April 5, 2012
Newspapers today carry the notice that Govind Narayan of the Indian Civil Service passed away at the ripe old age of 95. A former Home and Defence Secretary in the Government of India, unknown to the media and most of his acquaintances, he had played a historic role in saving the Aligarh Muslim University from serious harm, if not utter ruin, in the traumatic post independent period of August to December 1947. His death is the proper occasion to bring certain long forgotten - relatively unknown - facts on record and let them rest in the archives of this network with the hope that some researcher in future will look deeper into the story and piece the missing links with records that will hopefully be made public without further delay in the near future.
Govind Narayan was posted as Collector and District Magistrate of Aligarh in early 1947 being the second Indian to have been sent to a preserve of the Anglo-Saxon - Syed Abu Talib Naqvi, ICS being the first. There are indications to the effect that he managed to keep his District free from the spill over of communal violence that flared up following the large-scale killings of Muslims during the religious festival at Garh Mukteswar in January 1947 though areas around the District were engulfed in its aftermath. The real test for Govind Narayan came in August 1947 when the post partition violence and the impression that the Aligarh Muslim University played a crucial role in dismemberment of the British India posed a real threat, if not to the existence of the institution, certainly to its students and employees. What aggravated the atmosphere was the resignation of Mr Zahid Hussain, the VC, on 11th August so that he could take up his assignment as the first High Commissioner of Pakistan in India! So vitiated was the situation that this scribe has himself seen a Hindi Newspaper of August 1947 (showed to him by Babu Aidal Singh, Advocate in 1975) reporting a speech delivered at an Arya Samaj gathering at Khair near Aligarh that the masses must "liberate" the University from the Muslims and name it "Harigarh University". Incidentally, during that period there was a short-lived campaign in and around Aligarh those days that the place be renamed Harigarh! This was, of course a lunatic fringe but it indicates the intensity of feelings in certain pockets and the resultant panic in the University community.
In this charged atmosphere Govind Narayn persuaded the new VC, Nawab Ismail Khan not to delay the reopening of the institution after the summer vacations and to instill a sense of security among the University community. There are indications to the effect that the political leadership of UP being more preoccupied with other matters had given no orders about safeguarding the lives and property on the University; certainly no additional forces were made available to the District Administration to maintain order. Govind Narayan used the "aura" or Iqbal of the institution of Collector and the clout that he had over the Zamindars to keep peace. In the absence of confidential records of the period being made public, we can only go by common perceptions that prevailed till the 1970s in Aligarh particularly among the senior lawyers that it was Govind Narayan who with Nawab Ismail Khan protected the University from serious harm at a time when such harm could not be ruled out. What is beyond dispute is that when he was transferred few months later to Cawnpore (that his how Kanpur was then officially spelled) there was much consternation and apprehension in the University and much 'rejoicing' among certain sections of the District but by then the Central Government was firmly committed to maintaining the institution as far as possible on pre Independence lines. It is to be hoped that when a comprehensive history of the area based on authentic contemporaneous records comes to be written the role of Govind Narayan and Nawab Ismail in saving a historical institution from serious harm would be definitively defined.
A product of the syncretic culture of Indo-Islamic lineage, Govind Narayan a Mathur Kayasth of Mainpuri was steeped in a culture of tolerance and live and let live. Nothing less was expected of a person who as a child had started his education imbibing the pearls of wisdom contained in Shaikh Sadi's "Gulistan" and "Bostan".
*Mr. Naved Masood is an AMU Alum and a senior Civil Servant in Govt. of India and he is based in New Delhi. He can be reached at email@example.com