Aligarh Muslim University: Vice Chancellors (1920-79)
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Title and authorship of the original article(s)
Reflections on Aligarh Vice Chancellors (1920-79)By Naved Masood
This is an original piece of research by Mr. Masood.
By Naved Masood, C-7 MS Flats Tilak Lane, New Delhi-110001
Why this long essay?
At the outset it must be explained that this is not a historical account of the happenings during the terms of office of successive Vice Chancellors of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). It is a quick assessment of the personalities and contributions of the VCs in the relevant period in an impressionistic vein- hence the term ‘reflection’ in the title. The primary aim underlying this essay is to critically examine some broad aspects of the tenure of the incumbents which may serve, hopefully, as inputs for more comprehensive historical accounts in the future. A further aim is to see if some propositions could be generated based on an overall appraisal of their successes and failures. Why such an exercise becomes necessary and certain other related matters require explanations before the ‘essay proper’ is unleashed on the unsuspecting readership.
While working in certain policy making positions in the field of education in a small State (1988-1990) and the Government of India (1992-1999) this writer gradually, almost imperceptibly, became interested in the history of educational policy and administration in India- an assuredly fascinating and absorbing field of study as it turned out. Gradually, it became clear that in this history, Aligarh Muslim University and its predecessor the MAO College occupy an important place for a variety of political and even purely educational reasons. This realization was also accompanied by a sad discovery- historical accounts of the Aligarh Muslim University are so inadequate as to be virtually non existent. This writer is not guilty of being a professional historian; his formal education in that subject came to an end in 1970 with the passing of the High School examination from the ‘Minto Circle’ wherein it was a compulsory subject. The writer has, over the year made some efforts to mitigate his ignorance of Modern Indian History; the resulting mitigation has, however, not been of a degree where he could be bold enough to pen a regular history of the University though he may now be able to provide inputs for the writing of such history by someone with adequate credentials. This essay thus attempts to do the next best thing- it seeks to give a ‘qualitative’, though it is hoped, a largely authentic, account of the Vice Chancellors up to 1981 raising many issues which could be dealt with by ‘regular scholars’.
As this is not a systematic history of Vice Chancellors of the University, serious reader must not complain about not dealing with this or that important development during the tenure of a particular Vice Chancellor; specific developments have been mentioned only to corroborate the statements made about the VC concerned. Exceptions like a detailed recounting of the ‘elections’ of Dr Ziauddin or the unfortunate incident of the 25th April 1965, have been made as they appeared necessary to understand the relevant era and no coherent accounts of such events appear to be available. Many of the points made still require elaboration which would have added to the many digressions already included; many ‘end notes’ have, therefore, been added to ‘accommodate’ the more important explanations. Even the casual reader will do well to glance through the end notes as many of these (like xiii and xx etc) contain interesting information which is not available elsewhere.
The writer has refrained from giving specific references in most cases as, while he has consulted upward of 800 sources of various descriptions, he considers the pain involved in the process of citations as not commensurate with the advantages to be had. It will bear repetition that while the ‘reflections’ are in the nature of critical analysis, these do not constitute “research”. Mention must be made about oral sources and certain surmises made in this tract. Most of the interlocutors that the writer has consulted in the last decade or more were ‘coy’ about being identified with odd exceptions like Prof Ale Ahmed “Suroor”, the reader must, therefore, not be disappointed or suspicious about unnamed sources. Similarly, the surmises are not guesswork; they are based on writer’s assessment of facts without conclusive proof. This can be illustrated by pointing out that in the first draft there was an ‘educated guess’ that Sir Ross Masud’s appointment was endorsed by the Court despite the reservations of Ziauddin and Aftab factions ‘most probably due to support from factions like the Ali Brothers’; by the time the draft was being finalized, Prof Iftikhar Alam Khan very kindly showed Masud’s letter to Rais Ahmed Jafri – son-in-law Mohammed Ali- to this writer which confirmed the probability; the probability thus became a verified fact.
Lastly, why does the essay stop at 1979? Apart from the writer’s laziness, there is a more compelling, respectable reason: The writer held the positions of Director (Universities) and Joint Secretary (University & Higher Education) in the Ministry of Human Resource Development for the better part of the 1990s and many facts pertaining to this period are within his knowledge based on official record, much of it still classified. As one ascends the bureaucratic ladder, one becomes more constrained; (on the date of joining the Indian Administrative Service on 12th July 1977 we were told by the Director of the National Academy of Administration that while many of us may be justly feeling elated that day, yet we should not forget that we were also losing many freedoms which we could enjoy as ordinary citizens!). The writer finds it extremely difficult to segregate ‘official’ from ‘personal’ knowledge. He will, however, be happy to provide ‘useful pointers’ to serious scholars if they so desire- some such ‘pointers’ do occur in this write-up as, for instance, in the latter portion of (iv) of the end notes.
Vice Chancellors over the Years - General
It is one of the ironies of the history of Indian education that while efforts to form the Muslim University were more long drawn out than any other institution established earlier or later, the actual passage of its legislation was in a tearing hurry . While even a brief summary of the tortuous course of establishment of the University is not possible within the confines of the present write-up, it is necessary to take into account the fact- a fact curiously missed by the historians of the institution- that the Act XL of 1920 establishing the Aligarh Muslim University was a knee-jerk response to the gathering storm of Khilafat and Non-cooperation movements which led to the formation of a National Muslim University or the Jamia Millia Islamia on 22nd November 1920 i.e. almost a fortnight before finalization of AMU’s legislative charter.
This is being mentioned only to underscore the fact that right from its inception, the affairs of this University were deemed more ‘political’ than those other Universities and thus the Government was far more interested in who should be its executive head than in case of appointment of Vice Chancellors of other Universities. As the formal procedure for appointment of Vice Chancellor did not envisage any explicit role for the Government this task was often accomplished by ‘persuasion’. This point, too, is being mentioned briefly as it had a bearing on many appointments as will be seen during the course of this write-up.
Given below is an account of the Vice Chancellors who held office on substantive basis from the inception of the University till 1979. As would be seen, a number of Vice Chancellors held officiating charge; their tenure has merely been noted without any detailed considerations of their life and time in Aligarh.
(i)Raja of Mahmudabad (20.12.1920 to 28.2.1923)
The First Vice-Chancellor
Sir Mohammed Ali Mohammed Khan, the Raja of Mahmudabad (1879-1931) had played an important role in helping the Government in ‘managing’ the Khilafat movement and earlier in defusing the tension arising out of the Macchli Bazar Mosque affair of Kanpur. In fact, he was intimately involved in the affairs of the MAO College during the period 1911-1915 and had been actively associated with the efforts for elevating the College to the status of a University. It will be also pertinent to mention that till that time the position of Vice-Chancellors of Universities in India was honorary and a part time responsibility. In most cases, sitting judges of the High Courts were assigned this responsibility.
To this extent, therefore, no fault can be found with a Taluqdar with little formal education (though a man of undoubted refinement and considerable skills in statecraft) for being chosen as the first Vice Chancellor of the Muslim University. The problem with his appointment, however, was that he had, by December 1920, lost interest in Aligarh and was very actively associated with the establishment of a University in his adopted hometown, his beloved Lucknow. He was the main financier and moving spirit behind the project in the new capital of the United Provinces (UP) - Lucknow had replaced Allahabad as the capital of UP only in 1916.
Archival records indicate that the Lieutenant Governor of UP, Sir Harcourt Butler, who was instrumental in getting the capital shifted, and to whom the Taluqdars of Avadh rightly looked as their champion was constantly badgering Mehmudabad to do his bit for the proposed University at Lucknow. In the event, Lucknow acquired its University a few months after Aligarh, on 28.2.1921 and the first Vice Chancellor carried on fitfully in Aligarh till he tendered resignation on 28th February 1923.
There are reasons to believe that the Raja did not stay for a single day in Aligarh beyond his presence in the meetings of the Executive Council and the Court (four and two respectively). In fact, the two meetings of the Court were brief affairs; the first meeting was a mere formality while the second meeting took two decisions viz. (i) despite financial constraints the University must have a Sanskrit department and (ii) the motto of the University should be the hadith, “Utlubul i’lmo walau kana bisseen” the latter had to be soon annulled as the ulama pointed out that the hadith in question was not authentic!
The Raja, however, defrayed all expenditure (including cost of travel of members) of the meetings of the Executive Council. The affairs of the nascent University were carried on by the Pro-Vice Chancellor (Dr Ziauddin Ahmed) and the Registrar (Syed Sajjad Hyder Yeldrim). There are also reasons to believe that no planning and little imagination went into transformation of an affiliated College into a University. MAO College had functioned under the discipline of the affiliating Universities- Calcutta till 1885 and Allahabad from that year till 1920- in the matter of appointments, admission, examination and standards of instruction etc. The Board of Trustees of the College, despite its interest in governance of the institution, had refrained from transgressing the limits laid down by the affiliating body.
The elevation of the College not only removed this restraint but the delay in replacing the no longer applicable Regulations of the College with appropriate Ordinances gave rise to a state of uncertainty- the Ordinances were finalized only in 1928 after Sajjad Haider’s reversion to the UP Government after 7 years. Mahmudabad was assisted by Dr Ziauddin as Pro-Vice Chancellor but there are indications ‘between the lines’ in subsequent issues of periodicals like “Sarguzisht” and the note of Aftab Ahmad Khan (to be referred a little later) against Dr Ziauddin that the PVC did not enjoy the confidence of the VC who had more confidence in the Registrar. Unfortunately, however, the administrative abilities and even the professional integrity of the Registrar left much to be desired.
Suffice it to say that the tenure of Mahmudabad in the formative phase of the institution does not merit an honourable mention and it is also no surprise to find a steady fall in enrollment, particularly among students from UP and Bihar who preferred institutions like the Universities at Allahabad and Lucknow and Colleges like St Johns (Agra) and Patna College etc.
Mahmudabad was succeeded by the officiating VC Nawab Muzammillullah Khan who held the fort from 1st March to 31st December 1923 and the status quo continued.
(ii)Sahebzada Aftab Ahmad Khan (1.1.1924 to 31.12.1926)
Aftab Ahmed Khan (1867-1930) was one of the earliest students of the School attached to the MAO College and later of the College itself. Though hailing from the Zamindar family of Kunjpura in Karnal District of the then Punjab, he chose to settle down in Aligarh as a legal practitioner after completing his education from Cambridge and being called to the bar in order to devote himself to ‘community causes’ through participation in the affairs of the College and Muslim Educational Conference. Though ostensibly a man of principles, he was (perhaps) inadvertently responsible for aggravating faction politics of Aligarh – his faction stood for keeping politics away from the campus and its main adherents were Shaikh Abdullah (founder of the Girls’ School and College), “Deputy” Habibullah and Zafar Umar etc. The main opposition faction was led by the Ali brothers; it stood for students and old boys taking a lead in fulfilling the political aspirations of the Muslim community.
With the fiasco of abolition of Khilafat, this faction had gone in a decline with ‘Aftab faction’ adopting a ‘we told you so’ attitude Vis a vis MAO old boys and other well wishers/ busy bodies of Aligarh. The new VC retained Dr Ziauddin as Pro-Vice Chancellor though their views on most of the important issues differed. Of course, Sajjad Haider continued as Registrar as he had consistently sided with Aftab Ahmed Khan in his disputes with the Ali Brothers on the platform of the Old Boys’ Association. The explanation in contemporary writings about the retention of Dr Ziauddin as the PVC under Aftab is that he was virtually the only Muslim academic of stature available for the post and that as, for their own reasons, both the VC and the PVC were interested in keeping Ali brothers at bay in the University Court they decided to call a truce. While holding the office of the VC, Aftab was appointed a member of the Advisory Council of the Secretary of State which required his presence in London from April to September 1924, and Dr Ziauddin officiated as Vice Chancellor during that period of absence.
The high event of the Sahebzada’s tenure was the celebration of the Golden Jubilee of the institution in 1925. The occasion saw a major congregation of the elite of the community. The event was regarded as having contributed to reducing the exodus of brighter students from Aligarh. Aftab Ahmed Khan did try to enforce systems and procedures in the University though fitfully – his distractions were both personal, for reasons of health, as also political and professional. Again, Aligarh historians can be seriously faulted for not taking into account the fact that the ‘Science College Project’ which was completed in 1930 by Ross Masud, and which ushered Aligarh in a short-lived age of excellence, was actually conceived and initiated by Aftab Ahmed Khan.
On the negative side, the rift between the VC and his second-in-command caused internal dissensions. This, and the continuing neglect of his duties by the Registrar, stymied the emergence of a ‘real’ University. Post Graduate teaching programmes remained a low priority and appointments to academic positions which fell within the domain of the PVC drew much criticism within the community and the English Press. It is interesting to note that under the original AMU Act the Pro VC was appointed by the Court on the recommendation of the VC for a period of three years irrespective of the tenure of the VC.
Thus when the tenure of Dr Ziauddin expired in February 1926, the VC recommended its extension for three years despite their differences- though why he did so remained obscure. While recommending extension of the tenure of the PVC, the VC supported the move in the Executive Council to appoint a ‘Fact Finding Committee’ under Shaikh Abdullah to go into allegations of violation of Statutes and Ordinances- it was an open secret that the move was directed against Dr Ziauddin. The report, as expected, found many instances of the PVC giving a go by to statutory provisions. While presenting ‘Abdullah report’ to the Court in June 1926 the Vice Chancellor supplemented its adverse findings by his own detailed supplementary note.
Based on the report buttressed by the note of the VC, the Chancellor of the University, Nawab Sultan Jahan Begum the female ruler of Bhopal, in consultation with the Viceroy, appointed an ‘independent Committee of Inquiry’ with Sir Ibrahim Rahimatoola, judge Bombay High Court as President. By then, the Sahibzda had completed his tenure on 31st December 1926. He initially sought re-election but, sensing the mood of the Court which was in favour of Nawab Muzammiluulah Khan, he withdrew thus paving the way for the Nawab’s election unopposed.
From the above brief account of the tenure of the Sahebzada it is fairly obvious that despite the Vice Chancellor’s stature, and reputation for probity and rectitude, there was little improvement in the way the affairs of the University were managed by or on behalf of the first Vice Chancellor even during the ‘Aftab era’. It is the unpleasant duty of the critical, unbiased observer to draw attention to the fact that in continuing as Pro-Vice Chancellor a person whom the Vice Chancellor considered to be irresponsible and worse, Aftab Ahmad Khan did not live up to his reputation of being ‘a person who would not compromise on principles’.
