The ongoing legal battle over the minority status of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) has once again landed on the desks of the Supreme Court, marking the second time since the 1960s. Currently, a seven-judge Constitution bench, led by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, is hearing the case. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the government, contends that AMU is not a minority institution, raising questions about its national character.
The government argues that despite its name, AMU does not predominantly function as a Muslim university. SG Tushar Mehta asserts that the institution is of national character and importance, pointing out that the Constitution of India considers it an “institution of national importance” without any religious affiliation. The government contends that declaring AMU a minority institution would exempt it from adhering to the national reservation policy, which could have significant consequences given the university’s size and influence.
Historical Perspective: AMU’s Evolution
Establishment and Early Legislation
AMU traces its roots back to 1875 when Sir Syed Ahmad Khan founded the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental (MAO) College. The British government passed the AMU Act in 1920, incorporating MAO and several other colleges. However, two amendments in 1951 and 1965 altered the university’s governance structure, leading to a legal challenge in 1967.
1967 Ruling and Subsequent Challenges
In 1967, a five-judge Supreme Court bench ruled that AMU was not a minority institution due to the central legislation governing it. Despite a 1981 law restoring its minority status, a 2005 challenge in the Allahabad High Court questioned the reservation of post-graduate seats for Muslim minorities. This prompted the case to reach the Supreme Court again in 2019.
Government’s Constitutional Argument
The government’s written submission emphasizes that the Constitution of India, enacted in 1950, shaped AMU’s status. Amendments to the AMU Act in conformity with the Constitution aimed to make the institution non-minority. The government argues that the university, ranked 9th nationally in 2023 by the Ministry of Education, should maintain a secular stance to align with the nation’s interests.
The government highlights the potential repercussions of declaring AMU a minority institution, emphasizing the university’s vast properties and substantial student population. SG Tushar Mehta contends that as an old and significant institute, AMU should prioritize its secular origins and adhere to the national reservation policy.
In conclusion, the AMU minority status debate raises critical questions about the institution’s identity, with the Supreme Court grappling with its historical, legislative, and constitutional dimensions. As the proceedings unfold, the nation awaits a resolution that balances the university’s heritage with its role as an “institution of national importance.”