Don’t disinvite: Jamia should instead hit Modi with hard questions



More often than not, university alumni behave like a bunch of slightly disconnected NRIs who, despite not having much immediate stake in the homeland/alma mater, want to nevertheless drive the political and ideological agenda. Such seems to be the case with some of the, no doubt well-wishing, members of the Jamia Millia Islamia alumni association. Citing Narendra Modi’s (who was then the chief minister of Gujarat) unquestioningly despicable comments in the wake of the notorious Batla House encounter of September 2008, that the Jamia administration should drown in guilt because of its decision to extend legal aid to two of its student accused, Jamia ex-students Asad Ashraf (2007-10) and Mahtab Alam (2001-03) have penned a strongly-wordedletterto the current vice-chancellor Professor Talat Ahmad, urging him to withdraw an invite to the prime minister for attending the annual convocation ceremony.

That Ashraf and Alam are seething in righteous rage over Modi’s abominable speech, delivered to score cheap brownie points and vitiate further an atmosphere of already overwrought communal tensions, maligning a prestigious academic institution with the sole purpose of driving a wedge through the student community along religious lines, is understandable. One look at the video (see below) spells it out clearly: Modi’s odious speechifying hasn’t changed over the years, with barbs on terrorism, “cow slaughter/pink revolution”, “Pakistan”, “illegal immigration”, “hum panch, humare pachees” and an array of disgraceful and misleading insinuations fired to hurt the entire Muslim population of India. From the 2002 Godhra riots, to his unimaginably polarising campaign during the Lok Sabha election of 2014, to the recent verbal atrocities he launched in the build-up to Bihar Assembly polls, Narendra Modi’s vicious, and hardly covert, assaults on Muslims have gone from bad to worse.

In addition, it is more than apparent that Modi’s comments in the wake of the Batla House encounter, was not to condemn terrorism in all forms, or to opt for a measured tone as befits a politician holding a high legislative post (that of the then chief minister), but to simply stoke fears among the majority religious community as well as paint an entire university in the colours of facile suspicion.

Sample this: “There is a university in Delhi called Jamia Millia Islamia. It has publicly announced that it will foot the legal fee of terrorists involved in the act. Go drown yourself. This Jamia Millia is being run on government money and it daring to spend money on lawyers to get terrorists out of jail. When will this vote bank politics end?”

That Modi is wrong on several counts is obvious. Even if one or two of its students were found to have alleged links with the Indian Mujahideen, why should the entire university suffer for the supposed actions of a few? Plus, the then vice-chancellor Mishirul Hasan was right to assert that Jamia’s standing up for its students (and not using government money but its own privately raised funds) was a matter of human rights, and everyone’s innocent until proven otherwise in the court of law. Modi’s revolting statement alleging that Jamia is a terrorist hothouse is as shameful as it is embarrassing, and the university alumni is perfectly right to demand an apology from the now prime minister.

However, what is not justified is asking the current V-C Talat Ahmad to withdraw the invitation to the same man who is now Prime Minister Narendra Modi. And even though Ashraf and Alam have cited the examples of Cambridge University’sdeep hesitationto have Modi speak at its “Senate”, and the protests by the students of the Film and Television Institute of India over the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as its chief, as well as the revamping of Indian Council of Historical Research, to underscore how the Modi government is leading an all-out attack on academic sovereignty of prestigious institutions, “disinviting” him is no way to drive home the point.

True, Modi had said that “Jamia manufactures terrorists”, but does shunning a democratically elected prime minister push anyone’s cause except divide further? Mutual shunting has only backfired until now, poisoning the air with the stench of reciprocal suspicion and hate-mongering. Moreover, this standoff is only going to paint a falsely radicalised picture of the current Jamia students, administration and its alumni, which will be detrimental for a government-funded institution. So while Ashraf and Alam are perfectly justified to voice their apprehensions, suspecting an acquiescence of sort before a decidedly majoritarian and authoritarian government at the Centre, their tactic is reactionary and actually rather counter-productive.

What is in fact required is to have Modi over and subject the prime minister to an open hall style of really hard-hitting questions. Or at least, invite him to answer a set of publicly posed queries, including providing him with the opportunity to apologise or express regret at the decidedly volatile and calumnious comments in the wake of the Batla House encounter. Given Modi’s penchant for pre-screened Q&A masquerading as a spontaneous interaction, it is likely that the prime minister will not choose to accept and answer. However, it will give a shot in the arm to the university as well as its illustrious alumni, many of whom are active in safeguarding the human rights of its beleaguered brethren. The best way to distinguish ourselves from whom we ideologically oppose is not imitate them through words or actions.

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