Looking back at the times

A recent seminar at the Aligarh Muslim University highlighted the contribution of its alumni, including that of Raja Mahendra Pratap, in India’s freedom struggle.

Updated - January 28, 2015 07:11 pm IST

Published - January 28, 2015 07:04 pm IST

The seminar was triggered by a controversy over a political party planning to celebrate the birthday of Raja Mahendra Pratap at the AMU campus. Seen here are AMU students staging a protest against it.

The seminar was triggered by a controversy over a political party planning to celebrate the birthday of Raja Mahendra Pratap at the AMU campus. Seen here are AMU students staging a protest against it.

Did an academic institution of longstanding — currently being pilloried, through erroneously for not living up to the national aspiration — fan the flames of freedom struggle beyond the geographical boundaries of India? Did its alumni muster significant support from the U.S., Germany, Japan, Singapore, Myanmar, Malaysia and Afghanistan, etc. to overthrow the alien rule? Did one of its illustrious sons move a revolution of complete independence in the session of Indian National Congress held in Nagpur in 1923? The answer to the above mentioned questions is a definite yes and the institution is no other than the Aligarh Muslim University that now frequently appears in media for wrong reasons.

This is what came through in a national seminar on the contribution of AMU’s Alumni Struggle Beyond India’s Border. Aligarh Muslim University is perhaps a standalone university that produced Raja Mahendra Pratap who visited Germany and several other countries to launch a sustained struggle to oust the British. In Germany, he floated the idea of setting up a government-in-exile in Afghanistan in 1915; not much has been written on it, the first exiled government, a revolutionary step remains a footnote in the history of freedom struggle. Raja Mahendra Pratap was nominated its first President and Maulvi Barkatullah was appointed the Prime Minister. Noted freedom fighter Maulana Obaid Ullah Sindhi and several other important leaders joined the newly formed government. Several ambassadors were also appointed to seek support from various countries.

Similarly, AMU’s alumnus and noted socialist leader Captain Abbas Ali who joined the British Army and fought the Second World War in several South Asian countries, joined Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s INA in Malaysia in 1941. Seldom does any other university vie with AMU on this count. Politicians, completely oblivious of the history, always whip up passions against AMU. Recently, a sustained campaign was launched against AMU for not acknowledging the contribution of one its benefactors who happened to be its alumnus, Raja Mahendra Pratap. In the backdrop of fierce political upmanship, AMU’s reasoned response came in the form of a national seminar attended by eminent scholars such as Professor Rizwan Qasier, Professor Shan Mohammad, Rajan Khawaja (IAS), eminent journalist Qurban Ali, Vice-Chancellor Lt. Gen. Zameeruddin Shah, Pro Vice-chancellor Brig. Syed Ahmad Ali, Professor Tariq Ahmad and Hussain Haider.

Raja Mahendra Pratap epitomises what India stands for. He relentlessly propagated the values of pluralism, tolerance, liberalism and secularism. According to Rajan Khawaja, Raja Mahendra Pratap was the perfect example of cultural pluralism. He was born in a Hindu family, educated and trained at a Muslim institution and married to a Sikh. He was an avowed enemy of communalism and obscurantism who never ever sided with communal and divisive forces. He was the most shining example of our shared legacy and no communal party can claim his legacy. AMU is fully aware of his invaluable contribution.

Captain Abbas Ali, who studied at the AMU, was among few Indians who joined INA in Malaya for the liberation of India by deserting the British Army. After Independence, Captain Abbas Ali tried to join Indian Army; he was not allowed to do so as the first chief of Indian Army observed that the soldiers of INA were no longer part of a disciplined force. According to Qurban Ali, Captain Abbas Ali continuously worked for communal harmony and the ideal of Socialism was very dear to him.

Noted historian Prof. Rizwan Qasier wondered why academic institutions such as AMU and Jamia Millia Islamia are being asked to give an account of their contribution to the Indian freedom struggle. Instead, the universities should be asked to note how many eminent academics they produced. The contribution to knowledge is the essential mandate of the University. If history is made the object of the current discourse, it will solve many issues plaguing the country.

Fostering cultural pluralism and liberal values in the backdrop of our shared historical legacy is the panacea of all our ills, AMU Vice-Chancellor Zameeruddin Shah observed. AMU is fully alive to its academic and social obligation and there is not an iota of truth in the allegation that gender inequality and sectarianism exist in the University, he concluded. Not only AMU played a pivotal role in propelling the struggle beyond India’s borders, it was instrumental in creating the much-needed intellectual awakening against the alien rule.

Prof. Shan Mohammad highlighted the contribution of Mohammad Ali, Badshah Khan, Frontier Gandhi, Zafar Ali Khan, Hasrat Mohani and many others who spearheaded the freedom struggle.

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