Azam Khan May be A Victim But He is No Messiah of Muslims

Azam Khan.

True, Azam Khan is being targeted rather disproportionately and also because of his Muslim identity. That must be protested and resisted. But to say that he is a big messiah, and his profit-making educational enterprise is an issue of all the Muslims of India, is absolutely unjustified

Prof Mohammad Sajjad and Md Zeeshan Ahmad

IN an era of majoritarian hegemony and aggression it is worthwhile examining certain facets of “minoritarian” politics. Scrutiny of a Muslim leader, Azam Khan, from Uttar Pradesh (UP), India’s ‘heartland’, would possibly serve a better purpose.      

Azam Khan has been a most visible Muslim face of post-Congress UP politics. He is being chastised by the incumbent BJP regime led by Yogi Adityanath, undoubtedly because of his Muslim identity.

Anti-Muslim persecution by the incumbent regime is no secret by now. Not only that the firebrand ascetic Ajay Singh Bisht (Adityanath) represents the hot-headed majoritarian politics, actions of his government against the protesters of citizenship laws and also during the first phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, in and after April 2020, has sent a very strong message to the Muslims. Spine-chilling accounts of those persecutions are already there. Protestors had to suffer imprisonment, fines were imposed, properties were confiscated Azam Khan, along with few more Muslim political leaders, particularly those having criminal antecedents, have faced greater and harsher ire of the partisan administration.

Of late, however, quite a significant section of Muslims, including a handful of AMU and JMI student activists, have resorted to a kind of politics which seeks to portray Azam Khan not only as a helpless victim of the Yogi regime but also as a messiah of Muslims who, in their view, also did a lot for educational uplift of the community. He is credited to have helped open many schools (for boys as well as girls), affiliated to the CBSE.

Greatest testimony of this, they say, is the establishment of the Mohammad Ali Jauhar University, in his home turf, Rampur. The Muslims holding this view don’t look up to Azam Khan as a power-politician turning as an edu-preneur. They rather take him as someone who helped establish a ‘Muslim minority’ university.

Pertinently, the fact is absolutely contrary to this. This is neither a government university, and it was sought to be made a minority university as an afterthought, in 2012-13, not through legislation, but through the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI).

This article therefore attempts at setting the relevant records straight, on this specific count.

The MA Jauhar University (MAJU) Act 2005

The history of Mohammad Ali Jauhar University, the dream project of Azam Khan, has been mired in controversy since its inception. A look into the legislative history of the Jauhar University Act would help us know the intent /design behind establishing the University. 

In 2004, when the bill for the University was first presented, Khan proposed the University bill to be a state government university with himself being its life-long Chancellor. As it was contrary to the State University Act, 1973, this created a lot of opposition and furore. According to the Act 1973, the Chancellor of the state universities would be the Governor. Thus, the Governor referred the bill to the President, APJ Abdul Kalam. On this, the President asked the house to reconsider the bill and make arrangements, inter alia, to appoint pro-chancellor for a fixed tenure of five years. This advice of the President, however, didn’t go well with the broad scheme of Khan.

Meanwhile, around this time only, the Amity University Act 2004 was passed. Today that university is one of the most sought after private universities producing good results.

A year later, in 2005, the Jauhar University Bill was again introduced, withdrawing the previous Bill. The Jauhar University was now to be a private university and not a state government university, and be governed by the Jauhar Trust, the   chairman of which would be Azam Khan. It was only in 2012 with the coming of Samajwadi Party in power that Khan approached the NCMEI to secure minority status and it got in May 2013.

Why this afterthought? Why not through legislation? Why over-centralisation of power in the hands of the chancellor? Owing to above reasons, the Governors TV Rajeshwar and BL Joshi had their reservations. It was only in July 2014 when Aziz Qureshi, the then Governor of Uttarakhand, officiating as the UP Governor, that this amendment bill was cleared from the Raj Bhawan. These questions indeed make the picture murkier.

MA Jauhar University

According to the Act 2005, the Jauhar Trust has all the ownership-proprietorship of the University. The Chairman of the Trust will be the Chancellor, who will be the absolute lord of the officers of the University including the Visitor and the Vice Chancellor. The sweat-will, whims and caprice of the Chancellor will prevail upon everything and everybody of the University.  The clause 6 (1) (i) of the Act does say, “to develop and promote the languages historically studied by Muslim, i.e., Urdu, Arabic and Persian”. It however doesn’t say whether there will be a compulsory teaching of those languages for all students. Nor does it say that all teachers to be recruited would be required to have knowledge of at least one of the three languages. The subsequent clause 6 (1) (ii) says, “to bring the Muslim minority into the mainstream for his overall development …”. How? This is not explained in the MAJU Act.

