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Aligarh Muslim University, Annual Convocation Address"

Address by  Hon’ble Shri I.K. Gujaral , Former Prime Minister of India on Tuesday, 26th February 2002 at Aligarh.


Janab Pro Chancellor Sahib,

Janab Vice Chancellor Sahib,

Learned Members of the University Faculty,

Distinguished members of the Academic Council, the Executive Council,

the Court

Fresh Graduates,

Ladies and Gentlemen:

           I consider it a great privilege to come to your midst and talk about the internal and external challenges that face India today.  It is a particular honour to speak in the hallowed precincts of this great seat of learning that in Maulana Azad’s words “ of the main sources which has contributed to the evolution of modern India...”

           Standing here this morning, I see before me the future of our nation in the glistening eyes of the young faces who are venturing out for adventures of life.  Their stay here would have familiarized them with the vision and courage of Sir Syed Ahmed and the great traditions of this University wherein new ideas and schools of research have made their mark.  The late Maulana Abul Kalam Azad had rightly pointed out,

“ ............The inscriptions which have been carved on the walls of the Strachey Hall may fade with the passage of time but the inscriptions which Aligarh has written on the modern period of Indian  history can never fade. Future historians will discover in Aligarh one of the main sources which has contributed to the evolution of modern India”. 

             Like the millions,  as a young participant in the freedom struggle I had

 witnessed the intellectual contributions made by many whose minds and

 ideas were shaped by this University. Your ‘Tarana’ lyrically testifies this

 when it says:


       ( fQrjr us fl[kkbZ gS gedks

        mQrkn ;gka - ijokt ;gka  

        xk, gSa oQk ds xhr ;gka

        NsMk gS tuw dk lkt ;gka )


 Mr. Pro Chancellor,

The era that opened with the end of the Mougal Monarchy in 1857, was a challenging turning point in our history.  Perceptive minds, like Sir Syed Ahmad, and Raja Ram Mohan Roy had comprehended that neither  civilizations nor religion could be compartmentalized into single homogenous units.  People of the world cannot be categorized into commanding systems or classifications. There are so many diverse trends in every civilization as well as in each religion that one cannot speak of one Christian world, one Islamic world, one Hindu world or one Confucian world since the human affiliations are complex and diverse. People have linkages besides a civilization or a religion, with polities, languages, literatures, vocations and so on.

           One cannot partition civilizations to invoke the images of a unified, homogenous Western world or a unified Islamic world.  It betrays crudeness of analysis and poverty of vision, besides lacking in historical objectivity and contemporary reality. For instance to speak of a ‘Hindu India” ignores the reality of the Indian art, literature, music and even food caused by the complex interactions over centuries between Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Christians, Jews and several other communities.  Indian civilization cannot be comprehended without taking into account this prolonged process of cultural cross fertilizations.

           As the learned friends here would appreciate the concepts of one Christian world or one Islamic world are mythical images that do not conform to either history or geography. Take the case of Akbar and Aurangzeb, both Muslim emperors who had different socio-political outlooks and hence followed diverse policies and modes of governance.  As we know, the so-called one Christian world or civilization indulged in numerous inter-se conflicts and the two world wars that killed more men, women and children of their own faith than any struggle between different religions. Similar are the tales of wars amongst the feudal lords of this sub-continent who worshipped the same gods.


           The ‘clash of Civilizations’ – as it is being called, is a myth fostered to ensure the dominance of a few over the others. Can we put Japan and Korea in the same Confucian category as China? The falsity of it is obvious in the very spelling of this concept. China and Japan fought against each other in the last world war and continue to share mutual mistrust, so does Korea against Japan. Nor can Korean civilization be identified with the Chinese civilization, besides the fact that Japan evolved its own unique civilizational values and achievements.


           May I say that the main hope for harmony in our country, and indeed in the world, lies in the acknowledgement of our diversities and the plurality of our identities and rejecting the religion or language based divisiveness.  That was the firm view of Sir Syed Ahmad as I understand it.

 Distinguished Friends,

          We face today a complex international situation, becoming messy day by day. On the one hand there is almost universal rejection of terrorism as legitimate tool for change or political power; on the other, a single dominance is emerging in the world with serious consequences for various countries cutting across geographic barriers.

Terrorism cannot be accepted by civil society anywhere. No matter what the grievances, mindless violence against innocent men, women and children must be a rejected and combated. No country in the world is now willing to accept that some terrorisms  may be good and some bad. There is a universal convergence on the need to exorcise terrorism and terrorist activities in all their forms. The UN resolution adopted unanimously enjoins upon all countries to cooperate in this struggle against terrorisms.

           Mr. Pro Chancellor, as you would see the terrorists have indeed brought in the very consequences that they were professedly fighting against. The world situation after September 11 attacks on the United States’ nerve centers have led to the very results that the perpetrators believed they were combating.

           At the same time there is considerable awareness around the world that the roots of widely spread resentments must be comprehended and the sources of the maladies must be addressed. Why these repeated assaults on the ecologies of power? Are these not the symptoms of the increasingly bitter polarization between haves and have-nots. Globalization may have helped many but also left out many more. The growing distance, the social and economic disparities, between countries and peoples, what one writer has described as “the incredible quantitative difference of force and riches between North and South”, also an explosive rage in many countries against the hypocrisy and cupidity of their own rulers. These are grave issues that need to be addressed.

