Other States

The AMU connection to Bihar polls

Maskoor Ahmad Usmani campaigning in Bihar’s Jale constituency.  

It is said when there is an election in Bihar, it causes ripples at Aligarh Muslim University. Despite COVID-19, this October, the impact has been palpable as former AMU Students’ Union president Maskoor Ahmad Usmani is in the fray from Jale Assembly seat in Darbhanga district on a Congress ticket.

The highlight of Mr. Usmani’s tenure in AMU was when he took on the BJP and a section of the media when the Jinnah portrait controversy erupted in May 2018 and it is hard to believe that the Congress would not have measured the consequences before giving him the green signal.

Jinnah’s portrait issue

The right-wing groups led by BJP MP Satish Gautam wanted AMUSU to remove the portrait of Mohammed Ali Jinnah from the Union Hall. Mr. Usmani argued that Jinnah was a founder-member of the university and was conferred life membership in 1938 and the presence of his portrait in the Union Hall only indicated preserving the historical legacy of the university.

But the djinn of Jinnah refused to disappear. As soon as Mr. Usmani got the ticket, Mr. Gautam said giving the ticket reflected the mindset of the Congress. “Hindus know what to do with the well-wisher of Jinnah in the election,” he told reporters.

While acknowledging that AMUSU’s presidentship got Mr. Usmani the ticket to electoral politics as the post carries a value across the country, Mohammad Mohibul Haque, professor of Political Science in AMU, said people know the reality of the Jinnah episode. “The current dispensation is facing the anger of migrant labour. To divert attention, Mr. Usmani is being made a scapegoat to target Congress.”

Prof. Haque, whose ancestors hail from Bihar, said, “Jinnah matters only for the spokespersons of the BJP and the party’s spokespersons in the media houses.”

Coming from a professional course like Bachelor of Dental Studies, Mr. Usmani belied the image of the traditional student politician who stayed on in the campus to fulfil his political aspirations.

Ansab Aamir, a student of engineering who watched the 2017 elections closely, said Mr. Usmani was broadly accepted.

Irrespective of his desperation to find a political niche, his approach is being appreciated. “For the last few months, Mr. Usmani has been running an intense library movement in rural Darbhanga and Madhubani wherein he proposes to establish libraries in villages as centres of educational, cultural, and sports activities,” said Mohammad Sajjad, professor of History at AMU.

“It is a good sign that he is making education central to his politics. He was beaten up by the police and suffered a fracture during the Jinnah controversy but he didn’t compromise. He rather confronted the national media. He is seen as a credible voice,” said Prof. Sajjad.

‘Not an easy fight’

Prof. Haque maintained it would not be an easy fight for Mr. Usmani but as caste remains a significant factor in Bihar politics, Muslim candidates have an advantage.

“As the Hindu vote gets divided, the party’s support base plus Muslim vote become an important factor in constituencies where there is a significant Muslim presence. The caste factor exists among Muslims as well but the internal stratification only manifests when the saffron threat is not there. In the assertion of New Hindutva, the internal stratification of the Muslims stands diluted,” said Prof. Haque.

Hailing from Muzaffarpur, Prof. Sajjad has written extensively on the politics of Bihar. “From Syed Mahmud, a Minister in Nehru’s Cabinet, to Abdul Ghafoor, who was Bihar’s Chief Minister from 1973 to 1975, AMU has been intermittently providing leaders to Bihar politics.”

In recent years, said Prof. Haque, Ali Ashraf Fatmi, the four-time Rashtriya Janata Dal MP from Darbhanga, has been carrying forward the legacy. Mr. Fatmi shifted to the JD(U) last year.

“You will find Aligs (as AMU alumni are called) in all political parties,” said Prof. Haque citing Mohammed Ali Kaiser, who is in the Lok Janshakti Party. He said, it’s a “good sign” that the “public-funded university like AMU” continues to provide the “secular Muslim leadership” and that it is “not coming from Deoband and Nadwa”.

Analysing the influence of AMU alumni back home, Prof. Sajjad said unlike many other universities that were “catering largely to the elite”, AMU had been providing “upward mobility” to “a large number of deprived sections”. “AMU provides them the tools to express themselves and they use their voice back home. And they carry the connection with the alma mater because they feel they would not have been able to cross socio-economic barriers without the time spent at the institution at an affordable cost.”

That’s why, added Prof. Haque, students go to campaign for the Aligs. “It is beyond religion or party affiliations. I remember the special attention former Delhi CM Sahib Singh Verma, an AMU alumnus, used to give us whenever we visited the Capital.”

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Printable version | Nov 30, 2020 3:49:50 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/the-amu-connection-to-bihar-polls/article32938111.ece

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