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Keep Jinnah’s portrait

On May 9, Mohammed Ayoob wrote in The Hindu (“Remove Jinnah’s portrait”) that the controversy over Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s portrait at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) is “partly contrived and partly genuine”. This is not true; in fact, it is fully contrived and fully deceptive. In the prevailing political scenario, with a right-wing party in power at the Centre and with parliamentary elections a year away, to think of the demand to take down the portrait and the subsequent events at the university in any other way apart from an attempt to intimidate an academic institution is political naivety at best, if not a deliberate oversight. That the presence of Jinnah’s portrait in AMU is being questioned is distressing, but more so as the person doing this is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations.

 

Let’s recollect the facts. Jinnah’s portrait lies in the Student Union Hall along with other portraits of leaders who were awarded life membership of the Students’ Union, including Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Jawaharlal Nehru. It has been hanging o n the wall since 1938, when Jinnah was awarded life membership of the Union, and thus holds historical significance.

The Lok Sabha MP of Aligarh, Satish Gautam, who also happens to be a member of the University Court, which is the supreme governing body of the university, never once suggested removing the portrait during the many meetings he held in the university. So why has he suddenly chosen this particular time to write to the Vice-Chancellor about the portrait? And does it not seem rather odd that the day former Vice President Hamid Ansari was to deliver a lecture, “India has failed to establish a pluralistic society”, and be conferred life membership of the AMU Students’ Union, youth who allegedly owe allegiance to right-wing groups forcibly entered the campus and the event was cancelled? And the fact remains that the police did not file FIRs against the disrupters, but instead brutally lathi-charged the students.

 

The writer is misplaced in his supposition that Jinnah’s portrait hangs in AMU because people hold the leader in high esteem for his supposed exposition of the Muslim cause in pre-independent India. This is not about an ideology, but about a democratic right. There is no doubt that Jinnah’s two-nation theory was hollow and had a debilitating impact on India’s Muslims. But whatever be Jinnah’s fault, can those in power, more than 70 years later, coerce an institution to do something like this? This is not about a portrait; it is about a majoritarian government intimidating an academic institution. If this is not fought against now, we may reach a point of no return. The struggle in AMU is about following the rule of law, maintaining a democratic tradition, and preserving history — even history that makes us uncomfortable — in its untainted form.

Syed Tahseen Raza is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Strategic and Security Studies, Faculty of International Studies, AMU

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 1:48:35 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/keep-jinnahs-portrait/article23874723.ece

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