By Riad Azam:
Within one and a half years of assuming power, the Narendra Modi-led NDA Government has already started resembling the disastrous last few years of the UPA-II Government. While it is quite true that Modi does continue to hold a certain degree of popularity, I believe that the myth of invincibility and hype surrounding him have been crushed. A number of poor policy decisions such as the forcing of the Land Acquisition Ordinance, massive cuts in social welfare schemes, appointment of inefficient people in administrative posts of educational institutions, a culture of bans and religious intolerance have led to a steady decline in the popularity of the Government even among its ardent supporters.
At such a juncture, two recent news reports published in The Indian Express that quote certain students and alumni of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) mobilising and lobbying for Narendra Modi and MHRD Minister Smriti Irani as chief guests for the University’s upcoming Annual Convocation has been baffling for the University students. The first report quotes an alumnus saying that the University would ‘provide a brilliant, traditional welcome to the Prime Minister and impress him and ensure that his Government provides more funds to the University’. Apart from being absolutely naive, I believe the contention is wrong on a number of other grounds.
It is the responsibility of a welfare state to look after and fulfil the basic needs of its citizens that includes education as well. Education thus is a basic right of a citizen, and not a privilege being provided by the state. There are certain other things also that must be considered here. If we closely analyse the politics of Narendra Modi, we can see that the Modi Government has brought out massive fund cuts in social sectors including education to ensure larger corporate penetration in these sectors. To believe that a ceremonious welcome at the University would make Modi do away with all those policies and invest in AMU is, I believe, illogical.
The second article in the newspaper was even more disturbing for me. Last December, the central Government nominated three Members of Parliament as members of the University Court. One of them included Kunwar Bharatendra, one of the accused in the Muzaffarnagar riots. The students at the University protested massively against his appointment and prevented him from joining the annual meeting of the University Court. The report quotes Mr. Bharatendra referring to that protest as a ‘protest by children who were agitated’.
The second article states that Bhartendra met some students of the University whom he promised that he would ensure the release of funds for construction of a hostel which is to be named after Raja Mahendra Pratap. Pratap was a Left-wing political leader who had donated land for construction of University buildings. Since last year, the BJP has tried to appropriate his legacy for garnering Jat votes in Uttar Pradesh. Even if we are to believe that Mr. Bharatendra would actually help in building the hostel, the manner in which his promise has been secured is unethical for me. It seems as if funds would only be released to the University as long as it holds a favourable opinion with the ruling establishment.
The Aligarh Muslim University has traditionally remained against the BJP because of the party’s nature of politics. However, in recent times, it has also got to do with the way the current ruling establishment has functioned. As a part of fomenting communal tension in UP, the University has been the target of hate speeches by various leaders. Recently a leader of the Dharma Jagran Manch, an organisation led by a BJP MP from Gorakhpur, Yogi Adityanath, had referred to the University as a ‘nursery of terrorism’.
What actually lies behind these promises of ensuring grants is a two-way process. On one hand, are certain students and alumni of the University serving certain special interests for whose fulfilment they intend to be in the good books of the ruling establishment. On the other hand, people like these are the pathways for the BJP to make inroads into the Muslim vote bank in UP. As of now, the students of AMU are involved in massive student protests against the Central Government in solidarity with the protests by the students of the FTII, Pune and the Occupy UGC Movement. At AMU, students believe that the only way of ensuring that the Government provides sufficient funds to the University is to intensify the struggles against it. Hence, I believe that what those two articles have said about the University is just a singular perspective, not a perspective of the majority studying within the institution.
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