, by N. JAMAL ANSARI
One hundred thirty-three years back, on January 8, 1877, at the time of laying the foundation stone of Mohammadan Anglo-Oriental College (which later became Aligarh Muslim University in 1920) by Lord Lyttan, founder of the institution, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan said, “From seeds which we sow today, there may spring up a mighty tree whose branches, like those of Banyan of the soil, shall in their turn strike firm roots into earth and themselves send forth new and vigorous Saplings.”
Sir Syed’s dream of the expansion of his project was realised on November 20, 2010 when Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee laid down first Off-Campus Centre of the AMU at a glittering foundation stone laying ceremony in Murshidabad (West Bengal). Hailing the decision of AMU to open the centres across the country, Mukherjee hoped that the Centre will certainly wipe out the ignorance and make Muslims of the region empowered through education. Hoping that the centre will soon become a hub of Muslim education, he said, “Murshidabad Centre is a respectful tribute to AMU’s founder Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and Nawab Shamsul Jahan Begum, ruler of Murshidabad who relentlessly pursued the cause of female education especially modern education”.
Welcoming the guests and dignitaries, Vice-Chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University, Prof. P.K. Abdul Azis emotionally said, “It is the momentous moment in the long history of AMU to go beyond the confines of Aligarh reaching out to the people living in different parts of the country through its new centres.”
He further said, “The establishment of the centres is the most appropriate homage to Sir Syed who wanted to spread education all over the country.” Prof. Azis hoped that in the course of time the centre will fully develop into a university.
Completing 133 years of physical and legal existence by the educational institution founded by Sir Syed and its contribution in the freedom struggle and nation building is the occasion for taking stock and celebrating the great residential educational institution’s experiment of founding Centres in remote and deprived areas of the nation. The founding fathers, Sir Syed and his associates, put a structure in place by founding MAO College and enshrined the community’s dream in an impressively liberal text and 13 decades later, it appears that AMU is fathoming to realise the vision and dreams of its founder, Sir Syed.
Realising the dreams of Sir Syed and fulfilling aspirations of the Muslim masses was not an easy task for the present Vice-Chancellor of AMU, Prof. P.K. Abdul Azis. When he took over charge of the university, spate of violent incidents rocked the campus. Ignoring the internal politics of the campus, he embarked upon a sustainable mission of regaining lost prestige of the AMU. He introduced new market oriented courses, constructed new hostels, equipped the campus with modern tools like internet and succeeded in bringing back a peaceful academic atmosphere in the campus which resulted in AMU galloping to academic excellence.
At the same time, Prof. Azis took initiatives to establish Centres of AMU in far off corners of the country. Foundation stone laying ceremony of Murshidabad Centre is fruit of hard labour, farsightedness and commitment of AMU Vice-Chancellor. Prof Azis also fulfilled hopes of Justice Syed Mahmood, son of Sir Syed who had submitted a plan of converting the MAO College into a university in the meeting of MAO College Fund Committee on February 8, 1873 and said, “The university might establish schools in the university town and elsewhere.” Justice Syed Mahmood’s “elsewhere” has been realised by AMU V.C. Prof. Azis in Murshidabad and it is only a beginning.
The concept of the Off-Campus centres has been opposed by a small section of the AMU community without realising that opposing the concept is indirectly negating wishes of Sir Syed and all those who made this institution brick by brick. Dr. Sir Ziauddin, one of the most committed sons of AMU also advocated for the “right of affiliating colleges” in the Lahore session of All India Muslim Educational Conference in 1898. Maulvi Refiuddin elaborated about proposed Muslim university in the British journal Nineteenth Century emphasising affiliation of all Muslim institutions at the national level.
While addressing annual session of All India Muslim Educational Conference in 1903, Sir Agha Khan demanded power to affiliate colleges. In November 1911, the Government of India submitted Constitution of proposed Muslim University to the British Government wherein it recommended for powers of affiliation of colleges and clarified that they will not be abused, if controlled properly. At last AMU Act came into force on December 17, 1920 with permission to the university to establish and maintain schools and colleges and restricted powers of affiliating colleges and schools in the Aligarh district were granted. In this way dreams of Sir Syed were slowly but surely moving ahead to take a shape in a realistic way. But the journey was long enough still.