Importantly, the original drafts of the bill of 2004, as well as of 2005, didn’t call the Jauhar University to be a minority university under the Article 30 of the Constitution. It therefore could not have a reservation quota of 50% for Muslim students in its enrolment. 

This omission (rather, commission?) is indeed intriguing. Himself a law graduate, Azam Khan became a political leader via his participation as student activist in the agitation for quota of “internal” students in AMU, in the 1970s. He was Secretary, AMU Students’ Union.

The Muslim leadership manipulated it to make it into a politics of all the Muslims of India during 1965-1981. Two French academic scholars have published very long essays on this politics, Violette Graff (1990), and Laurence Gaurtier (2019). Intriguingly, this AMU agitation had a sort of near lull, maybe because of state repressions, during 1974-1977, when many other campuses of north India were boiling against the ruling Congress.

The vicissitudes of the AMU student agitation during the 1970s, eventually threw up a new breed of young educated Muslim leaders just as the anti-Emergency agitations threw up a new breed of leadership in Indian politics, says Gautier. Azam Khan was one such leader.    

Despite the prolonged agitations, the AMU Act 1981 didn’t equip it with minority status. Just a specific “non-committal” clause 5 (2) (c) of the Act provided it with a vague assurance of Muslim character with a provision of “educational and cultural advancement of Muslims of India”. The Muslim leadership, including the likes of Syed Shahabuddin (1935-2017), remained dissatisfied with the AMU Act 1981. Azam Khan was in the thick of such things. The craftiness of Muslim leadership in turning a local issue into a specatacular mega-issue of all India Muslims really needs a serious academic scrutiny.

Post-Emergency, when Indira succeeded the Janta regime in 1980, many of her biographers do say that her politics tilted towards majoritarianism, which gained further momentum during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure (1984-1989). That may possibly have to do something with growing anti-Congress sentiment among the Muslims in general and AMU community in particular. But a major cause was the dissatisfaction of these Muslim leaders, including Azam Khan, with the AMU Act 1981. [That Muslim leadership too indulged in a kind of politics in the 1980s which provided fodder to the quick rise of majoritarianism is a different story, though, even in those episodes, Azam Khan and his ilks stood on the wrong side, more particularly in opposing the Supreme Court verdict in the Shah Bano case in 1985]

This is pertinent to recall that an attempt of the AMU to treat this arguably inadequate Act of 1981 as Muslim minority status and reserve 50% of seats for Muslim students backfired in 2005. AMU lost it in the Allahabad High Court. The matter is now sub judice in the Supreme Court. In 2005, when AMU had made this attempt, the Chancellor was a former chief justice of India, the vice chancellor was an IAS officer with degree in law and also with a brief experience at lower judiciary, and the then Registrar was a professor of law, who is now among a big legal-juridical academic and columnist. 

In such a backdrop, it is really intriguing as to why did Azam Khan, the life-time Chairman of the Jauhar Trust cum Chancellor of the Jauhar University, go for a repetition/replication of the AMU Act 1981? Neither in 2004 nor in the 2005 draft Bills, nor even in his amendment (2007) to the Act of 2005, of the Jauhar University did he invoke Article 30 of the Indian Constitutions. This therefore justifiably raises serious doubts about the intent of the chief of the Jauhar University affairs. In the M.A. Jauhar University (MAJU) Act, 2005, according to section 2 (s), “University means the Mohammad Ali Jauhar University established under the Act by the Trust”. In the 2007 amendment to the principal Act, Section 2(s) was substituted with the following changes:”University means the Mohammad Ali Jauhar University established under the Act by the Trust as a minority educational institution“. But article 30 of the Constitution was again not invoked.

Even bigger question emerging out of this confusion or imbroglio is: why did, and does, the Muslim intelligentsia refrain(ed) from letting the Muslims understand that the Jauhar University Act (Gazette notified in June 2006) was not a Muslim minority university? It was neither a, “government controlled autonomous university”, such as the Aliah University (2008) of the West Bengal government, nor was it like the Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti Language University, Lucknow, of the Uttar Pradesh government established in 2009. This University too has an objective, “to promote learning of Urdu, Arabic and Persian Languages in order to understand the essence of their culture”. Similarly, the Bihar government has also established Maulana Mazharul Haque Arabic Persian University in 1998, offering all kinds of modern and professional courses. These three are, needless to say, fully funded by the respective provincial governments.

