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What did Jayaprakash Narayan think of Aligarh Muslim University?

Following is an excerpt from the AMU’s Convocation Address delivered by Jayaparakash Narayan on 10 February 1968. 

You all know of the revolutionary role played by this university (Aligarh Muslim University) and its great founder (Sir Syed Ahmad Khan) in breaking down the barriers of obscurantism and in tearing off the blinkers of a past—a past that was no doubt glorious but that effectively hid the present and obstructed the view into the future—and thus in introducing the Muslim community into the world of modern knowledge. 

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan

In many ways the present situation is similar to that encountered by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. The passage of the Mughal empire and its replacement by the British Raj were such a shattering experience for the Muslims of those times that it took the genius of Sir Syed and his colleagues to enable the Muslim community to make a creative adjustment to the changed conditions. One may argue whether the adjustment made was the wisest in the long-range view; but, it was not easy then, in the face of the rising sun of an alien empire, to visualize at once its eventual passage and replacement by an indigenous power. 

Alive and kicking 

Though, at the height of the Mughal empire the issue of ‘Muslim power v Hindu power’ had seemed to have been finally settled, it was soon after made clear that the issue was alive and kicking. The rise of the British power only pushed the issue aside. Even in those early days, it slowly became clear that there were two ways of resolving the issue. One was for each of the contending communities to try to ally itself with the foreign power in order to secure for itself the maximum benefit. That meant indefinite continuance of the foreign power, and suited it extremely well. The other was for both the communities to combine to expel the foreigner and share power together.


When Asking for Donations for Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) was seditious


What happened in the event is an oft-told tale, and it will serve little purpose to dwell upon it here. Suffice it to say that at this university too, there were contenders for both philosophies, with perhaps the overall bent being towards the first. For his part, the foreigner did his best to keep it wholly under his sheltering wings, but it is clear that he did not quite succeed, witness the contribution made by the alumni of this university to the composite national movement and to socio-economic radicalism; also witness one of them joining the noncooperation movement and eventually coming to occupy the highest office in this secular and democratic state. 

What is relevant to the present is that the old issue, in spite of the drastic surgery of partition, still continues to be of paramount importance. The reason is that though the feudal system has been destroyed, the feudal mentality persists. In that feudal system, the religion of the overlord at the top settles the issue decisively. In it, sharing of power can only be nominal. It is only in a secular democracy that power can be shared. As long as the feudal mentality lasts, and the past dominates the minds of men, as it does in India, the question of ‘Hindu power and Muslim power’ will remain a vexed question and an open, running sore. 

Difficult situation 

The fact that after partition Pakistan decided in favour of Muslim power and constitutionally established what it called a Muslim state, in which the Hindu minority—the same is true of other minorities— was deliberately placed under certain disabilities, such as no non-Muslim can be the president of Pakistan, inevitably produced a reaction in this country. Accordingly, we have today open and hidden protagonists of the Hindu Rashtra or Hindu state.


1962: When AMU teachers took on the Nehru government after the attack on the University


The hangover in the minds of Indian Muslims from the days of the two-nation theory and the psychological reaction to the militant Hindu rashtra movement place the Muslims in a most difficult situation. 

To my mind the role of this premier Muslim university is cut out by this situation. As I conceive it, that role is to lead the Muslim intelligentsia out of the dilemma in which they are placed. I must at once say that is not by any means an easy role to play, nor can this university alone play it successfully. But the university will find in the enlightened social, economic, and political forces of the country its powerful and effective allies. What is needed is a clear and unaltering vision.

Unreal world 

The process as I see it—equally valid for India and Pakistan—is growth out of the feudal mentality and stagnation, into the modern, democratic, secular mind and radical, social, and economic transformation and development. To put it differently, the solvents of communal reaction, whether expressed in aspirations of domination or in those of isolationism and inward withdrawal, are democracy, secularism, socio-economic radicalism, and economic development. 

As a reaction to militant Hindu nationalism, there is a movement among Muslims of isolation and separatism and withdrawal into a dream world that is not of the present or of the future, but of the past. I invite this university (AMU) to draw the Muslims out of that unreal, artificial, self-regarding, self satisfying world into the battleground where the fight for secular democracy, a revolutionary social order, and economic growth is being fought. To stand aside from the battle is to strengthen the forces working for a communal state. 

(Janata (weekly from Bombay founded by Jayaprakash Narayan), 17 March 1968, p. 5.)


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