IT IS time the Indian political class rethinks its attitude to what is erroneously referred to as āMuslim universitiesā. For starters, it should insist the historic Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) should have the same rules other Central universities commonly follow in appointing their vice-chancellors. This will ensure AMU is not dogged by anomalous situations, the most bizarre manifestation of which is having a retired lieutenant general heading it.
The current vice-chancellor (VC) of AMU, Lt Gen (retd) Zameeruddin Shah, is an army commander. Under him, though, AMU appears to have the administrative paraphernalia of a military formation ā the Pro-VC is a retired brigadier; and the Registrar is a former group captain.
In 1996, Lt Gen (retd) MA Zaki was the first general to become the VC of yet another so-called Muslim university ā Jamia Millia Islamia. But army officers arenāt the only non-academic VCs to descend upon AMU and Jamia. Sample these figures: from the time Jamia became a Central university in 1988, it has had six VCs, of whom three, or 50 percent, belonged to either the IAS or the army. Again, from 1980 till date, AMU has had eight VCs (excluding acting VCs), of whom six (or 75 percent) belonged to the IAS, IFS or the army.
Perhaps you think the post of VC in central universities is a sinecure for superannuated non-academicians. Well, think again. From Independence till date, Delhi University (DU) has had just one civil service officer as its VC ā the redoubtable CD Deshmukh, who had been Indiaās Finance Minister between 1950 and 1956, before he became DUās VC. Now, you canāt really call Deshmukh a typical civil servant, can you?
Visva Bharati has had just one non-academic VC, SR Das, who was the fifth Chief Justice of India. Banaras Hindu University (BHU) has never had an IAS or a general as its VC. Delhiās prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University in its initial years had two diplomats ā G Parthasarthi and former President KR Narayanan ā as VC, but none in the past three decades. A general hasnāt been sent as VC to even North Eastern Hill University, which is located in a region infamous for secessionist movements.
True, at least two IAS-turned-VCs of Jamia ā Najeeb Jung and Syed Shahid Mahdi ā have had a few years of academic experience, as did, another IAS officer, Syed Hashim Ali Akhtar, who was AMUās VC between 1985 and 1989. Yet their academic achievements and experience pale before the eminence of many professors, including those Muslims, who belong to AMU and Jamia. You could gloss over these appointments had they been too few and far between. Indeed, had this been the trend in other Central universities, rest assured the countryās intellectuals would have denounced the move as anti-education as well as an attempt to surreptitiously impose State control over them
So then, what is so special about these two universities to warrant a surfeit of non-academic VCs? The fault is as much the Indian Stateās as it is of the Muslim political elite, who harp on their right to determine the working of these two universities, particularly AMU. To appease them, as also to uphold a very warped notion of secularism, the Indian state amended the Aligarh Muslim University Act in 1981. Its consequence was to introduce a new procedure for the appointment of AMUās VC. Till then, AMU had followed the rules still prevailing in other Central universities: a three-member search committee lists three names as possible candidates to the Visitor, usually the President of India, who then chooses the VC.