Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech on the occasion of the centenary celebrations of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) evoked a mixed response on the campus.
Mirza Asmer Baig, Professor of Political Science, AMU, said the Prime Minister talked largely in generalities and that specifics were lacking in his speech. “Muslims of India have a great affinity towards AMU. So when you are engaging with Muslim intelligentsia, they were expecting the PM to touch upon issues that concerned the community in the last couple of years, particularly the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the minority character of the university. The PM did say that the government would not be found lacking in supporting AMU and appreciated the core values of the university, but a little more tangibility would have helped,” said Prof. Baig.
He felt the PM probably refrained from specifics because it could have annoyed his core constituency, which could have considered it appeasement of minorities.
On the data Mr. Modi presented on the reduction in the school drop-out rate of Muslim girls, Prof. Baig said it seemed off the mark, but this was not a time to flag minor things. “We should take this gesture as a positive move. It was on the lines of the speech he made after getting elected for a second term, though we are still waiting for it to be actualised on the ground,” he added.
Ali Nadeem Rezavi, Professor of History, AMU, said, “Our PM said everything he had to say without acceding anything in return.” He felt the subtle message was that AMU was a national institution so there was no question of its “minority character”.
He held that the PM had used the occasion to forward the National Education Policy, which Prof. Rezavi thought was going to “destroy higher education in India”. “The Delhi University Teachers’ Association has already come up with strong counter to it,” he said.
The positive, he said, was that the “riff-raff BJP leaders” would now probably abstain from criticising the AMU. “It was good that the PM was concerned about the education of minorities. It would be good if he thus implemented the Sachar Commission Report,” said Prof. Rezavi.
On the PM’s constant emphasis on refraining from politics, Prof. Baig said constructive politics was not bad.
Many students felt the PM had indulged in what is called “dealing” in AMU parlance. “He praised us for our past, something that the AMU administration does all the time. Young students don’t want to live in nostalgia. There was very little about what he could do for us today,” said Talha Manan, a student in the Education Department.
Mr. Manan said students liked the way the Education Minister recited the AMU Tarana, the university song or anthem, but many felt the task that the PM gave to students — to conduct research on freedom fighters — was rather juvenile. “Anyway, hostels don’t do research, departments do,” he said.
Another student requesting anonymity said he liked the way Mr. Modi had praised the role of the AMU in fighting the pandemic. “It showed that if the government back the university, we could play a vital role in nation-building. We need such collaboration in other departments as well,” he said.