(iii) Nawab Muzammilullah Khan (1.1.1927 to 8.2.1929)
Continuance of Drift
Muzammilullah Khan (1865-1938) the Nawab of Bhikampur in Aligarh District, though without formal education, was literate in English and proficient in Urdu and Persian. He had been associated with the affairs of MAO College since 1886 when he was first inducted in the Board of Trustees. His unanimous election as Vice Chancellor was possible not so much on account of his personal popularity, but due to the support he garnered among the Zamindars and the group loyal to Dr Ziauddin (Francis Robinson in his Separatism -p 408 Indian Edition- aptly remarks about him; “In politics he was as much a Muslim as a Zamindar”). He entered office on 1st January, 1927 and remained in position till February 1929 when he had to resign at the instance of the Chancellor to pave the way for implementation of the recommendations of Rahimatoola Committee.
His tenure as VC was troublesome for no fault of his- the serious differences between his predecessor (Aftab Ahmed) and the PVC (Ziauddin) had major, adverse implications during his tenure as Muzammillullah had to face a hostile and divided Court. The note circulated by the former Vice Chancellor proved troublesome for the new VC provoking him to observe in the meeting of the Court on 17th March 1927;
“Nihayat Afsos Hai Keh Sabiq Vice Chancellor sahib ko poore teen saal ka mauqa afsaraan aur profeesaran-i- University ke kam kee jaanch karney ka diya gaya lekin mujhko teen maah ka mauqa bhee nahin diya jaata”. Roughly translated it reads- “It is most unfortunate that while the former Vice Chancellor was given three years to review the working of the officials and teachers of the University but I do not get even three months (for the purpose)”.
The exasperated Vice Chancellor had little time or opportunity to do much except to handle the Committee appointed by the Chancellor. His jeopardy was aggravated by the fact that his alter ego, the Pro Vice Chancellor, was known to be the main accused before that inquiry committee. We can safely surmise that when he resigned, he must have said ‘good riddance! or more likely in Urdu “Guloo khulasee huee”.
Rahimatoola Committee found many irregularities in the functioning of the University, particularly in the matter of appointment of under-qualified persons as teachers and held the Pro VC almost exclusively responsible for the lapses particularly in promoting factionalism in the Court and using students for the purpose. Though many of its findings were against the Registrar, it did not specifically name him. The Committee was also critical of Dr Ziauddin devoting time as a member of the Legislative Council to the detriment of his official responsibilities. Dr Ziauddin was made to resign in April 1928 and, in fact, for a short while he shifted to Itawa ostensibly keep away from Aligarh politics and to help Maulvi Bashiruddin the founder-administrator of Islamia High School in that city, to consolidate the institution.
It is beyond the scope of these ‘reflections’ to critically examine the recommendations of the Rahimatoola Committee. It will suffice to note that the Committee, while unearthing a whole host of irregularities, appeared to be too eager to heap all the blame on Dr Ziauddin. This was grossly unfair as the University Statutes cast a duty on the Registrar to ensure that the provisions of the Act, Statutes and Ordinances were adhered to.
There was no explicit fixing of responsibility on Sajjad Hyder. Similarly, while the first Vice Chancellor could be absolved of errors of omission and commission for want of requisite qualifications and being an ‘absentee head of the institution’, the Committee was being less than even-handed in not taking the Sahebzda to task as he, apart from having received formal education, was based permanently in Aligarh. It is particularly remarkable that the Aftab Ahmed Khan was not asked to explain how the tenure of the PVC was extended for another three years as late as February 1926, and all his short-comings detected only during the next few months. In sum, we can say that while the diagnosis of what ailed Aligarh may be correct- the malaise noticed in 1927 survives to this day- their conclusions as to accountability left much to be desired. We can further surmise that the unfair treatment by the Committee generated sympathy for Dr Ziauddin and, arguably, enabled him to stage a prolonged come-back a few years later.
One can only regard the period under Nawab Muzammilullah Khan as one of ‘drift’ though little blame can be laid at his door as his election was due to factors beyond his control and in the last ten months of his tenure he was deprived of the assistance of even an ‘educationist Pro Vice Chancellor’. He was succeeded by Shah Mohammed Sulaiman on officiating basis who initiated a number of measures to tone up the working of the University and for implementing the recommendations of the ‘Fact Finding Committee’.
(iv) Syed Ross Masud (20.10.1929 to 1.10.1934)
See also Syed Ross Masud
Syed Ross Masud (1889-1937), the grandson of Sir Syed, was elected Vice Chancellor under rather unusual circumstances when he was away in England- the Court elected him in April 1929 while he joined only on 20th October. The unusual circumstances were that, despite an impeccable pedigree, he was unacceptable to both the major factions in the Court. While he had an old rivalry with Dr Ziauddin dating back to 1918 when he was initially preferred for appointment as Principal MAO College over the claims of the much senior future opponent as successor to Towle- the balance finally tilted in favour of Dr Ziauddin, when the Board of Trustees felt that Masud’s financial demands were in excess of what the College could afford.
In actual fact, however, rejection of Masud had more to do with the unpopularity of Nawab Syed Mohammed Ali, the Secretary of the Board of Trustees who happened to be the grand-son of Sir Syed’s elder brother and was married to the daughter of Masud’s first cousin (the daughter of Syed Hamid, elder brother of his father Syed Mahmud). Thus despite being from the founder’s family, Masud was pipped to the post by Ziauddin. His unacceptability to the Aftab Ahmad Khan faction was for even more personal reasons; he was the son-in-law of the Sahebzada, and the marriage had ended in divorce by 1927 .
It is clear that Ross Masud was the bitter pill which the two major factions had to swallow on account of the support he received from the Chancellor Nawab Sultan Jahan Begum and the Nizam of Hyderabad, a major benefactor of the institution. The evidence recently collected by Prof Iftikhar Alam Khan also confirms our earlier guesswork that the Ali Brothers- who had ‘problems’ with both Aftab and Ziauddin factions of the Court played an active role in persuading Masud to accept the assignment. There are also indications that the Government, too, favoured Masud as he was considered to be the only eligible ‘Muslim alternative’ to Ziauddin, the man so recently identified as the ‘fall guy’ by the ‘independent Inquiry Committee’.
At any rate, Masud was not only the first real educationist to don the mantle of Vice Chancellor in Aligarh, he was among the first few academics to head a University anywhere in India. A member of the Indian Education Service, he had served as Professor in Ravenshaw College Cuttack and Osmania University and as Head Master of the Patna Collegiate School. At the time of his appointment in Aligarh, he was Secretary, Education Department of the Hyderabad State after a successful tenure as Director Public Instruction in that State. Any historical account of establishment of Osmania University will have to concede a place to Ross Masud among its founders. In short, Masud combined the then non-coexistent qualities of a teacher and educational administrator.
If MAO College was founded by Sir Syed, his grandson was, without doubt, the real founding father of AMU as a ‘teaching and residential University’ in the real sense of the term. Between 1920-29, AMU was no more than an Under Graduate College without affiliation with any University. It is a pity that his seminal contributions to the University at Aligarh have not been adequately brought out by the Aligarh historians. Within the confined space of these reflections, we can do no more than list out his salient achievements
He managed to complete the long pending task of finalizing the Statutes and Ordinances of the University within the first few months of his appointment with the help of A.C Woolmer who was brought as Adviser by Shah Sulaiman, the officiating VC who succeeded Nawab Muzammilullah.
--He recruited some of the finest available talent to academic positions to give a fillip to Postgraduate teaching and research particularly in the Sciences. Chief among them were: Samuel, the noted Physicist who had fled the pogrom of Jews in Germany and was recommended for the position by Einstein and C.V Raman, the Nobel laureate and the doyen of Molecular Spectroscopy, the then young Ragho Krishna Asundi; Hunter, R.D Desai and Salimuzzaman Siddiqui in Chemistry: Ibadur Rehman in Geography. Andre Weil and D.D Kosambi in Mathematics among many others.
--He obtained grants from the Government of Hyderabad and the Imperial Government for establishment of a ‘Science College’ – buildings currently housing Botany, Chemistry and Zoology Departments (the erstwhile Physical laboratory stands next to the present Physics Department), as already noted the project was conceived by his erstwhile father-in-law Sahebzada Aftab Ahmad Khan.
--According to the journal Current Science (1933) the Science College emerged as the best consolidated centre of Science Education in the country.
- Aligarh offered the first M.A programme in Geography in the Asian Continent.
- Researches carried out by Asundi (Physics) Siddiqui and Desai (Chemistry) and Sharif Khan, Qadri and M.A Basir (Zoology) at Aligarh were widely regarded as valuable addition to knowledge.
- For the first time, Aligarh students started qualifying in the ICS and IP examinations attesting to the high quality of Under Graduate education in the University. (It also had something to do with the introduction of ‘communal quota’ for Muslims. It must, however, be remembered that there was intense competition for limited seats within the ‘quota’).
- Standardized protocols were laid down for conduct of residential life in Halls of residence leading to considerable improvements in discipline.
- Teachers were encouraged to obtain PhD degree from the United Kingdom, and Universities in ‘the Continent’.
- Political leaders of various persuasions were regularly invited to speak on subjects of topical interest to broaden the horizons of the University community.
- The Vice Chancellor used his personal contacts for enhancement of recurring grants from the imperial and provincial governments and many Princely States, putting the University on a sound financial footing.
- Similarly, Ross Masud successfully managed to obtain ‘equivalence’ of Aligarh degrees with degrees of other Universities- the unprecedented provision of the AMU Act declaring Aligarh degrees to be at par with other Universities had hitherto been a dead letter. Similarly, the B.T degree of the University was approved for appointment under the various local governments.
- Female education received a fillip with the University undertaking the responsibility of conducting High School examination of the Girls’ School and by permitting girls to take University examinations.
- Lastly, the Vice Chancellor with his oratorical abilities and charming manners was much in demand in other academic institutions which contributed to Aligarh emerging as a respectable academic institution at par with the best in the country.
While Masud got enough recognition within the Muslim community and the larger society- Newspaper accounts, particularly in the English press were full of appreciation for his labours in Aligarh- he did not get adequate support within the Court of the University which was then its ‘supreme governing body’ in the real sense of the term. As already noted, there was little support to begin with; while his spectacular achievements left little room for open hostility, certain factors appear to have goaded his opponents to needle him. The first was the fear among the ‘insufficiently qualified’ academic staff of losing their jobs in the light of the recommendations of the inquiry committee. It may be noted that during the officiating Vice-Chancellorship of Sir Shah Sulaiman, a major purge of staff members had begun - the process was, however, not taken to its logical conclusion by the new Vice Chancellor.
While Ross Masud held out veiled threats, periodically, of purging the University of its under-qualified Teachers, he appears to have taken little cogent action in the matter- this did little to assuage the fears of the under-qualified whose jobs were on the line. The other factor was the composition of the Executive Council consisting of ten members, other than the VC, most of them, Teachers used to the environment of an affiliated Degree College. Many of these senior teachers were not votaries of achieving Oxbridge excellence. In any case, it is clear that a majority of senior teachers and members of the Court may be over-awed but were clearly not enamoured of the Vice Chancellor.
It is, again, unfortunate that historians of the University have not paid attention to the real factors leading to Masud calling it quits as Vice Chancellor; while the immediate provocations are well known and will be dealt with presently, a genuine academic issue seems to have brought the Vice Chancellor in direct and serious confrontation with the faction owing allegiance to Ziauddin. Dr Ziauddin in his numerous speeches in the Legislative Council of the United Provinces, and from 1930 in the Central Legislative Assembly had been urging that a country like India needed to lay greater emphasis on education in Applied Science and Technology rather than research and higher education in pure sciences – a position to which Ross Masud was not particularly sympathetic as he firmly believed that Aligarh should not lag behind in what we can now call the hey days of pure science in India.
The demand for initiating a Department of Technology was thus consistently raised by Dr Ziauddin to which the response of the Vice-Chancellor appeared to be one of ‘a little later’. In fairness to the VC, the Science College was just taking off and needed considerable investment, and when regard is had to the fact that India was badly hit by the ‘great depression’ ravaging most of the world one can quite appreciate his lukewarm attitude to technical education without first consolidating a centre of excellence in the ‘pure sciences’.
Be that as it may, a strategy appears to have been chalked out by the proponents of technical education to by-pass and embarrass the Vice Chancellor in the meeting of the Court on 15th April 1934, wherein a resolution was moved to appoint a Committee to examine the modalities of establishing a Department of Technology without associating the Vice Chancellor with it- the Resolution was carried. The same meeting also rejected the proposal of the Vice Chancellor to extend the term of deputation of the Registrar Mr. Fakhruddin Ahmed (who was an officer of the Education Department of the Bengal Government and was brought on deputation as successor of Sajjad Hyder). Ross Masood suspected, not without reason, that Dr. Ziauddin was interested in the ouster of the Registrar so that he could be succeeded by a trusted confidante (of Dr Ziauddin). Immediately on passage of the first and rejection of the second proposal the Vice Chancellor made the following brief observations;
“Gentlemen, I now place before you my resignation to come into force from the 1st of October or earlier whichever is convenient to you. It is no longer possible for me now to continue to have the great honour that I have for the last five years of serving the University founded by my own grand-father. By rejecting my proposal regarding the most vital question of appointment of the Registrar, the Honourable members of the court have for the second time denied me the right of selecting a person for work for which I am held responsible in spite of the fact that now with the abolition of the post of the PVC the responsibility on my shoulders gets doubled nor have I been thought fit by you gentlemen to be placed on a committee to which you have entrusted the important work of recommending establishment of a Department of Technology in spite of the fact that you have placed on it the member of staff of another University.”
Except token efforts, not much initiative was taken by most of the members of the Court to persuade the Vice Chancellor to reconsider his decision. In fact, the VC appears to have been left with few supporters (like Shaikh Abdullah, “Deputy” Habibullah and Dr. Zakir Husain). Pursuit of quality through induction of faculty without consideration of factors like community of the person selected, promotion of research and inculcation of a sense of discipline among teachers and students were obviously the ‘short-comings’ which even the VC’s being the grandson of Sir Syed could not wipe out! In the absence of a much more in depth examination of contemporary sources and the relevant documents, it would be difficult to be certain if there were factors other than uneasiness of somewhat ‘un-academic academics’ and the run of the mill general body of the Court which accounted for lack of appreciation of a brilliant personality, It is nevertheless clear that Masud was uncomfortable with the ‘Aligarh crowd’ and vice versa possibly due to his long stay in England from the impressionable age fifteen to twenty two years or for being the grandson of an icon and son of an emotionally unstable (alcoholic?) legal genius who drove all the MAO Trustees to madness.
