Date: 4/26/2006


Minority complex AMU case merits a defining verdict////// The Pioneer Edit Desk/////// 26th April 2006 ////// In temporarily restoring the Aligarh Muslim University's "minority" status and yet asking the institution not to implement its 50 per cent quota for Muslim students in post-graduate courses, the Supreme Court has been both fair and legally correct. AMU, a central university, was brought under the rubric of "minority institution" by the Congress Government in 1981. In February 2005, the Union Human Resource Development Ministry - AMU's funding agency, as it were - allowed it to reserve for Muslims 50 per cent of post-graduate medical seats. /////// The matter was taken to the Allahabad High Court, which struck down the quota as well as the notion that AMU - paid for by the tax-payer and, as such, no different from any other Central Government run university - was an exclusively "minority" institution. Now the issue is before the Supreme Court, which has provided partial interim relief to AMU as well as the quota's opponents. A final verdict, it has said, will come from a constitutional bench of the apex court, before which the case now rests. That judgement, when it does arrive, could potentially be one of the most important in India's contemporary history./////// It will answer a compelling question: Can a secular state, a government that has no religious affiliation, finance, patronise or set up a "minority institution"? Indeed, can the state establish or perpetuate - using funds from the public exchequer - any institution that is officially designated as denominational, whether affiliated to Muslims or Christians or even Hindus? It is fine for a private trust or body to sponsor community-specific institutions and seek minority status, but can this become a public sector enterprise? ////// The constitutional bench needs to go into the larger issue of what constitutes a minority institution. What are the parameters that merit "minority" status? After the 93rd Constitution Amendment Act, which brings in reservation in private, unaided educational institutions, but exempts minority institutions from this clause, the matter has grown only more complex. That there is ample scope for manipulation here, and that, essentially, Muslim/Christian and Hindu educational entrepreneurs or trusts are being denied equal opportunities is not a point that can be wished away.////// At some stage, it will return to haunt the polity. Somewhat related though not identical is the AMU case. The Government's contention is that a university can receive grants from the State, but can still reserve as many as half its seats for one community and claim a "minority" label. In a sense, does this amount to state-financed segregation? It is easy for the rhetoricians who now dominate the HRD Ministry to pretend everything is above board. The larger social and political costs of such a patently absurd educational regime can only be guessed. At some stage India will have to pay the price. It is up to the Supreme Court's wisdom to ensure payment is never required./////// 000000000