Prime Minister Narendra Modi was invited as the chief guest on the occasion of the centenary celebrations of the Aligarh Muslim University and he welcomed the invitation by addressing hundreds and thousands of Aligarh students, teachers, professors and former alumni of the University, and Muslims mainly, in a video conference. Prime Minster Modi became the second Prime Minister in five decades, after Lal Bahadur Shastri, to be invited as chief guest to the University. India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had also visited the prestigious university many times.
Among the many positive statements made by the Prime Minister about the University, education, and Muslims chiefly, one of the key takeaways was that all citizens irrespective of their religion and ideologies should come together towards nation building. He mentioned that many Aligarh University alumni had participated in India’s freedom struggle setting aside their differences and that he similarly wished everyone came together again.
The Prime Minister’s address could be seen as an opportunity that he rightly made use of to send positive message to Muslims of India to say that his government was working for the common benefit of all irrespective of religion and ideologies. “I assure you that no citizen, irrespective of religion, cast and creed would be left behind on the path of Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas,” he said. He said that the University was a “mini India” as it imbibed the Indian culture teaching Urdu, Hindi, Arabic and Sanskrit on the campus and where along with the Quran, the translation of Gita and Ramayana were kept in the University’s library. Prime Minister’s statement can be seen as a direct response to right-wing groups derogatorily calling the University a “mini Pakistan”. Many right-wing groups have violently campaigned demanding revocation of the University’s minority status in the past. But Prime Minister’s address lent support to the status of Aligarh Muslim University as an important educational institution that promoted diversity. “We should not forget this or let it weaken,” he said.
The Prime Minister’s address could be seen as a reassuring message and an opportunity to respond to Muslims and victims of police violence on the University campus last year during the anti-CAA and NRC protests. Critics have however noted that the Prime Minister steered clear of any references to the violent police action against CAA-NRC protesters on the campus. Critics have said that Muslims have “had the worst years since independence” and that the Prime Minister was silent on violence against them. “I knew he won’t comment on this because he has hardly made comments on what the UP CM is doing, what is going on inside AMU,” said S Irfan Habib, historian and former Maulana Azad Chair at National University of Educational Planning and Administration, New Delhi.
Prime Minister said that elements in the society were spreading negativity and that “politics” must not supersede development. The Prime Minister’s statement can be seen as a response to the ongoing farmers’ protest which have regularly been called as opposition’s conspiracy by the ruling government. The government has maintained that the legislations brought by it are meant for citizens’ benefit and that people were being misled by opposition. However, the ruling government has been criticized for not taking inputs from those for whose benefit the legislations have been passed. For example, farmers have said they have not been consulted and opposition has said that bills were passed without full debate and wider deliberations. That – the triple talaq law was passed without input from Muslims who questioned criminalising divorce and suggested reforms through Sharia Courts. That – the special status of Kashmir was revoked without consulting people of Kashmir. The Prime Minster has said that the nation was on a path today where everyone, irrespective of religion, was assured of their constitutional rights and their future and where no community was left behind. However, critics have pointed out the manner in which pro-India leaders of Kashmir were put under unconstitutional detention for several months.
Amidst Prime Minister’s positive statements one cannot overlook the manner in which Muslims have been treated by BJP governments. Many have been put behind bars either for being “a Covid carrier” or for differing with and speaking against the government as Dr. Kafeel Khan did. Muslims have been presumed guilty and arrested under unconstitutional “anti-conversion laws” and still several put under detention under stringent UAPA and NSA.
Muslims of India have always contributed towards nation building and will continue to do so but it is also the responsibility of governments not to alienate them or discriminate against them.