The Jauhar University is not even like the Integral University, a private minority university, in Lucknow, functioning since 2004.

Facing criticism on this count, only as recently as in May 2013, the Chairman of the Trust cum Chancellor of the University, Azam Khan, obtained a report declaring the Jauhar University to be a minority university. Does this afterthought have to do something with the disputes pertaining to land acquisition for the private University? Understandably, yes.

As against the above mentioned four universities, the Jauhar University (Rampur) is rather a personal fiefdom of a whimsical power-hungry politician; profit-making business enterprise. With that much of fee any Muslim student may get enrolled in a possibly better quality university.

Given the whimsicality of the chief, in more than a decade of its existence, the University has not been able to make a mark. Less said the better about the anxiety of the teachers, officers and other employees of the Jauhar University who have hardly got tenure-security. They are perpetually on tenterhooks. 

Land Disputes of the Jauhar University

The land acquired by the Jauhar Trust for the University is also not without disputes. Not just of the villagers in the close vicinity of the University but even government lands.  

In fact, in a popular perception, there is a grudge that a Sunni, Azam Khan, a Mulayam-ally, by virtue of being politically powerful, is supposed to have grabbed a lot of landed property of the Shia Waqf Estate, belonging previously to the former princely state (Nawab) of Rampur. It is said that for this specific purpose of ‘grabbing’ land, Wasim Rizvi, a Shia, was the man of Azam Khan. Rizvi has now switched over to the ruling BJP and keeps courting controversies to remain in the BJP’s good books.

In a major setback, on August 2, 2021, the District Court of Rampur while dismissing Azam Khan’s appeal upheld the orders passed by the lower courts directing the demolition of the entrance gate of the Jauhar University, which according to the district administration is built upon the land belonging to the PWD. It has also imposed some financial penalties.

While in 2020, pursuant to the F.I.R. filed by the villagers, the revenue board court in Prajaygraj directed to return back the lands to the farmers which were acquired by flouting rules. According to the government counsel it was stated that “Uttar Pradesh Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act bars small land-owning Dalits from transferring their land to non-Scheduled Castes. And if they do, it has to be approved by the district administration. No such permission was taken by the Jauhar Trust, run by senior Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan”. More of the stories on land-grabbing by Azam Khan and his henchmen in Rampur were done by a freelance journalist Afroz Alam Sahil on a news-portal

Past Credentials of Azam Khan

Azam Khan was known for his provocative oratory. Bureaucrats having worked with him know him for his arrogance, misbehaviour, perpetually sarcastic and humiliating interaction with the officers in his department/ministry. This may be known only within a limited circle! Let us therefore leave at that. Instead, let us look at his roles in the communal violence of September 2013. During 2012-17, he was taken as the second most powerful man in the government led by Akhilesh Yadav. Khan was also Minister Incharge Muzaffarnagar Affairs. The unprecedented violence and displacement that broke out in September 2013 in Muzaffarnagar and the adjoining districts was in the making.

By late July and early August 2013, there were enough intelligence inputs about the impending danger of communal violence across Uttar Pradesh. Yet, intermittent incidents of eve-teasing and retributive eve-teasings, and lynchings, leading to deaths in both warring communities not far away from the police posts, went on. Nothing was done to prevent stock-piling of illegal arms and incendiary communal gatherings (mahapanchayats). This revealed administrative complicity of the then regime.

In July 2013, Khan was very prompt in justifying Durga Shakti Nagpal’s absolutely unjustifiable suspension. Nagpal, the lady IAS officer posted as the Sub-Divisional Magistrate of Noida, had launched a crackdown against the sand-mafia. She therefore had to be shifted out. The pretext came with Muslims constructing a mosque on land not legally belonging to the Muslims in Kadalpur, Greater Noida.  She therefore went there to stop it. On the spot itself she received her suspension order within a few minutes, forewarned by a Samajwadi Party worker.

To a section of Hindus, this was a bizarre demonstration of Muslim power. Not for the first time, Muslims punched much above their weight. Little did the Samajwadi Party realise then that no other political formation can really outsmart the BJP on this turf of communal politics. The groundswell had already taken place.