If history can offer lessons, than those seeking to improve Aligarh would do well to understand the career of its most distinguished Vice Chancellor to date, and why Ross Masood could not leave any enduring legacy for the institution – though why the legacy of Dr Ziauddin, and indeed, why his name has outshone that of Ross Masood raises certain issues of fundamental importance which will be briefly touched upon in the next section.
(v) Dr Ziauddin Ahmad (13.4.1935 to 29.4.1938 and 24.4.1941 to 23.4.1947)
The Benefactor- Spoiler (?)
This brings to the tenure of a most enigmatic, versatile and yet problematic Vice Chancellor whose life and times defy neat classifications and definitive conclusions. Ziauddin Ahmad (1878-1947 ) had a brilliant academic career at Aligarh and reputedly preferred the job of a Junior Lecturer (immediately after passing B.A in 1897) at MAO College, to that of a Deputy Collector. While a teacher, he continued his education, obtaining M.A degrees of Calcutta and Allahabad Universities and also a D.Sc from the latter in 1901. Later that year, he went to Europe for higher studies with a scholarship from the UP Government and supplementary financial assistance from the Agha Khan. He passed the Natural Science tripos from Trinity College Cambridge in the First Division, and later obtained a PhD from Goetingen University in Germany in Astronomy in 1906.
In 1904 he was the first Indian to receive the coveted Isaac Newton Medal and he was elected a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and the London Mathematical Society. He spent some time at Bologna in Italy doing further research in Astronomy. He retuned to India in 1907 after spending a few months at the Al Azhar University in Cairo to study the academic methodology of one of the oldest institutions of Islamic learning.
He was appointed Professor of Mathematics at MAO College and later (1918) became its Principal for which Ross Masud was considered a hot contender . His interests appear to have diversified around 1915 to public affairs (general condition of economy and the representation of Muslims in Government services etc) and technical and vocational education. In 1924 he was elected to the UP legislative Assembly from the Muslim Constituency of “Mainpuri, Etah and Farrukhabad”- from then onwards, he continued to be member of either the provincial or the central legislatures except for brief interludes or when these bodies were dissolved. It was possibly this ‘distancing’ from research and increasing proximity to public affairs more than the desire to control Aligarh that led him to resort to political methods in ‘Aligarh affairs’. To understand his method of operation in Aligarh, it will be rewarding to briefly recapitulate the manner in which he was elected / reelected Vice Chancellor in 1935, 1941 and 1944 and why he was not elected in 1938.
1935: First Election
First Election in 1935: when Ross Masud resigned in April 1934, the Court decided to appoint Nawab Mohammed Ismail Khan, then the Honorary Treasurer as officiating Vice Chancellor. There was a general feeling in the Press that he will be elected unopposed in the next meeting particularly as the Chancellor, Nawab Hamidullah Khan, the Ruler of Bhopal had made an appeal to that effect. It, however, appears that in view of the leading role played by Nawab Ismail in the Khilafat movement, the Government was rather apprehensive about a person of his political background heading a sensitive and politically important institution. At any rate, from contemporary Press reports it is clear that Sir Fazl-i-Husain a member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council used his personal influence with the members of the Court to persuade them to accept Dr Ziauddin as their candidate.
Around the same time rumours were spread that the Nawab was a ‘closet Congressman’ – a canard considering that Nawab Ismail was to play a leading role in the Pakistan movement. In the event, an election did take place and Dr Ziauddin managed to secure more votes than the officiating VC. An off-shoot of this episode was the resignation of the Chancellor who, in a communication to the Nawab of Chhatari, (who was trying to persuade the Chancellor to withdraw his resignation) mentioned that he found it totally unacceptable that someone who was found by an independent committee to be unfit to hold the position of the Pro Vice Chancellor should be found fit to be its Vice Chancellor. The resignation of the Chancellor became something of a cause celebre and was subject of considerable public interest and was covered for a long period by the Press particularly by The Hindustan Times. While there is hardly any direct incriminating evidence against Dr Ziauddin of personally using ‘underhand means’, there is little doubt that he acquiesced in the campaign to malign and spread disinformation about a public figure with a rare reputation for absolute integrity by friends and foes alike.
1938: An Unsuccessful Attempt
The Unsuccessful Attempt of 1938; there were widespread allegations against the Vice Chancellor of making attempts to ‘pack’ the Court with his supporters from various ‘feeding zones’ so that he could obtain majority votes and be reelected. This time round, however, he was categorically advised by Mr. Jinnah to withdraw in favour of Sir Shah Mohammed Sulaiman, then a judge of the newly established Federal Court. It was widely believed that Mr. Jinnah had decided not to back Dr Ziauddin on account of fervent pleas of some leading members of the Muslim League; while the motive for the action of Mr. Jinnah is difficult to verify, it is a known fact that soon thereafter Dr. Ziauddin joined the Muslim League party in the central legislative Assembly.
The Election of 1941
Election of 1941 ; It was the election of 1941 which raises serious doubts about the modus operandi of Dr Ziauddin. This time Mr. Jinnah had publicly announced his ‘neutrality’ in the election and a powerful section of the Court backed by the Chancellor, the Nizam of Hyderabad, persuaded Sir Abdul Qadir a former Judge of the Lahore High Court and member of the Secretary of States’ Advisory Council (also a close friend of the poet Iqbal) to be a candidate for the post. As Dr Ziauddin was reluctant to withdraw from the fray, certain leading members of the Court, notably, Sir Akbar Hydri and Sir Mohammed Yaqub met in Hyderabad and sent telegrams to both the candidates urging them to postpone the election till October that year (this was in April 1941 hardly a month after the death of Sir Sulaiman). Sir Abdul Qadir agreed to the suggestion under the impression that Dr Ziauddin, too, was agreeable to it and advised his supporters in the Court that the matter of appointment of Vice Chancellor will be adjourned. In the event, Dr Ziauddin’s group did not agree to the move for adjournment; ugly scenes followed wherein Mr. Abdul Jabbar Kheiri, an ardent Ziauddin supporter, was ‘persuaded to leave the meeting hall for his unseemly remarks’ (the remarks were evidently directed against the Nizam of Hyderabad). After a walkout by those demanding adjournment, Dr Ziauddin was declared elected unopposed. Irrespective of motives and intentions of Dr Ziauddin, it is clear that he was not above substandard politicking when it came to achieving ends which in his opinion were desirable. Soon thereafter, the newly elected Vice Chancellor led a delegation of his group in the Court to wait on the Nizam to let bygones be bygones.
The Re-election of 1944
Reelection of 1944; unlike the earlier election Dr Ziauddin was the ‘official’ Muslim League nominee. Press Reports and the Court proceedings do not indicate any remarkable occurrence with regard to the event wherein the Vice Chancellor was reelected unopposed. Ever, the pragmatist, after the elections of 1947 he realized that irrespective of the permutations or combinations of political alliances, in the event of acceptance of the demand for Pakistan, Aligarh and most of North India will remain part of the ‘mother country’. This led to an abatement of ardour for the Muslim League which had by then consolidated its hold over the students’ community in Aligarh (and elsewhere among Muslim students). Muslim League, too, nominated one of its ‘committed bureaucrast’ Mr. Zahid Husain to be its nominee for appointment as the next Vice Chancellor.
Dr Ziauddin was confined to his office by certain hooligan elements among students demanding his resignation – he obliged them willingly and soon left on tour of the US to study the state of technical education in that country. He developed many ideas for promotion of vocational and technical education and urged Indian Muslim students in the US and UK to go back to India (and not Pakistan) and seek self employment to help the common Indian Muslims in the changed circumstances. While on his way back to India, he succumbed to a cerebral stroke in London on 23rd December 1947, and was buried in Aligarh in January 1948. In one of the many ironies of Aligarh, the student community of Aligarh virtually rioted when the University authorities refused to allow his burial next to Sir Syed – he was interred at the desired spot when the powers that be realised the futility of any counteraction. We may now briefly capture the salient points- good and bad- spanning the entire career of Ziauddin the Vice Chancellor. His positive contributions may be summarized as under;
- Looking ceaselessly for opportunities for growth of the University. Thus his establishment, first of a Department of Technology (1935) and later the Engineering College (1942) were in response to opportunities offered by certain schemes of the Government and the demand for technicians and Engineer by the World War- it is doubtful if any other Indian University could capitalize so quickly on such opportunities.
- Using his access to forums like the imperial legislature and organisations like the Railway Board and the Directorate of Supplies and Disposals etc he could promote faculty members (particularly, those towards whom he was well disposed!) to be inducted in positions of responsibility and prestige. For instance the election of Dr. Mohammed Ishaq (Physics) and Dr Mohammed Shareef Khan (Zoology) to the Fellowship of the National Institute of Science(since rechristened the Indian National Science Academy) at exceptionally young ages were, for instance, the result of his networking abilities.
- Similarly, through his contacts and enterprising skills, he could mobilize significant funds and procure stores for a Medical College, though the project could not materialize owing to the upheavals preceding and immediately following independence / partition of the country.
- Again, his contacts came in handy for getting Government scholarships for teachers, who had long crossed the prescribed age limit, for obtaining higher qualifications abroad. M.A.H Qadri (Zoology- Cambridge), M.A Basir (Zoology- McGill), Abid Ahmad Ali (Arabic- London) M.Ishaq, R.M Chaudhri and I.H Usmani (All Physics- Imperial College) were some such beneficiaries. Thus in one of the meetings of the Central Advisory Board of Education the eminent scientist Birbal Sahni bitterly complained that Government of India’s research scholarships were evidently meant for brilliant young students of Presidency Towns (Calcutta, Bombay and Madras) and older teachers of Aligarh!
- Yet again, there were envious references in the Board of Inter University Education for India and Ceylon, that for appointments in Railways, Indian Council of Agriculture Research, Meteorology Department and Provincial Governments where recommendations of Public Service Commission were not required, Aligarh boys were getting in through the backdoor thanks to the extraordinary contacts of its Vice Chancellor.
Even the most sympathetic writer would, however, be hard put to reduce the ‘debit side’ of Dr Ziauddin to balance ‘assets and liabilities’. On the debit side the entries will far outweigh the positive features. Some of the more glaring of these were;
- A virtual witch-hunt and expulsion of the brilliant people brought by Ross Masud. R.K Asundi, R,D Desai and D.D Kosambi were told that they could not continue as they were working on ‘surplus posts’! All the three were left in the lurch and had to fend for themselves for some time before finding their niches in various institutions where they gained positions of prime eminence in their respective disciplines. Similarly, Dr Ibadur Rehman Khan, Professor of Geography was sent back to his parent Education Department in the UP Government evidently on the instigation of a younger teacher who later gained considerable notoriety.
- Standards of research were ironically maintained in Departments like Zoology where the head, Prof M.B Mirza, a known supporter of the League was not exactly a crony of the Vice Chancellor.
- Transparency and fair play in selections to teaching and other posts were at a discount an extreme case was the selection of the younger brother of the son-in-law of the Vice Chancellor as Lecturer in Agriculture on the recommendation of a Selection Committee where the father of the successful candidate was an expert! Similarly, there were instances where the Vice Chancellor extended a personal loan to the University and realised interest on this amount. Likewise, the Vice Chancellor charged rent for a building loaned to the University to be used as ‘VC’s Bungalow Office!
- Perhaps, the greatest disservice to the University by the Vice Chancellor was to have allowed elements from outside the University to use students and faculty members for political purposes. For a while, the Vice Chancellor was known to be almost actively involved with quasi fascist Khaksar movement and allowed Dr Rafiq Ahmad Khan, Head Department of Botany to be associated with the movement as its ‘second-in-command’ for UP. He also extended many questionable benefits to the ultra conservative Abdul Jabbar Khairi (including appointing his nephew, Ahmad Wahab Kheiri as Dirctor Publicity against a non existent post and without calling for applications or holding a Selection Committee) after Khairi started needling the Vice Chancellor for his alleged sympathies for the Qadianis.
Similarly, once he realised that the Muslim League had become a force to reckon with on the campus, he not only joined the ‘League group’ in the Central Legislative Assembly, but also allowed a University Branch of the League, distinct from its Aligarh City branch, to be operated with University teachers (Dr Syed Moinul Haque of the Deprtment of History, Dr Afzal Husain Qadri of the Department of Zoology and Mr. Mohammed Siddiq Ansari of the Botany Department were its important office bearers). As already noted, the Vice Chancellor started to distance himself from the League once he realised that AMU will not benefit from its association with this party.
It is not as if the Vice Chancellor was dishonest- an overall objective view of his tenure suggests an entrepreneurial, as opposed to an academic bent of mind. His life amply brings out the fact that a focused academic could be an equally focused ‘performer’ once he decides to reorient his bearings. As we shall presently notice, his main agenda was political and economic advancement of Muslims of the country, and like many personalities with similar agenda, means were to be justified with reference to the desirability of the intended goals.
Dr Ziauddin vis-à-vis Ross Masud
Comparisons may be odious, but it may be necessary to briefly contrast Dr Ziauddin with Sir Ross Masud. Their personalities and value systems were obviously different which resulted in their visions of the institution to diverge sharply. While to Ross Masud quality of instructions and research were in themselves essential goals for the University, for his successor these attributes, if not altogether irrelevant, were subsidiary to the institution serving as the tool of economic and political well being of the Muslims of India. Without taking sides and passing judgments, it can be pointed out that the seeming divergence was more with reference to the time frame within which the University could promote the well being of the community.
The issue may be viewed as one of promoting a merit based Muslim elite (the Ross Masood model) to a different paradigm (the ‘Ziauddin Model’) which envisaged emergence of highly skilled manpower which could reap the benefits that an emerging democratic polity will have to dole out to accommodate various segments of a composite society. Arguably, with a separate ‘Muslim homeland’ becoming ever more ‘feasible’, the few qualms which the former Newton prize holder may have had about deriving too radical a wedge between ‘masses’ and ‘classes’ approaches had surely disappeared.
Lastly, the issue of why Ziauddin’s name continues to be known much more widely (on both sides of the ‘partitioned divide’) than that of Ross Masood needs to be addressed. We can safely say that this has nothing to do with how good or bad the two were as Vice Chancellors of the Aligarh Muslim University. The legacy of Ziauddin that lives on is on account of his contribution in facilitating emergence of a Muslim middle class which derived its sustenance from ‘unconventional occupations’ i.e. employment or self employments from professions and trades with which Muslim elite and plebeians, alike, were hitherto unfamiliar.
