being either legally exempted or being recognised as a minority educational institution to undertake such policy decision. The JMI dispensed the same in 2011 with a claim of being a minority institution as per decision of NCMEI and reserves 50 per cent seats for Muslim students. Moreover, these are the only two Central Universities that have shied away from appointing CVC mandated Chief Vigilance Officer through due process in the name of autonomy!

The role of these two Muslim Central Universities has become more crucial today, as access to quality education has emerged as the most critical criterion for upward mobility. These universities are uniquely poised to cater to the growing educational demands of underprivileged section of the Muslim community and make them capable to compete in the market-driven opportunity structure. This necessitates three interlinked steps: (a) the de-Ashrafisation of Muslim leadership and politics, which has a vested interest in promoting monolithic, identity-centred Islamic discourses (b) “Muslim politics” must shun the “politics of minoritism”; and (C) the Government must treat these institutions primarily as “educational space” rather than “Muslim space”. These two public-funded Muslim educational institutions can serve the interest of Muslim community more effectively through the paradigm of “soft Muslimness” — accommodative of plural-liberal-secular-national identities — than through the prism of “hard Muslimness”, which asserts the politics of exclusive Muslim identity.

(The writer is Senior Fellow, Policy Perspectives Foundation, New Delhi, and former professor of international studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia) 

Courtesy: The Pioneer (04 November, 2017)