The controversy over the portrait of Mohammed Ali Jinnah in Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) took a violent turn today as Hindu Yuva Vahini supporters staged a protest at the varsity campus. The police reportedly had to lob tear gas shells to disperse the agitators.
A Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP had earlier objected to the Pakistan founder's picture on the walls of the AMU student union office. Aligarh MP Satish Gautam had in a letter to AMU Vice-Chancellor Tariq Mansoor asked to explain why it displays a portrait of Muhammad Ali Jinnah in its student union office, triggering a row.
AMU spokesman Shafey Kidwai on Tuesday defended the portrait, which has apparently been hanging there for decades, saying that Jinnah was a founder member of the university court and granted life membership of the student union. Traditionally, photographs of all life members are placed on the walls of the student union, he told PTI.
The spokesman said no national leader had raised any objection to the photo even after Independence. These included Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Azad, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, C Rajagopalachari, Rajendra Prasad and Jawaharlal Nehru.
Shafey said AMU student union has a long tradition of granting life membership to prominent people in politics, social and educational fields. Their photographs were a part of the rich heritage of undivided India and no one ever thought of raising this issue before, he said.
The first recorded life membership by the student union was the one granted to Mahatma Gandhi on October 29, 1920, he said. This was followed by a long list of luminaries including Rajagopalachari, Nehru, Sarojini Naidu, C V Raman and British writer E M Forster, he said.
Last week, the AMU Vice-Chancellor received a letter from an "RSS activist" Amir Rasheed seeking his permission to organise a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh shakha' on the campus. Kidwai said, "The University is not considering any proposal for allowing any camp or shakha organised by any political party."
"We have a tradition of not allowing political parties to put up their candidates either for contesting the Students' Union polls or the Teachers' Association elections," he said. He said AMU had "no intention" of allowing any "direct intervention" of political parties inside the campus.
AMU was not under any sort of pressure from any government agency, he added.
He said the student union enjoyed a certain autonomy within the legal framework of the University's constitution as enshrined by an Act of Parliament.