Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the students, alumni, and faculty of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) on the occasion of the centenary celebrations of the university struck many right notes and has sent out a welcome message.
Normally, a prime minister’s address to a university should be judged on the basis of what he says. But Modi’s address was important for the message that the act of address itself conveyed. It was the first time that a prime minister was talking to an AMU gathering after Lal Bahadur Shastri spoke at the campus in 1964. It is not without significance that after many decades a prime minister belonging to the BJP spoke to the students, and the symbolism becomes more meaningful when it is Narendra Modi who does that. That is because of the notion that the persona of Modi and the Idea of AMU do not gel very well.
Modi tried to break that with his praise of the university and description that it is a mini-India in itself where students from everywhere study. He pointed out how the diversity of the campus, where there is the place for Urdu and Sanskrit, and the Quran and the Ramayan, strengthened not only the university but also the nation. Quoting the founder of AMU, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, he said that the growth of the country should be above the caste and religion of the people.
He also highlighted the need for all citizens to get equal opportunities and assured that no citizen would be left behind because of their religion. He said politics can wait but development cannot and that every citizen is assured of his or her constitutional rights. This was an affirmation of the idea of an inclusive and accommodative India that has been in retreat in the country under his own watch.
Extreme Hindutva groups have always targeted AMU as an abode of anti-nationals. That is why the prime minister’s virtual visit there and his words are important. While his assertions and assurances are welcome, they should also be reflected in the policies and actions of the government. Many of the government’s decisions and policies have not stood the test of the best principles of governance which the prime minister enunciated in his speech.
As the head of government and the supreme leader of his party, it is in his power to guide governance and politics in the ways that he described them to the students. In fact, the ideas and sentiments that he expressed in AMU would better be directed at his followers than the assemblage at the university. They are relevant at a time of increasing discrimination and polarisation, notably in the very state where AMU is located.