The Saffron Assault on Aligarh Muslim University
It all started when the Republic TV crew arrived
Aligarh Muslim University, one of the top-ranked universities in the country, known for its contribution to different fields, finds itself in the midst of a controversy yet again following some incidents of confrontations between two students groups and a scuffle between the crew of Republic TV and the security staff and students of AMU.
As many as fourteen students of the University, including the three office bearers of Aligarh Muslim University Students’ Union, face sedition charges based on two FIRs lodged against them by one Mukesh Lodhi, district president of the youth wing of BJP and a TV journalist of a news channel. The University has suspended eight students. Of the eight students, Ajay Singh, Manish Kumar, Aman Sharma and Pavan Jadon have been suspended for creating “chaos”, for disturbing “peaceful atmosphere in the University” and for disrupting “communal harmony of the campus by involving non- students for their vested interest”. While the other four students — Imran Khan, Abdul Mabood, Farhan Zubairi and Adil Khan — have been suspended for “creating chaos”, for “turning the situation violent”, and for “distorting the image of the University.” While the suspension of the students in any University for the breach of law and order is a routine affair, the charge of sedition for allegedly raising anti-national slogans fits into the pattern of using an oppressive colonial-era law to settle scores and to punish just anyone who is opposed to the right-wing ideology. The charge of sedition and terms like anti-nationals and “Urban Naxals” are the weapons of a hostile administration against dissident groups, mostly minorities and Dalits. Most students and teachers have confirmed that the allegation of raising any anti-India slogans by students is baseless, false and downright malicious. Moreover, as anyone who knows AMU will testify, Aligarh Muslim University is the place where all teachers and students of the University swear by the Constitution of India, where the national anthem is sung with pride in all public functions and where the national flag flies in all its grandeur on top of important University buildings.
Though the University has seen itself embroiled in one controversy after the other, especially in the last few years, this particular phase of trouble started in the morning of February 12. The TV crew had arrived on the campus to cover an event, organised by the Students’ Union, to be attended by representatives of some small and marginalised Muslim political parties given the 2019 elections. Conventionally, since the 19th century, the AMU Students’ Union has hosted an event of Parliamentarians from whom they learn parliamentary practices and nuances of debates. The proposed event was part of that convention. Close to the Social Sciences Faculty, the venue of this event, a crew of Republic TV, which included its two reporters, Nalini Sharma and Sumaira Khan, had a slight scuffle with the security staff and the students of AMU. The event was however called off, possibly because no parliamentarian turned up. By the time it could be notified, the TV screw was on the campus.
Strangely the journalists have claimed that they were reporting on something which had nothing to do with AMU. The security staff of the University later joined by a group of students, asked the Republic Bharat crew if they had permission from the University Proctor or Public Relations Officer to shoot inside the campus. Professor Mohsin Khan, Proctor of AMU, and Professor Shafey Kidwai, the Member-in-Charge Public Relations, have confirmed that the two journalists and the cameramen had not sought any permission to enter the premises of the University and to shoot the programme organised by the Students Union. It may be recalled that the same day Akhilesh Yadav’s helicopter was not allowed to land at Allahabad University as the Allahabad University had not given permission to land.
Here, at least two questions can be asked: One, the Republic TV indulged in the unethical practice of reporting from Aligarh while telling the viewers that they were reporting live from Allahabad. Second, one needs permission from the University authorities to enter whether to shoot an incident, report on an event from within the University, or even land one’s helicopter in University premises. Permission to enter the university was the issue in Republic TV’s case. Many students have confirmed, though denied by the two journalists, that Nalini Sharma started reporting, saying, “We are reporting live from the University of terrorists”, which provoked the students. The Republic TV anchor in the studio did talk about the University, in the afternoon show, in stereotypical terms, presenting the students as sympathisers of Jinnah and terrorists. Later, at night, Arnab Goswami was at his aggressive worst in demonising the University and its students.
Arnab, the Republic TV, and AMU:
Because of his boorish manner and pro-BJP line in almost all issues, Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV is not the most popular channel in AMU. University spokespersons usually do not go to Arnab’s show because of his offensive manner of anchoring where anyone even slightly disagreeing with him is not given any voice. When the students politely asked the Republic crew to leave, it had something to do with the known stance of Republic TV and something to do with their deep sense of anxiety about not being represented fairly on the national TV.
However, it will not be correct to say that Arnab Goswami has always negatively painted the University.
