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Azam Khan, Muslims and UP Politics

By MOHAMMAD SAJJAD and MOHAMMAD ZEESHAN AHMAD
August 12, 2021 14:54 IST
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True, Azam Khan is being targeted rather disproportionately and also because of his Muslim identity.
That must be protested and resisted.
But to say that he is a messiah, and his profit-making educational enterprise is an issue concerning all Muslims of India, is absolutely unjustified, assert Mohammad Sajjad and Md Mohammad Zeeshan Ahmad.

IMAGE: Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan. Photograph: PTI Photo

In an era of majoritarian hegemony and aggression, it is worthwhile examining minoritarian politics.

Scrutiny of a Muslim leader, Azam Khan, from Uttar Pradesh, India's 'heartland', would possibly better serve the purpose.

Azam Khan has been a most visible Muslim face of post-Congress UP politics. He is being chastised by the Bharatiya Janata Party regime led by Yogi Adityanath, undoubtedly because of his Muslim identity.

Anti-Muslim persecution by the incumbent regime is no secret by now.

Not only that the firebrand ascetic Ajay Mohan Bisht (Adityanath) represents hot-headed majoritarian politics, his government's actions against the protesters of citizenship laws and also during the first phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, in and after April 2020, has sent a very strong message to Muslims.

Protestors had to suffer imprisonment, fines were imposed, properties were confiscated.

Azam Khan, along with other Muslim political leaders, particularly those having criminal antecedents, have faced greater and harsher ire of the partisan administration.

Of late, however, quite a significant section of Muslims, including a handful of AMU and JMI student activists, have resorted to a kind of politics which seeks to portray Azam Khan not only as a helpless victim of the Yogi regime but also as a messiah of Muslims who, in their view, also did a lot for educational uplift of the community (external link).

He is credited with having helped open many CBSE schools (for boys as well as girls).

Greatest testimony of this, they say, is the establishment of the Mohammad Ali Jauhar University, in his home turf, Rampur.

The Muslims holding this view don't look up to Azam Khan as a power-politician turning into an edu-preneur.

They rather take him as someone who helped establish a 'Muslim minority' university.

Pertinently, the facts are absolutely contrary to the truth.

This is not a government university, and it was sought to be made a minority university as an afterthought, in 2012-2013, not through legislation but through the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI).

This article attempts to set the record straight on this specific count.

IMAGE: The Mohammad Ali Jauhar University. Photograph: Kind courtesy, Mohammad Ali Jauhar University.

The MA Jauhar University Act 2005

The Mohammad Ali Jauhar University, Azam Khan's dream project, has been mired in controversy since its inception.

Shining light on the legislative history of the Jauhar University Act would help us know the intent/design behind establishing it.

In 2004, when the bill for the university was first presented, interestingly, Khan proposed it to be a state university with he himself being its lifelong chancellor.

As it was contrary to the State University Act 1973, this created a lot of opposition and furore.

According to the Act, the chancellor of the state universities would be the governor.

Hence, the UP governor referred the bill to the then President, A P J Abdul Kalam.

On this, President Kalam asked the state assembly to reconsider the bill and make arrangements, inter alia, to appoint a pro-chancellor for a fixed tenure of five years.

This presidential advice, however, didn't go well with Khan's broad scheme.

Meanwhile, around this time, the Amity University Act 2004 was passed. Today that university is one of the most sought after private universities producing good results.

A year later, in 2005, the Jauhar University Bill was again introduced, after withdrawing the previous bill.

Jauhar University was now to be a private university and not a state government university, and be governed by the Jauhar Trust, the chairman of which would be Azam Khan.

It was only in 2012, with the coming of the Samajwadi Party to power, that Khan approached the NCMEI to secure minority status in 2013.

Why this afterthought? Why not through legislation? Why over-centralisation of power in the chancellor's hands?

Owing to the above reasons, then governors T V Rajeshwar and B L Joshi had their reservations.

It was only in July 2014, when Aziz Qureshi, the then governor of Uttarkhand, was officiating as the UP governor, that this amendment bill was cleared by Raj Bhavan.

The questions raised above indeed make the picture murkier.

According to the Act, Jauhar Trust has all the ownership-proprietorship of the university.

The chairman of the trust would be the chancellor, who will be the absolute lord of the officers of the university, including the visitor and the vice-chancellor.

The will, whims and caprice of the chancellor will prevail upon everything and everybody of the university.

Clause 6 (1) (i) of the Act does say, to 'develop and promote the languages historically studied by Muslims, Urdu, Arabic and Persian'.

It, however, doesn't say whether there will be a compulsory teaching of those languages for all students.

Nor does it say that all teachers to be recruited would be required to have knowledge of at least one of the three languages.

The subsequent clause 6 (1) (ii) says, to 'bring the Muslim minority into the mainstream for his overall development...'

Importantly, the original bill of 2004, didn't call for Jauhar University to be a minority university under Article 30 of the Constitution.

Therefore, it could not have 50% reservation quota for Muslim students in enrolment.

This omission (rather, commission?) is indeed intriguing.

