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Minorities’ Major Issue (Prof. Faizan Mustafa)

Aligarh Muslim University’s minority character is once again in news because of Aligarh’s tallest professor's recent statement against it. While his freedom to express his views must be acknowledged and respected yet since his statements are read with greatest respect, one has no choice but to give a reasoned rebuttal. I am indeed proud of my association with Prof. Habib who has taught me History. As a matter of fact I came to AMU just to become his student. Its a rare privilege to sit in his class.

Few people know that Prof. Habib has himself signed a contract with the university at the time of his appointment some 50 years ago that “he would do nothing against the Muslim character of the university”. Thus he himself admitted AMU to be a minority university at the time of his joining of university. It is a different story that Prof. Habib has been violating terms of this contract with impunity. I am glad that in the best traditions of free speech and tolerance of dissent, university always takes his statements in the right perspective.

Minority character is a constitutional concept and since constitution of India is Bible to us and supreme law of land, no one has a right to question its conceptual validity or usefulness. As a matter of fact minorities’ rights have been held to be the basic structure of the constitution i.e. the very essence of our constitution which cannot be changed even by a constitutional amendment. Minority institutions are not in any way inferior to non- minority institutions. In fact nation’s best institutions are minority institutions such as St. Stephens, CMC Vallore etc. No one has ever questioned their quality and standards. If Prof. Habib has problem with AMU’s falling standards then he must appreciate that minority character will drastically improve the standard of university as Muslims from whole of India would get reservation.

Presently university is just for the Muslims of Aligarh. Minority character will make it the university for the Muslims of India. In any case if Prof. Habib really cares for merit, let him have the courage to oppose reservation of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, OBCs and within AMU so called “internal reservation.”

I would appreciate if he makes a statement that there should be no reservation at all as it compromises merit. In any case I do assert that Muslim reservation in AMU would be the only reservation policy in the world which would promote merit as better Muslims would get admitted to AMU. In fact by favoring internal reservation, Prof. Habib is in fact arguing against merit.

Prof. Habib’s assertion that Visitor would have no role if AMU becomes a minority institution is again totally wrong. True minority institutions do have autonomy and right to administer but they certainly do not have “right to mal-administer.” The Visitor (President of India) shall continue to have powers of supervision. The Visitor has been given these powers to ensure is run by its authorities and officers strictly in accordance with the Act, Statutes, and Ordinances etc. His supervisory role will continue as it is.

Similarly Prof. Habib’s argument on the funding of minority institutions out of tax payers’ money is against the clear text of the Constitution. Article 30(2) makes it abundantly clear that in granting funds state cannot discriminate against the minority institutions. Thus, there can be even 100% government funded minority institutions. A funded minority institution cannot be a private institution. Of course there can be unaided private minority institutions as well but AMU is not going to be such an unaided private institution.

Prof. Habib’s view that as per current statutory position AMU is not a minority character is again far from the truth. In fact, Allahabad High Court had explicitly held that present AMU Act as amended in 1981 is the “declaration of minority character of Aligarh Muslim University.” But the court quashed some of the provisions of Act as unconstitutional.

The High Court has questioned the Parliament’s power to amend AMU Act. The Supreme Court of India has stayed Allahabad High Court’s decision. What is the minority character? Minority character means right of an institution to choose its governing bodies, fix its fees, power to discipline its employees and right to admit students of its choice which means it can make minority reservation. But admission process must be fair and absolutely transparent.

Prof. Habib’s assertion about 62.50% reservation of Muslims is also incorrect. There is no fixed percentage today. We can have 50% reservation or may be 75% depending upon our need and level of the course. Reservation would differ course to course. Government has also been given some say in this. The Supreme Court of India has held that minority institutions are primarily for the minorities and there will be only “sprinkling of outsiders” in a minority institution. Minority institutions are the best examples of our secular traditions as they help us in preserving distinct languages, scripts and cultures of all Indians. Thus Prof. Habib’s understanding of relationship of secularism vis-à-vis minority institutions is also not correct.

Prof. Habib’s claim that if AMU becomes minority institution, its students and teachers would loose judicial protection against the wrong decisions of AMU is indeed strange. University is ‘State’ within the meaning of Article 12 and thus shall remain within the writ jurisdiction of superior courts even after getting minority character. Minority character does not mean that AMU can admit anybody or appoint anybody. University cannot take any arbitrary action or do anything against Indian laws. UGC Regulations on qualifications, API, Publications, scales, seniority rules etc. would remain valid even in a university with minority character. Minority rights are not absolute. Their only duty is to become better vehicles of minority education. Reasonable Governmental regulations shall remain applicable if they are not destructive of minority character of the university.

*Prof. Faizan Mustafa is an alumnus of AMU. He served his alma-mater as Professor of Law and the Registrar. Presently, he serves as Vice-Chancellor of NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad. We are thankful to Yahoo AMU-Network Group where this article appeared.
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