See More on Facebook


Jinnah portrait row: Another example of India’s growing intolerance?

Hindu nationalists want Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s portrait taken off wall of prestigious Muslim campus.

Written by

Updated: May 8, 2018

Decades after the portrait of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, was hung at the campus of India’s prestigious Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), Hindu nationalists want it removed.

Jinnah, then a leader of distinction in undivided India, is now revered as Qaid-e-Azam or the Father of Pakistan. India and Pakistan have gone to war twice since the Partition of India in 1947, and their relations are anything but cordial.

Jinnah, Pakistan’s first governor-general, is counted among leaders who wanted a separate nation for Muslims. However, he is also counted among the most secular leaders of the subcontinent and many lament that Pakistan has failed to live up to his ideals with its divisive politics and its mistreatment of religious and ethnic minorities.

In a speech made on August 11, 1947, Jinnah famously remarked: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in the State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”

AMU was founded by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, whose portraits also adorn several distinguished walls across India and abroad. Khan played a crucial role in educating millions of Muslims, especially women.

Since the controversy erupted last week, Khan’s portrait has gone missing from a government office in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Hindu nationalists want both Jinnah’s and Khan’s portraits replaced by those of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath Yogi, media reports said. During Modi’s reign as chief minister in the western India of Gujarat, pogroms left hundreds of Muslims dead.

Yogi was handpicked by Modi to lead Uttar Pradesh and his anti-Muslim posturing is no secret.

Strangely, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) own senior leaders have praised Jinnah, time and again, as senior journalist Karan Thapar wrote in a piece for The Tribune.

During his visit to Jinnah’s mausoleum in Karachi in 2005, veteran BJP leader LK Advani wrote in the visitor’s book: “There are many people who leave an inerasable stamp on history but there are very few who actually create history. Qaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah was one such rare individual…”

Jaswant Singh, another senior BJP leader and a former foreign minister, defended Jinnah during the launch of his book “Jinnah-India, Partition, Independence” in 2009. He said India had misunderstood Jinnah and made a demon out of him and that even Mahatma Gandhi, considered by India as its Father of Nation, called him a “great man”.

Jinnah, also a leading barrister of his time, was offered a life membership by the students union of Aligarh Muslim University in 1938, and his portrait has been on the campus wall since.

The controversy over his portrait erupted when Satish Gautam, the BJP’s Member of Parliament from Aligarh, wrote to the university on May 1, asking why the portrait was on display. Since then the Hindu Yuva Vahini, founded by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, and ABVP, the student wing of the RSS, are making sure that the controversy does not die down.

Members of the Hindu Yuva Vahini barged into the varsity last week, shouting slogans and clashed with students, with Yogi Adityanath himself joining in the chorus for the portrait to be removed.

Exams have been postponed in the university, internet services disrupted, and section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, banning gatherings of more than four people, clamped on the campus. The varsity has become a cantonment with deployment of large contingents of paramilitary forces and police.

Many have reasoned that the Hindu right has more in common with Jinnah than the students at AMU and Indian Muslims, who chose to stay back in India and do not celebrate Jinnah as an icon. Though Jinnah was not alone in propounding the two-nation theory on the verge of India’s Partition, he is often blamed for the creation of Pakistan – something that dilutes his otherwise secular principles.

The current turmoil on the campus is not new, since this is a university favoured by Muslims, it is often targeted, and most controversies acquire a communal colour just as soon. The students at AMU are demanding “azaadi (freedom) from RSS”, India’s right-wing Hindu nationalist group, and see RSS’ demand as an attack on India’s notion of democracy.

India is becoming increasingly intolerant towards dissent, more so for its minorities. A Muslim was lynched on the suspicion of storing beef in his refrigerator. Cows are considered sacred in the country.

The main Opposition Congress party has accused the BJP of provoking sentiments and communalising the atmosphere with its “dirty politics of sensationalism, divisiveness, polarisation”.

While various reports claim that Jinnah’s photograph also adorns the walls of the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies in Shimla and the Bombay High Court in Mumbai, the AMU administration has asked the government to frame a policy on how institutions should deal with pictures of, or references to, controversial personalities such as Jinnah.

Enjoyed this story? Share it.

Lamat R Hasan
About the Author: Lamat is an Associate Editor at Asia News Network.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia

Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.