The Muslim leadership and intelligentsia did not shout enough against this brazen and bloody game that was being played out almost throughout the Akhilesh regime, which witnessed around 600 incidents of communal tension and violence. They did not even ask why Mayawati, too, was not speaking out.

Understandably, calculation of the ruling Samajwadi Party was this:

Communal violence would create fissures between the Jats and Muslims.  It will push the Jat Hindus towards the BJP, thereby weakening the Lok Dal; and the Muslim victims, through some populist sops of compensation,  would be pulled towards the SP, and thereby weaning them away from the BSP.

That this bizarre calculation inevitably spun out of the control of the Akhilesh-Azam regime is a different story, amply demonstrated by a book (2018), Everyday Communalism: Riots in Contemporary Uttar Pradesh, by Sajjan Kumar and Sudha Pai.

The idea was to win the highest possible number of Lok Sabha seats in 2014 and to bargain the chair of Prime Minister for Mulayam Yadav, who had a two hour long meeting with the VHP leader Ashok Singhal. Earlier in 1999, SP was alleged to have underhand dealings with the BJP, and in 2007, with Kalyan Singh.

The demagogue Azam Khan had extracted a seat in the Rajya Sabha for his wife; and an assembly seat for his son. He and his Samajwadi Party have not allowed any other Muslim in Rampur to emerge as a leader. So much so that, in 2012, he imported Munawwar Saleem from Vidisha (Madhya Pradesh) and sent it to Rajya Sabha. This was at the expense of the Samajwadi party workers from among the UP Muslims. This created quite a furore among the Muslims of the party. Soon after the prolonged violence and displacement in Muzaffarnagar and adjoining districts, Azam Khan went on a Europe tour.   

Azam Khan’s Behaviour

He is infamous for issuing divisive and provocative statements to trigger communal polarisation. In November 2015, he spoke against the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Kamlesh Tiwari of the Hindu Mahasabha retaliated with an affront against the Prophet, on December 1, 2015.

The massive Muslim agitations across the country that followed in early 2016 were against Kamlesh Tiwari, whereas the Muslim agitations should have actually been directed against Azam Khan, the agent provocateur. The anti Kamlesh protests of Muslims had also to do with competitive mobilizations between Barelvi and Deobandi sub-sects.

Vigilant Assessment of Muslim Leadership: Need of the Hour

The Muslim electorates need to be cool, calm, informed and cautious, rather than being emotive. True, Azam Khan is being targeted rather disproportionately and also because of his Muslim identity. That must be protested and resisted. But to say that he is a big messiah, and his profit-making educational enterprise is an issue of all the Muslims of India, is absolutely unjustified. This note of caution is necessary to be realised. Let the legal minds and other Muslim intelligentsia make the Muslim agitators comprehend this finer point. Else, the genuinely victimised collective of the hapless Muslims would end up corroding and discrediting their only weapon: documenting of and wailing against their victimization, to mobilise a public opinion. That the Muslim intelligentsia is not letting the Muslims understand this specific nitty-gritty of the Jauhar University Act, is something aptly raising serious questions about their credibility. This intelligentsia is also not looking into the grievance of the poor Muslim and Dalit farmers who allege that their lands have been forcibly and fraudulently grabbed by the Jauhar Trust.

Majoritarianism is not the lone enemy of India’s Muslims. A partisan and self-serving Muslim intelligentsia playing upon them is another danger facing India’s Muslims. They have a vested interest in keeping the community uninformed and emotive. They often feed half-truths, which is even more dangerous. True, in the forthcoming UP Assembly elections 2022, Muslim electorates have got restricted, or no better, choice. It is only up to the saner elements of the Hindu majority who can really decide if they want India to get rid of bigotry and of the regime which has miserably failed in delivering on all fronts, besides their utter mismanagement of Covid during April-June 2021.

But the ills afflicted with the Muslims, with their political leadership, and with their intelligentsia, can certainly be addressed by the Muslims, to a large extent, on their own. Uncritically following the demagogues, have already extracted heavy prices from the unvigilant community. Now the time is to call them out. It is already very late. But, as the saying goes, it is never too late!  


Mohammad Sajjad is Professor of History at AMU, Aligarh and Md Zeeshan Ahmad is Law graduate from AMU, Aligarh. The views expressed here are authors’ personal.


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