A law graduate himself, Azam Khan became a political leader via his participation as student activist in the agitation for quota of 'internal' students in AMU, in the 1970s. He was then the secretary, AMU Students Union.

The community leadership manipulated it to turn it into the politics of all the Muslims of India during 1965-1981.

Two French academic scholars -- Violette Graff (1990) (external link) and Laurence Gautier (2019) (external link) -- have published very long essays on this politics.

Intriguingly, this AMU agitation had a sort of near lull during 1974-1977, when many other campuses in north India were boiling against the ruling Congress party.

The vicissitudes of the AMU student agitation during the 1970s eventually threw up too many Muslim leaders, just as the anti-Emergency agitations threw up a new breed of leadership in Indian politics, says Gautier.

IMAGE: Azam Khan with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Ajay Mohan Bisht. Photograph: PTI Photo

Despite the prolonged agitations, the AMU Act 1981 didn't equip it with minority status.

Just a specific 'non-committal' clause 5 (2) (c) of the Act provided it with a vague assurance of Muslim character with a provision of 'educational and cultural advancement of Muslims of India' (external link).

The Muslim leadership, including the likes of Syed Shahabuddin (1935-2017), remained dissatisfied with the AMU Act 1981.

Post-Emergency, when Indira Gandhi succeeded the Janata Party regime in 1980, many of her biographers do say that her politics tilted towards majoritarianism, which gained further momentum during Rajiv Gandhi's tenure (1984-1989).

That may possibly have to do something with growing anti-Congress sentiment among the Muslims in general and the AMU community in particular.

But a major cause was the dissatisfaction of these Muslim leaders, including Azam Khan, with the AMU Act 1981.

That the Muslim leadership too indulged in a kind of politics in the 1980s which provided fodder to the quick rise of majoritarianism is a different story, though, even in those episodes, Azam Khan and his ilk stood on the wrong side, particularly in opposing the Supreme Court verdict in the Shah Bano case in 1985.

It is pertinent to recall that an attempt of the AMU to treat this arguably inadequate Act of 1981 as Muslim minority status and reserve 50% of seats for Muslim students backfired in 2005.

AMU lost the case in the Allahabad high court.

The matter is now sub judice (external link) in the Supreme Court.

In 2005, when AMU had made this attempt, the chancellor was a former chief justice of India, the vice chancellor was an IAS officer with degree in law and also with a brief experience in the lower judiciary, and the then registrar was a professor of law, who is now among top legal-juridical academics and columnists.

Against such a backdrop, it is really intriguing as to why did Azam Khan, the life-time chairman of the Jauhar Trust cum chancellor of Jauhar University, go in for a repetition/replication of the AMU Act 1981?

This therefore justifiably raises serious doubts about the intent of the chief of Jauhar University's affairs.

An even bigger question emerging out of this confusion or imbroglio is: Why did, and why does, the Muslim intelligentsia refrain(ed) from letting Muslims understand that the Jauhar University Act (Gazette notified in June 2006) was not a Muslim minority university?

It was neither a 'government controlled autonomous university', such as the Aliah University (2008) of the West Bengal government nor was it like the Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti Language University, Lucknow, which the Uttar Pradesh government established in 2009.

'This University too has an objective, "to promote learning of Urdu, Arabic and Persian Languages in order to understand the essence of their culture".'

Similarly, the Bihar government has also established the Maulana Mazharul Haque Arabic Persian University in 1998, offering all kinds of modern and professional courses.

These three are, needless to say, fully funded by the respective provincial governments.

The Jauhar University is not even like the Integral University, a private minority university, in Lucknow, functioning since 2004.

Facing criticism on this count, only as recently as in 2013, the chairman of the trust cum chancellor of the university, Azam Khan, appointed a committee to obtain a report declaring the Jauhar University to be a minority university.

Thus, a possibility cannot be ruled out that the whimsical supremo reserves his right to undo it at his caprice.

As against the abovementioned four universities, the Jauhar University of Rampur is rather a personal fiefdom of a whimsical power-hungry politician; a profit-making business enterprise.

With that much of fee any Muslim student may get enrolled in a possibly better quality university.

Given the whimsicality of the chief, in more than a decade of its existence, the university has not been able to make a mark.

Less said the better about the anxiety of the teachers, officers and other employees of Jauhar University who have hardly got a tenurial security.

They are perpetually on tenterhooks.

Land disputes of Jauhar University

The land acquired by the Jauhar Trust for the university is also not without disputes (external link). Not just of the villagers in the close vicinity of the university but even government lands.

In fact, in popular perception, there is a grudge that a Sunni, Azam Khan, a Mulayam ally, by virtue of being politically powerful, is alleged to have grabbed a lot of landed property of the Shia Waqf Estate, belonging previously to the former princely state (nawab) of Rampur.

In a major setback, on August 2, 2021, the district court of Rampur, while dismissing Azam Khan's appeal, upheld the orders (external link) passed by the lower courts directing the demolition of the entrance gate of the Jauhar University, which according to the district administration is build upon land belonging to the PWD.

While in 2020, pursuant to the FIR filed by the villagers, the revenue board court in Prayagraj directed the return of lands to the farmers which were acquired by flouting rules.

