All eyes are on the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) as the institution completes more than 100 years since it opened in 1920. Once a centre of higher education and known as the Oxford of the East, the campus is caught today in much decay, and multiple controversies.

According to an alumnus who did not want to reveal her name in print, nepotism rules the campus where competence and merit is no longer recognised.

Critics wonder how a minority institution is allowed to exist in a secular state while liberals feel that only the large heartedness of a secular society can accommodate both Hindu and Muslim universities like the one in Varanasi and Aligarh.

Aligarh Muslim University was not conceived as a campus only for Muslims. It was perceived as a high level educational institution for everyone. The AMU’s open door policy of admitting members of all communities was meant to provide all Indians an opportunity to foster emotional integration so essential for the preservation of this country’s cultural and political unity.

The essential idea was to have an institution that would make aware, and encourage the sociocultural distinctiveness of Indian Muslims and their contribution in the creation of a multicultural society.

That was the reason for insisting on a strong department of History and the contribution of Islam to the history of the world and to the arts, language, literature and philosophy in India. The idea of AMU was born soon after the 1858 war that was won by the British.

Demoralised after the defeat during this war, Muslims were attracted to the revival of religion. They had denounced every aspect of British life and tended to withdraw into a shell, increasing the concern of progressive and liberal citizens like Sir Syed Ahmad Khan.

A modern rationalist, Khan began by founding a Scientific Society and he organised a platform to introduce ideas of secular education amongst the demoralised Indian community.

While in England, Khan had studied at Cambridge University and he was determined to establish a similar institution in India. The AMU was a dream project of Khan. Both the Oxford and Cambridge universities had impressed Khan.

The Maharaja of Benaras, along with other liberal Hindus, had helped Khan to take his modern ideas forward. However, Khan failed to realise his dream in his lifetime as he passed away in 1898 before the AMU became a reality.

Today well-wishers want reforms on the campus while its critics continue to oppose the idea of AMU. There is concern that politicians have taken over the campus instead of students joining the world of politics after graduating from the AMU.

Afraid of being identified and perhaps later harassed, few want to talk of the many problems the campus faces. Security is a concern. Students and teachers no longer feel secure and comfortable strolling within the campus or burning that essential midnight oil in the preparation of a poem or other activities of interest?

What needs to be revived on the campus is the high energy that comes with the joy of learning. “One way to come out of a slump is to have brave, forward-looking people take up responsibility for the campus,” a well-wisher said. There are some who dream of a female Vice Chancellor of AMU but who is first and foremost competent, qualified and responsible.

A former student told The Citizen that she had learnt horse riding at AMU where students learnt to swim and to play tennis, hockey and cricket. One of her earliest memories is of the day when she had won the first prize for a debate held in English as well as in Urdu.

On the campus she was given lessons in Hindustani music and learnt to speak Bengali and Persian. Her wish for her alma mater is that the AMU is able to claim back its lost glory as soon as possible.

Muslim Votes Matter

Some political parties pretend that the vote of Muslim citizens does not matter to them in winning elections. However, even the ruling party realises that the Muslim vote matters.

That is why the ruling party is trying to win over Pasmanda, or the socially and economically backward communities of Muslims before the general elections to be held next year. It is not out of concern perhaps for the socio-economic plight of the poverty stricken Muslim, but for the sheer number of voters within the Pasmanda community that is nearly 80 percent of the population of Indian Muslims, the largest minority community in the world.

For decades the Muslim and Yadav combination had voted the Samajwadi Party (SP) to power. While Dalit and Muslim voters had assured many a win at the hustings for Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

The recently concluded civic polls in Uttar Pradesh (UP) showed the delusion of Muslim voters for both the SP and the BSP. While the BSP has been sleeping through many elections held in recent times, the SP has been reserved over issues that matter to the Muslim community.

The SP is the main Opposition party in UP but SP chief Akhilesh Yadav has been mostly silent when it comes to security and safety issues facing Muslims in particular.

The SP has been in a grand alliance with the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) headed by Jayant Chaudhary who is a popular leader of the Jat community in western UP. The Dalit leader Chandrashekhar Azad had joined hands with Yadav and Chaudhary to rope in the Dalit votes.

However, this alliance is now threatened as Muslim voters turn away from the SP and return to the fold of the grand old Congress Party.

The problem with Yadav is that he does not seem to get along with allies for long. Both voters and other politicians are attracted to the SP and the party’s socialist credentials but the present leadership is unable to stand up to the trust and hope invested in the party.

Yadav is at war with the BSP, the Congress and also the smaller political parties representing the interest of backward castes and Dalits. Yadav kept a distance from Rahul Gandhi Bharat Jodo Yatra and did not attend the swearing in ceremony of the Chief Minister of Karnataka.

If there is one politician that Yadav is constantly in touch with it is the Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee. Now only the future will tell how this friendship with Banerjee helps the SP to defeat the ruling party in the general elections.