In his seventeen years of membership of the Central legislative Assembly, Ziauddin more than anyone from any community, managed to create ‘community specific constituencies’ in various Government Organisations like the Railways, the Port Trusts, the Public Works Departments, the Ordnance Factories etc. Such ‘constituency creation’was through systematic and sustained interest in the affairs of the organisation- interest that was essentially ‘secular’ and pertained issues like budget, efficiency, redressal of grievances and future expansion plans. Through questions, call attention motions, piloting private legislations and ‘interventions’ in budget discussions he developed insights in many government organizations and emerged as a person to be at the same time admired and feared by the bosses.
This put him in a vantage position in pursuing and promoting Muslim sectarian interests benefiting officers, employees, suppliers and the Muslim clients of the ‘targeted’ organizations. With his tremendous capacity for hard work, his systematic approach to collect facts and data and, perhaps most important, his detachment with conventional party politics he could make an impact unimaginable for a ‘native’ legislator of a country under imperial control and with very limited ‘local’ devolution. It is thus not surprising if many of the posthumous tributes paid to him in Urdu and English Press of the nascent Pakistan were from government employees, one of them making bold to say that most of the ‘Muslim promotions’ in the non gazetted establishment of the Railways, Post & Telegraph, Military Accounts and Audit Departments in the 1940s were due to the efforts of Dr Ziauddin- a blatant exaggeration but perceptions often supercede reality.
In sum, Dr Ziauddin was a father figure for a whole generation of an ‘atypical Muslim middle class’ which thrived and prospered particularly in Pakistan and which was not wanting in gratitude. Ross Masud catered to no such constituency and was singularly unsuccessful in creating a solid intellectual phalanx among Muslims- the Court dominated by Zamindars and small time lawyers had no mood to allow him that liberty!
(VI) Sir Shah Mohammed Sulaiman (30th April 1938 to 13th March 1941)
The Non Playing (Neutral) Captain
Sir Shah Mohammed Sulaiman (1886-1941) was an unusual person. Equally at home with law and Applied Mathematics, he was the author of a number of original scientific papers (on relativity and related topics) and judgments and was the first Muslim to be elected Fellow of the National Science Institute- now the Indian National Science Academy. He first officiated as Vice Chancellor in 1928-29 after Nawab Muzammillulah Khan was asked to resign by the Chancellor to pave the way to implement the recommendations of the Rahimatoola Committee. He made considerable initial progress in getting suitable Statutes and Ordinances framed for the University.
Apart from his erudition and equable temperament what made him acceptable to all factions of the Court at all times was his neutrality- possibly because he was not an ‘Aligarh Old Boy’ (He was the product of Allahabad and Cambridge Universities). As already noted, he was elected Vice Chancellor as a compromise candidate with the blessings of Mr. Jinnah. His tenure was uneventful in that he tried to enlist support of all factions of the Court and refrained, to the extent possible, to avoid controversies. He discharged the duties of the Vice Chancellor while sitting as Judge of the Federal Court of India. This necessitated his regular commuting between Delhi and Aligarh twice a week for which he did not draw any traveling allowance from the University.
Sir Sulaiman was often criticized for not doing enough to ‘contain the menace of communism’. It appears that with the growing popularity of the ‘progressive writers’ movement’ there was considerable interest among the ‘literary types’ for Marxism. In some of the meetings of the Court the Vice Chancellor was urged by ultra conservatives like Jabbar Khairi to do something to ‘contain the menace’- the Vice Chancellor does not seem to have obliged such elements. He did take considerable interest in upgrading the Girls’ Intermediate College to that of a Degree College.
He had also initially taken some interest in guiding research in Physics and Mathematics but the interest did not survive beyond 1938. It will be interesting if some scholar studying the intra-party affairs of the Muslim League delves into the archives of the party (do they exist though?) to find what the ‘leaguers’ thought of Sulaiman. To the extent, by the late 1930s the League was interested in establishing a visible presence at Aligarh, the party must be disappointed in their nominee for not doing much in the matter. By all indications the Vice Chancellor maintained a sedate detachment expected of a sitting judge.
From a reading ‘between the lines’ of ‘Aligarh centric’ magazines like “Sarguzisht” and “Tehreek” it can be seen that while there was no hostility to the Vice Chancellor, he did not command much love and affection either. As his obituary in the “Current Science” noted he was keenly looking forward to completing his tenure as VC to be able ‘to do serious science’. His death was sudden and untimely at the age of fifty five. It was widely believed that he will soon succeed Sir Maurice Gwyr as Chief Justice of the Federal Court- Sir Maurice was the Vice Chancellor of Delhi University, and if that had happened Sir Sulaiman would have been the first Chief Justice of independent India.
In sum, we can say that the ‘regular Vice Chancellorship’ of Shah Sulaiman was uneventful as the fractious Court took it to be an interlude where the factions were keeping their powder dry for battles to be waged in future. Clearly, the Vice Chancellor while refraining from politicking had not lived up to the promise he had shown in 1928-29.
(VII) Zahid Husain (24.4.1947 to 7.8.1947)
The Bird of Passage
The tenure of Zahid Husain (1896-1973?) could have been dealt with in a few lines, but as his ‘interface’ with Aligarh provides some insights and explanations about certain persistent failings and problems of the institution, he will be dealt with in somewhat greater detail. Zahid rose from the ranks of the Indian Audit Department to occupy the highest position that the organization could then offer- Financial Commissioner of the Indian Railways. In between Zahid served on deputation as Finance Secretary of the Hyderabad State. Zahid had often served as Member of the Court, the Finance Committee and the Executive Council of the University as unofficial nominee of the Muslim League group. One of the smaller mysteries of the history of the AMU is that Zahid Husain along with Ghulam Mohammed (later to be the Governor General of Pakistan) and Chaudhri Khaliquzzaman (the senior Muslim League leader) resigned their membership of the Executive Council without giving any reasons but their obvious League links and the known proximity to Mr. Jinnah tends to suggest that Dr Ziauddin had incurred the displeasure of the man who had by then become his “Qaid-i- Azam”. It is hoped that at least now some historian will look into the contemporary record to clear this slight enigma.
In any case, Zahid Husain, along with his fellow Auditor, Mohammed Shoeb, and his colleagues from the sister organization the Military Accounts Departments like Ghulam Mohammed and Chaudhri Mohammed Ali were the instruments of Muslim League in the run up to the formation of Pakistan. It is no accident that on the formation of the new country, two out of four went on to be heads of State / Government ( Ghulam Mohammed and Chaudhri Mohammed Ali); one, (Shoeb) became Finance Minister and Vice President of the World Bank while the ‘fourth horseman’ (Zahid) was initially the first High Commissioner of Pakistan in India and later the founder- Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan.
Our subject does not admit of further reflections in the matter; we will be content to mention that when a country- and a new born country at that- is governed by a bunch of Government Accountants, its very survival could be reasonably attributed to divine intervention! More to the point of our ‘reflections’ is the realization that the charter of governance of the institution provided ample opportunity for political parties to play a decisive role in its affairs with relative ease and ostensible validity. As for Zahid, the Vice Chancellor, a few sentences will suffice. He was elected unanimously after Dr Ziauddin realized that it was Zahid who was the choice of his ‘Leader’. His tenure was all too brief inasmuch as even out of 106 days in office more than half were accounted for by the summer vacations. Aligarh’s dalliance with the Muslim League reached farcical proportions when its Vice Chancellor was named on 6th August, to become the High Commissioner of a yet to born country in his own country with effect from 14th August 1947! Zahid Husain had the good grace to spare a week’s embarrassment to the University by resigning on 7th August. This episode has been glossed over by Aligarh scholars ostensibly for the issue being too ‘delicate’ but by not squarely facing facts they have created myths which serve the University and Indian Muslims poorly. Zahid owned some land in Dodhpur at Aligarh; he managed to donate it to the University before it could be declared ‘evacuee property’. At present ‘Duplex quarters’ for University teachers stand on this plot.
(vii) Nawab Ismail Khan (17.10.1947 to 30,11.48)
An Unexplained Exit.
Nawab Mohammed Ismail Khan (1884-1958) was educated in MAO College and later at Cambridge. A scion of the Jahangirabad family his grandfather Nawab Mustafa Khan “Shefta” was a well known poet who is even more well known as a close friend-patron of Ghalib. Nawab Ismail’s father Nawab Ishaq Khan, a retired Judge, had succeeded Nawab Viqarul Mulk as Secretary Board of Trustees of the MAO College. Ismail Khan had a brief stint as a Barrister in Meerut before he became involved with the agitation against the internment of Annie Basent (1917) and thereafter with anti Rowlatt, Khilafat and Shuddhi movements before becoming a leading light of the Muslim League.
All through his political career he retained the image of a scrupulously honest and principled politician – a trait that he retained in his long association with the University as a member of its Court, Executive Council, and Honorary Treasurer. Ismail held the officiating charge of Vice Chancellor following the resignation of Ross Masud and lost the race for the post to Dr Ziauddin in what many regarded as a rigged election. Among all the leading Muslim League leaders of North India he was the only one who chose not to migrate till his last breath.
Nawab Ismail was the obvious choice after the sudden and embarrassing exit of Zahid Husain- the choice was obvious not only because he always had the unstinted support of Dr Zakir Husain in the University Court and Executive Council against expediency oriented policies of Dr Ziauddin but he also enjoyed very cordial relations with the Education Minister Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and of the Prime Minister himself . The period under the leadership of Ismail Khan was arguably one of utmost crisis and uncertainty. With some substance (or irrationally?), there was a feeling among a sizable section of educated Muslims that the University may be ‘dissolved’ or at least converted into a ‘non Muslim’ institution.
It rebounds to the credit of the Nawab that he managed to retain a semblance of ‘business as usual’ atmosphere under highly stressful circumstances. Our narration of his tenure must come to a sudden close as the Nawab, literally one fine November 1948 morning, announced his resignation. No historian of the University or of even contemporary public affairs, has so far inquired into the causes that led to his sudden and unexplained resignation even though it constitutes an enigma of some importance to understand ‘Indian Muslim affairs’ in the immediate aftermath of independence. Indeed, the little inquiries that this writer could make tend merely to confirm the impression that the causes are shrouded in mystery which remains to be unraveled. A variety of explanations may be possible- or appear plausible- but each has problems of its own. In the absence of detailed inquiries one can do no better than mention them and note their limitations .
(i) Ismail Khan was keeping the seat warm for Dr Zakir Husain, his old colleague in many campaigns against Dr Ziauddin. This is a plausible explanation except that while secrecy about such a plan was quite understandable, there was no need for either of the parties to continue doing so for the rest of their lives. People like Hakim Saifuddin who remained in touch with Nawab Ismail till the very end maintain that he was very ambiguous on the subject.
(ii) While Nawab Ismail was quite comfortable with Maulana Azad and Pandit Nehru, this was not true of other senior members of the political executive, including those at the helm of affairs at the provincial level. According to this line of reasoning, the Nawab being a leading light of the Muslim League was considered an inappropriate leader of an institution that was about to be converted from an essentially non government enterprise to a largely government funded autonomous body. Again, we really do not know. Possibly, we may know a little more of this ‘theory’ after the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Intelligence Bureau finally decide to share post-independence records with scholars.
(iii) An obscure but interesting printed, (yet unpublished) pamphlet, Attitudes and Trends in the MAO College and the Muslim University 1909 to 1963 penned by a retired Professor of the University Prof Hameed-id-Deen Khan came to light recently through the kind courtesy of Prof Theodore Wright Jr. an American scholar. Professor Khan who was a senior academic in the 1940s mentions that he was asked to convey to some of his ‘shikar companions’, who happened to be University teachers hailing from areas that, post independence, formed part of Pakistan, to migrate to ‘their country’. The episode relates to the period soon after the arrival of Dr Zakir Hussain. Prof. Khan obliquely hints that Nawab Ismail was ousted for his refusal to get rid of such unwanted people. The probative value of this surmise chiefly lies in the fact that the author of the pamphlet was considered to be a man of extraordinary integrity and known to be wedded to the cause of unvarnished truth. On the contrary, it is a matter of record that at least two teachers belonging to the ‘offending category’, namely Prof. Shaikh Abur Rashid (History) and Prof Mohameed Shafi (Commerce) migrated to Pakistan only after retiring from service. Moreover, for obvious reasons most of the teachers belonging to that group – including those belonging to East Panjab from where Muslims had migrated en masse- had already left for Pakistan by the time the University closed for the summer vacations in Aril/May 1948.
The present writer would venture to surmise that Prof. Khan was referring to the case of Prof Rafiq Ahmad Khan of the Botany Department (hailing from Patiala State, which was part of India but like rest of the Eastern districts of Punjab, was denuded of its Muslim inhabitants as a result of ‘partition riots’) who had stayed on and who was in the fore-front of the Khaksar movement in UP in the pre-independence days. After deciding to stay on, Dr Khan resigned and left for Pakistan in 1950, ‘under pressure of authorities’ according to his family lore .
(iv)Yet another explanation offered by certain sections of ‘retired Meerut Muslim gentry’ is that Nawab Ismail fell foul of Maulana Azad for some inexplicable reason. All we can say that there is not a jot of empirical evidence to support this conjecture. (v) Lastly, there is the usual ultra-rightist closet ‘communal Muslim’ explanation, aired in privacy of ‘trusted listeners’ holding Zakir Husain as an amoral being burning with a brazen unmitigated ambition. Surely, Dr Zakir Husain was astute enough to wait for another twenty two months- the tenure of Vice Chancellor was three years before 1951 amendment.
The present writer may be accused of encumbering this presentation with the somewhat unrelated details of various theories leading to the departure of one of the Vice Chancellors; this has been done to draw attention of professional historians to a riddle which needs to be solved not merely to satisfy the idle curiosity of a few ‘odd balls’, but, it is strongly urged that the issue has a bearing on the life of Muslims in the immediate aftermath of independence-partition and thus holds some lessons for future.
(vii) Zakir Hussain (1.12.1948 to 15.9.1956)
The Return of the ‘Native’
For obvious reasons we will skip even minimal biographic details of Zakir Husain (1897-1969) except pointing out some facts from his career which are of direct relevance in appreciating his ties with Aligarh. He was the Vice President of the MAO College Students’ Union in 1918-19 (then the highest elected office with Principal as ex officio President). When in October 1920, the Khilafat movement was brought in its full fury to Aligarh by Gandhiji, Ali Brothers and others, and the management of the MAO College refused to severe its links with the government to hand it over to the ‘ummah’ it was decided that a break-away “National Muslim University” or Jamia Millia Islamia be established at a stone’s throw from the present Sulaiman Hall.
