Media amplified Jinnah portrait controversy to suit BJP government

by Mohammad Sajjad

via The Print

First of all, given the current backdrop and genesis of the controversy, it is the BJP MP of Aligarh, Satish Gautam, who made it a political flashpoint by asking the AMU to take off an 80-year-old portrait in the hall of the AMU Students’ Union. The media took it up and amplified its decibel at a level that would be desired by the incumbent regime and its cohorts.

They are not able to face the people on concrete livelihood issues, as they have been failing quite miserably on those fronts. Therefore, they need divisive issues which they create by demonising and vilifying the Muslims and resorting to majoritarian consolidation for electoral gains. This helps them divert people’s attention from the crucial issues of the day.

Gautam was a member of the AMU Court, the highest decision-making body of the university. He chose not to raise the issue there. He is a lawmaker. He could have raised this issue in Parliament to make a law prohibiting any such portrait anywhere in the country. He chose not to do so.

The historical fact is: The portrait is hanging there since 1938 when Jinnah was made honorary life member of the students union. Pertinently, in the pre-1938 era, Jinnah was the ‘ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity’ and was a freedom fighter. The first eminent person to have been conferred with this was Gandhiji, followed by many like Ambedkar, Maulana Azad, C.V. Raman, Rajendra Prasad, K.M. Munshi, Jai Prakash Narayan, Mother Teresa, and many more. Their portraits too are there in the AMU hall.


Gautam was a member of the AMU Court, the highest decision-making body of the university. He chose not to raise the issue there. He is a lawmaker. He could have raised this issue in Parliament to make a law prohibiting any such portrait anywhere in the country. He chose not to do so.


In February 2015, PM Modi inaugurated the Bombay High Court museum, showcasing Jinnah’s Barrister’s certificate along with Gandhiji’s and many more. The saffron forces didn’t protest then against the judicial preservation of history.

The AMU student union too did not play with, erase, or vandalise history. It preserved history. The portrait is certainly not there to glorify him or to be an inspiration. This accusation could have come only if the portrait appeared post-independence. This is in sharp contrast with Savarkar’s portrait in the Parliament that was installed in 2003. Savarkar is better known for his exclusionary and hate-filled nationalism, who justified rape and massacre as a political weapon in his book Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History. Yet, he remains an icon for some Indians.

Let the media and intelligentsia help build an inclusive Indian nation that marches forward on the path of progress and development.

Author is Professor of History at CAS Department of History, AMU, Aligarh

Mohammad Sajjad

Mohammad Sajjad

Mohammad Sajjad is a Professor of History at the Centre of Advanced Study in History, Aligarh Muslim University. He is the author of 'Muslim Politics in Bihar: Changing Contours' and 'Contesting Colonialism and Separatism: Muslims of Muzaffarpur since 1857'.

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