Iqbal, author of 'Saare jahan se achha', taken off DU syllabus; 'RSS takeover' say faculty

DU vice-chancellor Yogesh Singh justified the removal of the Urdu poet saying "that those who laid the foundation of breaking India" should not be in the syllabus

Poet Muhammad Iqbal (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia)
Poet Muhammad Iqbal (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia)

Amarabati Bhattacharyya

Delhi University's Academic Council passed a motion on Friday, 26 May, to remove a chapter on poet Muhammad Iqbal from its political science syllabus.

Born in 1877 in Sialkot, now in Pakistan, the popular Urdu and Persian poet is best remembered as author of the song 'Saare jahan se achha... (Better than anyplace in the world... is our Hindustan]'—once an anthem of revolt against the British Raj, a truncated rendition of this notable patriotic song is still often heard in military drills by the Indian Armed Forces.

Iqbal is often credited with "giving birth to the idea of Pakistan". In 1930, at the annual session of the Muslim League, Iqbal had said that the Muslims of north-western India should demand a separate 'identity'.

The Academic Council of DU, comprising 100 members, passed the motion to remove discussion of Iqbal from the chapter 'Modern Indian Political Thought', part of the sixth semester syllabus towards the Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in political science. The chapter included Iqbal alongside other thinkers such as Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Pandita Ramabai, Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi and Bhimrao Ambedkar.

"The course has been designed to give students a glimpse into the richness and diversity within the Indian political thought," the syllabus mentions.

DU vice-chancellor Yogesh Singh had said on Saturday that "those who laid the foundation of breaking India" should not be in the syllabus. "Iqbal was the first to raise the idea of Partition of India and the establishment of Pakistan. Instead of teaching such people, we should study our national heroes. Those who laid the foundation to break India should not be in the syllabus," said Singh.

Hindu nationalist organisation RSS-affiliated student body Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) lauded the motion. "Delhi University academic council decided to scrap fanatic theological scholar Iqbal from DU’s political science syllabus... he was called the 'philosophical father of Pakistan'. He was the key player in establishing Jinnah as a leader in Muslim League. Mohammad Iqbal is as responsible for India’s partition as Mohammad Ali Jinnah is," said ABVP.

However, not all academics are aligned with the VC's thoughts on the subject. "The removal of Iqbal from the political science syllabus suggests a complete misreading of the thinker and poet. It is the erasure of history and critical thinking by an administration that is pushing an anti-minority agenda, and attempting to sanitise the academic space of any kind of critical theory," Rudrashish Chakraborty, associate professor in the department of English told National Herald.

Chakraborty says that Iqbal has fallen prey to the ongoing "cancel culture" at DU propagated by the RSS and other right-wing organisations. "There is an ongoing RSS takeover at the university," he said. "These decisions are not discussed or deliberated, they come as diktats from the RSS. Removal of Iqbal is just an excuse for the complete erasure of India's history and rewriting it according to their ideological beliefs."

He added that in the past, attempts have been made to remove texts related to Sufi traditions, while Mahasweta Devi's award-winning short story 'Draupadi' was removed from the English syllabus by an admistration comprising of no member from the English department.

Iqbal however has however been made even more prominent by this brouhaha over his removal from the syllabus, suggests Chakraborty, as in the digital age, students cannot be stopped from accessing texts.

"If Iqbal promoted the two-nation theory, by that logic, Savarkar should've been removed first — Savarkar spoke of that long before Iqbal did," Chakraborty added.

The Academic Council also approved proposals to set up new centres for Partition studies, Hindu studies and Tribal studies recently. However, five council members opposed the proposal on Partition studies and said it would be "divisive".

Chakraborty also said there has been strong protest against the setting up of the Partition studies centre from within the Council. He hails from a family of Partition survivors himself, and told the National Herald, "The concept note of the Centre for Studies of Partition formalised by the University of Delhi in its last meeting of the Academic Council is a testimony to the politics of hate and divisiveness to be perpetuated in an institutional manner. As a survivor of and a researcher on Partition, I am not ready to accept this at all."

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) MP Danish Ali on Sunday, May 28, also reacted strongly to the incident, hitting out at the BJP-led Central government over the erasure of Iqbal's significant contribution to Indian political history.

"Removing Allama [most learned] Iqbal's unit from Delhi University's undergraduate syllabus and playing 'Saare jahan se achha' in the background during the inauguration of new parliament exposes the contradiction of 'New India'," Ali said.

During the inauguration of the new parliament building in New Delhi by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday, the background song accompanying visuals on the construction of the building was 'Saare jahan se achha'.

While other BSP MPs attended the event, Ali was not present during the inauguration. In addition, 20 Opposition parties had boycotted the inauguration, stating that it was a breach of the Constitution for the parliament building to be inaugurated by the prime minister rather than the president of India.

Earlier in April, the NCERT had removed significant portions of Mughal history from history textbooks for classes 7–12, causing a similar furore and divided opinions within academia and also .

As for Iqbal, the Executive Council of the university is set to take a final call on the motion passed by the Academic Council on June 9.

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