The ‘seceding students’ were led by Dr. Zakir Husain and his successor, Syed Nurullah. This snapping of links with the AMU lasted for only six years. This ‘separation’ lasted only till his election to the Court in December 1926 as one of the nine representatives from the seats reserved for “Islamia Colleges”; from then till he became the Vice Chancellor he remained a member of the Court and a member of the Executive Council from 1933 onwards (with a small gap in 1942 when he resigned following differences with Dr Ziauddin). It is the highlighted facts which have been most unfortunately – and inexcusably- missed by his many biographers and University historians alike resulting in an incomplete appreciation of some of the fundamental institutional shortcomings which have vitiated the University over the years.
It is beyond the remit of the present enterprise to study in detail his contributions to the administration and politics of the University; suffice it to say that during the entire period of his association with the University even before he became its VC, he was the prime mover or opponent of almost all major policy initiatives. His induction in the Court was with the support of Aftab Ahmad Khan, and he appears to have retained that loyalty during the life time of the leader despite his proximity with Ali brothers. He emerged as the champion of Ross Masud and after the assumption of office by Dr Ziauddin he and Nawab Ismail were the main opponent of the ‘ruler of the University’.
The long association of a so called ‘nationalist Muslim’ with a ‘leaguer’ often surprises even the informed cognoscenti; this surprise turns to amazement when it is noted that as late as November 1946, this ‘nationalist’ had managed to gather Jinnah, Nehru, Azad and Liaqat Ali at the same platform when the silver jubilee celebrations of the Jamia were held. While these developments require much deeper investigation, this writer ventures to speculate that the secret behind such wide acceptability across the political spectrum was his proximity with Gandhiji and strategic alliances with the Muslim League notables in the Court and the Executive Council of the Aligarh Muslim University. Clearly, in Zakir Huasin, Ziauddin had met his match and it is possible that the VC’s formal joining of the League in the late 1930s was with the intention not only of buying peace with the ‘Q[u]aid’ but also to check-mate a redoubtable opponent.
1. We need not speculate on the factors leading to his appointment as this has already been done in inordinate detail in the context of the resignation of his successor. We need only note that this Vice Chancellor knew the institution like the back of his hand in many ways a native was returning home. He obviously had his assessment of what needed to be done and in that enterprise he was not only armed with more than two decades’ association with the University’s decision-making bodies, he also had the experience of almost the same duration- his election to court and appointment as Shaikh al Jamia on his return from Germany had taken place almost simultaneously- in building up an educational institution not only from scratch but in very adverse circumstances.
Like we did in case of Ross Masud and Ziauddin, we will note his achievements and shortcomings in ‘bullets’. First, his ‘contributions’:
- ‘Mainstreaming’ the University back within the edifice of higher education in the country. This was achieved through
- Bringing eminent people to man senior faculty positions.
- Virtually forcing younger teachers to go abroad to obtain higher qualifications.
- Special emphasis on Under Graduate education.
- Upgradation of Engineering College
- Making special efforts to attract bright students
- Providing a high profile to research through innovations
- Systematic development of co-curricular activities to canalize the energies of the more talented students in creative, non political pursuits; this was, in particular, needed in an institution where a significant section of Students and teachers was caught in the vortex of a separatist political movement.
- Bringing the charter of governance to suit the changed circumstances through amendments in the University Act and Statutes.
- Changing the paradigm of financial management by ensuring stable and adequate budgetary support.
- Securing a more balanced and less politicized Court through his wide contacts - this task was facilitated by demoralization of the usual mischief mongers most of whom were also involved with the Muslim League.
- His most important asset was his ability to be accessible to and supportive of the academic community- no less could be expected of a person who had devoted his whole life to academic institution building.
- While the criticism that he did not take adequate interest in furthering the Medical College project as it was essentially a labour of love for Dr Ziauddin may have a ring of truth about it, he must be legitimately credited with an outstanding institutional innovation – the formation of the AMU Institute of Ophthalmology by associating University with a private Eye Hospital. It was the first of its kind experiment.; its duplication all over Asia attests to the vision of Zakir Husain.
- He gave a shot in the arm to female education by liberalizing admission of women to post graduate courses and taking a keen interest in the upgradation of the Girls’ College- after all, Shaikh Abdullah, the founder of the College was a comrade-in-arms in the Aftab Ahmed faction!
- He heeded the warnings of Geologists about the southeastward march of the Thar desert and took unusually energetic steps for ‘greening’ the campus – here we see an ecologically precocious Vice Chancellor. In fact, braving heavy odds, he employed a foreign national, P.H Hager – a German ex prisoner of war at that!- as a Gardening Superintendent.
- Lastly, his involvement with Gandhian educational initiatives like the ‘buniyadi taleem’ and the ‘Wardha scheme’ and his being counted among the leading nationalist Muslims was itself a major asset for the University in the political situation of late 1940s and earlier 1950s in Aligarh.
On the ‘down side’ we may note the following;
- Arguably, due to the imperatives of the ‘immediate aftermath of the formation of Pakistan’ his emphasis was more on general improvement instead of laying down a rigorous academic agenda as was the case during the tenure of Ross Masud and as was tried by the likes of Asutosh Mookerji earlier (in Calcutta) or subsequently by K.N Raj (Delhi). The net outcome was that Aligarh could not regain overall level excellence in Post Graduate education and research as was seen briefly in the ‘Science College’ during the 1930s.
- With his long association with the opposition in the Court and the Executive Council, he not only knew the old faces of the University well, but was more comfortable with those who shared his preferences and prejudices. This gave rise to an impression that he leaned on the ‘leftists’ in running the administration- an impression that drew sustenance with his choice of the Registrar, ‘Qari’ Mehmood Husain,
- There are also indications that enforcement of discipline was not his strong point – not surprising for someone who was used to administering a supposedly ‘self regulating’ institution’ like Jamia. Typical of this was his handling of the incident wherein, upon hearing of the assassination of Liaqat Ali Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, a few students forcibly sounded the University siren. His response was to order that henceforth the siren should not be sounded to announce deaths as the Vice Chancellor, because of a weak heart, was in imminent danger of sustaining permanent damage on hearing unexpected sirens!
- His strong dislikes and aversions tended to sometime cloud his judgment. Thus there is some truth in the assertion or suspicion of a few that he did not carry forward the Medical College project at least partly because the cause was so dear to his bug bear- Dr Ziauddin!
- In an independent India, people of the ability and political connections of Zakir Husain could legitimately aspire for higher things in life and the Vice Chancellor was very obviously preparing to play a more active role in nation building; there is, therefore a perception that towards the latter part of his tenure his sites were set beyond Aligarh leading to a degree of neglect of the University.
- Older, respected academics outside Aligarh feel that his ‘Jamia style of functioning’ of letting senior academics manage the show in their Departments bred a degree of intra- departmental autocracy which prevented younger talent from either fully flowering or seeking more salubrious pastures leaving Aligarh the poorer.
Zakir Husain demitted office much before the expiry of his third tenure on 15th September, 1956, following his nomination to the upper house of the Indian Parliament, the Council of States or the Rajya Sabha. It is, again, one of the unexplained ironies that just as he never looked back to Jamia after donning the AMU mantle, once he laid down the latter office he hardly ever took an interest in AMU affairs in the later stages of his life beyond perhaps sponsoring a few ‘Padma’ awards to people from Aligarh whom he rightly rated very highly.
It is for the authoritative biographer – hopefully one will appear in the not too distant future – or the Educational Historian to comprehensively judge Zakir Husain as Vice Chancellor. For someone, and a generalist at that, merely reflecting on the subject it will be sufficient to say that Zakir Husain was the best thing that could have happened to an institution which played no insignificant a role in the division of a country and then found itself on the wrong side of the new geo-political divide.
(viii) “Col” Bashir Husain Zaidi (7.10.1956 to 6.11.1962)
The honorary Colonel Zaidi (1898-1992) was from the once powerful family of Syeds of Barha who made and unmade kings during the period when in the eighteenth century the Mughal empire had entered its eclipse phase. Zaidi Saheb had a varied, if erratic career that defies its pigeon-holing in neat categories like ‘civil servant’ ‘politician’ or ‘academic’ etc; for, at one time or the other he belonged to all of these! He studied in the MAO College before doing a B.A from Oxford, and after a brief stint with some princely states he was for some time the Head Master of the School attached to the University. He then had a stable career in the Rampur State first as Minister and then Chief Minister- in the latter capacity he represented Rampur in the Constituent Assembly.
He subsequently headed the Boards of Directors of the Daily, “The National Herald” and of Maktaba Jamia. He also served as a Member of the Council of State. His wife Begum Qudsia Zaidi, of Kashmiri extraction was a multi-talented personality with lasting contributions to social work and development of theater in India. Her close involvement with the leftist performing art group, IPTA and the Progressive Writers’ Association brought the Zaidis close to the leftists of all hues including the dyed- in –the- wool Communists – a fact that had some implications for Aligarh politics.
Objectivity demands to admit ‘upfront’ that Zaidi Saheb was not the most eligible candidate for Aligarh Vice-Chancellorships as far more eminent names like Syed Nurullah- former Director Public Instruction of the Bombay Province and the PVC with Dr Zakir Husain, Khwaja Ghulamus Saiyyadain, eminent educationist and then Education Secretary Government of India, and Professor Mohammed Habib the eminent historian among others were available for the appointment. People conversant with the happenings of that era maintain that his election was a compromise between Dr Zakir Husain and Maulana Azad, worked out by mutual ‘go betweens’; it is known that by then there was considerable resentment on Zakir Saheb’s part against the Maulana for the reason that his desire to be the first Chairman of the University Grants Commission reconstituted as a statutory body in 1956 did not materialize. The outgoing Finance Minister Dr C.D Deshmukh, formerly of the Indian Civil Service, got the assignment reportedly with the active support of Maulana Azad.
In any case, Zaidi Saheb carried forward the unfinished tasks of Zakir Sahib. He is readily credited with implementing a massive programme of construction of residential and academic buildings earning him the sobriquet “Shahjahan of Aligarh”. Be it recorded, however, that most of these projects were brought at the drawing board stage during the Zakir Husain era. They include the Maulana Azad Library, Engineering and Women’s Colleges, Faculty of Arts, the Departments of Geology and Physics as also Teachers’ quarters in the Tar Bangla (later Zakir Bagh). The University Stadium and the Faculty of Arts were sanctioned and executed during his tenure; projects like the Kennedy House complex and Department of Civil Engineering etc while sanctioned during his tenure, but executed later.
While all the credit goes to the Vice Chancellor for steering these major projects, it must be recorded that their execution had also much to do with the energy and strict supervision of the University Engineer Mr. Abdul Jabbar Khan who had earlier worked in Rampur with Zaidi Saheb. Similarly, the tussle between the leftists, Islamists and others was more or less an extension of the earlier ‘exercises’ which, however, took more overt and belligerent forms with the Vice Chancellor not having the stature, and hence the moral authority of his predecessor, to keep the factions under restraints.
One of his more important achievements which was inadvertently edited out of an earlier draft of this essay was the establishment of the Medical College (at long last) in October 1962. Quite apart from the fact that the project took two decades to see the light of the day as Dr Ziauddin had conceived the idea from 1937,and took concrete steps for the purpose in 1942. A small research paper could be the result if someone takes the trouble to go through the voluminous papers on the subject lying unattended with the University and the UP Government.
It may only be mentioned that from 1958 to 1962 establishment of this institution was delayed by prevarication of the State Government to give the requisite ‘No Objection Certificate’ for its establishment. Some fault can be found with the Vice Chancellor, however, for going ahead with the commencement of the institution in a tearing hurry as was the complaint of Mr. Tyabji who, as the successor of Zaidi Saheb, was left with the unenviable task of meeting with retrospective effect the basic requirements of the Medical Council of India .
The liberal left of the centre credentials of the Begum Zaidi did not help the matter either. Apart from the communal riots of 1961 which singed the Shamshad Market, his other crisis of sorts was to face the Central Government appointed Chatterjee Committee which inquired into the affairs of the University, after its admission policy and some other aspects of its functioning received adverse press and subsequently parliamentary attention. The report of the committee did no immediate or serious harm though the innovations set in motion in its wake had deleterious consequences in 1965.
The Vice Chancellor was a handsome man with a disarming personality and a genuine goodness about him- in any case, he did not have too bad a time, occasional hiccups and faction fights notwithstanding, thanks to his having been the successor of a leader-Vice Chancellor. On the whole, ‘Col” Zaidi left with a reasonably good reputation and unlike his predecessor, he kept in touch with his alma mater.
(ix) B.F.H.B Tyabji (7.11.1962 to 28.2.1965)
Badruddin Faiz Hasan Badruddin Tyabji (1908-1995) – BFHB for short- was the grandson of his namesake, Justice Badruddin Tyabji, once a Judge of the Bombay High Court, and the first Muslim President of the Indian National Congress. His father Faiz Hasan Tyabji was a bit of a recluse who refrained from public life and retired as a judge of the Madras High Court. BFHB joined the Indian Civil Service (ICS) after education at Cambridge and served in the Punjab before he came to the Government of India a short while before independence.
He appears to have cultivated the future first Prime Minister and was instrumental in matters like selection of the present national flag. He opted to serve in India, which was no great sacrifice as his considerable inherited estate were located in the Ratnagiri District (Khem taluqa) of the then province of Bombay. Soon after independence he was ‘permanently seconded’ to the newly constituted Indian Foreign Service.
BFHB’s elder brother took to public life and was a member of the House of People – the lower house of the Indian Parliament- at the time of his untimely demise while still in his early 50s in 1958. It was after the death of his brother that BFHB decided to explore the possibility of joining public life and realized that his credentials will be fortified if he were to have a stint as Vice Chancellor at Aligarh. He candidly shared these plans with the Prime Minister, and for a start, he was nominated as the Visitor’s nominee on the then Executive Council of the University.
His experiences in the EC were not very comfortable- he appears to have been put off by the seemingly unending and pointless discussions particularly on matters of routine like grant of study leave, or withholding of increments etc. He seems to have had second thoughts about the way to active politics via the AMU campus; this time round he was persuaded by the Prime Minister to go to Aligarh for at least a couple of years. It also appears that the Prime Minister had been advised that if some suitable person was not identified for the job, Prof. Yusuf Husain Khan, the Pro Vice Chancellor would step in. Prof Khan, a younger brother of Dr Zakir Husain, was perceived to be a patron of ‘Islamists’ on the campus and in cahoots with pro Pakistani elements in Hyderabad State in the late 1940s where he was Professor in the Osmania University.