The Beg Committee suggested to the Government of India in 1968 that AMU may be granted powers to establish institutions of higher education and research outside the existing University Campus. While addressing Sir Syed Birth Anniversary celebrations, then Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Digvijay Singh announced to make available free land for establishment of a “Centre” of AMU in Madhya Pradesh besides allocating one crore rupees. Seizing the opportunity, Gharib Nawaz Foundation of Bhopal (M.P) invited then Vice-Chancellor of AMU, Nasim Ahmad to address a programme on July 21, 2003. Gharib Nawaz Foundation submitted a Memorandum to the then Union Minister of HRD, Arjun Singh demanding establishment of a centre of AMU in Bhopal which was forwarded to UGC for necessary actions. The UGC informed Gharib Nawaz Foundation on January 28, 2005 that the “AMU has been asked to submit a detailed proposal in this regard”. MHRD took initiative in drawing attention of AMU to a resolution passed by National Monitoring Committee for Minorities Education on July 11-12, 2006 indirectly messaging that AMU may be permitted to establish off-campus centres.
Positive developments were taking place swiftly. West Bengal Chief Minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee made a request for establishment of AMU Centre in Murshidabad in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on March 30, 2007. Minister of HRD forwarded the letter to AMU suggesting that the proposal be examined in terms of Section 12(2) of the AMU Act and be approved by the concerned bodies of the University, so that sanction of the Visitor (President of India) may be obtained. Joining the queue, Education Minister of Kerala, MA Baby also placed a request for AMU Centre at Mallapuram (Kerala) in a meeting with then Union Minister of State for HRD, MAA Fatmi.
In the meeting of AMU Court held on December 2, 2007, Dr. Mohd Asif moved a resolution for establishment of AMU Centres in the different regions of the country under Section 12(2) of AMU Act which was approved. On January 17, 2008, the proposal to establish AMU Special Centres at Katihar (Bihar), Pune (Maharashtra), Mallapuram (Kerala), Murshidabad (W.Bengal) and Bhopal (M.P) was presented in the meeting of AMU Executive Committee and was approved unanimously. On the request of the Chief Minister of Bihar, site of AMU Centre was shifted from Katihar to Kishanganj. Subsequently the Academic Council endorsed the above stated resolution and the Vice-Chancellor of AMU was urged to take initiatives for discharging obligations bestowed upon the university by AMU Act for “promoting education and cultural advancement of the Muslims of India”.
Acting in a positive manner, Prof. Abdul Azis submitted a proposal to the Government of India for the establishment of five centres in the Muslim concentrated educationally backward and underdeveloped regions of India. The proposal was also at par with Sachar Committee and Fatmi Committee Reports. Prof. Azis requested concerned five States to make available 250-400 acres of land free of cost for establishing centres. Three State Governments, Kerala, West Bengal and Bihar immediately responded in a positive way. Central Government allocated Rs 25 crore each for the centres at Mallapuram (Kerala) and Murshidabad (W.Bengal) in the annual budget. Subsequently the President of India, in her capacity of the Visitor of AMU, accorded approval for establishment of centres under Section 12(2) of the AMU Act.
Foundation Stone Laying Ceremony of the Murshidabad Centre on November 20 was not a simple affair. Despite opposition from a section of AMU community and challenges of the dirty internal politics of campus, the AMU V.C., in a determined way, moved ahead to realise the dreams of Sir Syed and serve the nation and community. No doubt that Prof. Azis has added a new chapter to the glorious history of AMU. The writer believes that one day will come when Murshidabad centre will become a full-fledged university itself and then historians will record that “Prof Azis had created history”.
All societies have their history which reflects important events and decisive periods. Within that period, there stand out a certain event which shifts or changes destinies of the community. Foundation stone laying ceremony of MAO College in 1877 and the same ceremony of the Murshidabad AMU Centre are both such events. The writer had wishes to witness the great historical moments at Murshidabad but all wishes are not fulfilled always.
[The writer is Aligarh-based social and political commentator.]