I heard Mahommedali Currim Chagla‘s name for the first time nearly three decades after he had passed away. The context was Banaras Hindu University, and the person taking his name wore a frown of distaste while pronouncing the words M C Chagla. It was clear that he did not like the person who had served as the Education Minister of India from 1963 to 1966. Chagla had had the honour of calling Quaid-e-Azam and Babasaheb his colleagues. He was secular, so secular, that despite being a Muslim, he was cremated and not buried (wikipedia). Sundaram mentions in his article that Chagla had wished once that “it was his mission to educate a generation of Indians who would not be surprised when they saw a Hindu as vice-chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University while his counterpart at Banaras Hindu University was a Muslim”.
Justice M. C. Chagla
BHU Amendment Bill of 1965 proposed the removal of the word “Hindu” from the name of the university (Baran 377). The Union Minister of Edcation M C Chagla had “indicated in the parliament” (Baran 378) that in a secular country like ours, there’s no place for sectarian words in the names of the universities like Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and Banaras Hindu University) BHU. So, the idea, at least in theory, was to drop the words Muslim and Hindu and from their name change the names of two of the largest universities of India. BHU was chosen for the first onimectomy (cutting of the name, a neologism). Well, it backfired.
The Hindus did not like the removal of the word they associate their identity with, from the name of the only university in the world that had it. Students, as usual, were the quickest to react. the RSS, ABVP, Jan Sangh, Hindu Mahasabha etc. went along, or, as some allege, vice versa. There were protests, strikes, and the life in the university and in the city went off track for a fortnight. The old timers, remembering those days and the years of their student life, do recall many interesting anecdotes. Out of the many names taken during one conversation with an old alumnus of the university I heard the names of those leading the student protests. Out of many that I’d heard, my mind has retained the name of comrade Debu Majumdar. I had read his name on banners and walls of Varanasi some two decades ago. I had also read his name in Kashinath Singh’s Kashi ka Assi. This was the first time someone was telling me his name. Google leads us no further. Few more personal interviews may yield some more information about comrade. That will come later.
Back to the university then. The middle name of the great Banarasi university remained in its place, just as the university remained in its right place in the city that rests on Shiva’s trident, but Chagla had made the biggest mistake of his short political career. He did not remain in his place for long. The very next year came the general elections and he was not given his old department back in the new cabinet. 1967 was his last year in the cabinet and in politics.
1967 was important for Banaras – a city with three universities and a large number of students in hostels and the city. Along with the city’s history of rebellious proclivities, that made a volatile combination. The year 1967 was very important for Hindi, Banaras and for one full generation of students born just as the country was born. That year saw the movement by the students of the Hindi speaking belt of India for their demand that English be replaced by Hindi for all practical purposes. The unrest was widespread; so was the administrative crack down upon it. The state stood against the students in a manner proleptically pointing towards May 1968. Both Kashinath Singh’s Apna Morcha (Our Front) and Shivprasad Singh’s Gali Age Mudti Hai (The Lane Turns Ahead) cover the movement in detail and mention Ratnakar (Jubilee) Park incident very graphically, as it was from there that everything had begun.
Ray, Anil Baran. “Secularism and Political Protest: The Case of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) Students’ Agitation of 1965”. Pressure Groups and Politics of Influence. Ed. Verinder Grover. New Delhi: Deep and Deep Publications, 1997. Print.
Sundaram, V. “MC Chagla: A Titan Among the Nationalists “. <<http://www.boloji.com/index.cfm?md=Content&sd=Articles&ArticleID=915>>
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.