BFHB thus came to Aligarh with certain set objectives and got down to achieving them with premeditation but in a dignified manner. While he made considerable efforts to win popularity among the students by making himself accessible and demonstrating his machismo by riding ponies and motorcycles in the campus, it must be conceded that this did not involve appeasement of the rowdy elements as some of his successors were to do later . His handling of the academics was, however, generally rough, which some may even call disdainful. In a University where, despite liberal doses of sycophancy typical of oriental durbars, there was no ‘superior-subordinate relationship’, this was resented.
The Vice Chancellor clearly overawed the faculty as he had taken some of the ‘bad hats’ to task for lack of probity and moral turpitude. Tyabji and his charming wife Surayya – the daughter of Sir Akbar Hydri - and their youngest son Khalid, a lad then of 7-8 years, were the cynosure of all youthful eyes in Aligarh. His two major achievements were (a) giving a real fillip to sports in the University and (b) to make efforts for employment of University students in the private sector which led him to confirm an honoris causa doctorate on Lala Bharat Ram of the Delhi Cloth and General Mills Company, who happened to be the Chairman of FICCI that year- it is quite a different story that while the Lalaji took the degree to heart, and insisted that he be unfailingly referred to ever thereafter as “Dr” Bharat Ram, he could offer no solatium to the bright youngsters of Aligarh!
While Tyabji did not join public life immediately after his Aligarh stint, he did so a little later through the Muslim Majlis-i-Mushawrat not to much avail given his somewhat standoffish demeanour and general discomfort with the Urdu language. It also appears that his subsequent overtures to the Congress party were not positively received in view of certain reservations which Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed had about him . To be fair to him he was soon reconciled to not being cut out for the hurly burly of a brand of politics that was radically at variance with the early days of post independence arrangements of ‘patronized prominent Muslims’ could be sponsored as candidates from pocket boroughs of the ruling party (for instance, Maulana Abdul Latif, a senior functionary of the Jamiat ul ulama-i-Hind could represent Tripura in the first Parliament without ever visiting the constituency post election); seeing the writing on the new wall, Tyabji gracefully retired from that arena.
On purely objective considerations, his stint in Aligarh could at best be said to have contributed to orderly functioning of the institution. He kept himself strictly aloof from academic issues notwithstanding his frequent visits to the Departments- such visits were more in the nature of a Collector inspecting Police Stations in the days gone by. He was singularly lucky to have left a larger than life image thanks to his brief tenure. Lastly, an innocent generation of young Muslim aligs attaining puberty in the independent, post partition India, found the contemporary Muslim society to be bereft of heroes barring the one of strictly cinematic variety (Yusuf Khan aka Dileep Kumar!). This generation lapped up the icon with his athletic physique, crisp upper class English accent, and with controlled accessibility to the acolytes. They were, in a way, imitating the generation gone by except that the latter had a somewhat wider choice in the matter. Unlike the heroes of the past who failed to pass muster when exposed to demanding tests of political movements, he was fortunate to have avoided all tests post Aligarh.
(x) Ali Yawar Jung (1.3.1965 to 5.1.1968)
Tormentor or Fall Guy?
Few are aware that Mirza Ali Yawar Khan (1906-1976) – “Nawab” and “Jung” to his name form part of titles conferred on him ‘for life’ by the Nizam of Hyderabad – was, to begin with an academician. Son of a medical doctor of Iranian extraction (Khadiv Jung), he was the maternal grandson of ‘Imadul Mulk’ Syed Hosein Bilgrami, who was one of the most active Trustees of the MAO College from 1906 till his death. Ali Yawar Jung (AYJ) started his career as Professor of History and Political Science in Osmania University after obtaining an M.A degree from Queens College Oxford. He became a Minister in the ‘Daulat-i-Osmania’, which was an ‘appointed office’.
In 1945 he was appointed Vice Chancellor, Osmania University, a position he had to leave the next year following his differences with the Majlis-i-Ittehadul Muslimeen. On accession of Hyderabad to the Indian Union in 1948, he was re-appointed Vice Chancellor, and in that capacity he supervised the change in its medium of instructions from Urdu to English a fact that rankled and was remembered by certain ‘historically minded’ gentry and was to work to his disadvantage when he took over the reins in Aligarh. His connection with the academics ceased in 1952 when he was appointed ambassador to Argentina- there followed similar appointments to Egypt, Yugslavia and France before his appointment in Aligarh which appears to have the backing of BFHB, “Col” Zaidi and the then Education Minister Mr. M.C Chagla.
There are indications that he was not particularly keen to accept the assignment but was prevailed upon by the Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri- this writer has not been able to verify facts leading to his appointment, but it is more or less clear that Vice President Zakir Husain was not very keen on his candidature but kept his counsel to his trusted circles lest he be accused of espousing the cause of his own brother Yusuf Husain Khan who, incidentally continued as the PVC during the tenures of Zaidi Saheb, and BFHB and even during AYJ’s term for the first few months .
In the Aligarh consciousness, the memory of AYJ survives largely because of the happenings of the 25th of April, 1965 and its aftermath. It will, therefore be desirable to see whether the relevant facts themselves are fully understood. The common perception is that AYJ, soon after joining, decided to reduce the share of ‘internal candidates’ for admissions to higher courses (mainly degree courses in Medicine and Engineering) from seventy-five to fifty percent- a proposal that was taken to the Court in its meeting held on 25th April 1965 amidst strong opposition from sections of students and the faculty. The students held a noisy demonstration, resulting in summoning of the Police which opened fire ‘without provocation’ injuring two students. In further violence, the Vice Chancellor and some faculty members were assaulted and the latter sustained serious injuries. The University was closed sine die, 53 students were arrested, and the University Registrar, a member of the Court and two University teachers were arrested. Government promulgated an ordinance which brought about many amendments in the AMU Act including clipping the wings of the University Court.
As considerable confusion prevails as to what AYJ did in 1965, or what led to events that not only traumatized the University but led to its politicization and provided the first of many subsequent, peripheral issues for the ‘Muslim Vote Bank politics’ of various political parties, the events need to be adequately clarified, as no one has (at least to the best of the knowledge of this writer) has done so far. In the absence of the relevant papers, this writer has tried to ascertain the facts from collateral sources and in view of their importance feels it desirable to bring them on record as fully as possible even though these may transcend the conventional boundaries of ‘reflections’.
In the AMU Act as it stood before 1981, the University could, implicitly, run its own institutions (including Colleges) within Aligarh District as its Act gave it jurisdiction within this area. From the 1950s onwards, demands were raised by the Bhartiya Jan Sangh that the local Dharma Samaj Degree College and Tikaram Girls College be affiliated to the University or, in the alternative, a quota be prescribed for ‘Aligarh candidates’ for admission to the institution. It may be explained that as the Act XL of 1920 created a ‘teaching and residential University’ it was not possible for these institutions to be affiliated to the University. The lack of affiliating jurisdiction ruled out the possibility being affiliated to AMU, while their managements had no wish to give up their control for the ‘impersonal benefit’ of changing the communal profile of the University.
There appears to be some substance in the impression in some quarters that there was a concerted drive among ‘elements in the city’ for enrollment of a larger number of students passing the High School examination from various schools of Aligarh District to seek admission at the Intermediate/ Pre-University level in the University. It is clear that this was intended primarily to modify the ‘peculiar composition’ of the University. The move to have local affiliation did not succeed as, despite covert support of UP State level Congress leaders like Babu Sampurnanad and Chandra Bhan Gupta (who, incidentally hailed from Hathras, then a Tehsil of Aligarh District) students from conventional ‘catchment areas’ continued to throng the University.
As a ‘preventive measure’, however, around 1958 the relevant rule was amended and a quota of seventy-five percent was prescribed for ‘internal candidates’ defined as those passing the qualifying examination from the University itself. This raised considerable controversy and was one, among several other, reasons that led to the formation of the Chatterjee Committee which indirectly recommended a dilution of this quota with other suitable measures to ‘maintain the distinctive character of the institution’. While the issue remained on the back-burner during the rest of ‘Zaidi era’, Tyabji decided to do something in the matter and proposed that while the ‘internal quota’ could be reduced to fifty-percent, a certain weightage may be given to candidates hailing from ‘distant States’ and it was assumed, quite reasonably, that candidates from such States would conform to the ‘distinct character of the institution’.
While Tyabji stayed a little beyond his stipulated tenure of two years, he appears to have been rather slow in taking this issue to its logical conclusion. This writer, during discussion with the former Vice Chancellor on the issue in October 1995, gathered the impression that Tyabji, despite being convinced that it was the right thing to do, did not proceed with the matter, partly because of a lurking doubt that this will not be a popular move among the UP Muslims (as communicated to him by Prof. M.A Basir). The other reason for Tyabji’s reluctance was that he was under constant pressure from Bashir Ahmad Sayeed, a retired judge of the Madras High Court and for long an active member of the Court, who was in favour of maintaining status quo till the University was able to provide for a ‘frank’ reservation for Muslims claiming special status under Article 30 (1) of the Constitution.
It also appears that his PVC Yusuf Husain Khan, who was quite accessible to the right of the centre University academics, was keen that the “Aligarh internals” were not adversely affected. In any case, Tyabji dithered and sent the proposal to the Executive Council only at the end of his extended tenure after taking AYJ in confidence. We do not know the compulsions of AYJ but there is a theory by sources who wish to remain anonymous that he was persuaded by no less a person than BFHB to go ahead with this scheme. In any case, Shri Triyogi Narayan recalled much later that AYJ did discuss this issue when he called on the Minister for Education, M.C Chagla soon after taking charge in Aligarh.
This much is certain; AYJ did not conceive the ‘50:50 formula’, he inherited it. He possibly felt more convinced about its merits as it was opposed by people like Yusuf Husain Khan! Based on their earlier association in Osmania University, the Vice Chancellor considered Khan to be a reactionary but had decided to let the PVC continue for a while as he was the brother of Dr. Zakir Husain . At any rate, after a difficult passage through the Executive Council, the proposal was brought before the Court in the teeth of open opposition of the Students’ Union and latent dissatisfaction of a significant section of ‘right leaning’ University teachers.
A noisy demonstration was staged and the Proctor, on the advice or instructions of the Vice Chancellor, requested the Superintendent of Police (SP) to send a force as a ‘precautionary measure’- the SP was earlier advised by the ‘Local Intelligence Unit’ (LIU) that agitation against the ‘50:50 proposal’ could be long drawn out but would remain non violent . In the event, a ‘force’ of precisely six persons under a Sub Inspector (SI) was sent. Instead of being a deterrent it only provoked the students to subject this rag-tag contingent to heavy brick-batting, the very first of which fell the SI unconscious; in the resultant panic the police party armed with .303 rifles opened fire to find their way, out of the mob hitting two students in the lower limbs.
The mob was infuriated by the sight of two of their comrades hit by bullets and finding the token force to have fled from the scene, shouted “khoon ka badla khoon sey” (‘blood to be revenged by blood’), stormed the venue of the meeting, “Hamid Ali Khan Union Hall” and assaulted/ manhandled members known to be sympathetic to the proposal. The Vice Chancellor was badly beaten up and sustained five fractures and needed more than thirty stitches all over his body. He was dragged to the nearby S.S Hall where he was rescued by some students and locked in the room third on the right of the Victoria Gate from where he was rescued by cutting open the wire meshing and grills of the window overlooking the Victoria Gate lawns .The aftermath was swift. The Education Minister personally met the Vice Chancellor undergoing treatment in Dr Sen’s Nursing Home New Delhi with messages of the President and the Prime Minister urging him to continue in Aligarh.
Fifty-three students identified by the Proctor/LIU were arrested and kept in custody without bail for periods ranging from a month to almost a year. The Registrar Mohammed Mujtaba Siddiqui a retired, distinguished, IAS Officer, Prof Basir and even (retired) Justice Sayeed were arrested under the Defence of India Rules despite the fact that Prof. Basir had just suffered a massive heart attack. There are reasons to give credence to rumours then prevailing that the imminent arrest of Yusuf Husain Khan was not effected at the last minute, as it was felt to have awkward implications for the Vice President of India for whom there was considerable personal goodwill on part of various Ministers including Mr. Chagla himself. A reign of terror was unleashed, relatives of the arrested students in employment with the UP Government were told not to execute the bail bonds for their release- Dr Shamim Ahmed Khan who had come for bail of his brother-in-law Mr. Tasnim Ahmed was, for instance, suspended from the State Health Service.
As already noted, drastic amendments were made in the AMU Act. The Pro Vice Chancellor was replaced by another former Osmania man Mr. Fazlur Rehman- an erudite but ‘ambiguous’ personality. Mr. Mohammed Tausifullah, a very distinguished Police Officer was brought as in-charge of University security though cancer took his toll soon thereafter. The most interesting case was of a certain Mr. Sardar Khan who was brought as a full time Director of Students’ Welfare – Mr. Khan apparently held some administrative positions under the Doon School and the Indian Military Academy. The Vice Chancellor realized only a while later that Mr. Khan, despite his name, was actually a God fearing Christian!
He was quietly removed after a decent interval. The community was shell shocked and for the next almost a year there was not a rumble of protest although an Action Committee was in place supposedly to protest against ‘repression of students’ and ‘unwarranted amendments in the University Act’. S.Azeez Basha, an obscure and young busybody from Madras, unsuccessfully challenged the 1965 amendments as violative of Article-30(1) of the Constitution; to use the expression then coined, ‘the court did not recognize the minority character of the University’.
From February 1966 onwards the Kul Hind Majlis-i-Mushawarut politicized the cause under the leadership of Mr. Yasin Nuri, and Dr Syed Mahmood etc. A formal agitation was launched soon thereafter for ‘restoration of the minority character’ by a few Lucknow based Old Boys under the sphere of influence of the non Alig, ex Socialist, founder of the Muslim Majlis, Dr. A.J Faridi (Muslim Majlis was, in a way a political off-shoot of the Majlis-i-Mushawarat at UP level to contest elections. This agitation, too, became politicized and resulted in communal riots in places like Firozabad and Tanda. At long last, amendments acceptable to the community were carried out in 1981 bringing the sordid episode to an unsatisfactory quietus.
AYJ continued reluctantly in office for another two years and eight months, spending long periods, in between, in Delhi for the ostensible purpose of attending to the Administrative Reforms Commission of which he was a part time member. He took pains to keep the faculty and students at an arm’s length and even the most experienced of the numerous Aligarh sycophants failed to worm their way in the favours of the traumatized man. He was promised a suitable assignment as inducement to continue in Aligarh against his wishes by the Prime Minister Shastri- the promise was honoured by his successor Mrs. Indira Gandhi and AYJ was appointed Ambassador of India to the United States. The events of 1965 and their fall-out were evidently the second-most serious crisis that the institution founded by Sir Syed faced.