           Yet another fallout of the terrorist attacks and their aftermath has been the curtailment of civil liberties almost all over the world. It may be a POTO here, the military tribunals in the United States, or the new restrictive laws in Britain. The moral high ground against terrorism is being gradually abandoned. The administrations and officials in a number of democratic countries are making every effort not to let their hands be tied by the traditions and niceties of legal procedures or the rules of law. In times of fear people become more willing to cede to the governments extraordinary authority. Can every wing of administration be trusted not to abuse the power that may be given to meet a specific contingency?  The trend towards constricting civil liberties and democratic rights is a highly unfortunate development.  George Kennan once said that the greatest danger to America was the tendency to imitate its enemies. This would be applicable to us too.

           Above all, the fallout of the terrorist attacks of September 11 has been the emergence of a single, all-pervasive dominance. Today American bases and troops dot almost the entire world. They are now in our immediate neighbourhood. Indeed, we in South-Asia have a new neighbour- the United States. Its military bases have been established and  troops lodged in Pakistan as well as  in Central Asia. This is an extraordinary situation; never before have the American armed forces been so overwhelmingly present in Pakistan.  The Bush administration has made it abundantly clear that it is there to stay- at least for quite some time. This should be a matter of concern for us.

          The army generals who rule Pakistan have welcomed the Americans-perhaps they had no choice. But the Islamic Republics of Central Asia have even more cordially opened their welcome gates for them. There will now be a new play for oil, power and influence in Central Asia that may come to be factors for stability or sources of instability for us as well. The proven oil reserves of Central Asia and the Caucasus are presently pegged at roughly 30 billion barrels.  The multi-nationals have already invested much money to keep their footholds in the region with professed objectives of strengthening the independence and promotion of democracy.

           The Russians and the Chinese now have a new presence on their borders. For nearly two centuries Russia has been the predominant power in the region as the Central Asian republics were within the territorial bounds of the Soviet Union. The new Republics of Central Asia – though rich in resources are socially and politically fragile. They needed the presence of the Russian troops for their protection against the Afghan based fundamentalists. Also their sizeable Russian population and the pipelines needed the stationing of the Russian troops.  China another neighbour, has been making energetic efforts to develop political and economic relations with these Central Asian countries.

 As this distinguished audience would know, despite the inherent rivalries China and Russia had recently co-founded the Shanghai Forum, involving most of the Central Asian states. Security and economic cooperation was main item of its agenda.  For China the Central Asia offers the hope of avoiding dependence in the U.S. navy to safeguard its oil imports through the sea-lanes. It currently imports some 1 million barrels of oil a day which could rise to about 6-7 million barrels a day by 2010.

 Mr. Pro Chancellor,

 It is no secret that today the United States is virtually the master of all its surveys. So much power and leverage in the hands of one country, no matter how benign and well-intentioned it might be, should be of concern since it can breed intolerance as well as disdain for the views and interests of the others. Two recently conducted opinion surveys in West indicate a widely spread anxiety that the United States would act unilaterally and might employ its power with scant regard to the opinions of others.

           President Bush’s recent address to the U.S. Congress  has done little to reassure the world on this account. On the other hand his assertion that if other nations did not take sufficient action to curb the terrorists in their countries, the U.S. would do it for them.  This you will agree, is a troubling tendency. In this context, President Bush’s pronouncement on the “axis of evil” comprised of Iran, Iraq and North Korea puts the coalition against terrorism in serious jeopardy.  To place Iran and Iraq in the same category and then to lump North Korea along with it defies logic and causes anxiety to the neighbouring countries in West Asia and the Korean peninsula.  As the distinguished friends here would know, the Europeans also are worried  and the Japanese are concerned.  The South Koreans have come out in the streets to express their apprehensions.  The Chinese have described it as “mindless extension” of the struggle against terrorism.

 Distinguished friends,

 At this stage I would like to caution the country against a facile proposition of a so called India-China-Russia “axis”.  The very word “axis” is an un-wise term. History has passed by the age of blocs and hostile groupings. Neither of the three countries individually, nor the three collectively have either the military muscle or the economic clout to bind together any such bloc. India has important political, diplomatic and economic relations with the United States and these need  not be sacrificed for the sake of a fictional strategic alignments. I can understand greater cooperation, promoting confidence, with China that is a highly desirable objective; with Russia in any case we have close, cordial relations and we should maintain and further develop them. But the establishment of any bloc would be a fanciful adventure.

           The best course for India is to maintain and enhance its cooperative relationships with all big countries and economic groupings and more specifically with the countries of the SAARC.  Despite all agonising disappointments the South Asian neighbourhood must occupy primacy in our policy frameworks. The leaders of India and Pakistan must appreciate that convergence of security and economic interests of two neighbouring countries cannot be and need not be avoided.

           Young friends, I am sure your quest for knowledge here would have made you appreciate that just as tolerance and democracy go hand in hand so are tolerance and openness essential for progress.  A curious but constant feature of history is the fact that heretics have made far larger contribution to the progress of the world than those who stuck to the comfortable grooves of narrow conformities.  Today’s heresy often turns out to be tomorrow’s truth.  Shutting the door to dissent is foolhardiness for it amounts to closing one of the main avenues of innovation and improvement.  If dissent had been shut out, we would still be believing that the earth was flat and that it was the sun that circled around it.  Sir Syed had envisioned that the tendency to close  minds to new ideas and hard truths  is a failing that must constantly be guarded against.

 Mr. Pro-Chancellor, distinguished friends,

           In concluding, I would, in all humility, say  how grateful I am for this opportunity to visit this great seat of learning and offer my  abiscience to memory of a leading architect of the secular India – Sir Syed Ahmad – blessed be his soul!

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Bio-Profile :
Mr. Inder Kr. Gujral

Bio-Profile :
Mrs. Shiela Gujral

Excerpts from the book "A Foreign Policy for India"

Selected Speeches

Latest Articles