It was the year 1961, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in the northern Indian state Uttar Pradesh (UP) was holding Students’ Union elections. AMU, the hotbed of Muslim League politics prior to partition of India in 1947 remained a target of hate propaganda by Hindu communalist groups. Students’ Union elections saw Hindu students also contesting the elections, which was not new for the University. In fact, Hindu students used to win elections in the University till then.
That year, 1961, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) backed a Hindu student of AMU in the elections. The candidate asked votes on religious lines. The propaganda was that the Hindu students are suppressed in AMU and hence they all should vote for their own candidate. Unsurprisingly, propaganda failed and the candidate lost the elections as Hindu votes could not be consolidated.
In those times AMU had a tradition that a symbolic funeral procession of all the lost candidates was carried out across AMU. On 3rd October, 1961, students carried out this procession of all the losing candidates, Hindus and Muslims. It led to a rumour that the ABVP candidate had been killed in AMU by Muslim students while many other Hindu students were stabbed. Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) and ABVP leaders led mob from the old city to the university campus. On the way to AMU, the mob torched shops in Shamshad Market near the campus. At least 14 Muslims lost lives as rumour mongering incited the mob to attack AMU campus. Police either did not intervene or helped the mob as it attacked AMU.
Soon, violence spread to Meerut and Moradabad too. Dozens of Muslims lost lives due to inaction or complicity of police.
This bloody attack on AMU fuelled the anger against the government in AMU. Both the state as well as the Union governments were led by Congress at the time. Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister and C.B Gupta the Chief Minister. Until that time most of the AMU professors were pro-Congress or rather believer in Nehruvian socialism and secularism. This incident alienated them.
At the time B.P Maurya was a young teacher at Law Faculty, AMU. A dalit from Khair tehsil of Aligarh, Maurya was already active with Republican Party. He led a movement along with other teachers of AMU against the government. The teachers, who stood against the atrocities and asked the tough questions to Nehru led government, were supposedly conservative Muslims. Till that time these conservative Muslim teachers were not dominant enough in AMU and Nehruvians or leftists were dominant. A watershed moment it was, when conservative Muslims and Dalits joined hands in AMU and took the march forward.
B.P Maurya gave a slogan;
Muslim Jatav Bhai Bhai
Biich me Hindu kaha se aaii
(Muslims and Jatavs are brothers
Who are Hindus to come between them)
Dr. Abdul Bashir Khan, the proctor of AMU when it was attacked in October, 1961, led the teachers with Maurya outside AMU to form a public opinion against the government. The teachers themselves decided to contest 1962 general elections.
B.P Maurya himself contested the Lok Sabha election from Aligarh parliamentary constituency as Dr. Abdul Bashir Khan contested for Vidhan Sabha. They contested election from Republican Party of India (RPI) and election symbol was an elephant. In a first since independence, Congress lost the whole West Uttar Pradesh region. Candidates from RPI or backed by RPI won all the assembly seats as well as parliamentary seats in the region. Congress lost each seat in the region as AMU teachers themselves led a movement against the government.
Later on, Kanshiram formed Bahujan Samaj Party in the region following the same model. AMU teachers proved that they could still swing public opinion and the Congress led government took away the minority character of the university before the next elections.
(Author is a well known Historian and an alumnus of Aligarh Muslim University)