Yet, while, the gravest of all crises of 1947 could be met thanks to the goodness and abilities of a number of people including Nawab Ismail Khan and Dr Zakir Husain aided by the people of the stature of Jwaharlal Nehru and Maulana Azad, the crisis of 1965 had arguably more deleterious long term consequences some of which continue till date. While any further discussion of 1965 and its off-shoot will not be possible here, it must be brought on record that while the agitation against 50:50 was an ill advised enterprise, and the treatment of the Vice Chancellor, a possible victim of a diabolical conspiracy, by its perpetrators and other lumpens was most atrocious even AYJ does not come entirely clean. There is credible information that he wreaked vengeance while talking of forgiveness – there is independent neutral evidence that for many ‘acts of obduracy’ for which Mr. Chagla was commonly held responsible it was AYJ who was the behind the scene instigator.
It is quite natural for a person subjected to serious bodily harm to feel bitter and think very ill of his tormentors; for the head of a major institution such understandable human emotions cannot be so easily justified . Probably, AYJ had greater claim to our sympathies and even admiration if he had called it a day in 1965 instead of maintaining a token presence in Aligarh with a view to secure continued patronage of the state.
(xi) Dr. Abdul Aleem (6.1.1968 to 3.1.1974)
Right Man at the Wrong Time
Dr Abdul Aleem (1907-76) was a leftist of long standing. He was not only associated with the Communist group of the Lucknow University but was among the active leaders of the progressive writers’ movement, one of the many ‘front organizations’ of the Communist Party of India. His association with the left was via the Islamic route inasmuch as he joined the Jamia Millia Islamia during the turbulent 1922 when the Khilafat movement was on its last legs and only the ‘die hards’ (plural used intentionally though after taking grammatical liberty!) were joining the institution. We do know that he was using then using “Ahrari” as a surname of sorts, indicating his ideological affiliation to the Ali brothers and Maulana Ataullah Shah Bukhari.
The shift from Abdul Aleem Ahrari to Abdul Aleem simpliciter indicated more than the simplification of a name. It was a shift from far right to quite a bit of left, and was by no means an isolated phenomenon; the institution of ‘Muslim Socialists’ was fairly common as an extension of the Soviet propaganda warfare to maintain its sphere of influence in its own Soviets of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan etc and also over Afghanistan; this had major ramifications in India also and the Ahrars were a part of that manifestation. The explanation of the family as to why Dr Aleem was using this appellation would certainly bear another look.
The point is that Dr Aleem had unusual intellectual origins. After a doctorate in Arabic literature from Berlin he started his career at Aligarh from where he shifted to Lucknow University in 1935 and gained prominence in its thriving leftist circles then presided over by stalwarts like Acharya Narender Deva and D.P Mukerji. He gained considerable recognition as an Urdu essayist and a progressive writer. His proximity to Dr Zakir Husain brought him back to Aligarh as part of the former’s efforts to infuse new academic blood in an institution denuded of much talent by the partition and seeking to find its feet in the changed scenario.
Surprisingly, not much is authoritatively known about the appointment of Dr Aleem as Vice Chancellor- as far as this writer is aware, the file relating to his appointment does not survive in the Government. It is, however, clear that his choice was a compromise between various conflicting interests in which, possibly, Dr Zakir Husain played a decisive role. It may be recalled that the influence of left within the Congress party and the Government was still some way off as the rightist ‘Syndicate’ continued to hold sway; even Prof Nurul Hasan, a known left leaning historian and a junior colleague of Dr Aleem in Lucknow, was not yet a nominated Member of Parliament though his clout was clearly on the ascendant
It is also clear that there were other serious and deserving contenders from within the University like the late Professor Suroor and Prof A.R Kidwai another close associate of Zakir Sahib. In fact, within a few months of the appointment of Dr Aleem, Dr Kidwai was appointed a member of the Union Public Service Commission at the unusually early age of forty eight. Lastly, by late 1967, it had become clear to the government that the issue of AMU Act and, in particular its minority character, needed to be sorted out as the General Elections of 1967 had exposed major fissures in the committed Muslim vote bank of the Congress party and thus the need for a good Vice Chancellor was no longer necessary only to maintain peace and calm in a sensitive campus; it was also needed to prevent further Muslim disenchantment at least on account of ‘Muslim affairs’.
There is no doubt that while Col Zaidi or even Dr Zakir Husain may have enjoyed a degree of leftist support, Dr Aleem was the first, and so far the only Vice Chancellor whom they could have claimed as ‘one of us’. Thus the new Vice Chancellor was in a situation of multiple contrasts. He was heading an institution that had regained ‘current’ political importance with the largest minority chafing under a feeling that the government had not done justice to one of its ‘chief assets’, while from across the communal fence, Government’s overtures regarding Aligarh were inviting the charge of ‘appeasement’.
Both these developments had radicalized the student community and the University campus was about to become a happy hunting ground of politicians of almost all possible hues. Added to this were the expectations of the leftists that the University affairs, particularly its managerial personnel and appointments to teaching positions will now be made according to their predilections and prefernces. And finally, Dr Aleem was the first ‘full blown’ academic brought to the helm of affairs after twelve years including what could be regarded as the ‘dark period’ after April 1965. This meant that the affairs of the Universities were to be conducted through working out consensus and dialogue i.e. in a manner requiring a great deal of time and attention.
In short, the challenges before Dr Aleem were enormous particularly as there were high expectations from the leftists and misgivings among large sections of the University community. It needs to be emphasised that despite vestiges of separatism surviving during the first decade or so of independence, the Aligarh’ ‘agitative spirit’ had more than its fill in 1946-47. The revival of radicalism of 1965 was a short-lived affair as it was energetically and comprehensively repressed. Dr. Aleem’s arrival was thus a whiff of fresh air- all of not very healthy. The swift invasion of political parties riding the ‘minority rights’ band-wagon and the well founded assumptions about the new Vice Chancellor’s mild manners and democratic bent of mind emboldened many a budding crusader. This put his administration to severe tests in the next five years and possibly his resilience to successfully withstand the onslaught has not been fully appreciated. A senior journalist who was a student during the tenure of Aleem sahib was very accurate when he remarked the other day, ‘going by the present standards, AMU should have been closed indefinitely every three months in the early 1970s’!
He took his time to decide on his ‘administrative team’ which reflected the wide spectrum of the University community and disappointed the left which was as well because with the induction of Prof Nurul Hasan as Minister of State for education later that year, the increase in their clout was matched by escalating resentment of others. In fact, he can be justly accused of not showing enough firmness when the leftists were at the receiving end. This was particularly evident when a canard was spread by some mischievous elements that pages of the holy Quran were burnt in the Department of Islamic Studies under the aegis of its head, Prof Muneebur Rehman who in the reckoning of the ‘AMU Moral Police’ was a Communist. Prof Rehman, a noted Urdu poet and a decent academic and the moving spirit behind the AMU Drama Club, was virtually forced to migrate to the US and the University has been poorer without him. Dr Aleem can thus be accused of practicing ‘reverse communalism’ i.e. denigrating your community (community used to connote any, not necessarily a religious group) to impress or curry favour with others.
By the time of the elections to the Students’ Union in 1968 many political parties were vying with each other to involve the University students in the politics of ‘restoration of minority character’ though surprisingly, the first two Union Presidents in his tenure were no great champions of this cause. Constant visits of political leaders to the campus and their desire to outdo each other in championing ‘the cause’ had its deleterious effects on the campus but the dislocation of academic work was much less than what could be expected in the circumstances- this was achieved through a judicious mix of firmness and tact. His ‘administrative team’ enjoyed a high degree of acceptability on the campus.
Throughout his tenure the Central Government continued to display an ambiguous attitude towards the issue of the AMU Act, which was not surprising given the resistance of Prof Hasan to let the activists from the community get a foot-hold in the University’s decision-making processes and the counter-moves of people like Mr. Mohammed Yunus for a substantial restoration of the status quo. All the moves and counter-moves created a sense of unease and it is to the credit of the Vice Chancellor that the University could function with reasonable efficiency. What is even more creditable to Dr Aleem is that while most of the campuses in the North and the East were seriously affected by turmoil stemming from the anti English agitation (spearheaded by the SYS- the youth outfit of the substantially anarchic Socialists owing allegiance to Dr Lohia) or the Naxalite movement, AMU continued to be an oasis of stability even in the midst of strong agitation and political interference from the outside. This had a very desirable effect- AMU became a preferred destination for students from areas extending from West Bengal to Andhra Pradesh- and possibly the quality of intake in the University was never as good either earlier or subsequently.
Despite simmering turmoil, the University made much academic progress; Departments of Linguistics, Sociology, Biochemistry and West Asian Studies were opened; a full fledged state-of-the-art hospital was established for the Medical College; substantial number of additional posts were created at the level of Professor and Reader though these were largely filled from amongst the local faculty; for the first time systematic efforts were made to ‘coach’ students for the various competitive examinations; the capacity in hostels was increased and infrastructure strengthened; the University Library reached its zenith and was without doubt the most rationally stacked University library in the country at that time.
The reticent, rotund Vice Chancellor, with his French beard and red rosy cheeks gave a slightly comical impression. Beneath this somewhat unimpressive, though unusual, exterior was hidden a razor sharp intellect, a quite sense of humour and persuasive oratory- on occasions when he chose to speak. Within the limitations imposed by the University’s historical and geographical constraints, the academic selections made during his time particularly at the induction level, were based on merit with almost half such appointments resulting in recruitment of non Aligs of ability. Despite the impression, right or wrong, about his ‘unorthodox religious views and lifestyle’ he could skirt most controversies on this score with aplomb. True, he did invite a certain degree of criticism on account of his son, yet he enjoyed the affection and respect of the academic community generally. He definitely extended no undue favours to his old ideological cohorts who were on the ascendant in the post ‘gharibi hatao’ scenario of the 1970s.
In the inglorious traditions of Aligarh, as his tenure was drawing to a close he was increasingly harassed by former favour seekers who had nothing more to expect from him. The closure of the University sine die in the wake of an agitation against a senior University Professor of leftist leanings, much against the Vice Chancellor’s best judgment, was certainly a low point of his tenure. When his term came to an end it was not surprising that he was fobbed off with the non descript assignment of Chairman National Board for Promotion of Urdu. There is little doubt that if he were a little more obliging to his ideological fraternity, a better sinecure could have been easily located for him.
To sum up the tenure of Dr Aleem, one has to address the dilemma of judging whether he could have done better under the difficult circumstances in which he was placed; alternatively, would others have done considerably better than him in similar circumstances? Answers may differ. To this writer, there is little doubt that Dr Aleem would have done much better in more favourable conditions – as anyone else with proper credentials would have. Given his genial disposition and astute mind, he would certainly have given academic leadership of a high order in a more congenial atmosphere. This writer tends to concur with someone else’s overall rating ‘he was the right man for Aligarh at the wrong time’.
(xii) Ali Mohammed Khusro - (20th September 1974 to 20th December 1979)
(Man Forgotten by his beneficiaries)
Dr Aleem was succeeded as officiating Vice Chancellor by his PVC, the noted historian Prof Khaliq Ahmed Nizami who for some time was taken to be a VC in waiting. Prof. Nizami performed the unenviable and difficult task of dealing with the after-effects of the drift visible in the last few months of the outgoing Vice Chancellor- the officiating VC acquitted himself well in that task. Prof Nizami was appointed Ambassador of India in Syria in July 1974 and his mantle was passed on, in accordance with the relevant Statute, on the senior-most Professor of the University Prof Harbans Lal Sharma of the Hindi Department who continued to discharge the responsibilities of his office till Prof Khusro took the baton two months later. By coincidence or design Prof Sharma was soon thereafter appointed Director of the Central Hindi Directorate – the ‘sister organization’ of the Board headed by Prof Aleem- needless to say, both the positions were under the direct control of Prof Nurul Hasan who, by now held the charge of education as “Minister of State with Independent Charge”.
Dr Khusro (1925-2003) was the scion of a distinguished family of Gulbarga in what is now referred as “Hyderabad Karnataka” his father Aminuddin Hussain was a senior civil servant under the Nizam. After a distinguished tutelage in Nizam’s College (B.A 1945)) affiliated to the Madras University and the Osmania University (M.A, Economics, ‘First Class First’) he proceeded to the UK on a scholarship of the Hyderabad State, leisurely obtaining a second M.A in Economics and PhD from the ‘red-brick’ University of Leeds. On return, he was appointed Lecturer in Economics at Osmania in 1952, the last appointment in that University to which Ali Yawar Jung, the Vice Chancellor was a party- AYJ left the day following the Selection Committee to join as India’s Ambassador to Argentina. He made a very quick mark as a brilliant teacher and researcher with his path breaking study of the socio-economic impact of the abolition of jagirdari in the Hyderabad State.
History of sorts was made when V.K.R.V Rao, the doyen of Indian Economics and the founder-Director of the Delhi School of Economics (the D School,) selected 32 years old Khusro, still a Lecturer at Osmania (though officiating Director of its Socio-economic research centre) as Professor in that prestigious institution against a post on which the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen was subsequently appointed. The following year (1958) when the Planning Commission decide to establish the Institute of Economic Growth as a ‘think tank’ for the country’s economic development issues, Rao, its founder-Director, took P.N Dhar and Khusro along with him. While the shift enabled Khusro to add an impressive array of research work in the next sixteen years, it severed his links with the conventional University system – a severance that had not very positive implications for the Aligarh Muslim University.
His appointment as Vice Chancellor was entirely due to the efforts of his erstwhile colleague, P.N Dhar who, by 1970 had become one of the powerful men of the land as Principal Secretary of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Evidently, Prof Dhar was for Khusro Sahib remaining in Delhi as Member Planning Commission, it was Dr Khusro himself who evinced an interest in Aligarh on the prodding of Mr. Mohammed Yunus. While this writer is not in a position to vouch for the accuracy of this ‘assumption’, it is a fact that the Education Minister was not very keen on his appointment as, apart from not being his man, Dr Khusro’s proximity with Dhar guaranteed his access to the Prime Minister. We can only surmise that Dr Khusro wanted a stint in Aligarh as, Vice Chancellorship of an established University was, even as late as 1974, considered a fitting finale for a ‘solid’ academic. We do not know, and are never likely to know, for sure whether our man briefly harboured ambitions for ‘public life’.
By the time Dr Khusro joined in Aligarh, he was already a known figure in social and intellectual circles of Delhi- a ‘page three figure’ in current media lingo. Much as the Aligarh people disliked the idea, his appointment brought a degree of respectability among chic intellectual circles for whom Aligarh was more of a ghetto which successfully resisted the reformist interventions of Dr Zakir Husain. The University community was also greatly excited on his appointment as it was known to be in the teeth of (overt) opposition of a despised Education Minister. Indeed he was received by thousands of students on 20th September on a sultry morning.
