All hell broke loose at the Aligarh Muslim University on 24 February. Even as well-known AMU alumnus and the Samajwadi Party’s Muslim face, Azam Khan, tried to quell protests, party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, was forced to call off his visit to the campus after students and faculty staged opposition to Yadav’s visit.
Following the Muzaffarnagar riots, the SP chief’s visit was an attempt at consolidating his position in the bastion of Muslim politics in north India. Yadav was scheduled to address a seminar highlighting the long-pending demand of the university to be accorded minority status. However, with widespread protests in the campus over the party’s mishandling of the riots, Yadav had to cancel his visit.
“It was a catastrophe waiting to happen. The SP had taken the Muslims for granted. It was sure it would get away with anything and continue to get the support of the community,” says Hafiz Nomani, a political analyst.
What is perhaps more galling for the SP is the fact that the party has come under severe criticism from the BJP following the incident. “Muslims are no longer safe under the SP government in UP. Mulayam Singh being forced to cancel his visit to the AMU following protests in the campus is a resounding endorsement of that fact,” says Lakshmi Kant Bajpai, state president of the BJP.
However, the SP officially maintains that cancelling Yadav’s visit to the campus had nothing to do with the protests there. “The model code of conduct is in force in Aligarh as the elections to the UP Legislative Council from the graduate constituency are underway. Netaji was therefore advised to cancel his programme,” says Khalid Masood, former vice-president of the AMU students’ union, who is now an SP leader enjoying Cabinet position in the ruling government.
While sources in the district administration claim that Yadav’s visit was canned following apprehensions of threat to law and order, the party is blaming the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) for sabotaging the programme. The SP alleges that the protest was politically motivated and only a handful of persons in the university were behind it.
“It’s preposterous to attribute any political motive behind Netaji’s visit to AMU. He has been closely associated with the affairs of the university for more than two decades. The Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party engineered the protest. Netaji had earlier visited the campus in 1991 and in 2006 as chief minister, and on both the occasions, he was accorded a historic reception by the students as well as the academic community of the university,” says Nafis Khan, former president of the AMU students union in 2006. Now he is an SP leader, enjoying the rank of minister of state as adviser to the UP government.
“It was a private programme and the university had nothing to do with it. SP leaders wanted to use the AMU campus to send a message to the Muslims that all is well,” says Aftab Alam, secretary of the AMU teachers’ Association.
“The minority community’s perception about the Samajwadi Party and its secular credentials has changed. Muslims no longer hold the SP in esteem as they did in the past. Six months after the Muzaffarnagar riots, the perpetrators are yet to be brought to justice, the riot victims are still living in camps,’’ he adds.
Even after 100 riots broke out ever since the SP came to power in 2002, the UP government seems to have no relief and rehabilitation policy for riot victims. The government distributed 5 lakh to each of the displaced person but they were made to file an affidavit that they will not return to their native village. “What kind of relief is this is beyond our comprehension,” says Alam.