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Akali, Cong, AAP fight in Punjab over upgrading Khalsa College to varsity

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 14 July 2016, 21:08 IST

The Punjab government has taken the controversial decision to upgrade Khalsa College Amritsar, one of the oldest and most prestigious institutions in Punjab, into a university. This matter has turned into a full-blown political war ahead of the state assembly polls.

The Punjab cabinet recently approved setting up of two self-financed private universities namely Sri Guru Ram Das University of Health Sciences and Khalsa University both at Amritsar.

While the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Congress have been engaged in a war of words on the issue for the last several months, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has now thrown its hat into the ring, opposing the government move.

Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh has been opposing any move to change the existing institution that has Satyajit Singh Majithia as the president of the governing council. Majithia is the father of Punjab finance minister Bikramjit Singh Majithia and SAD Lok Sabha member and union minister Harsimrat Kaur. The Congress party and now even AAP have been claiming that Majithia is trying to usurp and grab a public institution for personal gains which the latter denies.

Importance of Khalsa College

The college can easily be placed in the league of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and Banaras Hindu University (BHU). It came up towards the end of nineteenth century as a part of the countrywide movement to awaken Indians against the increasing influence of western education, culture and religion. This movement also saw the setting up of Banaras Hindu College at Banaras and Mohammaden Anglo Oriental College at Aligarh in 1873 and 1886 respectively. They became universities later.

It was during this period, when four Sikh boys were converted to Christianity, that the Sikhs decided to start a college of their own. It started off as a school on 5 March, 1892 and became Khalsa College in 1899, with a dream to become a university at some point in the future. Its aim "we will be a university" was inscribed on the porch of the college. Its building was designed by Ram Singh, a renowned architect, who also served as the principal of Mayo School of Arts at Lahore.

Its alumni includes some of the most prominent names in various fields including writers like Bhishm Sahni and Mulk Raj Anand. Punjab's former chief ministers Pratap Singh Kairon and Darbara Singh were also educated at this institution. Some of the most prominent agriculture scientists have also studied in this college as it is supposed to have India's oldest department of agriculture studies. This is before the agriculture universities came up. Former Indian cricket captain Bishen Singh Bedi and Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) MS Gill are also products of this institution besides ace hockey player Balbir Singh senior. Even the founder of Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) Teja Singh Samundri has been one its alumnus.

Experts say that Khalsa College could have become a university had the staff and students not demonstrated against the entry of Prince George of Wales inside the college. The Sikhs preferred to stand by the freedom movement rather than getting a university at that time. Khalsa College had an estate of 500 acres in Amritsar, a part of which was donated by the residents of Kot Sayyad Mohammad, now Kot Khalsa.

Move towards a university and opposition

There was a move to make the college into a university back in 2011. That plan had to be shelved after a three month long agitation by the teachers of the college as well as other groups.

The fresh initiative has also come under fire ahead of the assembly polls due to be held in a few months.

Those opposed to the move question the need to have a university at the place when there is already a government university - Guru Nanak Dev University - right next to the existing college.

The opposition to the move say that if the government is keen on setting up another university, then why doesn't it just set it up elsewhere.

Amarinder has been saying that if the university comes up at the campus land of Khalsa College, it would dilute the heritage importance of the institution. It is being alleged that the there would be a transformation, from a public trust to a private management, when the new private university comes up.

The teachers have reportedly been saying that they do not trust the college management as they have not been taken into confidence regarding the move. They said that 22 of them were booked when they opposed the move in 2011.

Those opposing the move also say that the Majithias are more interested in both the land and property of the college, than a will to run a university.

"Given the greed the Majithia family has shown to grab the historic institution, they have only proved that they are just the greedy reflection of the Badals. Apparently inspired by the Badals, Majithias have done to Khalsa College, what the Badals have done to the SGPC," Amarinder said.

He has been saying that he still expects them to at least respect the sanctity of the institution which holds an important place in Sikh history and heritage while responding to Majithia's statement accusing him of politicizing the issue.

The college had been built with support from the erstwhile princely states of Patiala, Kapurthala, Jind, Nabha and Faridkot.

The Congress has once again reiterated that the day it forms the government, the status of the institution will be restored. "It may prove to be the last nail in the Badals' coffin," Amarinder said.

Majithia's stand

Majithia. on the other hand, has been denying allegations made by Amarinder and others and saying, "It is petty politics. What is the harm if another university comes up? We want to set up an institution that would offer professional courses to our youth and we want to tie up with the best institutions of the world. The same governing council that has been running the college for more than 100 years would run the university. Where is the question of usurping the land and property?"

He has been saying that Khalsa College's iconic identity and heritage status would remain untouched as the university would be set up at a site away from the college building. He has been giving the example of Delhi and Hyderabad, saying that if these places can have more than one university, why not Amritsar.

Responding to the suggestion of setting up a university in south Punjab, he told Catch sometime back, "Why should we go looking for a huge tract of new land when we already have it with us. It has been reported that India needs no less than 1700 universities. I wonder why there is an objection to a world class institute coming up in Amritsar."

Hitting out at Amarinder, he said that the Congress leader's stance on the issue, was nothing but petty politics. "It sickens me. Its like a thief who sees someone going to a gurudwara thinking that he is actually going to someone's house to steal something."

AAP joins the battle

Lodging its strong protest over SAD's decision, the AAP leadership too has declared that the proposal for Khalsa University would be scrapped once its forms the government in Punjab.

"Earlier Majithias tried to convert Khalsa College into a heritage hotel and now the route of Khalsa University has been adopted by them to grab the land," said AAP leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira.

He said the Badals are trying their last attempt to destroy the heritage institute towards the fag end of their term. He has further charged that the greed of Majithia's also fulfills the hidden agenda of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), which aims to ruin the heritage of Khalsa Panth. This is evident from the fact that BJP's senior leader Rajinder Mohan Chhina, who is honorary secretary of the Khalsa College management is also hand in gloves with Majithia to grab the land of heritage institution.

Edited by Sahil Bhalla

First published: 14 July 2016, 21:08 IST