The sight of a handsome, youthful figure emerging in a Cream Sherwani from ‘2 Down Kalka-Delhi-Howrah Mail’ had an electrifying effect on the waiting crowd, as if a Messiah had come to solve all their longstanding problems. He was virtually carried on shoulders all the way up to the University mosque for the regulation fateha at the mausoleum of the founder. His address to the Students in the Union Hall later in the evening completed the charm; with his handsome visage, sonorous voice, his easy manner of speaking, his sense of humour and command over Urdu and English floored the skeptics. The house was brought down when by a slip of tongue on part of Prof Sharma, the erstwhile officiating VC, he was referred to as “Amir Khusro”, pat came the riposte, “janab mein to ghareeb Khusro hoon” (“Sir, I am the poor Khusro” Amir, for the uninitiated, apart from being the first name of the Sufi saint “Khusro” is Urdu equivalent of ‘affluent’).
When the honeymoon was over, disappointment was not long in coming. Students expelled during the brief tenure of Prof Nizami for gross misconduct earlier were unconditionally reinstated on the ground that ‘tolerance of dissent and deviations should be the hallmark of a University’. Employees under instigation from leftist quarters came out with demands, reasonable or otherwise’ often backed by unruly demonstrations – they too were accommodated unconditionally. The Vice Chancellor enthusiastically joined some of the delegations of students circumambulating corridors of power in Delhi for restoration of ‘minority rights’. The Vice Chancellor granted easy access, his house and office were open round the clock for students and even ‘rank outsiders’.
He appears to have made much effort to use his persuasive charms to reason with students and employees raising various demands. Similarly, the Vice Chancellor had considerable physical courage and would be in the midst of unruly crowds without, however, achieving much of substance; he started a very ambitious project of a number of functions and publications to mark completion of ‘hundred years of higher education’ in 1975. After some time, there was a waning of interest and ultimately there was a lack-luster commemorative function graced by Mr. B.P Maurya a Minister of State in the central Government who was once a Lecturer in the faculty of Law. Likewise, after staging a coup of sorts by inviting Sheikh Zaid the President of the UAE to the University, and securing a pledge to finance an Institute of Petroleum Technology in Aligarh, there was tepid follow-up (no doubt, mainly on account of the lukewarm attitude of people whose responsibility it was to pursue the matter- but then the VC was not judicious in the choice of his team) with the result that organizations like the ONGC could not be taken on board and an apology of an institution came into being a few years later and has, predictably, turned out to be a non-starter!
The wide contacts and goodwill enjoyed by the Vice Chancellor were indiscriminately used to little effect. This writer is personally aware of a case wherein the Vice Chancellor moved heaven and earth to secure a Fulbright Fellowship to a very ordinary Lecturer so that he could undergo surgery of the ear in the United States; while the effort was successful it put paid to any further Fellowships from Aligarh for the next decade or so and many bright and deserving academics of Aligarh were denied well deserved opportunity as the USEFI- the organization handling the Fellowships in India- somehow took the ‘patient with the diseased ear’ as a typical representative of the Aligarh academic community. The Vice Chancellor tried to help whoever chose to approach him personally.
Again, this writer is aware of many (with or without merit) including a wrestler turned President Students’ Union securing comfortable assignments with business houses in India and the gulf region only on account of the personal contacts of ‘Dak Sab’- it is a moot point whether, with the exception of Dr Ziauddin, any other Aligarh VC has been able to help so many- many often undeserving. Suffice it to say the charismatic, scholarly Vice Chancellor did little to build the Institution though he benefited a number of individuals associated with it. It is a pity that his brilliance did little to improve the academic affairs of the University including its Economics Department- unlike the other Economist VC, Dr Zakir Husain, Dr Khusro never took any class in that Department. In short, the Vice Chancellor meant well but achieved little for want of perseverance.
Lest this account be interpreted as unqualified berating of an eminent economist who had the misfortune of finding himself in the largely non academic environment of Aligarh, one must also note the his contributions as Vice Chancellor. He was very supportive of innovations and the few genuine academics successfully accessing him, despite the sycophants surrounding him, could get all the support. His optimism was infectious and that was a boon to students preparing for competitive examinations- if eleven students finally made it on the basis of “IAS etc Examinations” of 1976, considerable credit is due to his motivation. Even more important, he could project a version of the Indian secular state to the larger student community and, arguably, this contributed to a more positive socio-political consciousness among the general body. If the protracted clamour for ‘minority rights’ did not breed bigotry on the campus, some credit ought to be given to an easy-going Vice Chancellor who was ‘generally with the cause’. Similarly, his ‘dealings’ with the teachers being one of general cordiality he did not give much cause for unhappiness to the diverse interest and ideological groups within their community.
This writer has often wondered why a person of the stature and capability of Dr Khusro enjoying immense popularity in the University and even within the Muslim community, failed to make the University tick. One does not claim to have a definite answer. It would, however, appear that there were two major causative factors- his all too brief involvement with ‘mainstream academics’ and his own idiosyncrasies. Dr Khusro had spent seventeen out of twenty two years of his academic life in the cloistered ambience of the D School and the Institute of Economic Growth where almost every colleague and student was motivated to make a mark on her/his chosen discipline and the leadership role demanded little by way of conflict resolution, what to speak of crisis management! All that was required was motivation of the good to do better and of the better to excel. AMU, with its sheer size and complex teaching and student community many of whom felt, with or without justification, to be a marginalized segment of a plural society, was a different ‘ball game’. Probably, Dr Khusro realized, too late, that a University poses far more complicated managerial and academic changes which cannot be solved through motivation and good intentions alone- by the time the realization came the damage was already done.
Dr Khusro was what the French call a bon vivant – a person out to enjoy life and valuing ‘good living’ above all else. These ‘personality types’ are inherently incapable of wasting their time in judging the true worth of people; the question of taking unpleasant decisions of course does not arise. This is a ‘constitutional trait’ which the person concerned is unable to overcome despite efforts. The point can be illustrated by an example. When he was the Chancellor of the University and there was a meeting of the Court to transact a very important business he felt that he should do ‘the right thing’ despite the anticipated clamour of a particular group with a vested interest in the matter. He took the trouble of personally coming to the place of work of the present writer and spoke strongly about his views in the matter. We had a long discussion with reference to the Statutes of the University and he was helped in drafting certain ‘hypothetical rulings of the chair’ in the event the expected/ anticipated points of order were raised.
This writer came to know later that while the matter did come up on the lines he expected, the Chancellor tamely gave in. During our occasional social contacts neither side broached the subject though one could sense his unease in the immediate aftermath. Several years later, in what turned out to be our last meeting in a reception for Dr Mahathir Mohammed at Hyderabad House he suddenly took this writer away and said “Naved sahib let me unburden myself; ---- muamle mein I had a good mind to take a firm stand and use the ‘rulings’ we had jointly prepared magar jaisa merey sath aksar hota hai – dil nahin mana aur dil dimagh pur havee ho gaya!” Such was Dr Ali Mohammed Khusro!!!
Lastly, this writer will not resist the temptation to somewhat unnecessarily touch on an unrelated matter which has troubled him and which he has shared with many alig and non alig admirers of Khusro Sahib. How come his somewhat sudden death went remarkably unnoticed by the many beneficiaries of his help, patronage and hospitality? In fact, one knew that after his last official assignment- Chairman of the Finance Commission- he was deserted by his once dedicated band of admirers with honourable exceptions like Prof Akhtarul Wasey. This was specially unfortunate as apart from ill health and the death of his (reunited) wife there were other worries and stresses and strains of a personal nature which were known even to someone like this writer who was not particularly close to him and must be very well known to the ‘camp followers’.
Are people who seek and obtain favours (according to this writer a favour is a benefit which is not yours as a matter of right or course) essentially ungrateful? If so, why such people lack gratitude? Why do we not realize that doing favour to the undeserved is, at the end of the day, an exercise in futility- and even when we realize it, why do we persist with such unfruitful enterprise? Is it ego and the desire to be surrounded with ephemeral admirers or is it something more subliminal over which many of us have little control? These ‘reflections’ do not brook of any further digression and we shall not embark on finding plausible explanation to such ponderous queries. This writer hopes that these will be addressed by a ‘reflective biographer’- the many splendoured personality of Dr Khusro surely deserves one.
A Summing Up
The rambling ‘reflections’ finally reach their end. Do we derive any tangible benefits from this seemingly judgmental presentation? Aside from providing starting inputs to serious scholars, it is submitted that some general propositions emerge from the preceding presentations which should be of interest to the policy-makers and the well wishers of the University alike. These may be summarized as under;
(i) The AMU Court continues broadly with its original composition (laid down in 1920) except for the period 1965-1981. Its diversity of ‘constituencies’ may have considerable relevance for the pre 1947 era when the Muslim community had the ultimate responsibility to ensure that the University was financially viable and ran smoothly. As we have seen, however, even in those days the Court was often a source of fission and certainly the bane of the Vice Chancellors. In the changed circumstances it has become a forum sans responsibility and it contributes to petty politicization of the University. The present day arrangements are thus gunah-i-be lazzat – sin without pleasure.
The moot point is whether the jumbo size of the court and the representation of archaic, irrelevant groups like ‘donors’ and Muslim Educational Conference (a moribund organization with a glorious past) and the Old Boys Association (a voluntary body with not even five percent of alumni and alumina as its members) therein, are the best manifestations of the ‘minority character’ or ‘distinctive personality’ of the University? It is time that the thinking sections of the community start pondering on alternative, less cumbersome arrangements of sustaining the distinctive character of the institution.
(ii) With much water flowing down various bridges the old model of the Muslim University being an instrument of realizing the aspirations of the Muslims of the country has become archaic. For one, there is a multiplicity of institutions occupying the same space – Jamia Millia Islamia, Jamia Hamdard and the Maulana Azad National Urdu University etc- and provisions like Article- 30(1) of the Constitution act as the bulwark against altering the basic character of the institution. Is it not the time when the University charter is revisited to emphasise quality and not quantity of ‘outcomes’. In other words, the University need not be saddled with virtually impossible responsibility of being the main instrument for imparting tertiary education to Indian Muslims- its mandate must now shift to nurturing academic excellence within the community.
In other words, instead of seeking advancement of Muslim masses it should be made to foster academic elite within the community and its mandate tailored accordingly. It may sound musings from the ivory tower but it is a definite imperative if it is to play a useful role in keeping the Indian Muslims socio-economically relevant in a resurgent, upwardly mobile ‘mega’ country.
(iii) This account, it is hoped, amply brings out the fact that local factors, particularly vested petty interests have always played a major destabilizing role in the affairs of the University. Merit and justice has always been the casualty in this situation. The challenge before the University leadership and the intelligentsia of the community, without local vested interests, is to see how an All India character be endowed to the institution. This is easier said than done, for the opinion-makers of the community are yet to realize that the agitation of 1965 had put paid to a serious attempt to endow the institution with that character.
(iv) Senates and Courts of the pre-independence days Universities were conceived as debating societies where the ‘chattering sections’ of the Western educated could give vent to their unrealized participative urges. It is a moot point whether such debating societies are any longer needed.
Notes on Bibliography and Referencing
The following ‘broad hints’ on bibliography and referencing should suffice.
(a) On functioning of Vice Chancellors generally: Proceedings of the Executive Council and the Court are available in the Maulana Azad Library. Availability of agenda notes of these bodies, which are obviously much more illuminating, is more uncertain. Occasional files are available in the mismanaged University Archives. From time to time the Registrar’s Office could also produce certain records though this will depend on the goodwill of the Registrar or the clout or nuisance value of the ‘seeker’. Occasionally Agenda Notes are also available with former Members or deceased Members’ families. Detailed and reliable accounts of the University for the period 1925 to early 1930s are also available in Al Basheer (Etawa) copies of which are available in Ameerud Daulah Library Lucknow. For the subsequent period this periodical has to be read with caution as it became unabashedly partisan
(b) On the Raja of Mahmudabad: There is enough material in files relating to Mahmudabad Estate, Establishment of Lucknow University and correspondence of the imperial Government with the UP government regarding his appointment as the first Vice Chancellor of AMU etc are available in the UP State Archives Allahabad. Much material is also reportedly available in ‘Harcourt Butler Papers’ which have, however, not been seen by this writer, (A Note of caution- scholars are advised to search for the files ‘independently’ in the Allahabad Archives- specific references by M.Y Shah in his Higher Education and Politics in India: The case of the Aligarh Muslim University are not reliable as either there are several typographical errors in quoting archival references or, possibly, the author cites file numbers which have since been changed.
(c) On Aftab Ahmed Khan and Muzammil ullah Khan eras: Accounts in Al Basheer and “Zamindar” Lahore should suffice (copies available in Maulana Azad Library Aligarh; More complete files in State Archives of J&K at Jammu ).
(d) On Ross Masud and the Ziauddin era; Periodicals cited above; Hindustan Times (New Delhi) Pioneer (Allahabad) and Al Jammeat Delhi and Madeena Bijnor. For highly partisan accounts one has to refer to anti Ziauddin periodical “Sarguzisht” (Aligarh) edited first by Mirza Ibrahim Beg and later by the incorrigible Ziauddin baiter Zafar Omar. Diametrically opposite was Tehreek allegedly financed by Dr Ziauddin himself? Issues of these periodicals are scattered all over. Not surprisingly, only one issue of the former (Nizam number) is to be found in Maulana Azad Library as its entry in the University Library was banned by the Vice Chancellor. From 1945-47, Muslim League daily Dawn then published from Delhi has a good coverage of Aligarh affairs (microfilms are available in the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi) There is some account ‘between the lines’ in “Moeen Beete” the Urdu autobiography of Dr S. Moinul Haque published by the Pakistan Society of Historical Research. There are also occasional mentions in the Debates of UP and Central legislatures.
(d) Post Independence Accounts: are to be had from a number of Urdu Dailies and Weeklies available in Maulana Azad Library. From 1965 to early 1980s Nida-i-Millat (Lucknow) Siyasat Jadeed (Kanpur) and Radiance (Delhi) are a rich source of information which, however, is often uncorroborated to suit the particular editorial policy of the paper concerned. The proscribed copy of the “Muslim University Number” of Nida-i-Millat (1968?) is particularly informative.
(e) As far as possible, names mentioned have been spelled as the persons concerned were spelling them
Aligarh Muslim University: Vice Chancellors (1920-79)