Freedom from RSS is fine, but first dismantle Jinnah’s portrait

In response to demands that Aligarh Muslim University take down the portrait of MA Jinnah, the institution’s students’ body has in turn demanded azadi from the RSS. This is a desperate attempt to divert attention from the core issue. AMU students may have a problem with the RSS and its ideology, but where does the question of freedom from the RSS arise?

The RSS has not held them hostage nor has it sought to impose its thoughts on them. But like any other responsible and legitimate organisation working in the country’s democratic space, it too has the right to make its voice heard in the AMU campus. It was to exercise this democratic right that the RSS had asked permission to open a branch within the campus.

The students’ body refused permission. So far so good. But now that the portrait war has erupted, there is no need for the AMU to drag in the RSS to deflect the issue. There have been voices cutting across the political spectrum demanding that the portrait be removed. There is near unanimity that Jinnah stands for everything that India has repeatedly rejected and that Indians, regardless of their religion or class or caste, condemn him for his two-nation theory based on religion and for brutally partitioning India.

Of course, there are exceptions— such as suspended Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, who goes to Pakistan and extolls Jinnah’s virtues. But he is a cast-aside and not a relevant voice anymore, even within his erstwhile party. The problem is different. Secularists who are uncomfortable with Jinnah’s portrait at AMU have taken to balancing things out by lashing out at the Rightists for running a campaign to ‘divide’ the people. It is difficult to understand how opposition to Jinnah, who was the most divisive figure in the Indian subcontinent, can be considered a divisive move. It is this kind of politics that gives ammunition to anti-India elements both within this country and in the neighbourhood to run false propaganda against the Indian state.

Therefore, regardless of domestic political differences, both BJP and non-BJP lobbies should speak in one voice against the glorification of someone like Jinnah. It is difficult to avoid the perception that the Jinnah portrait issue has turned into a BJP-RSS versus the rest confrontation. Where was the need, for instance, for the Jamia Millia Islamia and Jawaharlal Nehru University, to jump to the support of the AMU students’ right to have Jinnah’s portrait in the campus?