In 2014 when the local BJP, led by its Member of Parliament, Mr Satish Gautam, whipped up communal passions by threatening to forcibly enter the University to install a statue of Jat king Raja Mahendra Pratap, an alumnus of the AMU, it was Arnab’s show which almost forced BJP to beat a hasty retreat. In that programme, Arnab demolished all BJP arguments by saying that a University is an autonomous body and no one can just trespass the premises of the University, least of all a responsible member of parliament. In the present case, too eager to defend his erring team members, Arnab conveniently forgot to remember that one still requires permission from the University to shoot.
2019 Elections, Politics of Polarisation and the Local factors:
The University becomes important for setting communal narratives both at the national and the local level. While the issue of the minority character of the University, and its historical role in the last hundred years, especially vis-à-vis Partition, have been used again and again to build some half-baked narratives at the national level, local political rivalries have also played a part in putting an unwanted spotlight on the University. Aligarh’s Member of Parliament Mr Satish Gautam, who was a kind of parachute candidate in Aligarh, not accepted by local BJP groups, and who has done little in his term, always tries to gain some media attention by targeting the University and raking up communal issues. The entire non-issue of Jinnah’s portrait was raised by him a few months ago.
That was lapped up by some TV channels to host five hours debate on this, just ahead of the Karnataka Assembly elections. The very same TV news channels did not have a single hour debate when the Hindu Mahasabha leader, Puja Pandey of Aligarh had shot at the effigy of Gandhiji, on January 30, 2019. This was a re-enactment of Gandhiji’s assassination in 1948.
Another potential BJP leader who has been at the forefront of communal politics in the last one year is Thakur Ajay Singh, a Law student of the University, and a grandson of BJP MLA. In this particular incident, he is alleged to have mobilised a group of BJP workers who had an unauthorised entry into the campus. Their entry led to a confrontation with the university students. Ajay Singh was also in the news for taking out a Tiranga Yatra with his own group two days before the Republic Day without seeking permission from the University. The University organises many programmes each year on the occasion of Republic Day, which includes flag hoisting, Mushaira, essay writing competitions and many other programmes. Tiranga Yatra as such was organised to gain media attention. Also, recall that a Tiranga Yatra in Kasganj had led to communal violence a year ago on the Republic Day (January 26). Ajay had lost the election of the AMU Students’ Union in 2018.
Incidentally, it was the Republic TV which was quickest in raising the issue of Ajay’s Tiranga Yatra.
There are few more questions which arise out of the series of events which have unfolded immediately before and after February 12, 2019:
If at all this was a fracas between the channel and the AMU students/AMU security personnel, then how and why did it turn into saffron outfits’ workers versus AMU students? Does there exist collusion between the Republic TV and the saffron outfits?
Does not this aspect need to be probed? Doesn’t it look like a case of Ajay Singh-Mukesh Lodhi trying to bolster their personal political careers out of this episode?
Why does the said channel keep courting spectacular controversies, ever since it has been launched?
Why is Aligarh police not registering FIR (based on AMU’s complaints) against the tress-passers of the Republic Bharat TV and the saffron goons? Does not this smack of bias that the FIR from their side (Mukesh Lodhi of Bharatiya Janta Yuva Morcha) has been registered by the police, invoking sedition charges which have now been dropped? But the very fact that this was invoked raises serious questions on the intent of the police.
Mukesh Lodhi is the one who, around a week ago gave an ultimatum of 15 days to AMU to construct a temple inside the campus.
It needs to be probed as to whose bikes have been burnt. How did these bikes sneak into the campus?
Who burnt these bikes?
Many other issues like the baseless rumour of beef being served in the kitchen or Hindu students being starved during Ramzan have also been used to vitiate the atmosphere in the University in the recent past.
On their part, many other student leaders also nurture political ambitions and are eager to play their part in the state and national politics. In the present event of the Students’ Union, there were unconfirmed reports that Asaduddin Owaisi was also one of the invitees for the event of February 12. In fact, Ajay Singh and the local BJP unit mobilised a group on the pretext of stopping Mr Owaisi. The Students leaders have, however, said that there was no possibility of Mr Owaisi attending the event. Here a question can be asked about the possible appeal of Asaduddin Owaisi for Muslim youths. In recent years after the anti-Muslim stance of BJP, other political parties have also not been able to instil confidence in Muslims. It is their alienation from most political parties that a section, though a tiny one, of Muslim youths, look up to Mr Owaisi to articulate their grievances, despite Mr Owaisi’s record as a rabble-rouser and a polarising figure.
AMU watchers apprehend that AMU will remain on the radar at least till 2019 elections.
This article has been co-authored by Professor Mohammad Asim Siddiqui, Department of English, AMU and Professor Mohammad Sajjad, Department of History, AMU.