There is a long and sordid tradition of trying to diminish the very idea of Aligarh Muslim University Students’ Union (AMUSU) by insisting that it is different from the students’ unions of other campuses. The rationale given to this argument has been that, unlike other universities, AMU has its own students union constitution. But, what does this constitution mean to the varsity and its student politics?
AMUSU was originally a debating club, established by the founder of Aligarh Muslim University, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan in 1884. It was then called the “Siddons Debating Club”, as its first president was Henry George Siddons. The main objective of the club was to produce good orators and leaders.
Later in 1920, when the Mohammedan Anglo Oriental (MAO) College obtained the status of a university, the union came to be known as ‘Muslim University Union’. The Vice-Chancellor used to be the president of the union. In 1952-1953, it drafted a new constitution for itself, possibly being the only Students’ Union in the world with a formal recognition.
The constitution laid down new objectives including social service, welfare work, and fraternal relations with students in other parts of India and abroad to maintain unity and solidarity with the general students’ movements in India. The AMUSU back then was way more progressive than today. A female student, Zahra Naqvi, was elected as cabinet member for the first time during the period of 1953-54.
The present state of the union is far worse from what it was more than sixty years ago. It has degraded to the extent that when three female cabinet members got elected for the first time in 2016, the Times of India quoted Mustafa Zaidi, Secretary of Aligarh Muslim University Teachers’ Association (AMUTA) as saying, “times are changing and people are responding to it.”
Nowadays, a majority of election campaigns in AMUSU are based on regional lobbying and show of ‘traditions’ with no agenda or ideology. In fact, there is nothing political about AMUSU elections, except for the electoral procedure. It is not good for a minority institution to have political leanings, that’s the argument put forth. “A minority institution with strong political leanings can create a volatile situation”, says Faisal Nadeem, a Commerce student at AMU.
The constitution of AMUSU prevents the members of the students’ union to become a member of any political organisation before or during the tenure. This is perhaps the only clause in the 30 page constitution which has been followed. According to this constitution, the union has to manage its own library, reading room, a school and more which is hardly the case. Also, certain posts, including that of Honorary Treasurer and Honorary Librarian don’t even exist anymore.
The constitution has clearly detailed everything about the students’ union, from the elections to its working. It even states that the date of election shall be fixed by the union executive and shall not be later than 75 days after the commencement of the academic session. However, this time limit exist only in papers as the elections in AMU have been held under Lyngdoh committee recommendations. The elections for the year of 2014-15 was held 89 days after the commencement of academic session while elections in past have been delayed even further.
There are several other contradictions when we analyse AMUSU in the context of its constitution. One is that no person who has not been enrolled as a student for at least six months shall be eligible for election to the office of President or Vice-President or Secretary. But, Nabeel Usmani, former AMUSU secretary, not only contested but also served as the Honorary Secretary of AMUSU a mere two months after he enrolled as a student in 2016-17.
It is clear that the AMUSU constitution has no relevance anymore. Yet, the administration does not allow political parties to put their candidates in these elections in its name! Moreover, the main stakeholders of current student politics on the campus—former students—have time and again tried to prevent any reform in the politics in the name of tradition.
These traditions are reduced to several symbolic acts, such as the ‘Sherwani Poshi’, where the candidate is gifted and made to wear a sherwani by senior students. Since then, the candidate has to wear a sherwani whenever he steps out of his room. The Sherwani, an empty rhetoric in chaste Urdu, is the perfect summation of AMU elections.