According to the government counsel, it was stated that 'Uttar Pradesh Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act bars small land-owning Dalits from transferring their land to non-Scheduled Castes."'/p>

'And if they do, it has to be approved by the district administration. No such permission was taken by the Jauhar Trust, run by senior Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan.'

IMAGE: Azam Khan with Samajwadi Party leaders Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav. Photograph: PTI Photo

During 2012-2017, Azam Khan was taken as the second most powerful man in the government led by Akhilesh Yadav. Khan was also the minister in charge of Muzaffarnagar affairs.

The unprecedented violence and displacement that broke out in September 2013 in Muzaffarnagar and the adjoining districts was in the making.

By late July and early August 2013, there were enough intelligence inputs about the impending danger of communal violence across Uttar Pradesh.

Yet, intermittent incidents of eve-teasing and retributive eve-teasing, and lynching leading to deaths in both warring communities not far away from police posts, went on.

Nothing was done to prevent the stock-piling of illegal arms and incendiary communal gatherings.

This revealed the administrative complicity of the then regime.

In July 2013, Khan was so very prompt in justifying Durga Shakti Nagpal's absolutely unjustifiable suspension.

Nagpal, the lady IAS officer, posted as the sub-divisional magistrate of Noida, had launched a crackdown against the sand mafia.

She therefore had to be shifted out.

The pretext came with Muslims constructing a mosque on land not legally belonging to them in Kadalpur, Greater Noida.

She therefore went there to stop it. On the spot itself she received her suspension order within a few minutes, after being forewarned by a Samajwadi Party worker.

To a section of Hindus, this was a bizarre demonstration of Muslim power.

Little did the Samajwadi Party realise then that no other political formation can really outsmart the BJP on this turf of communal politics. The groundswell had already taken place.

The Muslim leadership and intelligentsia did not shout enough against this brazen and bloody game that was being played out almost throughout the Akhilesh regime, which witnessed around 600 incidents of communal tension and violence.

They did not ask why Mayawati, too, was not speaking out.

Understandably, the calculation of the ruling Samajwadi Party was this: Communal violence would create fissures between the Jats and Muslims.

It will push the Jat Hindus towards the BJP, thereby weakening the Lok Dal; and the Muslim victims, through some populist sops of compensation, would be pulled towards the SP, and thereby weaning them away from the BSP.

That this bizarre calculation inevitably spun out of the control of Akhilesh-Azam regime is a different story, amply demonstrated by a 2018 book, Everyday Communalism: Riots in Contemporary Uttar Pradesh, by Sajjan Kumar and Sudha Pai.

The idea was to win the highest possible number of Lok Sabha seats in 2014 and to bargain over the prime minister's post for Mulayam Yadav, who had a two-hour long meeting with Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Ashok Singhal.

Earlier, in 1999, the SP was alleged to have underhand dealings with the BJP, and in 2007, with Kalyan Singh.

Azam Khan had extracted a seat in the Rajya Sabha for his wife; and an assembly seat for his son.

He and his Samajwadi Party have not allowed any other Muslim in Rampur to emerge as a leader.

IMAGE: Azam Khan with Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav. Photograph: PTI Photo

True, Azam Khan is being targeted rather disproportionately and also because of his Muslim identity. That must be protested and resisted.

But to say that he is a big messiah, and his profit-making educational enterprise is an issue concerning all Muslims of India,is absolutely unjustified.

This note of caution is necessary.

Let the legal minds and other Muslim intelligentsia make the Muslim agitators comprehend this finer point.

Else, the genuinely victimised collective of hapless Muslims would end up corroding and discrediting their only weapon: Documenting of and wailing against their victimisation to mobilise public opinion.

That the Muslim intelligentsia is not letting Muslims understand this specific nitty-gritty of the Jauhar University Act aptly raises serious questions about their credibility.

This intelligentsia is also not looking into the grievance of poor Muslim and Dalit farmers who allege that their lands have been forcibly and fraudulently grabbed by the Jauhar Trust.

Majoritarianism is not the lone enemy of India's Muslims.

A partisan and self-serving Muslim intelligentsia playing upon them is another danger facing India's Muslims. They have a vested interest in keeping the community uninformed and emotive.

True, in the UP assembly elections of 2022, Muslim electorates have got restricted, or no better, choice.

It is only up to the saner elements of the Hindu majority who can really decide if they want India to get rid of bigotry and of the regime which has miserably failed in delivering on all fronts, besides its utter mismanagement of Covid during April-June 2021.

But the ills afflicting Muslims, their political leadership, and their intelligentsia, can certainly be addressed by Muslims, to a large extent, on their own.

Uncritically following demagogues has already extracted a heavy price from the unvigilant community.

Now is the time to call them out. It is already very late.

But, as the saying goes, it is never too late!

Mohammad Sajjad teaches Modern and Contemporary History at Aligarh Muslim University and is the author of Muslim Politics in Bihar: Changing Contours (Routledge 2014/2018 reprint).
Mohammad Zeeshan Ahmad is a law graduate from Aligarh Muslim University.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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MOHAMMAD SAJJAD and MOHAMMAD ZEESHAN AHMAD
 
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