By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here


A FAQ on Indian Elections

Asia News Network’s Ishan Joshi takes a look at some of the most frequently asked questions about the Indian election. Termed the “biggest democratic exercise’ in the world, India’s mega election spans over a number of days and involves a significant percentage of the world’s population. Asia News Network Associate Editor Ishan Joshi takes a look at some of the most pressing questions as the elections continue in India.  Why do the Indian elections take so long? Primarily, because of the logistics involved in conducting elections in this continent-sized country. India has close to 900 million eligible voters spread across 29 states and 7 union territories. Some of these areas are battling armed Islamist/Maoist insurgencies, others are considered sensitive due to issues of social unrest/law and order, and all of them are robus

By Asia News Network
April 16, 2019


Bangladesh will not relocate Rohingyas

Foreign minister says won’t relocate Rohingyas if stakeholders don’t agree. Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen yesterday said Bangladesh would not relocate Rohingyas to Bashan Char, an island in Noakhali, if all concerned think that would be a problem for them. “We thought they [Rohingyas] will live there better,” he told reporters mentioning that the government had made big arrangements for Rohingyas in Bashan Char. The foreign minister was talking to reporters after jointly inaugurating “Demonstration and Introduction of STP (Set-Top) Boxes for Internet Protocol Television (IPTV)” in Bangladesh Missions abroad with Information Minister Hasan Mahmud at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The foreign minister said the government had a plan to relocate around 100,000 Rohingyas to Bhashan Char on a voluntary basis in April next but now they did not know when it would take plac

By Daily Star
March 28, 2019


Foreign companies eyeing stake in Malaysia Airlines

National carrier has been struggling since two high profile crashes in less than a year.   Several foreign companies, including from Europe, Asia and the Middle East, are keen to acquire a stake in Malaysia Airlines Bhd (MAB), says the Council of Eminent Persons chairman Tun Daim Zainuddin. He said they do not necessarily take over the whole company, but may hold only part of the national carrier’s interest that is currently 100 percent owned by Khazanah Nasional Bhd. “Alhamdulillah, those who are keen to buy MAB stocks are either from Asia, Europe and the Middle East. They have expressed their wish to the government and some have written to me. “They can do research on the company (MAB),” he said in an interview on TV3’s prime-time Buletin Utama on Monday (March 25) night. Daim said the aviation sector is increasingly complex and complicated, and huge funds and expertise ar

By The Star
March 26, 2019


North Korea may have had core deciphering computers stolen

Computers may have been stolen during a break in in Spain. North Korean decryption computers may have been stolen from its embassy in Spain in last month’s raid by as-yet unidentified assailants, a high-profile North Korean defector claimed Sunday. Thae Yong-ho, a former deputy North Korean ambassador to UK said on his blog that the group of men who allegedly infiltrated the North Korean Embassy in Madrid may have stolen computers used to communicate with Pyongyang, which would be a harsh blow to the communist regime. “The world is reporting on the attack on the North Korean Embassy in Madrid, but North Korea has been keeping quiet over the incident for a month. I believe this is because they (the assailants) stole the ‘transformation computer,’ a core classified item in the embassy,” Thae said in his blog. “In a North Korean embassy, the transformation computer is considered more imp

By The Korea Herald
March 26, 2019


What’s wrong with development in Pakistan?

Pakistan doesn’t suffer from a lack of development, but from flaws in the model of its pursuit. The key implicit assumption in the mainstream development theory is that urbanisation is a manifestation of a transition to ‘modernity’. This understanding is primarily derived from the urbanisation experiences of the countries of the Global North. That is, the industrial revolution allowed European/North American economies to produce large surpluses in the agriculture sector with the introduction of new production techniques. Thus, in the expectation of higher wages in t

By Dawn
March 26, 2019


Recapping Thailand’s crazy election

Pro-military party exceeds expectation as Democrats struggle. Thailand’s election is almost over with 90 percent reporting and surprises abound as the pro-military Palang Pracharat party has proven a stronger adversary than expected for the Thaksin-backed Pheu Thai party. We take a look at several storylines that should be recapped as the country struggles to make sense of Sunday’s election. Thailand’s oldest political party must reorganize, reinvent Long billing themselves as the historical saviors of Thai democracy, the Democrat Party of Thailand have become the unwanted, middle-of-the-road party that stands for nothing and is appealing to none. The party will need to take a long hard look at itself after coming behind several other parties including the upstart Future Forward Party. Before placing blame on others, or Thaksin (as they tend to do for basically ever

By Cod Satrusayang
March 24, 2019